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Marketing automation is a tool, and like most tools, it only works if it’s used by people who know how to use it.

If you find a crooked nail, you blame the carpenter, not the hammer. Likewise, when marketing automation doesn’t generate results, the problem probably isn’t with the tool. Failure is usually because of a flawed strategy—or no strategy at all.

To grow your business with marketing automation, you need a strategy.Without a sound strategy, process, and execution plan for marketing automation software, investing in it is pointless. You might as well take your money and flush it, because you’re not going to get any kind of consistent, repeatable results.

Marketing automation can’t identify your target personas, develop your value propositions, or make the tough decisions among competing marketing investments. People have to do that.

The danger of thinking marketing automation is a strategy

Focusing on tactics (marketing automation) instead of revenue growth (marketing strategy), typically results in very efficient execution of interruptive, "pray and spray" style campaigns that take little advantage of marketing automation’s many capabilities to generate demand, nurture leads, and increase conversion rates.

So you end up with the worst of both worlds—you not only have a poor investment on your hands, you are using an outdated marketing/sales approach that doesn't drive results.

So why do so many companies fall into this trap?

A business may understand they have issues with their marketing, but they don’t really know where to start. As such, when they hear a compelling marketing automation story, often from well-intentioned software vendors, it becomes easy to get enamored with the possibilities and simply invest in marketing automation, without actually getting ready to make those possibilities a reality.

We often work with clients who made this mistake. They’ve use their marketing automation like an email tool or content management system or as Google Analytics. They’ve got a Porsche, and they’re driving it like a Kia.

What can you do to use marketing automation as its meant to be used?

1. Don’t jump in before you’ve got a strategy.

Avoid the temptation to just start campaigning. First, you need to answer questions such as:

  • What customer personas are we marketing to?
  • How will we market to each differently?
  • What content do we need for each persona and for each of their customer lifecycles stages?
  • How we will we get that content?
  • How will we use marketing automation to facilitate sales and marketing alignment?

If you don’t have answers to those questions before you start campaigns, how can you be surprised when your campaigns don’t achieve the results you want?

Yes, there’s always an imperative to get to market quickly with your message—but it needs to be the right message!

2. Learn your platform.

Make sure the whole marketing team learns about the value, capabilities, and purpose of the tools. If possible, make sure the whole team understands how to deploy campaigns and report results. Even senior marketers and relevant executives should be aware of the capabilities of the software.

Manufacturers offer training. Take advantage of it.

3. Don’t “set and forget.”

Real humans must be behind the technology, thinking through the essential tasks of identifying your key audiences, understanding their needs, scoping out their buying processes, and developing content.

4. Get help if you need it.

Using marketing automation to achieve an overall marketing strategy takes some expertise, including:

  • A solid understanding of inbound marketing techniques and how to apply them.
  • Technical familiarity with the available software and platforms.
  • Proficiency in using marketing automation for B2B lead generation and nurturing, as well as to facilitate sales and marketing alignment.
  • The ability to create content that supports your strategy.
  • Knowledgeable insights into how to adjust strategy based on performance analysis.

If you don’t have this expertise internally, you’ll probably need to work with a B2B marketing agency (like One Red Bird!) that specializes in marketing automation and demand generation programs.

The Bottom Line

If you have a well-formulated digital marketing strategy, marketing automation is an indispensable tool in achieving the results you’ve planned for. If you don’t have a strategy, it’s best to focus on developing one before jumping blind into marketing automation and being disappointed by the results.


Image courtesy of Tobyotter, Creative Commons.

Topics: b2b, marketing automation, strategy, inbound marketing