When Marketing Automation Is the Wrong Solution

Chainsaw PumpkinYou wouldn’t jump in your car to go from the living room to the kitchen or pull out the chainsaw to cut a stick of butter.

Just because it is a more more powerful solution doesn’t mean it is necessary or advisable.

Marketing automation is quickly becoming like the self-driving car for B2B marketing. Led by Eloqua (now part of Oracle) and Marketo (with a very successful IPO last week), today marketing automation companies are collectively worth billions.

But like the self-driving car, just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

When Marketing Automation Is Unnecessary

Like anything else in B2B marketing, automation should be an outcome of your objectives and planning process, not an assumption going in.

Here are two situations where marketing automation, with its complexity, learning curve and cost, just isn’t the right solution. Unfortunately, these situations are all too common, even among marketing automation clients.

1. Your Marketing Isn’t Well Established
If you are just building out your first drip email campaign, you can build it in a marketing automation solution but you could also build it in almost any modern email marketing solution.

Marketing automation gives you a way to automate your marketing activity with far more complex business rules.

Are you still struggling with the simplest of rules? If so, marketing automation is a solution to someone else’s problem, not yours.

2. You Don’t Have Scale
Automation makes sense when the effort required to automate is less than the effort required to execute manually.

You would never consider creating rules with complex branching logic to send a followup email to just one person; you would look at the situation and write only the email needed, when its needed. And you would really personalize it to everything you know about the recipient!

The interesting question is, where is the tradeoff? When does automation actually make sense?

In short, it makes sense when you have sufficient scale that an automated solution costs less to manage or delivers a higher return for a similar investment. But finding that point is hard.

Based on the data Egan Cheung of Eloqua shared in this comment, you probably won’t hit that tipping point even with a relatively inexpensive marketing automation platform until you can dedicate a meaningful portion of at least one person’s time to marketing automation (beyond the time spent to write emails, create landing pages, etc). You will need someone with the time and skill to get into the weeds of the system in order to get the full value out of it.

Marketing automation is a great solution for many companies. But despite big acquisitions and IPOs, it isn’t a shiny cure-all for your marketing woes.

Before adopting marketing automation, make sure you are ready to add another level of complexity to your marketing and are ready to make the commitment not just to a vendor, but to the time and expertise necessary to really use the solution you are purchasing.

Your Turn

Do you have any rules of thumb about when a marketing automation solution makes sense? Alternatively, do you have questions about when it makes sense? Please share either one below, or with me on Twitter (@wittlake).

Photo Credit: Lana_aka_BADGRL via Flickr cc

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  • Dara Schulenberg

    Well said Eric. Need to avoid the bright shiny object syndrome that plagues B2B. Please tell me you’re planning a similar post on “When RWD – and/or RED is the wrong for your campaign/program.” Seems to be a(nother) reoccuring conversation of late!

  • Eric – Excellent column. Sometimes, marketing automation can seem a bit like form before function. Or perhaps put another way, I think sometimes marketing automation can be a solution in search of a problem. There are no doubt many challenges for B2B marketers, but one size does not fit all. And, by the way, an awful lot of marketers I know who are using marketing automation are wondering where the “automation” part is.

  • Margaret Johnson

    “Automating bad process just gets you to chaos faster.” If marketers haven’t figured out their processes, adding an automation tool will make it more difficult to figure out the processes – or worse, they will build processes based on what they understand the tool’s capabilities to be. That is a recipe for disaster, for sure. Marketers need to map their engagement model with prospects and clients, determine how to best interact, then determine if automating those interactions will have a payoff.
    Thanks for your posts. I enjoy reading your perspective.

    • And thanks for taking the time to comment, I appreciate having your perspective here!

  • Eric, great points from you and the community thus far. From the folks I speak with, it seems like marketing automation can work for the client segments that use digital media in the purchase decision process to some degree.

    But for customers who aren’t in front of the computer or smartphone – reading email and participating in social media – marketing automation doesn’t seem to be the magic solution.

    There are many industries where high-touch, face-to-face connections and still interactions make all the difference. Not everything can be automated (yet).

    • And let’s hope we can’t automate everything at some point in the future!

      Definitely true, some markets don’t predominantly buy this way yet. That said, the trend seems to be moving this way, I’ve seen some recent success stories coming out of the construction industry, for instance. Not a market I think of as an early adopter. I guess the question is: is it just a matter of time before it makes sense for the vast majority of larger marketers (that have their programs in shape, per the above)?

      Love the comment, thanks for sharing it!

  • As the VP Marketing of a Marketing Automation vendor, I can hope that everyone would want to use marketing automation. But at the same time, I recognize that it’s not the right solution for some (many?) companies. I put together this worksheet (it’s part of my Definitive Guide to Marketing Automation) to help companies evaluate when they are ready. (By the way, the Definitive Guide also has a entire section on how to make sure you are successful with the software.)


    • Jon, glad to have you chime in here!

      I like that the guide highlights outgrowing traditional email capabilities and already having moved beyond having sales as an immediate responder to every potential contact.

      Early on I saw sales teams see automation a threat to their relationship. You’ve handled that nicely here.

  • Adam

    When does automation actually make sense? – It should have sence in long run I think.


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