The Pros and Cons of Marketing Automation [for 2018]
If you remember when marketing automation first arrived on the scene, you’ll probably recall the almost-euphoric reaction from B2B marketing teams. The very idea of fully automated streams of messages was enough to elicit squeals of delight from even the most reserved marketing pros — “All my lead nurturing activities executed automatically, at exactly the right time? Where do I sign up?”
Fast-forward to today, and marketing automation has evolved from a niche gadget to a must-have for any B2B marketing pro’s technology stack.
Welcome to the pros and cons of marketing automation. This is an update to a popular article we published back in 2016 – exactly two years ago today – which is now updated and good to go for 2018.
Just how many of your peers are using marketing automation? According to a 2017 study by Act-On and Econsultancy, 53 percent of B2B firms have already automated in some capacity, and 37 percent say they plan to use automation in the future.
Source: The State of B2B Marketing Automation in 2017, MarketingProfs
If marketing teams have learned anything over the years in between, it’s that marketing automation is a tool — in itself neither good nor bad — and that using it involves challenges as well as benefits. While marketing automation, when used well, offers a tremendous array of benefits (“The Good”), teams cannot afford to ignore the challenges involved in leveraging it (“The Bad”), and the potential disasters that can result when it’s used unwisely (“The Ugly”). Let’s take a few moments to explore all three aspects of this game-changing innovation as it expands its footprint in mainstream B2B marketing practices.
Marketing Automation: The Good
Marketing automation offers a host of benefits, and those who have been using it for a while are no doubt wondering how they ever lived without it. Here are a few reasons why:
It’s a huge time-saver. Marketing automation’s “set it and forget it” convenience lets marketing teams spend less time fussing with administrative details and more time doing what they do best.
It makes A/B testing a breeze. If you’ve ever tried to execute an A/B test without marketing automation, you’ll appreciate the time and hassle these solutions can save you. Just create your array of alternatives, give some basic instructions on how to serve them up, then sit back and wait for the results.
It works for anybody. Marketing automation isn’t one of those tools that only works well for one or two industries. If you sell products or services and you have prospects, automation can be a lifesaver for your marketing team.
It’s ideal for lead generation and lead nurturing. With marketing automation, you can easily set up a feed to get leads entered into your funnel … and create automated workflows to keep your brand top-of-mind all the way through the buyer’s journey.
It forces you to think strategically. Marketing automation forces you to think about the entire buyer’s journey, not just what you think would be a good idea to do this week or next. By focusing on the end goal, you’re much more likely to make more strategic decisions about the tactics that will get you there.
Okay, perhaps “bad” is a harsh word to use here, but there are some challenges in implementing automation that marketing teams can’t afford to overlook. For instance:
It costs money. While the cost of marketing automation has come down dramatically over the years, it still costs money, and chances are your team isn’t rolling in extra cash. Convincing your boss to fork over the budgetary dollars for an automation platform could be dicey, and you’ll be on the hook to show concrete results quickly.
Creating — and using — audience segments can be confusing. There’s both an art and a science to segmenting audiences successfully, and it might take some trial-and-error to find the right balance. Once you have your segments in place, using them successfully (e.g. deciding which segment to target next) will take some practice.
It’s complex. Marketing automation platforms are sophisticated solutions, and inexperienced users can soon find themselves swimming in too many campaigns, too many audience segments, and too many reports.
It takes time to set up and manage. You might be surprised how many teams invest in a marketing automation platform, only to let it sit on the shelf because they “don’t have the time” to get it set up. Marketing automation is a tremendous time saver, but it does require some time to set up and to manage.
In the hands of experienced, properly trained marketers, marketing automation can be a dream come true. In other hands, well, less-than-desirable results can arise. A few sobering possibilities to consider:
It can lead to over-messaging. Armed with the power of automated messaging, some teams go overboard and aggravate prospects by communicating too frequently. Remember, marketing touchpoints need to be timed strategically — frequently enough to keep your brand top of mind, but not so frequent that you annoy recipients into hitting the Unsubscribe button.
Mistakes can be magnified. Mistakes happen. Marketing automation platforms can handle huge numbers of prospects … which, of course, means that an error may go out to thousands instead of merely hundreds of recipients, and you may not even be aware of it until months later. Make sure that everyone who uses your platform is properly trained and that every communication is proofed, tested, and double-checked before it goes into the chute.
It can de-personalize your brand. Some teams fail to take advantage of the personalization features within their marketing automation platforms and use the same communications for their entire target base. Remember that your messages are competing with thousands of others that come across your prospects’ email, social media, mobile devices, and other venues every single day. When you fail to personalize, you run the risk of blending in with the rest of the noise. Use your personas, intent data, and other resources to create the highly personalized experiences that will build lasting relationships.
As you can see, marketing automation offers a wealth of advantages to time-strapped B2B marketing teams… but it’s not a magic pill. Implementing and managing your platform requires a commitment of time, effort, and money, and using your solution improperly can result in some less-than-ideal outcomes.
If your team is considering a marketing automation solution, make sure you understand exactly what you’re signing up for. Look beyond the price tag and take time to assess what the platform will do, what it will not do, and what your team needs to put into it. Remember, any tool is only as good as the team that wields it, so make an informed decision in choosing the right platform and make sure your team is fully prepared to use it properly. Then you’ll be in a perfect position to enjoy “The Good,” deal with “The Bad” intelligently… and hopefully avoid “The Ugly” altogether.
Once you begin using marketing automation to grow your business, making the most out of your investment becomes critical. With that in mind, here are several articles to help get you started: