Making The Business Case For Marketing Automation

Most investments in marketing automation fail, regardless of good intentions. This isn’t down to software not being up to the task, or marketing teams being bad at their jobs, it often comes down to a poor execution and failure to align old strategies with new technology. It would be like bringing a major league baseball player from 1940’s to play in a modern MLB franchise. Sure, he’d know how to hit a ball, but would he be able to keep up with modern training and fitness regimes? I doubt Don Draper of Mad Men would would be a successful senior New York advertising executive when he drinks as much Bourbon during the day. These days people who drink that much are encouraged to attend meetings.


That’s the problem with marketing automation. A handful of companies, like Amazon, do it exceedingly well. Far too many others try and wedge it somewhere between the aims of the marketing, sales departments and senior management eager to prove this investment, this time, in a certain “miracle” piece of software will work. When a policy which has taken a significant investment of time and money, like automation, fails, there is usually an institutional bias against further innovation. Pointless. Very low ROI. Wasteful. We tried it that one time, but it didn’t work So we won’t be doing that again. Or so conventional wisdom dictates.

This is despite the fact that:

At the end of the day, marketing is about sending the right information, to the right people, at the right time.


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This shouldn’t be too difficult, right? Marketing is all about communication. We all know who we want to communicate with: current and new customers. We all know what we want to accomplish: generate more revenue from those customers. So why do most marketing automation investments fail? Why aren’t we all replicating the success of Amazon?

Difficult to Implement, Doubtful Returns?

Marketing research agency, Ascend2, asked a panel of inbound marketing professionals what strategies they found most effective compared to what they found difficult to execute. Marketing automation and lead nurturing software were the hardest tactics to implement with the most difficulty when it comes to demonstrating the returns.


Another study, cited in a Raab Associates blog, found that ‘26% of marketing automation users had fully adopted their system.’  


The same Ascend2 study highlighted a strange duality when it comes to how successful marketing professionals are with automation software. More generate returns than don’t  (25% compared to 21%), as we see in the table below.


Whereas it is rated as being the fifth most difficult strategy to implement, which indicates that it perhaps isn’t as hard as it seems, but still it is only counted as being moderately effective.


It seems that the real difficulty isn’t so much finding the right tools, or putting them into practice, once you or your team get a handle on using the software correctly, it is about how modern marketing teams integrate this into existing strategies and make the most of the new power at their disposal.

Asking The Wrong Questions

Justin Gray of LeadMD, a marketing automation agency used by the likes of PayScale and The Economist, suggests that the standard methodology used to assess automation software is the reason for the high failure rate.

Gray refuted the usual checklist offered by Greg Straface, a VP at PJA Advertising + Marketing in Adage as “exactly what most CMO’s & VP’s will list to their CEO and CFO to justify a purchase,” which is the wrong way to go about it. Instead, he suggests taking this approach:

1. Are you looking to drive better alignment between sales and marketing? – This is only done by establishing a solid process. Lead definition, SLA’s, toss back points (recycle) and qualification criteria (opportunity process) are what drives alignment. MA simply facilitates it and allows us to measure.

2. Do you need to improve the quality of leads you’re currently getting? MA does what you tell it to – it doesn’t improve what you don’t improve. Define the processes from my previous point and then use MA to facilitate it. Period.

3. Are you looking to drive better conversions and revenue? Sure, who isn’t, but this is a function of buyer persona and messaging. Overcoming the buyers’ fears, establishing trust and displaying value is the only way to drive conversion and ultimately revenue.

His message throughout is that automation merely improves what you already have. It isn’t a miracle cure to all your marketing woes. The answer you seek is internal, inside your organization. Automation is only a tool, no matter how many shiny bells and whistles it comes with.

HubSpot defines the problem in this context: “Marketers won’t have the ingredients they need for effective marketing automation until they have both a steady flow of organic leads coming through the funnel. Too many marketers without inbound lead generation strategies spend their time figuring out how to take the tiny fraction of the market they already have in their database as leads and squeeze more out of them.”

Those are the pitfalls of trying to justify marketing automation, which usually dictates the outcome. If there is a lack of buy-in and support internally, especially between marketing, sales and customer service, than any piece of software can too easily become a glorified email system.

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Quantifying Benefits And Aligning Goals Before Buying

The aim should be to tie the initial investment and any monthly costs with actual business results. Most marketing teams have a certain amount of data at their disposal: unique web visitors, open rates, clicks, and should have a clear idea of the amount of revenue generated per-month. Each campaign, whether paid for or email, content or social media, should have a net benefit. Automation is about increasing that net amount, while reducing the amount of time (cost) a marketing team has to spend in order to deliver those results.

Quantifying benefits is the first priority, so a before and after case can be made, once the system has been trialled for at least 6 months.

Once you know how to do that, and can demonstrate the before numbers with a few campaigns, then move onto the next steps before you even go looking for automation software:

  • Documented Departmental Buy-in. Have you got the internal support needed from other relevant departments, like sales and customer service? What senior management support do you need? Can you get it, and who will they have to justify the investment too?
  • Assigned Team Roles. Whether the strategy is being handled internally or externally there will always be a resource crunch when a new strategy comes into play. This isn’t something you can leave to an overworked junior staffer and hope it turns out alright. Nor can you take on the job yourself and expect to still perform other duties with ease. One of the main pitfalls is implementation, which means you have to have the human resources in place and ready long before a tool is picked to do the job.
  • Content Generation. Can you get the kind of content you need? Either internally or externally. This will be ongoing and evolve along with the campaigns, because it depends on hundreds of moving parts, all of which are centered around the customer, which will change the more you automate.
  • Budget. Do you have the funds to experiment? Not just implement, but test theories. Can you invest in the short term to achieve long term goals?

Only then are you ready to assess different software options, get demonstrations, trial them in real-world scenarios, and make sure they’ve got all the tools you need for your customer database and marketing mix.

Having the internal capacity and strength in place in advance is how best in class companies have such a high batting average when new strategies like automation are introduced.

Struggling with your marketing campaigns? Investigate the ways others are tackling similar challenges and attend an online demonstration here or read more about how others are doing it. is a social behavior platform for modern marketing teams. We help brands and organizations predict how customers and supporters will behave – even what they might do or buy – from social data. It has been used by over 100 companies and organizations to improve thousands of email marketing and social media campaigns.



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