The yin and yang of marketing automation

By Louis Foong

We've seen Taoism referenced recently on the CMA blog as it relates to marketing strategy. I am by no means a Taoist, yet I believe that our glitzy, glamorous world of high-tech does need the perspective of yin and yang. Too often these days, we get carried away by the shiny new 'toys' available to us, not caring too much about their downside.

One of my pet peeves is seeing how many corporate budgets are swept away by the tsunami of marketing automation. If you start to count how many B2B companies have spent a staggering amount of time, money and valuable resources on marketing automation, the figure is scary. And I say scary, because a majority of those companies are neither getting a fair ROI nor gaining a return on relationships. That's the key - you can't replace the human effort with automation. But that's what the trend seems to be; a steadily increasing trend too. IDC predicts that the marketing automation sector will be worth $4.8 billion by 2015. In 2010, that figure was at $3.2 billion. Another study by SiriusDecisions estimates a 30% increase from 20% in 2012 to 50% by the end of 2015 in the number of B2B companies to purchase and implement marketing automation.

Frequently, this purchase is made by companies neglecting to ask vendors the right questions about what the automation tool can and cannot do. Nobody really understands this new automation beast, so now they have to go out and find (highly compensated) consultants to help them figure out how to use the new tool and get the results they want. It's like the poem about the six blind men and the elephant.

Poem by John Godfrey Saxe (Cartoon originally copyrighted by the authors; G. Renee Guzlas, artist)

With this in mind, here are some of the top marketing automation challenges for B2B organizations:

There is no one-size-fits-all solution…and there cannot be. Some companies are evaluating various automation solutions and buying a few that they think will meet their needs. Others realize that they need a custom solution and start to build one in-house. Yet others buy too many solutions because they have not given enough thought to the real outcome - the most profitable goal they want to achieve. It's a grab-what-you-get attitude until they realize they have too many so-called solutions and little to no results from any.

Different functions within the same organization require different solutions. And that's another problem, particularly in large corporations where departmental silos inhibit collaboration. A bunch of different automation tools are purchased to meet the requirements of various departments and functions. Now you have the challenge of trying to integrate these new systems with existing ones. More expenses and more wasted resources.

Existing lead generation and marketing processes are inefficient. It's like trying to put a new roof over broken walls. If the foundation is weak and your current process is not streamlined, you end up with a bigger problem on hand when you bring in marketing automation. For example, you want to use a new drip email marketing tool, but your leads database has not been cleansed for over 14 months. You are dipping into a well using a leaky bucket!

The top automation tools in the market have not been tried, tested and proven for YOUR industry. Many of the top-ranking marketing automation software companies have proven themselves in certain industries, but that still does not guarantee they will work for your specific B2B sector.

Quality over quantity. How many touchpoints your marketing automation tool allows you to reach is not half as important as the quality of relationships it allows you to build. Look at social media for instance. Companies are trying to automate even their social media marketing and all this does is accelerates volumes in their social network. What do those numbers really mean for your organization's brand and its marketability? Those are the key questions you need to ask.

The attraction of "new" versus capability to deliver results. It's the age-old problem of peer pressure. Your competitors have it and so must you. So companies buy the latest tools because they are "new." Unfortunately, while there may be some new features and functionalities, the results are rarely radical, dramatically different or transformational. You need new technology but only so that your tried and true processes, systems and staff can perform better and deliver greater results. Instead, what seems to be happening is quite the opposite. What was once working also does not deliver anymore because the new "elephant in the room" has sat down heavily on top of proven tools, choking them into non-performance.

Under-utilization of the new tool. Because organizations are grappling with trying to fully comprehend the new automation tool they purchased, it is common to see that most of these new tools are not used to their full potential. For example, your new automation tool may allow you to update social profiles automatically, but if you don't have the processes in place to continually create or generate fresh, relevant and useful content, this feature is of no use. It's like buying the newest smart phone because it is just that, "new", and then using it to do exactly the same things you did with your old phone. Why change your device then?

Many of the latest automation tools are not built for emerging markets. They are developed and tested for your existing markets. So if you are already leading your current markets but need to expand into new, emerging markets such as India, Africa, the Middle East, etc. you need a solution that is geared for those audiences and market environments.

Failure to accelerate speed to market. With customers being on the go, today's lead generation systems need to give organizations the capacity to be agile, flexible and really fast. If capabilities such as real-time business intelligence and predictive analysis are not built into your shiny, new toy, it really isn't of much use.

Security issues. Everything is in the cloud. Now, is that all good news? One can't say for sure. There are still issues related to security when it comes to cloud marketing and storage virtualization. Unless your B2B organization has really strong safeguards built into your operations, you could be setting yourself up for disaster by bringing on automation tools that make your company vulnerable to new threats and risks you did not face previously. You need a zero-tolerance approach to security breaches. Does your marketing automation newbie tool allow it?

Sales and marketing teams are alienated until the tool is already in place. We see it happen all the time. The C-Suite undertakes the selection process, screens possible vendors and chooses the marketing automation solution they deem as appropriate for their organization. How many of these executives will actually go into the field and use the new system? Usually, not many, or none at all. And yet, the sales and marketing teams that will be the users of the new tool are not brought into the picture until the expense has already been made. Now you have a problem of new shoes for the entire team but the shoes don't fit; and you want the team to run full capacity and win the race! It's not going to happen.

Demotivation causes staff to lose steam and get sluggish. It's typical - management brings in a new tool that they believe will really deliver outstanding results. Staff is pressured to use it without the appropriate training. As performance levels drop, staff gets demotivated and existing capabilities fail to deliver even what your organization had been able to achieve all along. Quite a grim "before-and-after" picture, don't you think?

Louis Foong

1 Comment

  • Michael Turney said

    Great article, Louis! And a solid summary of the challenges we face as B2B marketers when we wrestle with the marketing automation elephant. Some good reminders for veterans and a substantial watch list for those just digging into it. I recommend one bite at time.

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