Marketing Automation – A Failure

Nobody ever writes about failures with the latest technology. It’s embarrassing, they think they might turn things around, and their employer doesn’t want them to. But here, I’m going to share my thoughts on why my last employer failed with marketing automation (specifically Marketo – but most of this story would apply to others). I can write freely because:

  1. My last employer went bust in December 2011 (a good thing – out of that BrightCarbon was born), so they can’t really complain.
  2. This now-defunct employer obviously wasn’t really getting the right results from marketing automation – if they had, it’s far less likely that they would have gone bust (although we’ll never quite know the full story). I can say we failed, and it’s hard to argue, really.
  3. I think that the opportunity for others to learn from the mistakes that were made is more important than any personal embarrassment I feel in being part of the failure.

This story is primarily applicable to small businesses – we were only 40 people, under $5m of turnover. Larger businesses will still have some lessons to learn from this, but I’m not sure how many.

So, why do I think we failed with Marketo and marketing automation?

Marketing automation objectives

Our objectives for using a marketing automation product weren’t clear, and weren’t fully thought-through. We wanted to know who was on our site, and where inbound leads had come from. We saw lead nurturing and marketing automation as a bonus that could come later. But that meant we weren’t really prepared for the full feature-set. We were using a hammer to crack a nut. An expensive hammer.

Need a marketing process

We didn’t have a marketing process to automate. Our marketing was very tactical. We might acquire a list, or attend a trade show. What we did next was ad-hoc, and not necessarily well thought through. We got a tool that would help us automate our process, but we didn’t have a process.

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 not when sales were desperate (and willing) to jump on any phone number that might connect them with a warm body.

Wrong content for demand generation

We didn’t have the right content. Or rather, we had a huge amount of content, but it was in the form of web pages, not packaged up into e-Books and whitepapers and other things that people would swap their contact details for. So, we had a lot of web traffic, but we didn’t really have any way of getting people to give up their anonymity. At least at first.

Marketing staff capacity

We were a small business, without a proper marketing department. We had 1.5 people in marketing. Marketo was supposed to help us overcome that lack of staff – but actually, we needed to dedicate a lot of time to trying to make it work. We also quickly discovered that marketing automation is a beast – it devours content. If you don’t feed it, it dies.

Sales and marketing alignment

It took us too long to build a shared understanding of the buying process between marketing and sales. We didn’t really agree on what could be communicated by marketing, and what should be communicated by sales. Sales people didn’t want their punchlines to have been revealed by a marketing campaign. So feeding the marketing automation beast with content became even harder – sales were trying to stop us telling prospects certain things.

Customers and prospects

We never really thought about harnessing the tool to communicate with existing customers, to identify and create up-sell and cross-sell opportunities, or for project follow-up. Given that we didn’t get enough use of Marketo in managing our prospects, we might have been able to get more value by also using it with customers. That wasn’t something sales people wanted.

Lead recycling

We didn’t recycle leads. There was a culture of sales people calling leads as dead if they weren’t ready to buy. Sales people needed to be better-educated, and more realistic. Poor sales and marketing alignment made it attractive for sales to just claim leads weren’t any good, rather than hand them back.

New business vs. Repeat business

We sold projects. Deal size was very unpredictable. We were talking about tens of deals per month, not 100s. Many of those deals came from referrals, or repeat business. Things like revenue performance modelling didn’t seem to fit, for that reason. We can’t have been the only company out there with a revenue profile that didn’t seem to fit well for some of the functionality that Marketo was rolling-out.

Doing things the hard way

We stupidly used the SOAP XML integration, because we wanted Marketo pages to integrate with our website in a clever way, and because we wanted some landing page functionality that wasn’t there at the time. Big mistake. Lots of extra work, lots of cost, and it meant that support didn’t know what we were talking about, half the time.

Support

Support hours – at the time – were awful. California isn’t on the best timeline for the UK. That’s fixed now (support from Ireland) – but at the time it was terrible. So was the fact that Marketo was growing so fast that it seemed anyone you ever spoke to was new.

Email vs. Lumpy mail

Is email the best tool for communication? We came to rely on it too much – perhaps because that’s what tool we had. Who opens sales emails? People obviously do – and others are getting great ROI from marketing automation – but I do wonder if we should have been more creative and sent the occasional ‘lumpy mail’. We made some use of Brainshark – but only after other efforts hadn’t worked.

Lessons Learned for BrightCarbon

We haven’t implemented a marketing automation solution as BrightCarbon (yet). We’re going to (a) build our list, and create a tried-and-tested set of activities for capturing leads (b) create valuable content (c) create and run nurturing campaigns manually, and tweak until we’re happy (d) only automate our marketing when we can’t do it manually any more.

That might sound naive – but I can’t help but feel that automating a process that we feel works is going to be more useful than putting technology in place, setting up a process without any feel of how it feels for real prospects, and letting the technology get on with it because tweaking isn’t anyone’s job.

I’m sure we haven’t got the answers. Failure teaches us many things to avoid – but not necessarily what to do instead. If you have ideas, thoughts, comments – please share.

Latest comments

Jon Miller, Marketo on 7th February 2012 at 8:14 pm said

I’m the VP of Marketing and co-founder at Marketo. Thank you for taking the time to craft such a thoughtful post. At Marketo, we take customer success very seriously and have (as you point out) significantly expanded our Support and Services operations in the US and in Europe to resolve the issues you identified. In fact, “customer satisfaction” with our Support has been rising steadily over the last four quarters and is currently at 87% — not perfect yet, but quite good.

That said, your post is not just about Marketo, but about how to be successful with marketing automation in general. I’ve always said that “Marketo may be easy, but that doesn’t make marketing easy”. I agree completely that to drive the kind of success that we see from marketing automation you need a good process, healthy lead flow, and lots (and lots) of content. Unlike other categories of enterprise software, marketing automation is not something you just implement and then forget. You need the time and resources to invest into the system; the most successful companies are continually building and evolving and expanding how they use the system to get maximum value.

I understand your desire to wait until you have a process, content, and leads in place, but at the same time I encourage everyone to “think big, but then start small and move quickly.” In my experience, even basic lead nurturing and lead scoring can deliver significant value versus random acts of marketing and sales cherry-picking leads. While it may not be true for your company, many companies will see the best ROI from getting started with something bite-sized – and then adding more, and more, and more over time in an agile fashion. For example, at Marketo we started with new business pipeline, and then added customer nurturing, then referrals and upsell/cross-sell – all the while enhancing and improving the core processes we’ve built previously. For those customers who want a little more help on this journey, we’ve also built out a much larger set of expert consultants and partners who can give you the guidance and best practices at every stage of your journey.

Note: I recognize that small start-ups (e.g. <40 people, $5M turnover) may not want to invest $2,000+ a month while they are in the "start small" phase. That's why we released Spark by Marketo, our solution tailored specifically for small businesses for only $750 a month. Companies can get started with Spark, and then upgrade to Marketo Professional when their business grows and requires the extra functionality.

In the end, thank you again for writing such a thoughtful post. Would you be interested in continuing the conversation by writing a guest post for the Marketo Modern B2B Marketing blog about how to make marketing automation successful? Feel free to contact me directly at jon [at] marketo.com.

Joby Blume on 7th February 2012 at 8:35 pm said

Jon

Thanks for the comment. I’m amazed (and impressed) that you found this article – but pleased that you did.

I certainly didn’t mean this to be an article about Marketo – I think we would have faced many of the same issues whichever marketing automation vendor we had chosen. Some of you might do better usability, others have more presence in Europe, and others still more of a small-business focus. But I think my general point was around the difficulties of actually making marketing automation work.

I wonder what percentage of marketing automation customers achieve their objectives (or even have clear objectives)? Maybe it’s a high number, maybe it isn’t. Dismantling what has been built, all those lovingly-crafted nurturing campaigns, must be sufficiently tedious that it hardly ever happens. I would imagine most companies persevere, hoping that even if things are going badly, they will improve.

As with any solution, there are plenty of companies who are happy to put forward their ROI case study, show how well they have done, and help build the hype. I do sometimes wonder how many companies were like us – struggling to create enough content, finding it hard to agree what processes to use, and not-so-much aligning sales and marketing as bringing the problems into the open.

For larger companies, it’s now possible to buy in expertise and support. For smaller companies – even a product like Spark is still money that could be spent on something else. But it isn’t even about the money. Sometimes making marketing ‘the automaton’s job’ might mean it isn’t anybody else’s job. Just a fear.

Finally – I’ll email you separately but of course I would be happy to write a guest post on the Marketo blog. I’m not qualified to write about how to make marketing automation successful (I never have) – but I could certainly provide guidance on things to avoid.

David Raab on 7th February 2012 at 9:19 pm said

Thanks for this very valuable post. I hope many other people find it too. I think you’re correct that most of your problems had little to do with the specific tool and much to do with poor execution. The only qualification I’d suggest is that there are $500 per month options that make marketing automation more affordable than it was even a year ago. But even free marketing automation (also available) won’t be worthwhile if it’s not run effectively. Remember that the real cost is the time and attention of the marketers.

Let’s hope that other marketers learn from your mistakes so they don’t repeat them.

Joby Blume on 7th February 2012 at 9:27 pm said

David

Thanks for the comment. I hadn’t thought about the true cost of marketing automation being in the time and attention of the marketers – but that’s certainly true.

We found that making marketing automation work was incredibly time-consuming. Learning Marketo didn’t take that long (perhaps a bit around the edges)… But creating emails, campaigns, and content that people actually wanted to sign-up to receive – that’s a lot of work.

I think we could easily have had somebody working full-time on trying to get value from Marketo – and even then, they would have needed help from content experts to create material.

One final thought. I do wonder if the success of marketing automation as an industry will make it harder for companies to get such great results in the future. (Think ‘Tragedy of the commons’.) I notice that I’m a little more reluctant to enter my details into forms – even when I want the material that sits behind them (often the case with HubSpot stuff, for some reason) because I’m wary of the barrage of emails I’ll get. As marketing automation is done wrong by many – will more buyers be nervous of filling in forms? Prices might be coming down – but that doesn’t mean that ROI will necessarily be going up.

Brian Reilly on 7th February 2012 at 10:55 pm said

Reading through the list above, I recognize all of the items you’ve listed as common problems that companies, both large and small, run into when trying to implement marketing automation software. In the end, it’s a tool – a really expensive hammer as you phrased it – that requires what all tools require to be useful: people to put them to work and maintain them over time to keep them running. David makes this same point.

One question – did you ever investigate having an agency do the work for you and shoulder the burden of the technology rather than carrying the load yourselves? Just curious as this is something I regularly run into with businesses of your size – they love the power and can handle the basics but once you get into generating loads of content and building multi-touch campaigns, it becomes more than a small marketing team can handle.

Joby Blume on 7th February 2012 at 11:32 pm said

Brian

No, we never really considered having an agency to do the work for us. Budget would have come in to play, of course.

I’m never sure if an agency approach doesn’t just shift the problem one step back – instead of having to find the time to manage Marketo, we would have had to find the time to manage an agency. The agency wouldn’t have been able to create our content for us (we were very niche), and I don’t know how well any agency would have been able to sort out problems at the top of the organisation where there was a fundamental disagreement around the relative roles of sales and marketing. They would have been able to manage Marketo – but that was the easy part.

Part of the promise of marketing automation was that it would allow us to be self-sufficient. I guess we were unrealistic – we needed to invest more time than we had to actually start getting value from the platform.

Joe Zuccaro on 7th February 2012 at 11:51 pm said

Like any IT implementation, the introduction of Marketing Automation is a game changer for the enterprise. The promise of the solutions is only achievable with the sweat of end users, and with Marketers, this is a Herculanean task- after all, most Marketing departments are already overworked, under-staffed, under-budgeted, misunderstood, and under-appreciated. Throw the demands of establishing a scalable lead management process and a content strategy, and even the best Marketers can feel overwhelmed.

At this point in Internet and Marketing history, true revenue growth demands transformational change within the enterprise, most notably between the Marketing and Sales departments. And Marketers, who have been staying within their comfort zones of event planning, creative, and branding, need to be better system analysts, linguists, and number crunchers to an actuarial level.

This transformation may seem scary to some, but it is inevitable and there is no turning back. Marketing and Sales data have become strategic assets for the enterprise; the companies that more efficiently gather, store, analyze, share data and effectively act upon that data will thrive. Those that are less efficient will lag significantly or fail completely.

The good news , Joby, is that you learned from your old company’s failure. More good news is that there are small companies and even startups are achieving success with marketing automation on an incremental basis- Real succes takes a while because you need to slowly build the data that gets measured. As they say, you eat an elephant one bite at a time.

No matter what vendor you choose, know that success is possible although it may seem painful and hairy at times. Good luck!

Joby Blume on 8th February 2012 at 6:01 am said

Joe, thanks for the comments.

Are they true? I don’t know. I can’t help but believe that there are 100s of vastly successful B2B companies who aren’t using marketing automation. Would they be more successful if they did – maybe. Is it possible to be successful without using certain kinds of sales and marketing data as strategic assets – maybe.

Will marketing people become actuaries? Maybe you haven’t met actuaries – but I agree with the thrust of your point. But that just makes things even harder – without the right skill-set, automating marketing is even harder than my description above. For what it’s worth – I’m actually pretty numerate.

Given the amount of time (Herculean task) that marketing automation takes to do right, where should it come on a priority list? Of course we would want to do it – but do we need to do it? More than creating the content it needs? More than testing our offer? More than refining our pricing?

Of course we would want effective marketing automation, who wouldn’t. We didn’t manage it. I hope others do.

David Raab on 8th February 2012 at 1:57 pm said

Very interesting discussion. At the end of the day, we don’t want effective marketing automation. We want effective marketing. In the past, marketers did things (events, collateral, advertising, lead capture) that didn’t take much content or list management. Today, the role of marketing has changed such that effective marketers need to do the things that marketing automation makes easier. So, while there are certainly many successful B2B companies who don’t use marketing automation (the vast majority, in fact), they’re probably working harder than necessary.

It’s like riding a horse vs. driving a car: I can have a successful journey on either one, but the car will get me there faster.

Jill Rowley on 8th February 2012 at 2:20 pm said

Joby,

Thank you for sharing your story. I hope this helps others better prepare for their marketing automation journey. Having spent the past 10 years building the marketing automation space with Eloqua, I have seen failed projects, but I have also celebrated a lot of client success. I am not going to drone on here about how great Eloqua is (like Jon Miller did above), but I would love to understand a few more things from you – 1) Did the Marketo Sales Rep make you aware of what resources would be required to be successful and 2) Once you signed on with Marketo, was there any success coaching to help you on your journey? 3) What kind of training and education was provided by Marketo?

Too often I hear stories of companies getting rushed to contract signature versus being coached to success.

Again, thanks for having the courage to share your story!

Jill Rowley
Eloqua
Jill.Rowley@eloqua.com

Joby Blume on 8th February 2012 at 5:11 pm said

@ David – thanks for the additional response.

I’m not sure I agree with the horse vs. car analogy though. That would suggest that marketing automation does the same thing as marketing without automation, but more efficiently/powerfully. I think that can be the case, but those who don’t automate marketing can benefit in other ways – for the same reason that computers haven’t passed the Turing Test yet.

    A sensitive, intelligent human can write an email to a prospect they met at a show in a more nuanced way than a computer can.
    A handwritten note will elicit a different response to another email in a crowded inbox.
    A human can make connections to events they read in the Financial Times, and tailor marketing communications accordingly, in a way that certainly Marketo wasn’t able to.

Once marketing automation has been set up, how often do people go back and tweak for the tiny bits of information that they pick up every day from the world around them? Humans can do that.

Non-automated marketing can be qualitatively better, can’t it?

@ Jill

Thanks for the comment.

To answer the questions specifically:

1. The Marketo Rep probably didn’t do a great job of talking about what we would need to do to be successful – but if they had, I’m not sure we were listening anyway. We had our own understanding of what we would get from marketing automation, and I think we grossly over-estimated our own capacity. Both we and our rep were focused on getting the deal done at the end of a quarter.

2. I can’t remember exactly how it worked, but we had a fortnight of coaching and support from a customer service rep at Marketo. I think there might have been three hands-on sessions, and also a rather substantial amount of material and guides and so on. There were also separate sessions for e.g. our SFDC developer to deal with some of the integration work. I got the feeling that perhaps our on-boarding was run by someone who was brand-new to the company, if not to the platform. Everyone starts somewhere, but it wasn’t ideal. I don’t think it helped, but we perhaps should have been more insistent on being supported by someone more experienced. I don’t know that our story would be unique to Marketo in a fast-growing space though. I can’t imagine it would be.

3. There were on-going webinars, more material that we could consume, and a fairly rich array of material available for customers. Thinking about it, I think we would have done better if we had been spoon-fed a bit more. Just because of where we were. So, the coaching taught us how to set up a nurture campaign, or a recycle campaign in Marketo (easy to do). Where we just found ourselves going too slow and struggling was answering questions like What should an email to someone who isn’t ready to buy a low-value product at the start of a nurture campaign say? Almost a ‘marketing automation by numbers’ – not good, but good enough as a starting point to then tweak. That was our problem – we didn’t have a marketing process to automate, and we didn’t have content to put into Marketo. We spent the first year or so struggling to come up with it.

An expensive process.

David Raab on 8th February 2012 at 6:04 pm said

Hi Joby. Sure, non-automated marketing can be better. The question is how often anyone (especially in marketing, as opposed to sales) is going to send those hand-written notes and hand-edited emails? More likely, the choice is between automated contact and no contact at all. “The best is the enemy of the good”, as Voltaire said.

Joby Blume on 9th February 2012 at 8:20 pm said

OK, agreed. But one way to make sure nobody takes the time to make a real effort with things like hand-written notes is to have a generic email sent, possibly filtered to spam, certainly flagged as having an image from the Internet for tracking, and (as the market matures) to be identified by the recipient as having been sent from a marketing automation platform, not a person.

We’re going to take our chance with human contact, for now. But then, we’re a new start-up, and that’s one of the few advantages we have over more established firms.

Howard Sewell on 10th February 2012 at 1:32 am said

Fascinating story, Joby – you’ve created a tremendously valuable resource for anyone considering marketing automation. I hope, however, that you don’t scare off too many people. As Jon Miller expressed, the potential returns from marketing automation, even on a modest scale, are just too great.

It must be said, however, that the litany of mistakes, missteps, and mis-assumptions that you describe here are not uncommon. Fact is, many marketing automation customers just don’t know what they’re getting into. It pains me to read your post because, as Brian Reilly mentions, there’s an entire ecosystem of marketing automation consultants and agencies, our firm included, that could have provided much of the strategy, process, content, bandwidth, leads, advice, etc. that your company needed. Answering the “what to say to whom when” questions is what we do for a living.

Again, kudos on a thoughtful and informative article. Cheers,

Howard Sewell
Spear Marketing Group

P.S. Disclaimer – we’re a long-time Marketo partner.

Joby Blume on 10th February 2012 at 6:07 am said

Howard

Thanks for taking the time to comment.

I certainly wasn’t trying to scare anyone off. But I do think that it’s important that people go into marketing automation (or any significant decision) with their eyes open. It doesn’t help anybody much (maybe automation sales reps on commission) to have customers who are unsuccessful with their investment.

For a small business like ours was, significant spending on consultancy services to go alongside our Marketo spend would have been a bit rich. At a certain point, the question becomes Should we invest in marketing automation, or add another member to our tiny marketing team? Both are useful – perhaps for my previous employer, we might have done more with a full time employee.

My only other response to your comment is around engaging an outside agency for content. I have no doubt that a firm such as Spear Marketing would have been able to help with strategy, advice, leads, campaign best practice, and so on. But my old employer (like BrightCarbon now) was a niche firm offering presentations and sales tools. We discovered over the years that agencies couldn’t create our key content for us – because they weren’t experts in what we did. When you make a living from creating content, it’s not something you can easily outsource. That must be true of all sorts of B2B firms in highly technical or specialised areas. So, if you don’t have good content, it can be hard to get it.

Howard Sewell on 10th February 2012 at 9:31 pm said

Thanks for the response Joby. Agreed 100% about customers having eyes wide open when considering this technology. And I think Marketo would be the first to say that customer success – measurable success, even – is the foundation of their future as a company.

In response to your last comment re: outside services – I do agree that even the best agency is never going know a particular niche or category as well as the client. Having said that, I’d quibble with the notion that this implies that the same agency can’t create effective content. Most of our clients operate in one technical niche or another. We don’t tell them how to position their products, or who their target audience is. However, like any good agency, we are practiced at taking material or input in its rawest form, drawing out the salient points, and forging it into either compelling offer content or email communication.

No-one understands your business like you do. But an outside partner with the right experience and creative skills can help translate that understanding into effective marketing communications (and fodder for marketing automation.)

Cheers, Howard

Joby Blume on 10th February 2012 at 10:09 pm said

Howard

Thanks for following-up. I guess you are right – agencies do take raw material to create content, and we do that (albeit for visual communication) here at BrightCarbon – so I ought to be convinced.

I guess where we went wrong at my last employer was that we didn’t really have raw material sitting around – we created content for projects, and clients – but not about our own philosophy or approach. I think we underestimated how much content – high quality content – we would need. We should probably have been quicker to do things though – even if we went back to refine them later.

A good agency partner might have been able to tease content out of us, and to re-purpose content for lots of different uses. We didn’t have budget, and hadn’t thought about needing additional support though. We would still have needed to manage that relationship, and we hadn’t really thought about that requirement at all.

Finally, I don’t know how educated we were as buyers when we decided to select a marketing automation vendor. (I’m not saying we chose wrong, just that we didn’t really understand, and fell for the hype of the sector, to an extent.) I think we might have done an even worse job of picking an agency to support us. It’s a tricky one – particularly as one of the main reasons we chose Marketo at the time was because we believed it was going to be easier to use than alternatives. It was easy to use, but that didn’t make us successful with marketing automation.

Rob Brosnan on 12th February 2012 at 4:17 pm said

Hi Joby,

Thanks for your post. Should you consider implementing a marketing automation platform for BrightCarbon, how would you change your evaluation process? Would you more heavily weight a provider’s education, training, and client development? Account management/support?

Thanks,
Rob

Joby Blume on 12th February 2012 at 6:24 pm said

Rob,

Thank you for responding. First, it’s important to note that at my last employer, we didn’t really have an evaluation process – at least not formally. We only considered Maketo and Eloqua – I’m not sure we were aware of other providers at the time. We chose Marketo simply because the reputation that it had (or at least that it had with us) was as being easier to use, and perhaps more suited to small companies. I don’t know if we chose right or not – but that’s how we chose.

If we were going to implement marketing automation here at BrightCarbon, I would do the following to start with:

1. Spend far more time working out what processes we wanted to automate, before I tried to automate them
2. Put a plan in place to acquire enough leads/names so that we actually needed marketing automation, before we looked at vendors. Knowing what we were actually dealing with would help to scope our task
3. Armed with a sense of what we wanted to automate, build a requirements list – e.g. automation of webinar registrations, integration with Brainshark

But at that point, I suspect I would still have a number of vendors left to consider. I would probably look for a supplier that was specifically targeting small businesses – but again, between Pardot, and HubSpot, and Marketo (Spark) – I would probably still have vendors left on my list. I’m sure there are others – this time I would actively try to work out who should be on the list.

I would then throw out any vendor with support only on the West Coast as the time difference with the UK is just too irritating (East Coast only would be fine).

Based on the comments here – I don’t know how I would weight provider’s education and client development. It’s important – but then, it seems like there are plenty of agencies who can fill the gaps. I would want to be sure that there was an ecosystem of service providers for the platform I chose, in case we needed help.

I would be heavily influenced by any provider that offered an almost ‘off-the-shelf’ fast-start so that we could put something in place and then tweak it (i.e. ‘copy this, fill in the blanks, and you have a basic nurture for these types of leads).

Our experience of support was that what was probably good for most (US, not using SOAP) was awful for us (Europe, using SOAP). Nothing would have shown up in analyst reports, but we would have been unhappy. So I think I would be sceptical about our ability to evaluate support quality before deciding. Account management – probably wouldn’t be on my radar, if by that you mean quality of contact with sales people. In an ideal world, the interactions would be helpful – but I would probably rather be interacting with technical/marketing experts than sales, once the deal is signed. I would be wary of choosing based on sales person quality.

Overall, I’m not sure – even knowing what I do now – that we would be in a good position to make a vendor decision. Most of the reason why we failed with marketing automation at my last employer was nothing to do with Marketo (around the edges, but that’s it). I’m sure plenty could tell me otherwise, but it feels to me that the vendor is less important to marketing automation success than internal factors – are we ready, do we have clear objectives, do we have the right content, do we have a clear process?

I think a vendor that told me clearly and honestly what we ought to have in place before we ever sign an order would win my trust.

Steve Susina on 12th February 2012 at 7:41 pm said

As I started reading the article (after being linked from David Raab’s blog), I was about halfway through when I realized that what was described was not necessarily a failure of marketing automation, but a failure of the underlying marketing process–automated or not. I’m glad that Jon from Marketo jumped in and made that very point.

In my opinion, nearly all the problems listed–too few leads, not enough content, no alignment between sales and marketing, not enough staff time, etc–probably existed before the Marketing Automation system was deployed. MA has a way of exposing those shortcomings pretty quickly!

As a corporate marketer, I’ve deployed Marketo at two different organizations, and when people ask me about my experience, I always tell them that the most important thing to understand is that they still have to think. You still have to put yourself in the mindset of a prospect, understand what information they need to support a purchase, and figure out where they’re going to be looking for such information.

In other words, marketing automation isn’t going to eliminate the marketer’s need to develop the right content, write engaging copy for emails or landing pages, or develop the strategy to attract people to get to the landing pages in the first place.

Yes, there’s a learning curve–and I’ll admit it’s a steep one. However, once there, I found that my marketing automation system took care of managing the framework and logistics behind complex marketing campaigns–both front and back end. That freed up the time of the marketing staff to spend on understanding customer challenges and developing content that explains how we solve those challenges.

Joby Blume on 12th February 2012 at 10:16 pm said

Steve, thanks for the comment.

Of course I agree with the thrust of what you have said. This isn’t an article about failure with marketing automation because it was too hard to get Marketo set up to send email A after prospect B took action C. That was the easy part. What I was saying – as you have identified, was that we failed with marketing automation because we didn’t have our overall marketing processes worked out, so we couldn’t automate them.

Before we had Marketo, we weren’t trying to do content marketing in a big way. Once we had Marketo – we needed a lot of content, we needed a process, and we didn’t have either. Maybe we were the only company ever to sign a marketing automation deal thinking it would solve our problems, only to find that it just made them more obvious – but I don’t think so.

It’s true that there’s a learning curve – but I don’t think it’s around making Marketo work. It’s around creating compelling landing pages and email copy, but as you say – more than that, getting people to those pages in the first place and all the content that requires. That raises the tactical question: Does it make sense to sign a deal with a marketing automation vendor and then develop the content and capacity that you need, or does it make sense to build the content and capacity first?

Joe Zuccaro on 13th February 2012 at 1:35 am said

Joby,

thanks for the response.

I think the key to remember is that on a daily basis, more and more information is pinging around the internet – much of it is noise, but some of it is valuable. Companies that don’t think they need Marketing Automation are fooling themselves. More and more conversations and data about their industry, product, competitors and company are one the Internet, and these conversations will go on, with or without them.

I mention in my prior post that data is a “strategic asset” for an enterprise. If you think about it, sales people come and go. Marketing people come and go. What remains is the data and whoever replaces those departing sales and marketing people will want to be able to re-engage with customers without skipping a beat; too many times firms find themselves at a disadvantage when they have to “reinvent the wheel” when it comes to reaching out to salvage or re-initiate the relationship with the prospect or customer. Marketing Automation helps the enterprise mitigate any deterioration of the conversation; since it can help keep the data accurate and complete (as in institutionalizing stuff in people’s heads who walk away from the firm), future marketers and sales people become stewards of the data, not hoarders of the data.

Anyway, sure there have been successful companies without Marketing Automation – look at all the companies that have done so prior to the arrival of these web technologies – however, once again, because of the proliferation of various types of data, both structured and unstructured on the Internet, the companies that have the ability to capture and analyze relevant data pertaining to their revenue stream will have a competitive advantage over those that don’t.

As I said, this is a transformational time for businesses and Marketers; those that can crunch the numbers and act upon them will survive and thrive, those that don’t, won’t. Unless you’re talking about small local businesses that depend on a defined local market (like a florist), any business that looks upon an entire region, nation, or the world as its market will have to make the transformation to being a true “network-centric” marketing organization.

Peace.

Joby Blume on 13th February 2012 at 9:18 am said

Joe, food for thought in that comment – thanks.

Just a few observations:

1. Some huge enterprises selling B2B may have no use for marketing automation. For example, I was with a client last week writing sales presentations for a new product launch. They have perhaps fewer than fifty potential customers for this product globally (and they know who to speak to, personally), but the market is huge in terms of size. I’m not sure where marketing automation would fit for them. Or, imagine supply chain firms in aerospace – with Airbus or Boeing as the only possible customers…

2. Is marketing automation really helping with customer conversations? Can it be a conversation if only one side is actually a human? At best marketing automation enables pseudo-conversations, with the real conversations happening once a lead is passed to a human to deal with.

3. I would have thought that a lot of the continuity is enabled by the CRM, with qualified leads. I don’t know how important it really is if a prospect gets sent the wrong email because of some error of data handling during the marketing phase. What percentage of marketing automation users are genuinely sending the right content at the right time?

But yes, it did seem to me that for those companies that really get marketing automation right, the rewards can be enormous. I suspect that these are the same companies who would do well without automation anyway, and that all marketing automation does is amplify the differences between high and low performing marketing departments.

I guess I took the time to tell my story because I felt that for marketing departments who aren’t good at content marketing yet, and who don’t have a clear marketing process yet, marketing automation might be surprisingly difficult to make work – however easy the user interface…

Dharmesh Shah on 13th February 2012 at 5:35 pm said

Great article and discussion. I’m the co-founder/CTO of HubSpot

I’m not going to comment on either marketing automation or Marketo — the awesome Jon Miller has already done an exceptional job at that.

I’m instead going to say one thing: You are not alone! Most small businesses don’t have a lead qualification problem or even a lead nurturing problem. It’s not that they haven’t A/B tested their landing pages and optimized conversion Their basic problem is that THEY NEED MORE LEADS. It’s easy to get distracted by a bunch of planning, process and optimization. Instead, the answer is simple (but not easy) — create more remarkably useful content and learn how to optimize and promote it thoughtfully.

Drop me an email and I’ll send you the Kindle edition of “Inbound Marketing” as my gift. It’s an easy read, and the ideas therein have helped millions of people.

Cheers,
Dharmesh Shah
Co-Founder and CTO, HubSpot

Joby Blume on 13th February 2012 at 7:07 pm said

Dharmesh, thank you for the comment.

I think that was our fundamental problem. We didn’t have enough leads. We actually spent time building our site, and with decent SEO ranked highly for a lot of terms we wanted to be found for. Then we had traffic, but still few leads.

We were actually getting about 5-10 in-bounds that turned to orders each month – which is better than nothing (for a small business), but not enough to need automating.

Remarkably useful content, optimise and promote – sounds like a great starting point. If that goes well, I’m hoping we’ll need to automate something just to cope with the volume – until then, it feels to me like our focus should be on content, then process.

I’ll email you my details – thanks for the kind offer. Disclosure though – I actually have a copy of your book on my desk – it arrived a week or two ago from Amazon. Nothing wrong with having a copy to share with my colleagues though!

Ed Hadley on 14th February 2012 at 2:36 pm said

Joby – Great post. It makes me realize how fortunate I was that we didn’t deploy a marketing automation system at my last employer, a small B2B software company. Had we, I guarantee we would have learned many of the same lessons—particularly that it’s fruitless to automate bad or nonexistent processes. We would have realized too late that we were in way over our heads, with no clear processes, no alignment between sales and marketing, and not enough content or resources to support the system.

As a department of one-ish, I tried to focus the majority of my time on content creation because I saw that it was directly increasing lead quantity, which was really our key need at the time. Had we gotten to the point where sales couldn’t handle the lead flow, then we probably would have looked to address the issue via lead management/marketing automation. Sounds like maybe you’re heading in a similar direction.

Good luck with your new venture at BrightCarbon!

p.s. In the interest of full disclosure, I currently work for a marketing automation vendor (Neolane). The SMB market isn’t our focus, so the sole purpose of my comments is to share my personal experience as a marketer who was once in a similar position and could have gone down the same path.

Joby Blume on 14th February 2012 at 2:49 pm said

Ed

Thanks for the good luck wishes, and for the comment.

It does seem like creating good content is essential to success with marketing automation, and that if that isn’t possible, then automation isn’t going to help. We didn’t fully understand that – I hope that others at least go in with their eyes wide open. With a ‘not enough leads’ problem, marketing automation wasn’t really the answer. Looking back, I do wonder why we decided to buy – I think we thought it would allow us to get around the fact we were under-staffed.

It is worth noting that another part of why we wanted Marketo was to track individuals better – to get more of a sense of who was on our site, and where our leads came from. We did get that. But it was such a small part of the benefit available, it didn’t make sense to use Marketo just for that.

Mike Dattilio on 19th February 2012 at 1:48 pm said

Sound advice and insights about your experience with marketing automation. Three key points that echo with my experience helping business owners transition into “inbound” marketing:
1 – the lack of a process can’t be overcome by even the greatest of technology
2 – providing a solid case to the salesforce about how marketing automation can make them money is just about the only thing that will get them to change their mindsets. Even then, it may still take exec mandates to let the lead ripen.
3 – content does feed the machine but this is one of the most overlooked aspects of inbound marketing by business owners. Our experience is that the creation is heavily front-loaded, which gives the false perception that it will be that amount of work forever. While it still needs to be created, after a certain point it’s not as intense (maybe because it’s become part of the process) and we’ve seen clients with large amounts of content not create anything new for 6 months but still grow organic search and leads.

Thanks for your honest post, one of the most helpful I’ve read in a while! Good luck with Bright Carbon!

Joby Blume on 19th February 2012 at 11:08 pm said

Mike

Thanks for the comment.

You are right – the lack of a process can’t be overcome by technology. What actually seems to happen is that it gets brought out into the open. We didn’t realise what state we were in until we tried automation. It would have been better to make an honest assessment first.

We should have just refused to pass leads to sales because we felt that they weren’t ready yet. But that’s hard to do in a situation where sales need leads to go after. Better content – and more leads – would have been a start. There were also cases where prospects were asking to be called (via a website form), and then because a sales person took a short-term view, the lead was being pressured too soon and essentially wasted. That was something we needed executive mandate for – or just better sales management.

How do companies that do a lot of content marketing avoid the content going stale? Does the work get easier? We never really got that far. Do companies start re-using the same content (how many e-books can you need?), or is it just that they build a capacity for creating content and put that on ‘auto-pilot’?

Mike Dattilio on 20th February 2012 at 3:54 am said

Joby-at a certain point, there is an “auto-pilot” sort of effect when you reach critical mass and have sufficient evergreen content at every stage of the marketing and sales funnel, coupled with similar critical mass of new visitor volume.

There are alot of opportunities to recycle or repurpose content, and companies do employ this tactic. We quite often will take something we have presented to a prospect and either create a blog post or helpful graphic that helps future visitors understand a certain aspect of a challenge.

Prospect discussions also help with the stale content, reminding us that we may need to make changes to existing content. This is especially true for anything with data, as some infographic from 2010 can quickly be superseded by the latest study. Also true for “how-to” guides for platforms like Facebook where they are constantly adding new functionality and interface. Little things like this should be considered in your stage of content creation, since it will need to be updated in a year to stay relevant. Focus on a foundation of material that won’t require updating (such as this post and resulting conversations) and then build on each foundational block next year with data content that builds your case and credibility.

Enjoying the exchange of ideas and experiences here.
-Mike

Joby Blume on 20th February 2012 at 9:57 am said

So, it does get easier? That’s good to know – especially for a small company. We really struggled to create enough ‘high value content’ at my last employer. I think we needed to be a bit more sensible about reusing blog content and website articles, and re-packaging things into higher value content.

Mike, I know what you mean about prospect discussions being helpful. I guess that’s the best way to find out what potential customers are thinking about, and therefore the questions that need to be answered. We create a lot of material – usually highly visual – to talk to prospects. We need to think about re-purposing that material so that we can use it with our content marketing efforts.

Thanks for the tip – focusing on a foundation of material that won’t require updating each year certainly makes sense. In a small company, finding the time to actually create all this content does feel like it’s going to be tough – but in a world of search, it’s got to be the right way to go.

Thanks for the advice – much appreciated.

Eric Albertson on 28th February 2012 at 10:32 pm said

While I have installed Eloqua a couple times and have deep experience in b2b marketing data for the F500 I’ve come to believe that the content issue is the pink elephant in the room of many marketing automation implementations. Some of the issues I see are:

1. Going for perfection instead of excellence (or good enough).
2. Difficulty getting the internal experts to find time to contribute.
3. No mandate from senior leadership.
4. Lack of understanding of what the sticking points are for the prospects – key to engaging and relevant content.
5. No simple process to leverage what you can get from your team into all the formats prospects are willing to consume readily.

While I suspect that many of the sources who commented on this excellent post have highly refined content generation processes – I’ve got a simple one that I’ve used for years that gets the job done and can be used successfully by anyone with an iPhone: http://www.apg7.com/b2b-lead-generation/b2b-content-challenge/. Hope it helps.

Joby Blume on 29th February 2012 at 7:02 am said

Eric

Thanks for the comment. We certainly suffered with #2, #4, and #5 on your list. Possibly #1 and #3 as well – although perhaps to a lesser extent – I think we had a mandate, it just wasn’t as clear as it could have been.

Type of content was a big deal for us – we had blog posts, but we didn’t have larger resources – e-books and webinars and so on.

Thanks for the suggested content generation process, and particularly the recommendation that recording video and going for transcription is a sensible approach. Sounds interesting. Why not just use the scripts, which according to your process get written? I’m guessing they are supposed to be less complete?

Clate Mask on 22nd March 2012 at 1:23 am said

Joby–great post. Love your willingness to admit the shortcomings of your process.

You’ve kicked up quite a stir here and you’ve received a bunch of good responses, but I’ll be blunt and say this: your “failure” with marketing automation was primarily due to the fact you’re a small business.

See, to get the marketing automation machine humming right–whatever the business size–you need software, strategy and content. Big businesses have plenty of resources to master the software, ensure smooth integration with other software, contrive and execute a solid marketing strategy and produce tons of content. Small businesses… not so much.

Small businesses need the MA vendor to provide the software AND help them with the strategy and content. They need sales and marketing processes to work together. They don’t have the IT resources to tie all this stuff together, so they’d like their CRM and MA in one complete system… because they tend to view sales and marketing as one function of the business, not two.

If any of this sounds familiar to you, let me know and I’ll send you a workbook we call, “Your Perfect Customer Lifecycle” which helps small businesses map out their sales and marketing strategy so they can effectively implement CRM and MA software. And, you’re right that it all starts with getting more leads, which is the starting point of the Perfect Customer Lifecycle.

Thanks again for sharing your story.

- Clate

Joby Blume on 23rd March 2012 at 10:35 am said

Clate

Thanks for the comment. I took a look at the Infusionsoft site and I must say that I liked the animation on your product page. It’s like some of the stuff that we create here at BrightCarbon (with PowerPoint, often). Explains marketing automation nicely.

At my last employer, we were committed to SFDC as our CRM. It wasn’t up for debate. There was a sales team, used to using it. The problem we had was that the ratio of sales people to marketing people (they were distinct teams) didn’t make sense – there weren’t enough leads, and the sales people weren’t great at finding their own opportunities. It might have made sense to shift investment from sales to marketing – but without analysing the funnel, I guess it’s easy to think along the lines of “we need more sales, let’s get another sales person”.

I totally agree with you about small businesses not necessarily having the resources to make marketing automation a success without support from their vendor. I think we would have benefited from less thought leadership but more ‘how to guides’ and very practical guidance.

For the IT/system integration we were fine as we had contractors we used – even if it was all very expensive, and it did tie us in to Marketo in ways we hadn’t really anticipated (who wants to undo a deep integration – messy).

I’ll be in touch for a copy of the Perfect Customer Lifecycle workbook – it sounds interesting.

Tom De Baere on 18th April 2012 at 6:09 pm said

Truly an amazing conversation. Thank you all for so many insight. A lot has been said, so I am not going to add much more. Going through all these comments, this is what I personally remember : first get your content marketing right, then think about automation.

Tom

Joby Blume on 19th April 2012 at 8:25 am said

Thanks Tom – and indeed to everybody who has commented about this article here or elsewhere.

Interestingly, we’ve got to the stage now where we have a reasonably healthy flow of new leads at BrightCarbon, and we do need to start being a bit more sophisticated in how we manage them. Not enough nurturing good leads go cold. Too much manual effort and we don’t have time for other things. But as you say – we need to get our content marketing right first – and we aren’t there yet… So marketing automation is something we’re going to evaluate later this year, I think.

For now – focus on content, process, and identifying the ways of getting decent leads that work for us.

Douglas Karr on 2nd May 2012 at 11:15 pm said

Disclosure: Our client is Right On Interactive, a customer lifecycle marketing automation company.

We’ve implemented virtually every marketing automation system for ourselves or our clients over the last few years and, quite honestly, I’m so happy you raised this conversion. Here’s my take… this is a highly competitive market and each vendor has its own strengths and weaknesses. Some are hard to implement, but easy once used. Some are difficult to use, but provide additional features. Some are… you get the point.

What we see over and over that, in my opinion, is terrible is that each of these vendors continues to try to hammer their solution (square) into the prospect’s process (round hole). As quickly as we see our clients sign up for these services, we also see them leave because the salesperson did a great job selling it – but not necessarily seeing if it was a fit for the company. We help and encourage our clients to develop the process first that fits their resources, temperament, speed, sophistication, budget, etc…. and then we can help them find the right marketing automation system to leverage that process, produce greater results and reduce the time and anguish in implementing the wrong solution.

You don’t buy a marketing automation system and then revamp your company to work around its process. You get a process optimized and then find the marketing automation system that fits best and requires the least amount of resources and attention to implement and increase the efforts.

Joby Blume on 3rd May 2012 at 9:50 am said

Douglas, thanks for the comment.

We definitely did things the wrong way round – we put in marketing automation before we needed it, before our process was organised, and really just for a few minor features that we wanted. We thought we would grow into Marketo – but of course, it wasn’t like that.

Fundamentally, I think we should have bought something aimed at smaller businesses, and at smaller marketing teams.

I guess part of the problem is that it feels straightforward to fix a problem (marketing isn’t working well) by buying something (automation technology). It’s a lot harder to address the fundamentals (resources, process, lack-of-demand).

Tim Burley on 29th May 2012 at 11:48 am said

First, thanks. I’ve spent some time looking at MA for a small brand consultancy, and I can honestly say that this post (and comments) has been the single most important page to hit my browser.

I’ve recently joined a new company, a great/young/small creative team with a potentially bright future, but no systems in place that set a course to reach it. We’re doing the Big Hairy Goals bit first, and my feeling was that a suitable MA platform would support us as we started to create the content that will help the right people to understand what sets us apart.

I will be parking my perceived need for expensive software, and focusing on the content bit of the puzzle. I’m also going to develop a Perfect Customer Lifecycle (thanks Clate) so that when I’m ready to take the next step, I’ll have had a chance to test it manually first.

Joby Blume on 30th May 2012 at 9:56 am said

Tim

Thanks for the comment.

What you suggest is what we’re doing now at BrightCarbon. We’re not investing in marketing automation – but instead in trying to get leads, and trying to create useful content that people will find. We’re going to shows, running webinars – basically trying lots of things to see what works. We don’t get perfect lead attribution, so we don’t know perfectly what’s working best – but for now, we know enough. We’re running emails in batches, trying to manually do the things we might automate in the future.

It feels like we are taking the right approach in the new business. We’re not wasting money on software we wouldn’t use. Once we can’t cope manually, we’ll automate. Remember that Marketo cost my last employer more than an employee would have – so if there’s so little to automate that someone could just do it manually, why not create some work for someone… That kind of calculation is possible in a smaller company.

One final thought… Content marketing is a bit harder than it looks for companies like yours (and ours) who sell to people who have an occasional need for our services, but who don’t spend much time thinking about what we do. We sell to sales directors and marketing directors/managers. They think about a lot of things – but usually not presentations. So a content marketing strategy probably needs to take a broad view of what content to create, or else people just might not find us… This can be hard as people are more comfortable creating content that’s more narrowly focused. We definitely haven’t worked this one out yet – more work to do.

Good luck!

Joby Blume on 25th June 2012 at 4:46 pm said

Just a little note for anyone who makes it all the way down to the end of these comments (and they are long)…

BrightCarbon just signed a deal with Infusionsoft. We got to the stage where we weren’t coping that well with the manual tasks we were trying to manage, and we had done a bit of work to generate leads but then we weren’t following-up efficiently. We have been going to trade shows, running webinars – but then allowing some (most) people to fall through the gaps.

We liked a few things about Infusionsoft – the price (cheap compared to SFDC and Marketo, to be sure), the integrated CRM/marketing automation – we run sales and marketing in an integrated way, and the target market appeared to be businesses like ours. We won’t be a ‘less important’ customer – we’re in the sweet spot, we think. But this just happened last week, nothing has gone wrong yet – but who knows, it might.

We’re definitely going into this with our eyes open – I know how hard it will be to make marketing automation work. But we’ll look for quick wins, and build from there. I’ll write about the experience on this blog, and with luck some others will learn from our continuing adventures!

Joe Zuccaro on 10th August 2012 at 9:58 pm said

Joby, @bearfiles just tweeted about this old post and I re-read it to see what it was about and see that you had questions on Feb 13th that I never answered. I apologize, you know how life gets in the way and we forget about things… But here are my responses, better late than never.

1. Yes, I am aware of huge dollar valued marketers of just a few customers. Some are very “old school” in that a long term buyer and long term salesperson have a solid, trusting relationship, and perhaps there are barriers to entry in the market. And some markets like the government market are predominantly proposal-driven, so hypothetically you sell millions of dollars worth of goods and services without actually having ever spoken to the decision makers. I’ve been there. However, those scenarios are miniscule relative to the normal buying cycles and buying centers in B2B world. Most verticals just aren’t that way and in an ever more mobile world, salespeople, marketers and procurers are constantly changing. Even with an Airbus or Boeing, there are dozens of people on the buying side who have different pain points and are affected by a buying decision at various times, so it may behoove marketers to be able to better coordinate communications with all the stakeholders on the buying side – and this does not only include email spit out by a Marketing Automation platform. Firms that adopt social monitoring modules like CrowdFactory (acquired by Marketo) will have a better visibility into what customers think of their products and services – We’ve only just begun to tap into this new source of information that helps marketers not only support sales, but support customer satisfaction and product departments.

2. Marketing Automation helps a Marketer leverage the best media for which to have a conversation. Remember though, a conversation is not just words, it’s also “body language.” And in the case of a network central dialog, Marketing Automation helps Markters understand “digital body language.” (a phrase first coined by Steve Woods of Eloqua.) Marketers can take verbal cues and non-verbal cues – did they register for a webinar; did they actually attend; did they remain logged in the entire time; did they participate in any online polls during the webinar – did they ask any questions via the chat during the webinar; Did they download the slides later or email any follow up questions? None of is is conversation with a salesperson yet, but it is not “pseudo” conversation. If you’re thinking that simple “push” marketing is “pseudo,” then I would agree, especially if there is no interactivity designed into the campaign.

3. How many Marketers that use Marketing Automation are sending improper/irrelevant content to a prospect or existing customer? Probably most of them ;) But it’s not necessarily the platform’s fault. Sending wrong emails to prospects is a reality, but it can be reduced as a Marketer better understands how to coordinate through the integration of their CRM and Marketing Automation platforms. This is especially tricky with companies that offer a multitude of products that can be up- or cross-sold. However, with better segmenting of data, a Marketer can do a better job of determining what person gets what content when. Some of the more advanced platforms facilitate this; it still takes a human being to plan this out and create the flows and rules that minimize improper communications.

Peace

Joby Blume on 14th August 2012 at 9:21 am said

Joe – thanks for coming back to me. It’s always funny to find old threads, isn’t it. We ought to have a function on this site to be alerted when people reply – sorry, not quite there yet.

Anyway, I agree with the vast majority of what you say. Points well made. I wonder if the ideal is to try and pass a sort of Turing Test, so prospects don’t know if the emails they are receiving are from a person or an automation platform? If it is, then as much as the platforms might be able to facilitate this, we need to admit that actually achieving it is really, really, hard. But yes, part of what I did wrong last time was taking too long to achieve quick wins. Something is better than nothing, as has been pointed out above.

I suspect that the automation platforms would be well advised to allow marketers to build emails in blocks, so that a certain email was sent as part of a campaign, but that the content of that email varied somewhat depending on various signs. It’s possible, of course – by creating multiple variations. But if you want to have multiple variations of multiple paragraphs (to appear at all human), the complexity just explodes. Maybe there’s a platform that handles this better than forcing marketers to create each email as an option within a campaign?

As a prospect, when I receive nurture emails that I know are sent automatically, do I feel I am in a conversation? Not really. The content might be useful, and my digital body language might show I’m interested, but it’s not a conversation, to me.

But yes, it can certainly help a sales person know that it’s worth starting a conversation with me.

Brad on 2nd April 2013 at 9:12 pm said

Thank you so much for writing this article! I was given a Marketing Automation suite to figure out on my first day as the new (and only) marketing person at my company. I’ve been trying to articulate to my company the challenges of getting it off the ground (and the amount of work involved). This article clearly lays out what I’ve been attempting to explain for months, I’ll definitly be sharing this with them.

Joby Blume on 5th April 2013 at 5:09 am said

Brad – I think your only hope is to try and make sure the others in your company are happy with the idea of giving away some valuable content, and happy to make some of it (even though you are the marketing department).

Anyway – glad this article helped – good luck.

Anna Talerico on 11th June 2013 at 1:09 pm said

Well done, Joby! I hope more marketers start to write honestly about their experiences. I hear these stories everyday in talking with marketers, but it’s like the ‘dirty secret’—”we spent a ton of money on our marketing automation platform and are only using 10% of it—shhhh”. Your thoughtful analysis of the wrong turns you took will only help to fuel an open conversation about this reality and how to move past it to actually tap into the benefits that marketing automation can offer.

Joby Blume on 13th June 2013 at 9:51 am said

Thanks Anna. I think more people should admit to where they fail in marketing. It would allow their peers to avoid the same mistakes, and vendors to think more deeply about how they can help customers succeed. Because eventually, people will look at the bills they pay, the benefits they get (e.g. just sending a newsletter and scoring leads but never really identifying the really ‘hot ones’) and decide to stop buying.

We failed at my old company, but now I’ve learned, and BrightCarbon is doing better for my having had this open conversation about what went wrong.

Rebecca Whitefield on 21st June 2013 at 8:14 pm said

Joby,

This post and the conversation it sparked is truly amazing. Happy to have come across it and found that the issues you raised still resonate a year and a half later. It matches my experience that without a well-defined lead process, content strategy & development resources and alignment with sales, marketing automation is not going solve issues. I’m curious what your experience has been with Infusionsoft and if you were able to apply the lessons you learned from your first foray with marketing automation this go round.

-Rebecca

Joby Blume on 24th June 2013 at 9:31 am said

Rebecca, I’m glad that you found my article useful. I certainly found writing it helpful – and the insight of all those who commented has really helped us at BrightCarbon.

I have definitely learned lessons from failing with marketing automation previously. I think the things that I’ve made sure we did differently are:

1. Focusing on acquiring leads first. We do a lot of online master classes, we went to a few trade shows (won’t go to as many now), we offer a free online course and have another one in the works. We try hard to actually grow our list.
2. We have been quite sensible about setting up discrete nurturing campaigns in order to get quick wins. Event follow-up, course follow-up… It’s tactical – not really strategic – but at least we are using technology to increase our level of communication with prospects.
3. We’ve automated some parts of our communication with customers for project follow-up, and use Infusionsoft to send emails to account managers to remind them to do various things too.
4. We’ve created a lot of content for use with Infusionsoft. Lots of visual material, and articles.

That said, I’m not sure how many sales we could attribute to our marketing automation – hard to measure the influence sometimes. A few though – enough that it’s contributing positively. But we have invested a lot of time – huge amounts if you include the content.

In short, I think we’ve managed to avoid the major mistakes. Our lead scoring is a complete mess though. And Infusionsoft is quite ‘clunky’, and can’t do a lot of the clever stuff that was possible with Marketo. But I’m somewhat determined to avoid spending money on functionality we won’t use – to the point that we’re only going to upgrade when we are absolutely clear on needing to achieve certain things that we can’t manage with our existing software.

If Hubspot had an integrated CRM, we would probably look closely. In the SMB space, I’m surprised that they don’t. I don’t think we want to bother with SFDC in addition to Hubspot, and the leap in price from Infusionsoft to something with SFDC is large enough to require justification.

Manohar Chapalamadugu on 24th June 2013 at 10:25 am said

Hi Joby

MA is for mature organizations if you are looking separately than your lead management.

Almost most of the MA products have to be tailored to suit your organization and as you mentioned, the marketing process.

It’s almost a marathon for SMB to configure and make it work w/o investing a lot upfront. Each SMB is different – for eg: you wanted it to be integrated with your website.

At Agile (currently in invite beta mode), we are trying to solve this by giving a more elaborate CRM – marketing automation, web analytics integration, scoring, data tags, telephony and much more for a small business to succeed. Price point is around $15-49/month.

- Manohar

Joby Blume on 24th June 2013 at 10:36 am said

Manohar, nice video on your site. Although it seemed to be very much aimed at those offering product sign-ups and trials. We sell services, to other businesses. Just worth noting that marketing automation and CRM platforms get used in a lot of different ways.

Manohar Chapalamadugu on 25th June 2013 at 6:23 am said

Hi Joby – thanks for visiting. We removed the video as it was confusing.

The video was geared towards SaaS companies as a use case. We did that because our other startup (support and pre-sales) ClickDesk grew to 80,000 users in less than 18 months – we faced this problem and the idea stemmed from there. But we quickly realized that it cannot be made to use as most of the startup/SMB CRMs couldn’t accomodate this addon. We had to do it ourselves; that was a start.

We then added 2 way emails, telephony (twilio), social suite (linkedin/twitter), billing invoices, helpdesk (zendesk/clickdesk) and there are lot of new features adding up.

Imran Alam on 28th August 2013 at 2:46 pm said

I am Manager – CRM at RightWave and looking at your all point I could say that you have all pain point that could be easily resolved by using RightWave (Marketing Automation as a Service). RightWave’s Marketing Automation as a Service (MaaS) provides B2B companies the ability to have successful marketing automation adoption without traditional lengthy and complex implementations, time-consuming hiring and training of marketing operations personnel and added consulting costs.

Our combined technology and best-practices enables a flexible, sophisticated and successful marketing automation solution. We supplement our technology driven services with cost effective and highly trained outsourced resources to provide our customers with best ROI.

Joby Blume on 28th August 2013 at 9:33 pm said

Imran… Maybe. But why would I pick a single company for my marketing automation platform and the services too? Why not buy a marketing automation platform (which is SaaS), and then pick from agencies that could support that investment.

If I buy Marketo or HubSpot or Eloqua or whatever, there’s an ecosystem of vendors to support me with services. What’s the ecosystem like at RightWave?

Marketing automation is hard enough without going with a vendor that effectively ties me in…

audrey on 5th December 2013 at 3:31 pm said

Hi Joby, you probably didn’t think you would get this much attention from the article you wrote a couple years ago about the failure of marketing automation! We’re thinking it’s time to jump on the ‘marketing automation bandwagon’ but I still hesitate for many of the reasons you brought up – we are a marketing department of 2, with one person who focuses solely on writing and myself, that does everything else. Another thing I read today is that approximately 50% of businesses turn cookies off of their employee computers so I’m wondering if marketing automation really is a great idea??? I feel like there’s a lot of positive potential, but SO much that needs to be considered before jumping in. It’s tough! Anyway, thanks for your article – I have some questions I need to answer before moving forward.

-Audrey

Joby Blume on 5th December 2013 at 4:39 pm said

Hey Audrey

Thanks for the comment.

I would think about what discrete activities you could automate. For example, do you have content that already has a lot of sign-ups, and think that you could do a better job following-up to see what people thought of it? Do you run events or webinars, and again, feel you could follow-up better? Do you send a newsletter and feel that you could perhaps do intelligent follow-up with those who read it more regularly?

Marketing automation does take a lot of time to set-up. I think if you start small, and have a clear idea about what you want to achieve at first – it can be worthwhile. But if you don’t really have a strong need – ignore the hype and don’t bother. Getting lead scoring working well is hard – and without a lot of trust between marketing and sales people may just end up deciding for themselves anyway, ignoring the scores.

For a large company, it feels like an easier decision – as automation has more benefits at scale. For smaller companies – I’m not sure. Would you do better getting some part-time help instead?

Lilach on 8th April 2014 at 10:50 am said

Joby,

I want to congratulate you for the great article and your ongoing patience and insights in replying to all the comments.

I am a marketing VP in a very small start up – we have not yet even started selling. I am looking at what to build as preparation for product launch. And your article and all comments have strengthen me into NOT implementing a marketing automation tool but starting perhaps with manually managing such campaigns.

It is interesting for me to hear your thoughts (or others that comment here)about 2 topics:
1. when working with distributors – how to ‘split’ the work of marekting efforts and automation between us as the manufacturer and the local regional distributor. Obviously, in the manual world, not much of nurturing efforts would have been done by the manufacturer, but now that things are more automated, and can handle larger quantities of leads – it would make more sense I guess to do a lot of the nurturing in a central manner and distribute it to the dealer at a later stage. I wonder if anyone has experience with it. By the way, since you are in Europe – you might have had more experience about it & also the complexity of different languages…
2. You mention that you would automate discrete activities – how would you do it? with an automation tool or manually? would you be still using a scoring system? for example, we would probably be doing the first introduction of our new machine & technology in an exhibition – I want to make a campaign before the exhibition to bring in prospects and to create the right impact in the exhibition + obviously follow up on the exhibition. What would you recommenced for such process. (and yes, I know I will need to create a lot of content to do it, and without even knowing very well what kind of content is interesting & appealing or making the right impact…)

Thanks,

Lilach

Joby Blume on 14th April 2014 at 10:57 am said

Hi Lilach

I can’t say much about working with distributors, because we don’t. But yes, I can imagine distributors nurturing leads centrally and passing them off once they reach a certain lead score to different agents. The relationship between the different players within a channel, and how leads are managed has always seemed complex to me.

For language, we have some experience from trying to implement campaigns in German. It’s a headache, because we didn’t consider that some languages are ‘gendered’, and we hadn’t collected M/F information at first. So we didn’t know how to address people in German (which isn’t an issue in English when you can just use ‘Dear First Name’ or whatever. Either stick to a single language to keep things simple, or at least be aware of what you might need from the start.

By automating discrete activities I mean exactly the sort of thing you are suggesting around a trade show follow-up, or a webinar follow-up or whatever. We tended to manage the first one manually, and then to bring what we had done manually into an automation platform once the numbers merited it. Don’t try to do too much at once. Use automation to automate when you actually need to – but not just because the industry is hyping up a sector until it is white hot!

Shrikant Pachpor on 12th May 2014 at 2:22 pm said

Hi Joby,
Your article is so valuable resource! It proved so much guidance for me after 2 years of you writing it. I am handling marketing for Brand Design firm. It’s a small firm. I am the first and only person to be hired for marketing. I’ve to establish and run marketing system for my firm to generate leads. I am salesman too who has to handle those leads to convert them. I’ve to help my clients in their brand strategy. It becomes difficult to handle all those activities single handedly. So, I thought Marketing Automation would be a boon for me. I talked to act-on, activecampaign people, took demo from them and was going to apply one of them for my firm. But Thank God that I read your article! I never thought about their side effects. It’s like reducing work load from one area but creating new one. Ultimately, these are tools. They can’t be replacement for strategy. Strategy can be implemented with any tools, not necessarily Marketing Automation softwares. I am at beginner level of marketing. I’d like to know from experienced marketers like you about what can be the alternative to these MA tools. What traditional marketing ways/activities we can use as alternative to these softwares. MA tools help us to accomplish few objectives like to maintain communication with your prospects, nurture your relationship, establish yourself/your firm as better solution than your competition, differentiate prospects which are sales ready etc. This is important especially in B2B service selling where buyer goes through lot of research before buying, buying process is long and complex, more people are involved in decision making. So, please tell me how can we accomplish these objectives with traditional ways, even on internet but not using MA tools. I think it’d be a great constructive discussion for junior marketers like us.

Joby Blume on 12th May 2014 at 3:29 pm said

Shrikant

Marketing automation is great once you have a lot of activities that you want to automate because it’s just too much to handle manually. If you are still starting out, and wondering how to get leads, I don’t think you need it yet.

Think about how you find out about new products – Google searches (so – write blog posts), discussion groups (so participate – but don’t spam), educational content (so create some), events (attend) – and so on.

The big problem, I think, is that everyone is creating content now, so it’s hard to be found. If we had the answers at BrightCarbon we would be double the size!

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