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The 5 Mistakes Companies Make with Their Marketing Automation Systems

Over the past decade, I’ve had the benefit of managing (or at the very least, occupying a front-row seat to) more than 100 marketing automation implementations for B2B software companies. Those implementations have included HubSpot, Eloqua, Pardot, Marketo, and everything in between, going all the way back to Vtrenz (before it was acquired by Silverpop). At this point, it’s safe to say I’ve seen and learned my fair share along the way. I’ve seen what makes implementations successful, and I’ve seen what causes them to fail. 


Like any other SaaS solution, there are obviously marketing automation platforms that are just easier to implement and manage. But at the end of the day, regardless of the platform, the implementations that ultimately end up failing do so for all the same reasons, which I’ve outlined below. Oddly enough, several of these problems are self-inflicted. Here goes.

Mistake No. 1 — Lacking a defined process prior to selecting a marketing automation system (MAS). The three most critical elements in any organizational transformation (such as implementing your sales and marketing stack) are process, people, and technology (in that order, preferably). Before an organization even considers purchasing an MAS, it should map out the lead-flow process in its entirety. From the time a lead first interacts with your brand to the time it’s considered Closed Won/Lost, you should know exactly what that process looks like. From there, identify whether you have the right people in place to make that process work properly. Finally, find a solution that maps to your process. Technology in this instance, and in most other cases, is the last piece to be considered. Technology is only an enabler of the process you’ve defined.

However, most organizations go about it in reverse order. It first selects the technology, and then it defines the process. If a marketer is implementing a solution for the first time, they select the technology only to then try and map out the process based on the feature set of the selected MAS. Or, if they are transitioning from one MAS to another, they often try to force their existing process (which is often already an inefficient and overly cumbersome process). 

Mistake No. 2 — Trying to over-build processes right out of the gate. Today’s marketing automation solutions come loaded with all kinds of fun bells and whistles. In many ways, it’s freaky the power some of these solutions wield. But the problem with all these bells and whistles is that they get us all worked up about how many cool things we can do, which ultimately leads to us being overwhelmed. We try to get everything up and running right from the start. And then 60 days later, we begin to realize that we’ve started a lot, but finished little.

I’ll write about my take on lead scoring in an upcoming post, but this is one of those features we get most excited about, but too often overbuild and over-rely on. I don’t know how many organizations I’ve encountered that allow lead scoring to negatively impact the experience of the prospect and sales team (and most of the time, they don’t even realize what that impact is). Setting up an effective lead-scoring model isn’t easy, and it doesn’t happen overnight. I’m not against lead scoring, but I know it can hurt sales velocity if it’s not set up properly. In the end, I’ve seen too many ineffective lead-score models hurt an organization’s ability to market and sell effectively.

Mistake No. 3 — Understanding the time commitment required to set up and manage the system properly. When most people first start reading about marketing automation, they get hung up on the word automation. Then they go take a demo and start dreaming up all the cool things they’ll be able to do with their shiny new toy.

That’s a mirage. A mirage that I don’t believe is intentionally created by MAS vendors, but, nevertheless, is created during the evaluation process (especially if this is your first go-round).

The idea that an MAS is going to make your life easier couldn’t be further from the truth. Marketing automation platforms take time to set up properly and even more time to run. These platforms are living, breathing creatures that demand attention. What in marketing is ever a set-it-and-forget-it type of solution? They don’t exist, especially when it comes to your MAS.

Mistake No. 4 — Not producing enough content. Aside from No. 1 on this list, this is arguably the biggest problem for most organizations that have marketing automation solutions. As they’re kicking the tires of various marketing automation solutions, marketers always ask me what they should be most concerned about when rolling out their platform. And my answer is always the same: Make sure you produce content. Lots of content.

A marketing automation solution is worthless if you’re not producing a lot of content. If your organization isn’t already churning it out, odds are you won’t be ready for a marketing automation system. I’m talking blog posts, white papers, Lightpapers®, e-books, webinars, etc. That’s fuel for an MAS. And it won’t work without it.

Mistake No. 5 — Operating as if people exist in a vacuum. We’ve been talking about the Buyer’s Journey a lot with our clients recently. Buyers have changed the way they interact with vendors. They’ve decided to take control of as much of the process as they possibly can. Yet we as sales and marketing professionals are struggling to adapt. Today’s B2B technology buyer controls 60 to 80 percent of the buying process (depending on which report you’re reading). Buyers aren’t going to wake up one day and just decide to relinquish the power they now have, so let’s stop fighting it and work with them. 

At one point in time, prospects had to come to us to get the information they needed to make a purchasing decision. But prospects don’t come to the trough and wait for us to feed them anymore. They’re out on the free range consuming what they want, when and where they want it. Yet we, as marketers, keep pouring food in the trough, wondering why they’re not coming in to eat it (if the analogy isn’t coming through, I’m talking about the sales funnel, folks — it’s dead).

Unfortunately, that’s how we’re still using our marketing automation systems. We set up all these long lead-nurture processes and workflows to actively guide someone through our sales funnel, but then wonder why people aren’t converting. It’s because the buyers aren’t sitting and waiting in line at the trough. We need to learn how to use our marketing automation systems to meet the buyer where they’re at. If we’re waiting for people to knock on our door, we’ve already missed the boat.

Hit me up.

I’ve spent the last 10-plus years helping B2B technology organizations roll out their sales and marketing tech stacks. If you’re in the middle of either evaluating which system go with or just trying to figure out what’s going on with your current tech stack, drop me a line. I’d love to talk about it.