Stop Hating on Marketing Automation, Try a Little Tenderness Instead

Image of Vintage Dials and Gauges

There’s a preconceived notion among some in the B2B world that marketing automation is a bad idea, one that’s right up there with pop-under ads.

This misconception likely comes from the early days of social media marketing, when desperate, unscrupulous companies used automated third-party services to blast what truly amounted to spam across their social channels 24/7.

While that sort of automation is terrible, maybe even downright unforgivable, the last thing you want to do is discount automation altogether. Don’t be a hater, there’s so much about automation for a marketer to love.

Even though I cringe whenever I hear a so-called expert preach that “all marketing automation is bad,” I don’t take it personally. It’s all about education, and I’m always happy to talk to people about the future-forward technologies propelling today’s marketing automation software tools.

So, in this short article, I’m going to baby step your doubting mind to the concept of embracing automation in marketing, because the crazy paradox about automation is that, when done right, it can actually empower you to get up close and personal with your audience.

Automate the mundane and focus on the dynamic

Marketing automation platforms allow you to automate the mundane and pain-in-the-ass tasks associated with scaling your online marketing efforts.

Before the engagement purists jump all over me, I want to make it clear that you’ll still need a good human team creating that content, because you’ll never be able to replace the creativity of your writers and graphic designers with robots. But by planning marketing messages ahead of time, you can focus on active, in-the-moment marketing tasks.

Imagine freeing marketers up so that they have more time to actually market! When marketers are able to focus on being proactive in their jobs, consumers are guaranteed a better experience.

Personalize the experience precisely

Aside from automating the most routine tasks, there are things you can do with marketing automation that you can’t do manually.

Your customers don’t want to be talked at; they want to be talked with in a way that makes them feel like you’re listening to their unique needs. But having one-to-one conversations with hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of customers can get unwieldy.

With marketing automation platforms, you can create customized conversations that scale to the masses. Ironically, automation can be the driving force behind — not a killer of — truly personalized experiences for your customers and prospects.

While a prospect is on your website researching her product needs, you can use marketing automation tools to place just the right dynamic content before her in her preferred channel and at the perfect time.

The result is the singular goal of marketing: your customer perceives (and experiences) that your brand is perfectly aligned with their needs.

Scale, measure, and drive

At the end of the day marketing automation is here to scale, measure, and drive revenue.

While that doesn’t sound as sexy as social, content, and SEO, it is certainly an essential component of the overall integrated marketing strategy. It also explains why the topic of marketing ROI has been gaining so much traction across the digital marketing space.

Perhaps the most valuable aspect of marketing automation is that you can use it to better measure your campaign results quickly and easily, and then make adjustments on the fly. While marketing stats were once hidden behind veils that prevented us from measuring campaign effectiveness — forcing marketers to hazard guesses about what was actually working — those veils have been lifted by sophisticated metrics tools.

We can now precisely measure the effectiveness of our social, email, and other types of marketing campaigns, as well as the true ROI they deliver.

Because the technology behind Internet marketing has gotten so darn exact, we can scale our marketing efforts like never before. Strategically applied, marketing automation allows us to prove exactly how our campaigns affect revenue.

What’s to hate about that?

See you in the comments?

About the Author: Jason Miller is the Senior Manager for Content and Social at Linkedin Marketing Solutions by day, and a rock and roll photographer by night. Get more from Jason on Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn.

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  1. As you mentioned, marketing automation platforms can’t replace actual people. I think too often business owners and marketers expect marketing automation platforms to take too much off their plate. It’s there to help, but should not completely replace you.

  2. Completely agree Jason. Marketing automation shouldn’t create a less personal experience.
    Now that we have marketing automation set up, any time we send out a really personal and relevant communication a light goes off that asks “Is there a way to send this to every client/prospect at this point in the relationship?”
    I don’t have time for every manual email I send to be helpful, but if I automate the really great ones (they do come along every once in awhile) it allows every client to get a much more valuable experience with me.
    What do you think are things you shouldn’t automate?

    • That’s a great question Tim. For one I would say don’t “Set and forget” and run completely lights out. It’s important to constantly measure and optimize, add new content, and adjust accordingly. Another touchy subject is automating social responses which I think is just silly. If a company is using auto replies in the open social sphere, that’s just bad use of social. Thanks for the comment.

  3. I agree w/ Nick above, the automation is there to act as a tool but not to replace the human brain. We just have to learn how to leverage all these tools out there to free ourselves from like you said the “mundane”

    • Thanks for the comment Eric. All about getting this technology in place and a set of best practices that will align your sales and marketing efforts. People, process, and technology.

  4. Completely agree that automation is vital.

    We teach our clients that they need to 1) Get Found online, 2) Engage with people who find them, and 3) Build profitable, automated systems that follow up because NO ONE follows up well – we ALWAYS leave someone out and don’t follow up.

    Suppose you have an active website where people want your free downloadable information – if you have to manually send that info, you will have no time to do anything else. Or maybe you go to a trade show and meet lots of people who want more information about your products or service: IF you manually followed up with them, it will take you too long to get to them AND you probably just won’t do it. (Have you ever come home from a trade show with a fistful of biz cards that just gather dust rather than sending your requested information to people?)

    As this article says – use the creative time to market but let the profitable, automated system do the heavy lifting… you will be SO glad you did.

    Charlie Seymour Jr
    http://DrMarcAndCharlie.com

    • Charlie! Thanks for chiming in. I couldn’t agree more. Try scaling a manual follow up effort and you are in trouble. Thanks for the comment, much appreciated.

  5. Vikki Fraser :

    I still see too many brands using far too much automation. I little part of me dies every time I read some automated tweet about an aggregated “paper” – “The Such-and_such Daily is out!” Ugh.

    • Personally, I also cringe when I see those automated tweets with the “The ___ Daily is Out.” Can you take a little time to persuade me to read the linked article? Have you checked “How to Create Powerful Headlines from CopyBlogger? Give me a break. Tweet this!

      • Totally agree with you there, but in this case I am referring to a much bigger picture. Automation around your entire integrated marketing approach that allows scale. Thanks for the comment!

    • Hi Vikki, Thanks for the comment. But as I mentioned before, this is not about automating Twitter or FB. It’s a much bigger strategy for following up on leads and creating a personalized dynamic customer experience.

  6. Marketing automation is a tool that can help you streamline some of your marketing efforts. I don’t think you want to replace people with automation. If you do that, your company could seem cold and sterile. I think now, more than ever, people want a ‘human’ touch, something we’ve gotten away from in the past five years or so.

  7. I think when most people hate on marketing automation, they aren’t talking about the analytics, scoring, or insights. They are usually talking about email marketing (in particular drip marketing). For commodity products, I think it is wise to enlist leads in drip campaigns and automate as much of the “personalization” as possible. This is why Amazon has been so successful.

    However, for new disruptive products, or complex products where you have a lot to learn, drip marketing and automated personalization can be a huge turnoff. That’s why most of these companies employ sales reps, account managers, and customer success teams. To make those companies more successful, I believe we have to empower the customer facing teams to be better educated so they can personalize the experience for the customer. After all, an algorithm is never going to be better than a well informed rep at personalizing an experience.

    • I totally agree with you Craig. Great points for sure. One thing to keep in mind is that marketing automation technology is advancing very quickly and there are a lot of companies out there who are just beginning to scratch the surface in terms of advanced functionality. That’s where it can play a vital role along side disruptive products and dynamic experiences.

      Thanks for the comment!

  8. When I was doing some consulting work for SMBs, they all wanted their Social Media accounts automated but did not want to actually spend time investing in creating valuable content. They would just schedule their home page/product pages and press SPAM. No matter what I said, they refused to understand that they should be engaging and sharing other material with their followers (if they even had any).

    Luckily, there was a good minority would actually would listen!

    • Thanks for the comment Phil. Automating social is not always a good idea but there is a time and place for it if it’s done properly. I wrote this post with a much bigger picture in mind for automating entire marketing campaigns around demand gen, but there are many lessons here that easily apply to social as well.

  9. ok you sold me on automated marketing. Understood it doesnt replace marketers more like it augments the marketers to do a better job, just automated.
    Can you recommend any software of automated solution.

    Thanks for the good article.

  10. Peter Johnston :

    The problem is simple. They automated the wrong process, Push Marketing.

    And for the wrong business model – the one where Marketing is just a feeder to an unreconstructed, high pressure sales department hungry for leads to an appointment.

    Automation is not the problem. As Marketo themselves keep telling us – Buying has Changed and Marketing and Sales must do so too.

  11. I think marketing automation is fine, as long as that’s not the only thing you’re doing. I have a tick that appears every time I see a post pushed from Facebook to Twitter. Too many companies, especially small businesses, try to automate all of their social media without any true engagement. That’s when I become and automation hater. :)

    I completely agree that using it for the mundane tasks can free up time for other worthwhile marketing efforts. We could all use a little extra time, right? You just have to determine where you cross the line from beneficial automation to spammy automation.

    • Totally agree Kathy. Automating social in the form of responding to customer or prospects is just a bad use of social. Thanks for the comment.

  12. Jason, I was on a sales call 40 minutes ago with a content software vendor. The sales guy asked me if used an automation software like Marketo.

    I said that I don’t believe that automation frees up as much time companies claim, so it’s not worth learning a new system or paying the money.

    Imagine my surprise when I sat down to read Copyblogger today!

    If I give Marketo a second look, I would not judge based on how well it replaces marketing tasks. Instead, I would consider how much freedom it may give our team to do the most important marketing tasks, the dynamic stuff you wrote about.

    • Thanks for the comment Hashim. I think you would be surprised by the amount of time you save and the ability to both scale and refine your campaigns to grow revenue and your business. Great to hear that a content vendor mentioned Marketo as content powers marketing automation and is an absolutely essential element for success.

  13. Sometimes I marvel at the trouble that the monicker, Marketing Automation has provided. The other day I was literally pondering this, because that’s what I do. I try to think for a really long time about stupid things, and normally in the end something non-stupid arises. When Sales Force Automation was first introduced, did people think that sales would be automated? Was anyone upset when automatic deals didn’t pour in? If anyone was actually surprised, they probably weren’t in sales. You can read the definition of SFA here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sales_force_management_system. I just read it and it made my head hurt. What a convoluted bunch of crap. SFA, or CRM as most of us have probably taken to using in a synonymous manner, was used in a time when CRM was still evolving and a lot of cool new terms were being thrown around for the sake of marketing said change. I hear SFA less and less now, but at no point when I hear it do I believe that the company using it has automated the sales process. Why? Because I respect what (good) sales does, I view it as a profession which can not be commoditized down to the point of being repeatable by a rules engine.

    There are however a TON of points in the sales process which CAN be automated, opportunity management is one of those. Sales pros hate doing mundane data entry work – so you know what, lets automate that. Let’s streamline it and at the same time open that data up to important nodes within the organization. Sounds like a plan to me.

    So why then is it so difficult to understand what MA is really meant to do? I mean, very intelligent people are still writing blog posts like this one, meanwhile MA is probably the hottest buzz word in marketing – scratch that – MA is the hottest buzz word in business. But does anyone actually know what it is or does well?

    Not until marketing is respected as a profession will this happen. What does your marketing dept really do? If your company is like 90% of other B2B orgs, they probably create brochures, plan events, interface with vendors who do jobs they should in fact be doing. MA does none of those and frankly marketing has been double speak for ‘Sales Support’ for so long the majority of executives have lost all respect for them as skilled professionals. First budget to cut – marketing. Last to review financial plans – marketing. Lets get real here.

    When you truly understand what marketing SHOULD be doing and you see it as an epicenter for growth, the front line to really stimulate and retain business, and the most important element of company, then and only then do you understand where Marketing Automation fits. It’s a tool of the trade and one that can only be wielded by a master craftsman/woman. My analogies are many here and frankly I don’t need one, I’ll just re-purpose Jason’s title: Stop Hating on Marketing Automation, and start hating on the mindset which is preventing it’s success. Save marketing.

    Justin Gray
    @myleadmd

    • Justin! Thanks for chiming in here. Your expertise is ALWAYS welcome and right on the money. That comment would actually make a fantastic blog post on its own. And i love the Save Marketing line. That could be a killer campaign : )

  14. Michael Shook :

    Marketing software is not a kind of software, it is a term made up by marketers to point out a feature.

    Marketing and sales are inherently human interactions, person to person. If your goal is to lessen the amount of human interaction by using Turing software, you are going to get less human interaction from the folks you are using this software on.

    I believe certain tasks can be simplified by using software and automated systems and there are some processes that do not need actual human interaction on a regular basis; but a lot of processes do.

    Could be I am just a bit sensitive to this idea today, just this morning I opened up an email from a vendor i am an affiliate for because the subject line was ‘A personal note from “vendor name”, but it wasn’t, it was just an A/R sent to all the “Dear Partner” s.

    Well that, plus I watched Marketo’s intro video with the robot-sounding voiceover and I still can’t figure out what they do.

    • Thanks for the comment Michael. I agree with you that there absolutely needs to be a human element involved here, but I think your example oversimplifies what marketing automation is capable of. The folks that are doing automation poorly will send emails like the one you received this morning, keep in mind that they are probably still learning. The folks that have implemented MA the correct way, and have the people, processes, and content in place to scale and drive results are the ones that will be successful and drive more revenue, much more quickly.

      As for the video, that was created by a human : ) I will be sure to forward your feedback though as we do appreciate it. Also happy to answer any specific questions you have about Marketo.

      • Michael Shook :

        Thank you for replying Jason, it’s not like I don’t have an Aweber account, I do, I just believe that certain processes are often better accomplished in a person to person approach.

        I absolutely believe that automation can work for some things; but I don’t want to read an FB post concurrently posted to Twitter with the HootSuite branding on it.

        I do think businesses that have a more human hands-on approach are going to win more customers that aren’t merely price-shopping in the long run.

        The guy doing your voice-over – not quite a BBC accent, but the phrasing and inflection definitely not NASE.

        • Person to person will never be replaced, I agree with you there. But if a business is really using marketing automation to it’s fullest extent, it becomes a very personalized dynamic experience for each customer. There are not a ton of folks who are doing this well yet, but it’s still a new technology to many. The idea here is to use this technology to build a relationship and stay top of mind, then when that person is ready to buy the person to person engagement happens. This is easy to do with a few leads, but if you want to scale, it’s impossible. That’s where you need a truly personalized automated experience. Thanks again for chiming in. Really appreciate your comments and point of view here.

  15. Jason,
    Very nice blog and refreshing. Personally I have not heard so much hate about marketing automation. But the sentiment is that it really doesn’t save that much time in the short term for the already busy and overworked b2b marketing department. (In my case)
    It is not the silver bullet for sure but in my view the pros are far more than the cons.

    • Hi Ricardo, thanks for the comment. It’s not so much about the hate around marketing automation as much is it is the confusion. Way too many folks are confusing marketing automation with automating Twitter, Facebook and other experiences that need a personal touch. I think it’s just a matter of better educating the market and that was the idea behind this post. I hear so many folks throwing MA under the bus because they think that it’s something it is not. Really appreciate you chiming in.

    • Hashim Warren :

      My thoughts exactly.

  16. Archan Mehta :

    Thanks for your contribution: I really enjoyed reading your post.

    Perhaps it is wise to automate for the sake of streamlining operations, but not at the risk of losing the personal touch.

    People get annoyed–and it can be a frustrating experience–when you hear a robotic voice at the other end of the line.

    We need technology that is humane and takes human needs into consideration. We want more face to face interactions, so we don’t end up having to interact with only machines. Focus on quality, not quantity.

    Also, when you market across cultures, you will find that “other” civilizations may not always share your optimistic view of automation or technology.

    Some people still value the communal experience.

    Have a good one.

    • Hi Archan. Thanks for the comment. I think you have a very good point, but marketing automation is more about personalizing a customer journey with dynamic content than it is a robotic voice. Automating this process is essential to scale and bring to the top the folks who are ready to engage with a sales person.

  17. I can see that automated marketing could have some strengths and advantages, but I am still somewhat a purist. In fact, I really dislike marketing in general. It’s the writing that I want to focus on, and marketing can kill creativity.

    • Thanks for the comment Dan. I am a writer at heart so I can see where you are coming from. But, with today’s technology in the right content creators hands, marketing can be a really positive experience. It’s all about selling without selling and changing the mantra from always be closing to always be helping.

  18. Agreed that while you can automate the foundational messages, there needs to be a personal grab that may take more individualization (maybe across semi-broad groups).

  19. Your line “Automate the Mundane, Focus on the Dynamic” says it all. I never thought of it that way.

    This can help me review my marketing, review what is routine/mundane that does not need my personal attention and focus on the dynamic – which is about building relationships, the human side of the business.

    Thank you

  20. Agreed that while you can automate the foundational messages, there needs to be a personal grab that may take more individualization

  21. I’m divided on content marketing automation, and rather than repeat myself here at length on the topic, can I direct folks to the parallel discussion on the same theme on CMI with Robert Rose and others http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/2013/06/strategic-map-better-use-content-marketing-technologies/#comment-932904389

    • Hi Stephen. I am a big fan of Robert’s work so thanks for sharing. If a company is looking to scale their lead gen efforts, then marketing automation is essential. Good content powers a solid MA strategy so they go hand in hand. In my opinion having a MA platform fully integrated into your overall marketing strategy is the only way to effectively disseminate content at the right time and the right place, and be able to measure the results of your efforts along the way. It’s all about how much you put into it. Thanks for the comment.