9 Problems with Marketing Automation Tools

The realizations of how marketing automation tools have changed the perception of the marketing role is very interesting and often becomes hidden by glossy marketing campaigns.

As part of a research project that took many months of work I have narrowed down on several core problems that seem to be eating away at the digital economy in the guise of ‘marketing automation’

This is an on-going analysis of dozens of marketing automation tools that include interviewing end users, studying how they work, and the type of client footprint each tool has.
(If you would like to participate, please leave a comment below or contact me.)

It is based around the fundamental reasons
why someone selected a specific marketing automation tool.

The tools are often selected based on a simple need: drive awareness about a product or service into a conversion funnel that delivers qualified leads, increase profit margins, and on-going growth for the business.

Core user problems:

Problem #1 – a high percentage of marketing automation users have a general lack of expertise in using advanced digital tools. The purchasing user bought the system because it was touted as being easy to use and was *automated*

These tools are expected to make expertise irrelevant, yet the simplicity of the platforms enable anyone to activate a crisis with the push of a button or ignore business opportunities right in front of them. They remove the ability to have experienced business professional drive the results through market knowledge, industry expertise, and human based cognitive processes.

Problem #2 – In an effort to sell more and become more user centric, platforms become more vanilla.

Marketing automation platforms have attempted to streamline tools into easy-to-use dashboards at the cost of eliminating advanced features that are not used by the general user. This is primarily driven by the need of marketing automation companies to make money from the largest segment of users.

Problem #3 – Most marketing automation platforms are abandoned children within the company they try to service.

Many platforms find it very difficult to address the needs of marketing, sales, technology, customer care, and public relations in one platform. A direct effect of this is that each business silo has limited ability to extract minimal value from a single platform. This causes lack of adoption in the form of on-going use and daily logins.

Core technology problems:

Problem #1 – Marketing automation tools sell themselves a single point of access.

The reality is that you can’t have a single point of access for comprehensive marketing efforts. Each business unit interacts with marketing in a different way. Customer service, fulfillment, general sales, enterprise sales, public relations, digital awareness,  traditional awareness, print collateral, and executive teams all have radically different views of the same marketing funnel.

Problem #2 – Marketing automation tools tend to be good at being average.

If all the tools were given a 1 to 10 rating, specialty tools that address very tactical areas generally have a 9 or 10 effectiveness rating. Marketing Automation tools that bring elements together tend to have 5 to 20 different tools that all have an effectiveness rating of 4 to 6. If a company can figure out what item actually works for them, they should opt to go for ‘the right tool for the right problem’ that has a 9 or 10 effectiveness.

Problem #3 – Marketing automation tools can’t scale technology evolution.

One of the core reasons that marketing automation tools have a vanilla interface and a generally have a 4 to 6 effectiveness rating is that they cannot evolve as fast as the individual technologies and marketplaces do. If you integrate 10 different solutions in a platform each of those 10 solutions has different 30, 90, 180, and 365 development cycles and a varying level of market adoption. This causes a product development crises where multiple features have multiple roll-out problems.

Core market problems:

Problem #1 – Marketing professionals need job security.

Imagine selling into a marketing professional who has a career in making smart decisions. In almost all interviews the end user of the system felt like they were hiding process points and automation areas from other people on the team. They effectively felt that they were working themselves out of a job by relying on a system that produced above average results.

Problem #2 – Agencies need to make money (and agencies control a good portion of the market relationships)

Agencies tend to drive a lot of business into using marketing automation tools as official resellers or certified partners. The reseller / affiliate / agency money model becomes a confusing mess of protecting existing revenues, growing internal expertise, and maintaining a client roster. By selecting the wrong tool for the wrong job, agencies risk losing an entire client portfolio to a platform and having revenue vanish. They also risk that a vanilla tool jeopardizes high-profit campaigns that don’t fit into a general comparison analysis presented to the client (in more than one case an agency professional told a story about a new ‘dashboard report’ that caused a massive disruption when the client first saw it.)

Problem #3 – Tools are acquired, abandoned, or pivoted to address general market needs.

In the past ninety days alone: Bislr raised $1.5M,  SalesFusion raised $800k, SnapRetail raised $1.5M, and InsideView raised $19M.

In the past 30 days both Optify.net (who had raised $10.8M) went under along with Syncapse (who raised $45M) who went bankrupt.


While the idea behind marketing automation is to ‘cookie cutter’ processes and methodologies to increase revenue, there seems to be a trend to create business models that have economy of scale required for venture capital investment or corporate acquisition. The business models used for scalable technology companies apply an inordinate amount of pressure on early adopters and platform subscribers before the entity is fully developed into a corporate commodity.

The downfall of this scenario is that independent platforms backed by venture capital teams have a double-edged issue: the ability to pivot quickly allows them to maximize areas of opportunity for them, but it also places the clients at risk when the pivot fails or the market fails.

From a purely technical perspective the idea of creating a larger audience using any specific tool slows the evolution of the platform down when it is weighed against existing revenues and the majority of the consumer base. This issue highlights that unique or fast moving businesses operating in a niche will simply have unanswered needs when it comes to off the shelf solutions.

Partial list of marketing automation tools named during interview process: these tools cover a range of online marketing, email marketing automation, sales automation, marketing automation software, and online marketing platforms. (if you don’t know what Marketing Automation is: Wikipedia’s definition of Marketing Automation)

  • Marketo
  • Hubspot
  • Optify
  • Act-on
  • Genius
  • Loopfuse
  • Marketo
  • Pardot
  • Eloqua
  • Infusionsoft
  • Spectate
  • OfficeAutopilot
  • Bislr
  • Aprimo
  • Greenrope
  • eTrigue
  • MindMatrix
  • Salesfusion
  • Zoho
  • BigContacts
  • Pipedrive
  • CapsuleCRM
  • Bronto
  • ExactTarget
  • Salesforce
  • Leadlander
  • Silverpop
  • Leadformix
  • Lyris
  • VerticalResponse
  • ConstantContact
  • iContact
  • MailChimp
  • MyEmma
  • Sendgrid
  • aWeber

This obviously leads to the question:

Do the core problems get out weighed by core benefits?

2 thoughts on “9 Problems with Marketing Automation Tools”

  1. Marketing Automation is a terrible term because marketing will never be ‘automated.’ Many of the issues you describe are applied to all major business process technology segments including ECM, CRM, ERP. Scale to evolution is a challenge for segments like CRM especially. I think MA tools in general are appearing more vanilla in nature especially as more companies come online with commodity features.

    I disagree that MA tools have a single point of access. Some on the lower end, yes, have that limitation. We’re working with companies that use MA in different product groups, as well as regional subs, and global offices.

    I don’t see marketing pros hiding processes to protect their jobs. If anything, MA admins and demand gen architects are overworked and under-resourced. I’m sure there are some that hide processes or protect knowledge but that’s the exception and not the rule, IMO. Marketing pros that focus on measurable demand generation processes and less on activity will have the highest job security.

    Agencies do need to make money but most, like ours, make money purely on services. There’s simply too much risk and hassle for agencies to carry the paper for a SaaS subscription. A knowledgeable and experienced agency will recommend the right platform, or not, for a client based on requirements.

    I think three of the bigger challenges with MA are lack of process, lack of organizational alignment, and a complete lack of any content plan. MA isn’t easy and it takes time to succeed.

    Your listing of platforms includes vendors I don’t agree are truly MA vendors. (Good for SEO though:-) Constant Contact, MailChimp, MyEmma, aWeber, VerticalResponse for example are almost entirely batch and send email programs, with very limited if any landing page capability. As a former customer, I even argue that Hubspot is nowhere near a MA platform, even though they are culturally very popular.

    Brian Hansford
    Tw. RemarkMarketing

    Disclosure: I’m a former Eloqua customer, a current Eloqua and Marketo partner, and I’ve worked on other platforms including Pardot, Loopfuse, Optify.

  2. Good points Brian.

    I agree that the term is generally a terrible one: one of the reasons that things like Constant Contact and Mailchimp end up in that cluster is simply because they automate a single point of marketing process.

    All of the platforms above are in the batch as candidates in the process referred to them as marketing automation tools. For purposes of our interview process we allowed the market to define what was or was not a marketing automation tool. As a professional I’m more inclined to have a higher barrier to entry for that term and would segment most platforms into functional (SEOmoz:SEO, MailChimp:email,Hubspot:landing page/SEO/forms, etc), multi-discipline marketing automation tools, sales automation tools, and analytic tools.

    It would be interesting to have further discussion on marketing pros hiding/not hiding behind processes. Of the marketing professionals we spoke to (over 100 specifically for this research), 4 out of 5 of them were making statements about job security (and being overworked/under-resourced as you stated.)

    One part of this research project actually goes into the shift of how agencies make money. A lot of agencies are getting extraordinarily confused by being a services company or a platform company. There is a trend toward agencies evolving into a mixture of the two and I feel that this is causing significant market confusion. Many of these agencies don’t know how to absorb the cost of development and face serious issues in having little understanding in how to sell a SaaS profit model for long-term revenue.

Comments are closed.