Facing the Marketing Automation Mountain? Let’s Go Back to Square One

I was very happy to stumble upon a blog post over on the BrightCarbon site called “Marketing Automation—A Failure”. Of course, I am not happy to hear of anyone’s failure, but I am happy to finally see someone talking about the marketing automation mountain so publicly.

Everyday, I hear from marketers that their top priority is to “really dig in and get our marketing automation fully working”. That’s usually followed by “…once I do that, I can focus on X, Y, and Z”. Where X, Y, and Z are big business priorities (increase customer acquisition, decrease cost per lead, generate more leads, generate more online sales, etc, etc).

The ‘dig in and get it working’ theme isn’t just a marketer-driven initiative, it’s becoming an executive-led mandate (as in, “My boss is so mad we invested in this marketing automation tool and are barely scratching the surface, I HAVE to get this fully operational this quarter…everything else is on hold until marketing automation is fully operational”). Everyone, it seems, is catching on to the fact that big investments are being made into marketing automation technology, but little of it is being leveraged.

I think it’s healthy—and certainly much better for the marketing automation space in the long term—to have these conversations out in the open. If marketers are ill-prepared for the content, resources, processes and time necessary to make a marketing automation program soar, it doesn’t go away by sweeping it under the rug.

But that’s not really my concern. My concern is that oftentimes the marketing automation mountain gets in the way of actually moving the business forward (see above: “everything else is on hold until we get marketing automation fully operational”). Whoa! Marketing automation is a tool, plain and simple.

Marketing automation isn’t a fix for not having enough leads or enough quality leads. And that’s a real problem, as the blog post articulates well:

Not enough leads to nurture….We didn’t have a problem with too many early-stage leads that we needed to qualify because sales were too busy and wasting time on poor quality leads. We didn’t have enough leads, full stop. Marketing needed to go out and get them. Marketing automation could help qualify leads, and nurture leads….

But marketing automation can’t go and get the leads! You need leads—lots of leads— to feed into the system. Here’s how the conversation usually goes:

Marketer: “I need leads, lots of leads! And I need them at a lower cost too! And I need them to be higher quality!”

Me: “Great, so what’s your plan to make that happen?”

Marketer: “Well, first I am going to dig in and get my marketing automation program off the ground.”

Wait…wha? Isn’t that the cart before the horse? If you need leads, isn’t step one to get the lead generation machine fully operational? You need to know which messages, on which vehicles, landing on which experiences yield the best, and most, leads. And that’s not a marketing automation strategy. That’s a post-click strategy.

What kinds of traffic driving into what kinds of experiences will yield the highest number of qualified leads? A marketing automation platform can help give you insight into the answer. But it can’t give you the strategy, and that comes first.

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