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.
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)