The Promise and Pitfalls of Marketing Automation: 3 Missteps To Avoid
Marketing automation platforms hold both promise and pitfalls for businesses. When used appropriately, they can help sales and marketing teams together gain a 360-degree view of the customer and lead to an uptick in new sales as well as repeat business. When left to wither on the vine, marketing automation tools can become expensive excuses for lazy marketing mindsets.
Make marketing automation work for you by avoiding these three common pitfalls:
- Stop thinking about your website as just a website.
- Look for marketing automation solutions, not products.
- Ditch the “set it and forget it” mentality.
Before we dive into those pitfalls and discuss how to avoid them, let’s quickly review what marketing automation is, exactly.
What Is Marketing Automation?
Marketing automation uses software to get routine, repeatable marketing activities off your plate. Instead of you scheduling and sending 100 emails, for example, software does it for you. But it’s more than that.
We love what HubSpot says about marketing automation:
“At its best, marketing automation is a combination of software and strategy. It should allow you to nurture prospects with highly personalized, useful content that helps convert prospects into delighted customers.”
Successful marketing automation puts customers at the center of every effort and uses the power of technology to keep them engaged with your brand and delighted with your service.
Want to dive deeper into marketing automation? Read our blog post on what it is, what it isn’t and how to use it to generate leads more effectively for your business.
With those basics covered, let’s jump into the first pitfall to avoid as you implement marketing automation solutions at your business.
1. Stop Thinking About Your Website as Just a Website.
Many businesses think of their websites as not much more than online brochures. But they are so much more than a mere place to send potential or existing customers.
“Your website is one piece of a larger puzzle. It’s where you will acquire leads, but there are many other pieces that go into play to get the leads there and then after you get them, what happens to them,” says Sean Conlin, OBI Creative VP of digital services.
Conlin says marketers can maximize the value of their websites by viewing them as a middle point in their marketing automation platforms. Use cases, he says, can help businesses derive more value from their sites.
“When I redesign or optimize a website, I start with gaining an understanding of what the client wants visitors to do. I ask them what steps they want prospects and customers to take when they come to the site. Then, we build use cases for those things. Functionality follows the use cases.”
Unfortunately, Conlin says marketers typically flip the order of things by developing functionality they think they want or need on their websites and then build use cases after the fact to support the functionality.
Reversing the process is dangerous because it’s more likely to result in functionalities that don’t match visitors’ needs and wants. Conlin says getting the process order right is critical, both now and going forward, as marketing automation enables personalizable digital content and more robust outcome-based marketing.
On the first front, Conlin says the future of website marketing is personal.
“As technology advances, the role of marketing automation in prospecting and customer service will only grow. Consumers demand ever-increasingly personalized digital experiences. And technology is enabling it. Dynamic content blocks on websites that now allow homepage and landing page experiences to be customized based on demographic and search criteria are giving way to websites that are entirely customizable.”
Any behavior or demographic, he says, can and will be harnessed for personalization of digital content.
“Similar to algorithms that now control content recommendations on Amazon and Netflix, businesses will be able to serve up content that changes in response to a visitor’s engagement with the site. If you liked article X, you’ll like Y and Z, too.”
All of this, Conlin calculates, will lead to more profitable sales and marketing efforts and, ideally, more satisfied customers as well.
The other benefit marketing automation enables is scalability, a feature sometimes overlooked in conversations about outcome-based marketing.
“Lots of people like to talk about performance based marketing, or outcome based marketing, when discussing marketing automation. It’s the idea of paying for specific outcomes and it’s not wrong, but it can miss the more important aspect it enables, and that’s scalability. When you get marketing automation and website functionality right, you can calculate ROI on a per-lead basis. If you adjust your budget, you can adjust your lead count.”
While automation can drive people to websites and convert them to leads, internal processes are critical to making sure those leads become customers.
“It’s not about just driving leads, but what will you do with them afterwards? That’s where marketing automation comes in as an aspect of business consultancy. You don’t need the right product or platform as much as you need a solution to your business problems.”
2. Look for Marketing Automation Solutions, not Products.
Often, when businesses bring on marketing technology, they start with the platform and what it can do. Instead, Conlin says businesses should start with what problems they want to solve.
“How do your customers interact with you? What do you need operationally and from a marketing perspective? Use those criteria to find a platform that meets those needs. A custom solution might work. Or something like Marketo out of the box might work.”
Before comparing the features and benefits of systems and platforms, think about what you want to do with your marketing automation solution. Let that drive the technology acquisition. Conlin says connecting CRM data between internal systems is a common canvas upon which this choice is drawn.
“We can always find a way to connect everything together, but the real question is what do you want connected and why? It requires an individual assessment, but the time spent upfront asking the tough questions is worth the money you’ll save in an effective system and increased profits down the road.”
Having a lazy marketing mindset is the third pitfall Conlin commonly sees marketers make when it comes to automation.
3. Ditch The “Set It and Forget It” Mentality.
On one hand, it’s easy to see how marketing automation could lead to such a mindset. It’s designed to eliminate repetitive tasks and manual marketing activity. Yet to be effective, marketing automation solutions and the websites they empower must be carefully tended, like a garden.
“A lot of firms will put in research upfront. Perform an SEO audit. Do a keyword strategy. Build use cases. Launch a website and then … forget about it entirely,” Conlin says. “It’s similar to taking the time to dig up your lawn, plant garden beds, frame them out with wood and wire, plant the seeds, set up a sprinkler system and then just walk away. Eventually, weeds will choke out the fruit of your labor.”
There’s a pressing need, Conlin says, for ongoing SEO management, tweaks, iterations on functionality, layout and content that makes the site shine and derives as much value as possible from it.
“The upside of digital technology is that it can be changed quickly. Monthly SEO reporting and strategy help you see how your site is performing and pivot. You should constantly be questioning and evaluating the effectiveness of your website.”
Conlin says Google Analytics can be a helpful tool in evaluating your site, as long as you react to what you’re seeing. Avoid just adding blog content while keeping everything else static and look beyond numbers to the trends they reveal.
“You might have 100,000 visitors to your site every month. But how many are converting, and is that number trending up? With any website, my goal is to drive action. I want someone to take the desired action, not just take information and leave.”
Conlin says motivating users to act goes back to building use cases that define functionality sets.
“It can be really profitable for companies willing to stick to the process and keep it in the right order. We helped one client with many internal stakeholders reach consensus on which problems its website needed to solve and then redesigned the site to meet those needs and drive the desired actions.”
Those conversations led the team to create a customer service page with all customer portals linked on it, minimizing the frustration visitors felt hunting for such information on the company’s website. It also led to the creation of a map with store locations and drive-up versus walk-in designations.
The new site was tied in to the company’s marketing automation system, which allowed it to more easily collect information needed and consult internally about what to do with that information once it came in.
After launch, Conlin and his team revisited the site periodically to see what was working and what wasn’t. Adjustments were made and, as the site matured, it was fine-tuned for maximum profitability.
The business has gone on to achieve record revenue growth, which the new website and marketing automation system helped support.
The key takeaway is to not let your site get stale. Connect your data to it with the right solution to your customers’ needs and you will achieve success.