Don’t let your marketing automation platform become an overpriced email system

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Many of the firms we’ve worked with have successfully implemented a marketing automation tool. The business case was made to management and the investment in time and money sunk.

Yet, when we are invited to meet with these firms a year or two post implementation there’s often one of several problems starting to emerge in relation to marketing automation.

1. The person or team who lobbied hard for the system in the first place has left.

The business case, the marketing strategy and often platform-specific knowledge has gone with them and the new team is not as experienced in marketing automation and how to use it. In the meantime the sales team is screaming for action not strategy so the platform is relegated to little more than an email blast tool just to get ‘something’ done.

Suggestion: If you’ve inherited a marketing automation platform and you’ve had limited exposure until now, deep dive into some training as fast as you can. You have an incredibly powerful tool at your finger-tips that could transform your organisation when it comes to lead generation and customer engagement. There’s a chance the business will cancel the subscription if you can’t demonstrate an ROI, metrics and other insights by using the system. Get your whole marketing team involved if possible so you’re all on the same page.

2. Strategy is missing.

Not always, but sometimes, marketing automation platforms are regarded as the actual strategy. I sort of get the thinking. It is strategic to implement marketing technology but you still need to have a plan to use it to build scale and velocity when it comes to lead generation. However, sometimes the two ideas get muddled, and I see the full value of marketing automation lost as the full power of this step-change technology is under-utilised. The reality is there are some seminal concepts marketers have to understand in order to activate their systems. Concepts like the buyers journey, campaign flows or programming, lead scoring, triggers, ideal client profile, buyer persona and others have to be understood to get real value from marketing automation.

Suggestion: Step back and look at the underlying reason the platform exists in your organisation, get familiar with the core operating principles behind marketing automation and as you rebuild the marketing strategy the way you want it, factor in your marketing automation engine as a key delivery component.

3. Content runs out.

Marketing automation platforms are beasts when it comes to consuming content. Nearly every step in a content-led marketing strategy requires a marketing asset of some kind. You usually need top of funnel, mid-funnel and bottom of funnel assets to fuel your campaigns, and if you add product or buyer persona streams to your campaigns, suddenly your requirement for content escalates exponentially. Without content marketing automation platforms are reduced to some very simple activities very quickly – and are not much better than some of the more advanced email marketing tools around.

Suggestion: Build a content plan that uses assets that may exist elsewhere in the organisation, in other regions potentially. Simplify your content requirements if you have to by slimming down the number of buyer journeys you will focus on, the frequency of content delivery or even whether you need top of funnel content (this will depend on your wider digital marketing program). Don’t over-engineer your campaign tracks either – there can be a tendency to build complex buyer journeys that end up obfuscating opportunities rather than revealing them.

4. Data management skills are missing.

Marketing automation can’t work without data and increasingly, the data skills needed by marketers exceed their capability or experience. Marketers really do need to understand data management principles more than ever before. This includes master data management, data hygiene best-practice, data segmentation, data manipulation principles and how to create and manage business rules for data. The adage has always been garbage in, garbage out when it comes to software and it’s just as true with marketing automation. Poor data management skills can lead to poor inputs into marketing campaigns and obviously, even stranger outputs. And don’t get me started about the what happens when machine learning models interface with marketing automation. If you’re in marketing and you don’t know what a pivot table is in Excel (as an example), you will find it increasingly hard to wrangle your data-driven marketing campaigns.

Suggestion: The basics actually aren’t that hard. If you’re a senior marketer working in a large organisation you’ll have reasonable Excel skills just because you’ve been running complex budgets. However, if you think it’s time to dust off your Excel skills, specifically around data manipulation (also called data engineering) then take a few short courses. Extracting, querying, preparing and manipulating data goes hand in hand with all kinds of marketing tools and is now a life skill as far as I’m concerned.

If you feel like your marketing automation platform is not performing the way it should be, you’re new to this technology or you’re just not sure how to build optimised campaigns we can help with either ad-hoc hours-based consulting services or on a retainer support basis (depending on the platform and your requirements).

You could also attend our regular event ‘Introduction to marketing automation’.