Should you really use a marketing automation tool?

Marketing automation tools (MAT) are all the rage; they're sophisticated pieces of technology that everyone can find useful to some degree. What’s true in theory, however, is not always true in fact. Introducing a marketing automation tool into your marketing and sales technology pipeline can result in unforeseen technology problems as well as unforeseen internal costs. I would like to introduce a way for you to think through whether you are ready for these tools, or if another technology choice might give you better return.

First Question: What are we accomplishing?

It is no exaggeration to say that 90% of what you're doing with a marketing automation tool can be accomplished with a simple bulk email. I'd be willing to bet that if you looked at what you are hoping to do with an MAT you would see that what you're planning to do is never going to happen or is going to be so difficult that you can't get it done. If that’s the case, then what you're planning to do with marketing automation tools can be done with simple email, allowing you to save 90% off your marketing automation costs.

Second Question: Are we introducing more complexity?

I think that it's almost certainly true that integrating your primary marketing and sales technology pipeline to a CRM, and your bulk mailer to a marketing automation tool, introduces a third level of complexity by elevating from one to three the number of relationships you must navigate with your campaigns. With an MAT you must take into account the rate at which your data decays, generally 25% per year for B2B interactions. Hence, you have to establish some kind of system to ensure your data is clean. Otherwise, it won’t be and you’ll be less likely to use your MAT.

To keep you data current, you will need to export CSV files by hand from your CRM system into your marketing automation tool on a regular schedule to ensure data integrity. Why do that when your emailer already pulls from your existing CRM?

OK, the questions are loaded.

What I'm suggesting is not that the MAT isn't a good idea or that it doesn’t work well, all other things being equal. Rather, I'm suggesting that if we’re talking about true marketing and sales effectiveness—and by that I mean being able to produce reliable leads and opportunities and deals at a predictable rate and with a good ROI—then chances are the MAT will not contribute to that bottom line.

There is one feature of the marketing automation tool that does go beyond the typical bulk email; specifically, the auto-responder feature. But even here, there are many cases, such as a drip campaign, when a basic auto-responder can be very effective. They also work well to follow up on people who download trial products or attend tradeshows. Basic auto-responders, such as those found with most email systems (Outlook, Google, etc) can be very effective. In short, don't overlook your bulk emailing tool. Sometimes, the cheapest and simplest technology is the best. Save the sophisticated MAT for special cases.

So are you ready for an MAT? The simple answer is only the most sophisticated marketing and sales organizations can make effective use of such a tool. And by sophisticated I mean organizations where very clear processes and other technology tools are already well-established. If you’re going to add in a complex diva marketing automation tool, with its technology and data-integration challenges as well as the additional processes you are going to need to manage the MAT, you want to be sure that you're not changing too many steps to your processes.

Organizations that will benefit from the MAT are those that are already highly skilled with email auto-responders and CRMs. If you haven't yet mastered the simple and less expensive ideas, you're going to find that implementing a marketing automation tool a daunting and confusing task that will actually slow down, or even reverse, the forward momentum that you've gained in your marketing and sales pipeline efforts.

To put it simply, make sure that your marketing and sales pipeline is already well-managed at the basic level and that you are already measuring and tracking how successfully these basic tools are working before adding a complex an MAT to your marketing sales mix.