In 2010, it was estimated that businesses spent $200 million on marketing automation (Raab Associates). While that almost doubled the 2009 number, it still is a small portion of the $129 billion that was spent in 2010 on B2B marketing and advertising in the US alone (B2B Magazine). Even more interesting is that 24% of marketing automation adopters reported that they are generating enough demand to meet their sales team’s needs (according to Bulldog Solutions/Frost & Sullivan).

So, while Marketing automation and its robust capabilities that can do a lot continues to slowly gain more mainstream adoption in modern B2B marketing organization, only a minority seem to find success. This all points to a failure in most implementations of marketing automation.

So what’s to blame for the failure of most marketing automation implementations?

Having worked with many marketing automation platforms, I can tell you that it is not a technology issue. While each platform has different features, ultimately they all are able to offer a great number of tools such that the modern marketer should be able to deliver very advanced lead generation programs.

Many marketers are still stuck in that “Mad Men” era of lead generation. These martini-guzzlers were more focused on the tagline or the next “big idea”. In the modern Web 2.0 world, buyers have the power, not sellers; and this shift requires a very different approach to B2B demand generation. It means more focus on people, process and content.

So what is a modern Don Draper supposes to do? How can he go from a creative director to a lead generation expert? Well, let’s first look at why Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce is failing and then look at what they can do to begin moving in the right direction.

Failure #1: Your plan is not built around targeted buyer(s) personas.

Any successful marketing automation needs to first start with identifying who your target buyer persona(s) are. There are many reasons companies fail in their B2B demand generation efforts, but often at the core is the fact that they have not built their programs around the modern B2B buyer and his/her information consumption needs. Rather, the Don Draper approach plans start with a product they want to sell to the market, and they subsequently develop a sales plan and operate a selling process to impose it on as many unsuspecting, uninterested buyers as possible. While this approach may have worked many years ago, the customer buying process has changed and marketing needs to change with it.

Now, I am not just talking about the need for “targeting” or “segmentation”. Many companies are already doing that. What I am talking about is the need to take that even further. I am talking about taking a look at the business development process and aligning it to your customers’ buying processes. Literally making every point of communication and contact focused on and driven by the needs and behaviors of the buyer in his/her buying process. This means getting away from our linear, mass-marketing mindset – one that too often results in a ‘push architecture’ that is only working when we’re driving it – and instead moving to an iterative, buyer-driven mindset – one that looks more like a ‘pull architecture’ and that is ‘always on’ and always available when and where a buyer needs it most.

This means starting with a real and deep understanding of your buyer and his/her personal buying process. It also means thinking about what trigger events turn the individual into a motivated buyer. Often these trigger events are beyond your control. It means aligning content across search, Web assets, social media and email nurturing campaigns to where a buyer is looking for information. There should be a consistency to your content marketing efforts – not simply relying on one-off offers and promotions. This means rationalizing whether you pursue a channel and/or content piece based explicitly on the role it will play in supporting the buying process. This also means looking at some of your KPIs and changing them to focus on the linkages between specific content offers, and sequences of content, and fundamental revenue outcomes. And all of this must happen before you build your first campaign in marketing automation – a point with which most marketing automation vendors agree. “A key to marketing automation is reframing your thinking to focus on your customers’ buying process rather than your selling process,” notes Eloqua CTO Steve Woods. He also cautions: “Before you implement a marketing automation program, you should map how your customers move through every stage of the buying cycle and become aware of their questions and concerns throughout each stage.”

Failure #2: Focusing on lead quantity over quality.

As in sales, marketing has been brain washed to believe it’s all a numbers game. Send out 100,000 emails or postcards, and get 1,000 people to click or go online and may be get 500 leads. Talk about inefficiency. As reports show, the return rate of email marketing and direct mail are diminishing. There’s a great reason for this, most people don’t care about what you’re saying and they are getting thousands of marketing messages bombarding them every day. Instead, you need to focus on the 3% of the market place that might actually be actively interested in what you have to offer.

This means trading big numbers of low quality leads for a smaller number of high quality leads. Yes, the number is much smaller because you have removed the unlikely candidates and extended the dialogue with those who remained. That may scare many executives because they think what they are doing is merely a numbers game. But there is one number that is more important than all others and that is revenue. By focusing on leads that have a higher propensity to convert into customers improves sales performance. Instead of flooding sales reps with a higher number of lower-quality leads that wastes their time, your provide them with fewer, higher quality leads on which they can focus intensively; as a result, their overall sales performance increases.

So how do you do this? Well, you start with a universal lead definition for each of your buyer personas. It requires taking your newly-improved knowledge of your targeted buyer and their trigger events and translating it into a clear definition of what constitutes a sales-ready lead that has a higher propensity to result in a closed sale.

Failure #3: Not starting with the end in mind

For many years, Marketing has been “pullet proof” when revenue targets are not achieved. They walk around with bravado great than Don Draper. This is largely because you could not measure marketing performance to the bottom line. One of the great things about marketing automation and its ability to integrate in corporate CRM systems is that you can now track your performance right back to the initial stages of the business development process.

While this scares many marketing executives, it’s actually a huge opportunity for those forward-thinking executives to leverage this new found power to earn a seat at the boardroom table. It all starts by looking at what your corporate revenue goals are. What is the amount of revenue that your company wants to achieve from new client acquisition? From there you can work out how many new clients you need. Using your sales closing ration you can then calculate how many sales qualified leads are needed to generate the increased revenue. That now becomes your magic number for your marketing initiatives.

With this newfound insight into the goals and targets, combined with marketing automation’s ability to show you just what channels/initiatives are delivering what leads, you can now focus on each persona to get the maximum return on your investment. I say focus on each persona, rather than on each channel, because the customer buying process is not done through one sole channel, so why should your marketing? You need to think of it as an integrated process where your channels and touch points work together to advance that prospect through their personal buying process. Unlike the Mad Men era, when there was only a few mediums to interact with buyers, the digital age has created so many different opportunities that you need to make sure you are communicating with each persona/buyer in the medium they choose.

While the 24% success rate would have you weary of the benefits of marketing automation, there are some great examples of companies that have followed the guidelines above and been able to achieve substantial results. It all starts with a mindset shift around the new customers’ buying process. Most B2B marketing organizations find it challenging to go through this process evolution. That’s why I encourage you to add a demand generation agency to your team of resources in 2011.//