Posted September 23, 2011 7:25 am by with 12 comments

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In its purest sense the idea of marketing automation is a good thing. The more you can automate a process to help achieve a desired result the better. Boiling marketing and sales down to repeatable and scalable events is the dream of all marketers because we all know the pressure to get more from less these days. Automation is supposed to help people do more with less so marketers are flocking to it.

As with most theories, however, the reality of the situation soon comes to life and the chinks in the marketing automation armor can be exposed as quickly as they can be celebrated. The trouble is that while it’s easy to sit back and say “if person X does Y then we give them Z to complete the sales process” those pesky people aren’t as similar as is required for a process to be repeatable AND successful over and over again.

Yet, marketers keep trying to get more from less as they continue to push hard earned leads through the middle of the marketing and sales funnel (MoFu) with a pre-programmed string of e-mail messages with a “one size fits all” approach. Sadly, this doesn’t differ much from the idea of buying broadcast television and hoping to hit someone at the exact right time that they are ready to buy.

So what’s a marketer to do to give themselves the best chance of turning leads into closed business? How can they manage a lead in a way that gives them the attention they need and still get more with less? Here are a few tips.

Get out from behind the desk – One thing that marketers often do is spend too much time looking at their market from their own point of view. The result is an expectation of how people buy from you or perceive your brand that can be way off base. This is trouble.

Marketers need to find out where their customers hang out and then determine ways to become active participants in their prospects world rather than dictating how their prospect should interact with the brand. One of the only ways to understand this is to get into the prospect’s shoes more often.

Move away from canned e-mail messages – No matter how much you think you have “personalized” a string of pre-programmed e-mail messages to drag your prospect through the middle of the sales and marketing funnel, the chances are much higher that you will lose more prospects than you catch.

Why? It’s pretty simple. People are much smarter than you think. When they start to get messages that are irrelevant to them or miss the mark completely based on their individual needs they will eject themselves from your sales process.

Go to where your prospects live, work and play – In today’s world of social media options there is no one-way to talk to a prospect. Each potential customer does different things for different reasons and gives different buying signals at different times. That sounds hard to manage but it doesn’t have to be. One principle that marketers should remember is that “like attracts like”. If you go where one prospect hangs out online like Twitter, Facebook or any number of other online options you will find others of like mind. Isn’t it better to be among those who are in a place where they are most likely to be receptive to your message?

Remember the humans! – Statistics and marketing go together like bread and butter. They are just meant for each other. One risk marketers run due to this union, however, is to lose their humanity in their message. In today’s social world, that could be the single most disastrous flaw in any marketing automation system. Dehumanizing the brand and the messenger turns people off. Turned off people don’t like to buy.

These are just a few ideas for you to consider but we realize that any list like this is far from complete. You probably know of many more ways to keep from alienating prospects once they enter your sales and marketing funnel.

How about sharing them with us in the comments? After all, it’s the human thing to do!

  • Great points. Those of us who provide Marketing Automation consulting services will say until we turn blue: Technology is not a solution in and of itself; it still takes human brain power to plan, design, implement, and maintain a successful marketing automation project.

    Additonally, Marketing MUST align itself with sales and work on getting to understand the customer and their buying process. Marketing cannot do this independent of sales (unless of course they have a completely digital product that requires no direct human assistance to buy)

    Marketing Automation requires a transformation – the traditional Marketer, with primarily a background in branding, product management, or event planning, must now become more of a technologist and better understand analytics, linguistics, and business workflows.

  • Some definite intelligent points are being made here. Automation might save time and be cost effective but everyone is different. Treating each group of customers as clones can leave them upset and reflect negatively on the brand and their experience. Offering that human touch is critical IMO. Granted the size of the organization and its resources limited the ability to get personalized but none the less…treat each engagement as its own and I think you’re numbers are more likely to improve!

  • Sorry Frank, but I don’t find these points made in this manner to be particularly helpful nor relevant to the B2B demand generation conversation. I don’t find it helpful for one proponent of one philosophy – Inbound Marketing – that is being driven by one technology – HUbspot – to be bashing another …Marketing Automation.

    I heard this mantra and the bashing in spades at the Hubspot User Group Summit (HUGS) last week and have also seen it from all of the Hubspot execs in blog posts, tweets, webcasts, ad nauseum over the past few months. As Joe correctly points out and you actually say as well, its about the practices being employed by B2B marketers, not the tools they are using that is not working well.

    Its about connecting good inbound practices and processes at the top of the funnel with equally good outbound practices through the middle of the funnel that is at the heart of winning B2B demand generation strategies and programs. The idea that one philosophy (inbound) is better and/or more important than another (outbound) is ridiculous. Even more ridiculous is the idea that one set of tools are more important and more effective than another in this discussion. The title of the post and initial argument says as much, while most of your post is valid.

    I watched the transition in message and product direction from the start of the INbound Marketing Summit to the last day of HUGS in what Hubspot (Brian Halligan) was promoting. Seems that the need to address how to move all those inbound leads through the funnel requires “marketing automation-like” tools. The company they acquired offers some very interesting features for how B2B marketers initiate the conversation in response to interested buyers browsing and responding to content, etc …. BUT it is what you refer to as Marketing Automation.

    Sorry for the rant here, but its time for some of the practitioners from the Hubspot side of the B2B marketing pond to grow up a little and act like you’ve been here in attempting to solve the B2B demand generation challenges that we have today and will have in spades for years to come. There’s no one way. Mike Volpe is out pitching the same thing in his “Marketing Automation is Dead” pitch. Give me a break Frank … and Mike.

    Henry Bruce

    • Henry, i agree with your comments about bashing marketing automation. Granted marketing automation is not a cure-all but what Frank’s post failed to mention was persona marketing. marketing automation along with research based persona marketing aligned to the buyers journey works. the proof? 3-5x increase sales cycles and reduction of COS by 30+%. And yes, one needs to get out from behind the desk to do persona marketing and align with sales to make the whole thing work.

    • @Henry and @Christine – Fortunately all opinions are welcomed here at Marketing Pilgrim! If marketing automation works then it will find growth. if it doesn’t it will die. Gotta love the free market!

      • I love the free market too Frank. It allows for your opinions too. and we know what they say about opinions …

        • @Henry – You sure know how to charm people!

      • Marketing automation will work, as long as they continue to learn and improve the system. We send newsletters that are automated to be addressed to the reader, as a part of our marketing. Automation is not a bad thing, using it incorrectly is the problem.

  • I love this article. Great points made. My biggest trouble I think is getting out from behind the desk and meeting people. It does make a huge difference. Dan Kennedy and many other marketers have said that it is never good to rely on one thing. Yes automation can help you grow your business but it is not end all solution. Especially today when people are so disconnected except through the internet. It’s really refreshing to get a Thank you call or or card or free gift when you were not expecting it. It really makes the experience of doing business with you stand out!

    Ted Peterson

  • Frank, you make some great points in your summary of how makers of lead generation software tools are trying to stake out the moral high ground in marketing automation.

    Yes, too many companies are abusing us with email marketing by blasting inappropriate sales-focused messages to their lists without consideration for the individual buyer. It’s just impolite — and inefficient. And we can also see the same self-serving attitude that has created an impolite level of noise in corporate social media and blogging, too.

    Permission-based marketing automation works, and it works best when the follow up is relevant and useful. It’s a continuation of the conversation that’s smart enough to move the relationship forward. Sometimes that follow up is an email containing requested information, or an email that continues the the gift of educational content. And marketing automation can trigger a human follow up too, thank you very much. Either way, you’ve been invited to continue the conversation.

    It’s too narrow to say “inbound is good and outbound is bad.” Both can be misused. The good news is that buyers and consumers are pushing all marketers to the higher ground. Be useful, polite and relevant in your marketing (and sales) and your business will grow faster.

  • Thanks Frank for sharing these with us. Really great article.

  • Really informative Frank. I agree with you. I do referral marketing and I need to think about what my clients are looking for to make this marketing effective.