BartenderNametagTwo marketers walk into a bar. As they inch up to the slab, the barkeep levels her gaze, raises an eyebrow, shakes her head.

“The answer is no.”

“But we haven’t asked the question yet.”


It’s a classic tale of marketing automation. Replace “bar” with “C-suite” and the scenario is played out every day in businesses large and small: marketers seek assistance for what ails them, and decision-makers dig in their heels.

Request denied.

Which is a shame, because a lot of what ails today’s marketers (and the businesses they serve) can be solved with marketing automation. By not investigating automation’s opportunities and upside, many business pain points – lack of efficiency, slow funnel flow, decreasing sales, lackluster revenue – just get worse.

And “worse” is not conducive to successful competition and growth.

Why does the C-suite push back?

Maybe part of the problem is the category name. No branding consultant would ever suggest something as mundane and Frankenstein-esque as “mar-ket-ing au-to-ma-tion.” Booooring. No romance, no moonlight, no promises. No visuals. It doesn’t have a face, and it doesn’t lend itself to clever jokes. Maybe this is (partly) why Forrester Research (and some vendors) prefer the term “lead-to-revenue” platform. That phrase actually describes what marketing automation actually does: Make it easier to make money.

The power of marketing automation can be distilled to three main bullets:

  • It removes or significantly reduces repetition, making marketing tasks easier and more efficient.
  • It provides a digital infrastructure that allows marketing and sales to understand and interact with buyers in a relevant, personalized way throughout the entire lifecycle.
  • It provides a reporting framework so executives can diagnose company health, assign credit/blame, shore up weaknesses, and put more wood behind what works.

As a result of adoption, costs generally go down and revenues go up. Sometimes in as little as six months.

It’s compelling, and adoption rates are indeed rising, with top performers getting exactly the kinds of results one would expect. (See the Gleanster Research report, What Sales Can Really Expect From Marketing Automation).

But the companies that are slow to adopt may be laggards for the most common of reasons: What begin as truths in a marketplace become myths as technology evolves … with outmoded concepts persisting as “common knowledge.” As an example, let’s take the five most pervasive myths about marketing automation, and talk about why they began in truth (in most cases) and became outdated as systems matured.

  1. It’s too expensive
  2. It’s too complex
  3. It requires a degree in statistical analysis
  4. It squashes creativity
  5. It’s not good for lead generation

See if you don’t agree. Here they are in Myth/Truth format.

MYTH: Marketing automation is too expensive.

It wasn’t long ago when large enterprise systems with correspondingly large price tags were the only game in town. In reality, large enterprises are only a tiny subset of the world’s employers. The majority of global businesses (over 90% by most studies I’ve seen) are micro, small, or mid-sized enterprises.

Which is why the game has changed.

Although a handful of well-known and established marketing automation companies continue to focus on large enterprises – and their large wallets – the golden opportunity is with micros, smalls, and mids.

Increasingly, today’s marketing automation systems are equal-opportunity, specifically built for the smaller businesses that keep commerce moving and likely employ the vast majority of us. Most are cloud-based platforms and offer flexible pricing tiers and/or subscription models that keep costs low while still providing robust functionality.

TRUTH: Marketing automation is affordable and accessible to all companies, from the enterprise to the micro-size.

MYTH: Marketing automation is too complex.

Marketing automation began as big bespoke systems for big companies, often cobbled together from legacy systems. Even today there are complex enterprise systems that require dedicated administrators and can take six to 18 months to implement. So this isn’t entirely a myth.

But some nimble technology companies saw the market opportunity to take automation’s benefits to the vast mid-market, and they have designed systems that offer splendid benefits while emphasizing simplicity and usability. This enables marketers with a basic understanding of popular programs (think Microsoft Word and Evernote) to create simple email campaigns in hours, and ramp up to more robust functionality within the first 4-6 weeks of implementation.

bassethoundTake, for example, a small business with two marketing employees (three if you include Rufus the Basset Hound) who wear multiple hats, including creating and sending email campaigns, keeping the website up to snuff, and managing the database. They currently send batch-and-blast emails maybe once a month. It’s a cumbersome manual process and so it gets done in between other (often less important) things. Because they don’t really know what the results are, they can’t build a plan for improvement. And they can’t prove to management that they’re earning their keep.

If they implemented a marketing automation solution, within the first few weeks they could:

  • Import their contact list
  • Create audience segments (e.g., based on demographics and past-purchase data)
  • Create an attractive email using a built-in, drag-and-drop-easy template
  • Set up tracking links
  • Test the campaign
  • Send it to targeted segments
  • See the results in real time
  • Have a report to show their boss

As they acquire new skills and increase their comfort, they could add drip marketing campaigns to automatically deliver specific messages at a regular cadence. For existing customers, that might be service reminders or product upgrades. For prospects, it could be this week’s deal. For leads with free trials, it could be educational steps in learning the product. For each campaign, our marketers could create matching landing pages and forms, with all resulting data being pushed to the database in real time. After a few weeks, they could add capabilities, perhaps integrating with their CRM system, stepping up their social media marketing, or learning how to use lead scoring to identify hot prospects for the sales team.

TRUTH: No, many modern marketing automation platforms are user-friendly.

MYTH: Marketing automation requires a degree in statistical analysis.

Oh yeah, time was when this was way true. But today it’s not as painful. Today’s systems combine intuitive report-building interfaces (e.g., dropdowns, checkboxes, drag-and-drops) with powerful algorithmic engines that manage the math and the data mining activities. You’ll still need a smart marketer who understands how to identify key metrics, so the team knows what to look for and what it means. But the heavy lifting is now done behind the curtain, by the automated machinery. A degree in statistical analysis – or a bona fide statistician – is no longer requisite to understanding the data or turning it into actionable information.

TRUTH: Marketing automation platforms have come a long way with reporting and analysis capabilities, making both much more accessible to the layperson.

MYTH: Marketing automation squashes creativity.

Nobody wants to be a cog in a machine, and that clunky concept (marketing automation) can conjure up the thought of the factory floor, where workers push buttons and apply the occasional wrench. What’s needed is a better metaphor: If your kitchen cleaned itself, if your refrigerator magically always contained fresh food, if the table set itself, might you have the time and ingredients to make more creative meals? Here are three key ways marketing automation can augment creativity:

  • Pre-built design templates for email, web pages, forms, surveys, and more. Since most marketers are neither graphic designers nor coders, the “creative” part of campaign creation can be a minefield of insecurity and frustration. But many of today’s marketing automation vendors provide libraries of professional-looking templates that are easy to use and optimized to work well across browsers and devices. Marketers can use a template as-is, or they can get their creative on by tweaking an existing template and making it their own. Or they can tap an artist for a creative template that gets used and re-used and modified, scaling that one initial creative effort into a dozen (or so) creative campaigns.
  • Functional capabilities that open additional doors to creativity. With options like dynamic content and segmentation, marketers can craft campaigns with a well-timed punch. Not only are they visually appealing, they’re functionally optimized to be more strategic, innovative, deliver a personalized touch, and meet complex promotional needs. They also tend to yield superior results.
  • More time to focus on the important stuff. Doing more, faster, and with fewer resources, is the perpetual business drumbeat that can leave marketers feeling overwhelmed and stressed out … ultimately putting the kibosh on creativity. By taking over the heavy lifting of manual and/or iterative tasks and processes (aka “boring treadmill ruts”) – which are big time-sinks – marketing automation frees up resource time. This allows marketers to reduce “wasted” time and refocus on the strategic stuff, like creative campaigns that generate leads and drive revenue.

Let’s say a marketer wanted to launch a campaign to several different audience segments. The general message is the same, but the offer and image have to change based on which segment will receive it.

Starting with a provided email template, the marketer designs a master message (using drag-and-drop functionality to make it look perfect) and then sets up the “offer” box to be dynamic so it changes based on the recipient.

MonaLisaImagesThe result: A professional-looking email is created once, quickly, and without additional resources … and it’s used for many different audiences. Like creating one Mona Lisa, then giving her a slightly different smile, a different haircut, a different background … depending on which audience segment is viewing her.

TRUTH: Marketing automation can actually increase creativity.

MYTH: Marketing automation is not good for lead generation.

It’s only good for churning mid-funnel leads, yes? No. This myth becomes less true every year.

The truth is, for most B2B companies, the quantity and quality of leads generated remain the #1 and #2 concerns, by a wide margin. In business, pain=opportunity. As innovative tech companies vie for competitive advantages, they add in more features that address this key, early-funnel issue.

For example:

  • SEO audit capabilities can help ensure your website and content are optimized for inbound traffic.
  • Web forms can capture introductory information about a prospect (for example, via email signups or eBook downloads), pushing contact information into your master database, including your CRM.
  • Website visitor tracking can provide insights into the companies that are regularly visiting your site and what content they’re looking at, which helps sales better hone its contact strategy.
  • Automated trigger emails (such as a message that thanks recipients for signing up) can be sent to solidify early awareness and open the door to continued conversations.
  • Automated programs can be set up to automatically channel new contacts into specific nurture streams, using if/then logic to begin and continue a conversation that draws prospects deeper into the funnel.

These examples are top-of-funnel awareness activities that can be easily set up and managed with marketing automation.

TRUTH: Marketing automation isn’t limited to lead nurturing and customer advocacy (although it’s mighty great for those practices). It’s good for the entire funnel: top, middle, and bottom.

The New School of thought

The ways that buyers can find, evaluate, and purchase are more complex than ever. This leads to a list of marketing pain points that is longer and more complicated than it’s ever been. Marketers are now expected to navigate multiple channels and tactics, understand target audiences to the gnat’s eyelash, and drive new revenue streams. Faster, more efficiently, and with more accountability.

Old-school thinking will no longer bring success. There’s too much to do in too little time, and the competition is closer.

Sounds like a job for marketing automation.

What do you say, Barkeep?

Images: Hey, Bartender! by desdechado, used under a Creative Common 2.0 license. Basset Houndster by Alex Alonso, used under a Creative Commons 2.0 license. Mona Lisas by Lindy Drew Photography, used under a Creative Commons 2.0 license.