Over the last couple of years, people have been talking about marketing automation quite a lot.  My company acquired a marketing automation vendor two years ago, so we occasionally get lumped in to that category.  Frankly, I cringe every time I see us lumped in there as I have some issues with both the term and what it represents in the industry.  Here they are:

1. The name 

The very last thing 99% of companies out there should be doing is automating their approach to marketing.  There is a tectonic shift going on in human behavior – companies should be first and foremost, “transforming” their marketing, not automating it.  Run yourself through this MarketingGrader report and if you score very high, then you should worry about automation.  If not, you need to transform, not automate. Simply put, far too many companies are seeking marketing automation vendors when they should be focused on other components of their marketing. 

2. Email 2.0

The reality is that 99% of companies using marketing automation are really just doing email 2.0.  With Email 1.0, companies started with one big list and sent one big email to each recipient -- everyone got the same email.  Email 2.0 is where you create sub-lists based on different criteria and program multiple emails to them based on events – people get different emails based on those criteria.  Now, Email 2.0 does work better than Email 1.0 – the engagement is great and the click-through rates improve a lot with better segmentation.  But calling it marketing automation is kind of far-fetched – it is just fancier email marketing.

3. Marketing Automation solves a very small portion of your marketing problems

I like to break the funnel up into stages:

  1. Stranger to Visitor
  2. Visitor to Lead
  3. Lead to Qualified Lead
  4. Qualified Lead to Customer
  5. Customer to Delighted Customer 

Marketing automation primarily concerns itself with the Lead to Qualified Lead stage of the funnel.  It works in this stage of the funnel a lot better than Email 1.0.  We have customers who just do this type of thing with our product and it improves the ratios in that section of the funnel nicely, BUT the big changes and opportunities that the Internet presents are in the Stranger to Visitor and Visitor to Lead stage.  Improving Lead to Qualified Lead has decent leverage to it, but getting those two layers above it right, has remarkable leverage. 

4. A Playbook predicated on purchased lists

The marketing automation playbook for many companies is to buy a list and pump it through the marketing automation system.  I spoke to a CMO two weeks ago at a VC-backed Silicon Valley security software startup.  I asked him about his marketing strategy and playbook.  He told me he was going to buy a list of every CIO and Chief Security Officer in the world and send them great emails through marketing automation and have their inside sales reps call them.  Wow.  Still?  My sense is that this strategy not only won’t work as CIO’s and Chief Security Officers are inundated with vendor emails and cold calls, but that in this particular market, pounding into those folks will end up ruining your brand.  Constantly spamming a CIO with unsolicited messages from marketers and sales reps is unlikely to convert her into a customer; in fact, it’s significantly more likely it will irritate her.

5. Over-Reliance on email as a channel

Email marketing still works, but far too many companies overestimate its power as marketing channel.  Over the last decade, humans have shown a great ability to get unwanted, unsolicited marketing out of their lives (DVR’s, Caller ID, Ad Blocker Software, etc.).  On the email side, spam protection put a pretty big roadblock up.  Gmail filters (i.e. Priority Inbox) are new roadblock.  I suspect the folks at Google are going to continue working on the problem of unsolicited emails – it just seems like something they’ll take on next, doesn’t it?  I wouldn’t be surprised if the government got more active in this type of thing as well, putting more teeth behind the current legislation.

To create a truly remarkable business by definition your approach to interacting with prospects, customers and leads should be personalized and lovable, not automated. That’s how I see marketing automation, what’s your experience with marketing automation, either as a marketer or a consumer?