Not too long ago, my colleague Katie Burke wrote a great article, “The Right Way to Think About Your Marketing Software RFP,” and it got me thinking about my own experiences as a buyer of marketing technology. Particularly I realized, more often than not, I was thinking about automation the wrong way.
In the past nine or so years, I’ve evaluated, purchased, implemented, and used over ten different email marketing and marketing automation platforms (there may be more but I’ve lost count). My love for technology and marketing is what led me to join HubSpot over two years ago, and why I regularly speak with prospects and customers on what I learned when I was in their shoes.
Right now the marketing automation industry couldn’t be hotter. Due to increasing adoption rates, analysts are predicting a more than 50% industry revenue increase this year. Recent acquisitions (Eloqua acquired by Oracle, Pardot by ExactTarget, and others) are also signs of a market headed in the right direction.
I’m certainly not going to complain about our industry’s growth, but I wonder, are companies adopting automation the right way? Perhaps the belief that marketing automation just encourages bad behavior more than it createslovable marketing, or that it’s simply a more efficient spamming engine, is a telling sign.
Too often I hear from companies that are headed down the wrong path in the decision process despite where they started (with good intentions). Make no mistake, automation can do wonders for your bottom line — if you avoid the purchasing pitfalls. Below are six common mistakes I see over and over again, failures I’ve experienced myself, and how you can avoid them so that you’re successful with marketing automation.
6 Common Marketing Automation Lessons I Learned the Hard Way
1) Automating bad processes doesn’t magically make marketing better.
This might appear like a no-brainer, but it’s the #1 offense I see. Let me you give you a real-life scenario:
A three-person marketing team for a large technology company is struggling to supply inside sales reps with good leads. In addition, a lot of the work to hand leads to sales is very manual, due to a lack of integration with their email provider and CRM. They target a niche audience in the Fortune 1000. Because of this, the company attends tradeshows and buys targeted prospect lists of “Directors of IT.” They email these lists regularly with the goal to schedule more sales appointments, or maybe they will send a newsletter or product offer. But the company often experiences high bounce rates and low engagement. Their database hasn’t really grown in years, and in fact, it’s churning at a high rate. They decide it’s time to buy marketing automation to better utilize their existing database and put new lists through automated drip campaigns. They plan to use lead scoring, as well.
What’s wrong with this picture? First, yes, buying email lists is a no-no and no one should do it. But the main problem is that this company is solely looking at automation to fix an already broken process. In this case, this company needs to fix their lead problem by creating better content. In other words, they should consider marketing transformation prior to marketing automation.
John Common, CEO of Intelligent Demand, mentioned in this post:
“It is a disruptive technology in that it forces a company to think differently about its most important process: revenue creation. This is a good thing! At most companies today, marketing and sales are working from an outdated playbook that was written back when interruptive, batch-and-blast, product-focused, hunch-based marketing actually worked, and Sales was in control of the buying process. Those days are gone, but the thinking behind that playbook still exists.”
Sure, automation can make things easier in some cases and you may even see some short-term gains. But long-term success is what matters, and that requires a different way of marketing. Using automation as a glorified email tool won’t get you where you need to be.
Great automation is a result of highly targeted, personalized, valuable, timely, and remarkable content that is sent to a healthy and engaged database (see point #2 below in just a minute). As John mentions above, the batch-and-blast approach to sending prospects stuff they don’t care about isn’t going to suddenly make things better with automation. If your company feels like creating great content is the core of your problem — and in most of the scenarios I’ve seen, it is — start there.
2) Automation requires a growing and engaged database to nurture.
The average email database expires at the rate of ~25% per year. That means a database of 50,000 email addresses will have shrunk to 21,000 in just three short years. The best way to solve for attrition is to replenish the funnel with new leads at a higher rate than you’re burning through. Or else you’ll find yourself with diminishing returns.
Before you invest in marketing automation, ask yourself, “What am I doing to fuel the top of my funnel?” In other words, automation is a fantastic tool to further qualify and nurture leads, but when you don’t even generate enough for Sales, what’s the point?
I learned this the hard way. A few years ago, I implemented marketing automation before putting the processes in place to attract and convert more leads, like creating better content, offers, calls-to-action, and landing pages, and doing things like blogging and optimization (and to clarify, buying email lists does not count as lead generation). Essentially, I put the cart before the horse and my results later suffered.