7 Marketing Automation Pitfalls

Starting a marketing automation program, whether for lead nurturing or for more sophisticated consumer marketing, can be daunting. After planning and initiating countless programs, I’ve compiled some common pitfalls that you can avoid, if you plan for them. I decided to post them after being asked to answering this question on Quora about what can go wrong when investing in a marketing automation solution.

Quoting/Selection Phase

1. Underestimating the level of support you’ll need, during implementation and beyond.

Whether you have your own development team or not, you will probably need assistance from the vendor or an outside contractor in order to complete your installation and integration, depending on the complexity of your existing systems and suite of websites. Often while our own dev team has the capability to do these things, they don’t have the time, or sometimes experience, to complete it quickly.

Some MA vendors require you to use a partner to implement and others have detailed knowledge-bases out there that are relatively easy for your team to pick up and implement. Make sure to include your engineering partners in the discussions early on so they can plan for the work if necessary or look over the specs to help you decide whether the APIs will meet your needs.

Also, strongly consider how much phone and chat support your team will need, as Act-On includes it, for example, but with Pardot we had to negotiate to get it included. I strongly recommend having strong customer service be one of your top considerations. You can use G2Crowd.com or other similar websites (including the Salesforce AppExchange ratings) to compare features and see reviews for the top marketing automation platforms.

2. Not planning for growth.

When you seek quotes with each MA vendor you need to account for both the total number of leads as well as the monthly frequency of message sending, as both of these items impact what the vendors will charge. Additionally you need to know the number of marketing and sales users you will need.

Will your company be acquiring other companies and need to integrate those leads and marketing plans into your system? That should be planned for. Will you have different marketing teams working with different divisions or groupings of leads and you need to ensure appropriate permissions so the groups can’t co-mingle? You’ll need enterprise-level capabilities enabling multiple instances, perhaps. These details are key in negotiating your contract.

Roll-out Phase

3. Thinking you can buy your way out of the complexity of a software integration project.

While developers on your side and the vendor’s can help integrate your marketing and CRM systems, without fully defining your communication and lead flow process in advance, you’ll make a lot of assumptions about things you can and can’t do. You won’t know sometimes until you get into the thick of it whether the system is flexible enough to suit your needs.

A good starting point is to have your nurture program mapped out into flow charts, addressing how your audience will be segmented and what content and communication channels they will be getting messages through. Don’t assume that these systems can incorporate SMS, push messages and email all through the same program. Verify! We’d love to have these technologies integrated but many of the vendors are just catching up. In a few cases they simply purchased companies that offer these services but never integrated them into the same user interface. They’ll sell you that they offer it all, but when you go to implement it it becomes a headache.

Work with your database guru to understand what fields will need to be maintained in the system in order to make your nurture program work, and how frequently those fields will be updated. Each action that initiates a communication or nurture step must have a data trigger that tells the system to “hit go”.

4. Forgetting to align your sales and marketing teams on how the lead program will work.

Even if you work really hard to align the teams, by putting together comprehensive training for the tools, showing the sales team how the new features can help them close deals, and getting everyone to agree how leads will be acquired and shared, it’s still probable that there will be confusion. For some sales execs this is a new way of working that takes getting used to. And for your marketing team, the new system will be complex and take some time to learn as well.

It’s important to educate and re-educate the team on how leads come into the system, how marketing determines that a lead is ready to be shared with sales, and how and when the lead comes into their CRM lead queue. Be careful with automation that impacts the customer. Use fail-safes so that you don’t automatically email lead lists that are loaded from conferences or *shudder* purchased from list vendors. These lists can be very dirty and cause havoc to your SPAM rating.

If sales isn’t on board, they will complain that marketing is spending money on a tool and not sharing the spoils. Some understand that a cold lead is best left to nurture until it’s ready to hatch. Others want a crack at everything that comes in. Sharing all the cool features like anonymous visitor tracking for the website and lead alerts that go right to sales’ inboxes will help keep everyone on board.

Messaging Phase

5. Forgetting there are humans on the other side.

Frequent offenders of this rule are auto dealerships. When it’s time for my car maintenance, I get a multiple phone calls, an email and a postcard. After service I get multiple communications to rate the dealership. Do not create programs that send too many communications! Remember to decrease frequency of messages if your customers or leads are not responding.

Also, when creating our segments and versions we often make many assumptions about the buying process and the types of content that will be relevant to buyers. Ensure you continue to test and improve upon all of your content, reviewing effectiveness monthly and tweaking to improve. You should have a very good idea about each of the phases of your sales process that a prospect goes through by talking with your sales teams and executives before you even think about what content to write.

6. Sending too many messages. Frequency settings and other fail-safes.

Testing can be extremely difficult with marketing automation systems because the level of personalization requires that you test each message once for each and every variation. The programs also incorporate wait steps and many if-then statements that add complexity to testing. One fail-safe that you can enact to help marketers sleep easier at night is the maximum messages per week setting. Setting this to 1 or 2 ensures that the impact of mistakes can be minimizes. You can also normally add many “automatic exit” conditions to your automated programs. Once the conditions become true, the lead exits the automated marketing. So for example once someone makes a purchase they should be removed from the general prospecting messaging. Your team may decide that if a salesperson is working with the prospect directly, they should stop getting automated sales messages.

ROI Evaluation

7. Making big assumptions about what’s working rather than setting up proper tracking.

Marketing automation tools continue to improve their reporting as they firm up on better integration with Salesforce and other CRM systems and as they develop comprehensive web analytics. But without using campaigns or other marketing tracking tools in your CRM system, you will not have a handle on which marketing and lead source channels are performing best at turning into sales. It’s difficult to track a lead all the way from the source through the sale, especially if you have a one year sales cycle or longer. You may touch a lead multiple times, so it’s important to  carefully track your lead source as well as all the “touches” that moves that lead to becoming a customer.

This article from Salesforce Ben explains the difference between campaigns and lead sources in Salesforce and how to use campaigns properly. One of the most common problems I find is that companies neglect to utilize this feature. You can also use your Salesforce lead or customer ID to integrate that data as a custom field into your web analytics platform for better marketing tracking.

Marching forth boldly

It takes a comprehensive planning and review process to get to vendor selection, implementation, and finally launch. You no longer need luck because you have been equipped with forewarning about some of the biggest missteps to avoid! If you have questions or need assistance, shoot me a note.

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