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Marketing Automation: The Hype, And The Reality

Over the past few years, enthusiasm for the promise of Marketing Automation to vastly simplify your marketing effort has been growing to near-manic proportions. Marketing Automation vendors are telling us over and over that all we have to do is follow these “simple” steps:

Marketing Automation Hype vs. Reality

  • Just create some great content. (Easy, right?)
  • Segment your buyers by personas. (Easy, right?)
  • Map content to personas at the different stages of their buying processes. (Easy, right?)
  • Choose a Marketing Automation platform. (Easy, right?)
  • Learn how to use the Marketing Automation platform. (Easy, right?)
  • Make sure you have a CRM platform and know how to use it too. (Easy, right?)
  • Create the lead nurturing workflows within your Marketing Automation platform for drip campaigns to inbound prospects who will find your great content through internet searches. (Easy, right?)
  • Optimize your site for SEO so inbound traffic can find your great content through internet searches. (Easy, right)
  • Understand and track KPIs (key performance indicators, a.k.a. ROI metrics) to know how well your marketing campaigns are doing. (Easy, right?)
  • Create offers, emails and landing pages that convert inbound traffic into qualified prospects, and test multiple versions of all to see which convert the best. (Easy, right?)
  • Sit, back, relax, and enjoy the awesome power of Marketing Automation as the leads just roll right in. (Really???)

So many businesses and marketers have bought into this hype that the Marketing Automation market is literally exploding. Marketo, one of the leaders in this space, recently had a very successful initial public stock offering, while its close competitor, Pardot, was purchased by email marketing giant ExactTarget in 2012, which in turn was just acquired by Salesforce.com! Not to mention, Eloqua, the 800 pound gorilla in this space, was acquired by Oracle earlier this year. And, we’ve only listed a few of the many, many companies in this industry (see our list of “Marketing Automation vendors”). Tellingly, a Google search on the term “marketing automation” brings up nearly 39 million results!

What’s the reality?

Based on our own hands-on experience over the past year-and-a-half, none of this stuff is easy. But take heart: it’s not impossible, and it’s not nearly as hard as rocket science. Still, a lot of work and know-how goes into making the promise of Marketing Automation a reality. We just want to make sure you know exactly what you’re getting into, versus all the hype out there.

Let’s go through all of the above activities, point by point, to get a snapshot of reality, so you can properly prepare to do a great job with Marketing Automation.

Reality, point by point.

“Just create some great content.”

Just about every marketer we’ve talked to laments the difficulty of creating content. It’s time-consuming to research all those articles, white papers and collateral pieces. They must be written by good writers. Many require graphic design. And videos are a whole other story. Good content takes time and resources.

“Segment your buyers by personas.”

Different types of buyers have different needs, which can be quantified with descriptions called “personas.” To gain the interest of buyers, you’ve got to create content that is relevant to their specific needs at each of the different stages of their buying processes. This requires understanding your buyers as real people, not just demographic statistics. What are their motivations? Pain points? Goals and desires? Understanding these facets requires an in-depth discovery process with input from your sales, marketing and customer service teams. You can learn more about the in-depth process of using Buyer Personas here.

Content Mapping“Map content to personas at the different stages of their buying processes.”

Once you’ve defined your buyer personas, you’ll need to see what content you’ve already got that might fit your buyers’ needs at their various buying process stages, and what content you’ll need to create to fill in the gaps. You’ll plug this into a content mapping matrix – your must-have content list. From here, you’ll create the content you’ll need to help nurture prospects through the marketing and sales funnel. Learn more about how to use content mapping here. Once you’ve filled in the gaps, you’ll switch to a process of refinement as you gain data from your Marketing Automation platform. Are buyers attracted to your content? Are they downloading it? What’s working, what isn’t, and why?

“Choose a Marketing Automation platform.”

The 20+ Marketing Automation vendors out there make it sound so easy. “Just choose us! We’re the all-in-one solution that does everything for you! Compare features with those other guys and you’ll see we’re the best! Hey, why not take a free test drive right now?!!!

Here’s the problem. Unless you’ve already got fairly extensive experience using a Marketing Automation platform, you’ve got no way to assess if the platform really delivers all the features you’ll need, nor how hard or easy the platform is to use. Trust us; a user interface that isn’t intuitive can severely limit the effectiveness of a Marketing Automation tool, no matter how full-featured it is, because if you can’t figure out how to use it, you just won’t use it. And if you’ve already committed big dollars to purchasing the platform, well, that’s a lot of money down the drain.

But what about taking that free test drive?

Our experience is that without extensive prior exposure to using Marketing Automation tools, the test drive is meaningless. You simply won’t have enough time to be able to learn the platform and properly test it with actual campaigns. And as busy as you are already, do you really have the time to invest in trying to learn a new platform which is just one of several in your evaluation?

Bottom line: choosing a platform is never easy, especially if you haven’t chosen one before. Here at ZUZA, we spent a solid month interviewing vendors, reading reviews, and trying our best to “test drive” the tools before swallowing hard and committing to a platform. And make no mistake – this is a commitment. You’ll not only spend good money for a software subscription, but also a lot of time just learning how to use the platform before you can even start being productive with it.

Learn How To Use Marketing Automation“Learn how to use the Marketing Automation platform.”

The typical vendor “onboarding” process to help you implement your new platform lasts 90 days. In many cases, this just scratches the surface. You’ll learn how to set up the tool and use basic functions, such as building landing pages and emails, enabling simple automation rules and triggers, and building basic drip workflows. Depending on the vendor and how much you’re paying, you’ll either be on your own after 90 days, or you’ll be paying considerable money for “professional services” to help you actually get the most out of using your platform. The big question to ask is this: can your vendor go beyond simply teaching you how to use the platform itself, and help you learn the science and art of content marketing and lead nurturing? Because if you don’t understand that, it won’t matter how well you know how to navigate the tool itself. You’ll be dead in the water. Really, this step should be entitled, “Learn how to market using Marketing Automation.” And you can’t automate that learning process. You’ve got to do it the hard way, just like everyone else. (Once again, take heart: here is a great book to help you get started: Manufacturing Demand, by David Lewis, CEO and Founder of DemandGen.)

“Make sure you have a CRM platform and know how to use it too.”

First, why do you need a CRM platform and a Marketing Automation platform?

A Marketing Automation platform is specifically designed to automate engagement with prospects using content, and scoring prospects based on their interaction with that content – emails, landing pages, white papers, blog posts, videos, etc.

A CRM is specifically designed to manage prospect information, track sales opportunities, and track overall performance of the sales team and its individual members.

The two platforms complement each other nicely. The marketing team will use the Marketing Automation platform to nurture leads to the point that they are ready to talk to a sales person. The sales team will use the CRM to track and manage the direct selling process to its conclusion (deal won or deal lost). By sharing data between the two platforms, both the marketing and sales teams can view what is happening with a prospect at every stage of the marketing and sales funnel. So you really need both.

Which means, you’ve got to go through the same process as outlined above to evaluate, select, and learn how to use a CRM tool. You’ve also got to make sure your CRM can talk nicely with your Marketing Automation platform. (These days, most Marketing Automation platforms feature relatively seamless data synchronization with Salesforce.com. Some add connection to other platforms like SugarCRM and Microsoft Dynamics.)

Drip Marketing Workflow“Create lead nurturing workflows within your Marketing Automation platform for drip campaigns to inbound prospects who will find your great content through internet searches.”

Many of the Marketing Automation vendors try to show how easy it is to build drip workflows with their snazzy, visual drag-and-drop interfaces. You can select icons representing events, like sending an email; and triggers, such as, if a prospect clicks on a link in an email, take him/her to this landing page. Then, just drag those icons right onto a workspace, link them together in a logical sequence, and voilà: instant workflow.

OK, you guessed it; it’s not that easy. Sure, we all know how to drag icons around. But, designing a logical workflow that properly directs visitors based on their actions requires forethought and planning. Depending on the campaign, workflows can become quite dizzying in their complexity. And they can become even more complex when you build in logic that can divert visitors to one place or another based on known demographic information about them. You’ve got to script all this out and test it until you have confirmed a seamless user experience that can guide visitors where you’d like them to go.

“Optimize your site for SEO so inbound traffic can find your great content through internet searches.”

We probably don’t have to say much about this one. SEO is a lot of work. Keywords, metatags, alt tags, keyword mapping (making sure pages contain keywords relevant to their content), keywords in URLs, building legitimate backlinks from other sites, building out content on your site to make it more attractive to search engines (as well as visitors), contributing articles to other sites with authorship attribution and links back to your site…the list goes on. Many companies just outsource this to an outside firm because it is not only labor intensive but requires staying up to date on Google’s ever-changing search ranking criteria.

Marketing ROI Tracking“Understand and track KPIs (key performance indicators, a.k.a. ROI metrics) to know how well your marketing campaigns are doing.”

Knowing exactly what you want to measure and how depends on how you’ve defined your marketing and sales processes, and on your company’s business model. Are you a B2B SaaS provider or a B2C e-tailer? Do you sell one distinct product or a thousand? Do you sell direct, through distribution, or both? What marketing channels are you using? How can you track not just keywords, email clicks and form submissions, but actual revenue driven from these activities? How much information is enough and how much is too much?

This step has become critical after the recent recession, at a time when marketers are being held accountable for ROI metrics like never before. (Learn more about nurturing ROI metrics you should focus on to help track the quality of your leads.)

“Create offers, emails and landing pages that convert inbound traffic into qualified prospects, and test multiple versions of all to see which convert the best.”

What is the right way to build a landing page to maximize conversions? To build an email to maximize click-throughs? What is the most attractive content or special offer? How do you know what is making your landing pages or emails successful or not? Is it copy? Graphics? Layout? Call to action? The offer itself? Are enough people seeing your emails, landing pages and online ads to drive them to convert? How can you test for all of these variables?

Countless blog posts and whole books have been written on the art and science of creating effective landing pages and emails, and using A/B split and multivariate testing to fine-tune your digital communications. It’s complicated. And the more you test, the more complicated it gets. Creating all those versions, testing them with different segments, and tracking results all takes effort and time. Everyone says you gotta do it, but finding the time and having the know-how to do it properly are tough. We haven’t written a blog post on this topic yet, but this would be a good one for a future blog post, so stay tuned.

“Sit, back, relax, and enjoy the awesome power of Marketing Automation as the leads just roll on in.”



It’s time to take a deep breath and relax. We didn’t write this blog post to scare you away from Marketing Automation. Quite the opposite. As we’ve written many times in this blog, we really believe in the power of this technology. We just wanted to mentally prepare you for the effort involved to reap the full benefits of Marketing Automation.

The hype would have you believe that you can somehow just “flick a switch” with Marketing Automation and watch the leads roll in. It doesn’t work that way. Because at the end of the day, whatever tools we have at our disposal, we still have to know how to market, and creating marketing communications is still a manual process. This has never been easy or trivial. But we love being marketing practitioners, and that’s why we do it. Thankfully, new tools, like Marketing Automation, are giving us more power than ever before – and with the right understanding of how these tools properly fit into our marketing tool kits, we can be very successful.

That, after all is what this blog is all about.

Here’s to the Marketing Champion in all of us. See you in the next post.


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