Marketing automation success is not automatic

Rod Griffith

By Rod Griffith
January 8, 2016

Marketing automation success is not automatic

My first job out of college was in the sales and marketing group of a small high-tech company in Connecticut that sold shop floor automation systems to major Fortune 500 manufacturers. It was long hours and heavy traveling for low pay—but superb experience. At the ripe age of 21, I found myself touring plants and giving technology presentations at GE, IBM, General Motors, Ford, Grumman Aerospace, and many other major manufacturers.

Our systems used bar code scanning technology (relatively new at the time) to allow automation of inventory control, material handling, time and attendance, and production management operations.

I found that some companies looked to our technology to help them automate a process that wasn’t working well in its current manual form. By converting the manual process to a more automated version using this new scanning technology, they hoped to overcome some of the challenges they were seeing in their current manufacturing processes. 

Unfortunately, applying technology to these flawed processes didn’t always result in success. And this resulted in a conclusion that I soon labeled my “First Law of Process Automation.”

Rod’s First Law of Process Automation: Automating a bad process results in an automated bad process

That sounds so logical; it almost seems too obvious to even bother stating it. But I saw many companies trying to overcome flawed processes by simply applying technology to them—hoping that the automation of the processes would somehow resolve those flaws.

They often didn’t. 

What I quickly realized was that applying automation to a flawed process, while perhaps offering some improvements in productivity, will also serve to simply automate the flaws. And those flaws will continue to reduce the full potential of the process and cause issues.

Three decades later and I’ve since concluded that my First Rule of Process Automation isn’t limited to manufacturing. It can also be applied to marketing automation.

Automation does not replace planning

Allow me to clarify my point: marketing automation tools can be extremely valuable platforms that significantly improve your ability to attract new prospects, build your mindshare, and nurture customer relationships over time while boosting your ability to accurately measure your marketing results and ROI. 

But that doesn’t stop my First Rule of Process Automation from being equally applied to marketing automation: if you automate a flawed marketing process, you’ll likely end up with automated but flawed marketing.

So it’s vital to evaluate your marketing processes to identify where those flaws exist before you implement your marketing automation system. Map out your entire customer relationship lifecycle to determine exactly what your potential customers want to hear from you (they’ll typically respond better to useful insights and knowledge versus a constant barrage of offers) and how often (it may not be as often as you think).

Marketing automation often falls flat when you lack the resources and commitment to produce the necessary content. A 2013 study by the LinkedIn B2B Technology Marketing Group identified the top 5 challenges that thwart content marketing efforts.

The challenges to marketing automation

Mapping and preparing content to your marketing automation initiatives and campaigns are critical to your success. Most marketing automation systems offer a mapping process to assist you in this planning effort. Don’t ignore this important step. And ask yourself these key questions:

  1. Do we have the time and bandwidth to create the content we need for the audiences we’re targeting—and at the frequency we wish to reach out to them?
  2. Is our content truly engaging to our target decision makers and key influencers? Are we addressing critical pain points and the kinds of business challenges that keep our prospects up at night? 
  3. Do we have a plan in place to create enough content variety to keep our prospects engaged and help drive relationships with these contacts over time? (Or are we constantly bombarding our contacts with the same thing over and over?)
  4. Do we have the talent on schedule to produce the content we need in a timely manner to match our implementation plan?
  5. Once we’ve created the content, are we using the right vehicles to deliver this content to the right audiences (not just decision makers—but also key influencers)? Are we delivering the content at the right frequency?

Next steps towards marketing automation

These are just some of the important questions you can use to help you plan for your marketing efforts. They are especially critical if you plan to move to a marketing automation system. You may also find that it will serve your planning process to survey or interview your customers to get valuable feedback on their preferred content, delivery vehicles, and frequency. Where direct access to customers is difficult, consider getting feedback from your field sales organization and/or channel partners.

Marketing automation systems can be highly effective in helping you build and manage more impactful, efficient marketing initiatives. But don’t ignore my First Law of Process Automation—as marketing automation systems do not automatically guarantee your marketing success—especially without careful planning of your content marketing efforts.

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