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Bad Marketing Automation Sucks — Here's How to Fix It

August 18, 2020


The secret to converting leads to customers is as simple as personalization.

Customers are tired. They are bombarded with choices and spammy digital ads vying for their attention. Clever marketers understand that personalization allows them the chance to break through the clutter. The only real decision is how to build a personalized marketing strategy that delivers results.

One of the most popular methods for delivering a personalized marketing experience is marketing automation. A staggering 91% of marketers say that marketing automation is very important to the success of their marketing campaigns.

Marketing automation is a popular business automation strategy used by companies on the cutting edge of digital transformation. This matters because in the fast-paced environment of marketing, any time you can save during the workweek is key. Marketing automation leaves you with more time to do high-level work and spend less time focusing on smaller tasks.

But you don’t need to be a Fortune 500 company to benefit from automation. Any company or business that relies heavily on digital marketing and email marketing should consider a marketing automation strategy.

How does marketing automation work?

There are countless mundane tasks involved in a robust marketing strategy: follow-ups, email reminders, reporting, and more. These are easy but time consuming tasks that are vital to the success of your marketing efforts.

A great marketing automation strategy always keeps the customer in mind. Savvy marketers use automation for all of their digital channels as part of a holistic omnichannel approach. This ensures that the customer is met with the right message, on the right channel, at the right time

Here’s an example of marketing automation in action:

  • You send an email inviting new leads to attend a special keynote for your virtual event
  • Leads fill out a form to attend the keynote, and their information is collected
  • This information is funneled into a new email list by your marketing automation tool
  • Everyone in the new email list receives an email nurture campaign with content designed to drive them further down the marketing funnel

The end goal of this process is to be able to pass along marketing qualified leads to your sales team. All of this is designed to make it easier to source, nurture, and convert leads. With less time spent on less strategic, time-consuming tasks, the easier it is to focus on co-marketing programs that drive revenue.

Why does marketing automation matter?

Digital marketing has reached a tipping point. Marketing programs are becoming more sophisticated and more interconnected than they used to be. And with more complicated programs come more involved processes, tracking, and monitoring. With the help of marketing automation, it’s easy to create automated processes for these tasks.

These small but necessary tasks eat away at your time: scheduling tweets, setting up email campaigns, monitoring digital ad performance, etc. All of these tasks are crucial, but small compared to larger strategies you could be using your time developing. Marketing automation is the key to shifting your focus from the routine to the strategic.

In order to fully automate a process, you need to purchase a software sophisticated enough to mobilize email drip campaigns, segment email lists, schedule social media posts, and more. Once the sequences have been set in motion, the software will take care of the day-to-day tasks that used to suck away valuable time.

Don’t cut corners and waste your money on a cheap solution. Automation software works alongside other popular martech solutions like CRM and marketing database tools. Investing in the right automation tools can not only make your day-to-day life easier, it can make your current marketing tools even more effective.

How to choose the right marketing automation software

Most of the hard work required to create your own marketing automation process only needs to happen once. Marketing automation is a process that takes a lot of work on the front-end in order to run smoothly in the background.

The biggest challenge is choosing the right marketing automation software.

Here are some popular marketing automation features to look out for:

  • Automates multiple online channels: email, social media, digital ads, etc.
  • Provides A/B testing, segmentation, and detailed performance reporting
  • Acts as a central marketing database for marketing information and interactions
  • Allows dynamic segmentation of marketing campaign targets
  • Performs lead management to include lead nurturing and lead scoring
  • Generates forms and landing pages to collect prospect information

These tools provide a central marketing database for all marketing information. They help marketers create segmented, personalized, and timely marketing experiences for customers or prospects. These platforms provide automation features across multiple aspects of marketing including email, social media, lead generation, direct mail, digital advertising, and more.

Most automation platforms have the same core set of features. Explore the differences between a few of your favorite choices before making a purchase. It might even help to consult a software buying guide. All of these steps will help you make an informed purchasing decision that works best for your business needs.

Best marketing automation software

A key component of marketing automation tools is the provision of analytics features to determine the success of an entire campaign across segments and channels. These features measure the impact of campaigns on marketing team KPIs and campaign ROI, as well as the impact of campaigns on company revenue.

* Below are the top five leading marketing automation software solutions from G2’s Summer 2020 Grid® Report. Some reviews may be edited for clarity.

1. HubSpot Marketing Hub

HubSpot has been a leading growth platform since 2006, and today, over 68,800 total customers in more than 100 countries use HubSpot’s award-winning software, services, and support to transform the way they attract, engage, and delight customers. HubSpot offers a full stack of products for marketing, sales, and customer relationship management; powerful alone, and even better when used together.

What users like:

“While excelling at the basics, HubSpot comes with tons of extra features and useful tools. They are constantly evolving, adding new elements and improving the platform. Often HubSpot is seen as a solution for SMB buyers, but it's feature set is certainly enterprise-capable.

"However, with all of the extra value added by the additional features is what makes it a great choice for smaller companies or teams, as there is something for everyone in the tool. Social, email, seo, file management, task management, list and lead management, and more can all be accomplished in one place. The true power, however, comes from the workflow and automation capabilities.”

HubSpot Review, Alex L.

What users dislike:

“Given that the platform is so massive and includes so many features, it becomes difficult sometimes to find exactly what you need or where you need to go to find it. HubSpot is a very robust platform and can do a lot! That means to use it to its fullest there is a pretty significant learning curve and lots of set up the time needed with a dedicated team member.

"We're six months into using HubSpot CRM and I'm still learning how to do my job better while using the features in the platform. Sometimes it goes down, which makes working difficult, but the team is never slow to fix any issues that arise.”

HubSpot Review, Housam A.

2. ActiveCampaign

ActiveCampaign's category-defining Customer Experience Automation (CXA) Platform helps over 100,000 businesses in 170 countries meaningfully engage with their customers. The platform gives businesses of all sizes access to hundreds of pre-built automations that combine email marketing, marketing automation, CRM, and machine learning for powerful segmentation and personalization across social, email, messaging, chat, text, and more.

What users like:

“The workflow solution is simple and very powerful. Tag management allows a clear view of what's going on. We need a fast platform to integrate what happens on the web, with user actions, filling out forms, and booking appointments. To this, we have combined different email marketing actions, segmenting our audience. The migration took place with the direct support of ActiveCampaign, both from a technical and business point of view.”

ActiveCampaign Review, Mauro B.

What users dislike:

“It seems as if the template options are limited. We primarily design our own graphics and layout our own emails, but it would be nice to have a wider, more diverse selection of templates to use or draw inspiration from. There does not seem to be very many options to choose from, and what options there are seem to be very similar or outdated. It would be great to have more template options or a webpage with examples of what some of their other clients are currently doing.”

ActiveCampaign Review, Cooper A.

3. Klaviyo

Klaviyo is a growth marketing platform that helps you deliver more personalized experiences across owned marketing channels like email, SMS, in-app notifications, and web. Klaviyo also integrates with leading e-commerce platforms and tools like BigCommerce, Magento, Shopify, Stripe, WooCommerce, and more.

What users like:

“This platform has a good scope of implementation. There are a variety of templates that make the design of the campaigns very easy to design, and they also make it easier for us to target the right audience. Klaviyo is a great tool for creating email workflows and retaining customers.

It integrates well with a wide variety of e-commerce platforms. This platform is designed for e-commerce and understands the needs of brands when it comes to email marketing. Klaviyo allows for easy, personalized audience targeting to hit the audience with the right product.”

Klaviyo Review, Brandy G.

What users dislike:

“Even though it is very easy to get an overview and it’s pretty simple to use, there is a learning curve when you first need to get into it. It was fairly easy, but I saw a lot of my coworkers struggle with understanding exactly how the system works and exactly how to create the funnels that we want.”

Klaviyo Review, Jules Adrienne M.

4. Mailchimp All-in-One Marketing Platform

Mailchimp’s All-in-One Marketing Platform helps small businesses market smarter so you can grow faster. Mailchimp puts your audience at the center so you can send marketing emails and automated messages, create targeted ad campaigns, build landing pages, send postcards, facilitate reporting and analytics, and sell online.

What users like:

“Mailchimp is absolutely ideal for communicating with clients, especially for small businesses and non-profit organizations. Mailchimp is not only very affordable for companies with limited budgets, it is also a great way to manage and store the smallest customer lists that those companies have.

"In my personal experience, I have loved the way the "unsubscribe" feature works with Mailchimp. It notifies you as a user when and why someone requests to be unsubscribed from future correspondence and ensures that they are actually removed from your Mailchimp list. I found this to be much more foolproof than keeping your own list in a simple spreadsheet.”

MailChimp Review, Omar L.

What users dislike:

“Mailchimp lacks the work progression as we have often faced issues in tracking our campaigns and generating reports for our email marketing. If you don’t have a properly organized database then Mailchimp does not support sending out the mass emails with convenience. Mailchimp in my point of view isn't a quite manageable platform, as you can’t manage marketing mails and track the landing pages.”

MailChimp Review, Mike H.

5. SharpSpring

SharpSpring is a comprehensive marketing automation platform with robust features, functionality, and performance. SharpSpring offers powerful behavior-based email marketing, native or third-party CRM integration, dynamic forms, landing page and blog builders, social media management, universal CMS compatibility, and integration with hundreds of applications.

What users like:

“The sales team was great. You could tell they cared about more than just making the sale. They wanted to make sure that SharpSpring was the correct product for us. The onboarding process was super thorough and allowed us to get to know the product well before we dove in. Support is super responsive and incredibly quick. We've never waited more than a day for anything to get resolved. We have all of the tools we need to help our clients grow at a price point that you can't beat.”

SharpSpring Review, Jordan V.

What users dislike:

“SharpSpring is a little cumbersome to set up, but their customer service is great. It does take a time commitment to really learn the tool. I would like to get better at using the tool, but it can feel overwhelming to know where and how to keep going in the training. It's self-serve.

"They are vigilant about the cleanliness of the lists. This is great, but all of our lists have been built organically from form fills and we still got flagged because site visitors entered faulty emails. They worked with us to get past this, but it was an added hassle.”

SharpSpring Review, Dacia C.

Marketing automation best practices

It’s not enough to purchase marketing automation software and go. Automation software still requires maintenance and routine checks. There also needs to be a strategy involved for how you’re going to automate marketing processes. Adhering to a few best practices can help your team get the most out of automation.

Here are some of the best tips for building your own marketing automation strategy:

Avoid spamming your leads with useless content

It can feel really exciting when a new lead finally hands over their contact information. A world of possibilities opens up and many marketers are eager to start nurturing these new leads. Don’t fall into the trap of using marketing automation so much that you end up harassing your leads.

It’s important to use marketing automation to deliver relevant and personalized content to your prospective leads. Potential customers don’t want to receive emails from you bragging about your latest award win.

People are spammed with marketing emails every single day. They are looking to you to provide value. This means only sending relevant content from the beginning.

Building this trust with your content will eventually lead to bigger conversations. But if you jump the gun and send them too many emails, or emails that don’t apply to them, you will lose them before that can happen.


of users unsubscribe due to "too many emails”

Source: Hubspot

Focus on delivering the right message to the right people. It’s not about the quantity of touchpoints you can have with a lead, it’s about delivering the right piece of content at the right stage of the buyer’s cycle.

Revisit your goals early and often

Marketing automation tools run on pre-set specifications designated by marketers. Until that information is updated or adjusted, it will continue to run as expected. As your team goals shift and change from quarter to quarter, you’ll need to revisit your marketing automation platform and update your specifications.

Doing this early and often will keep your data-tracking consistent with your goals. If you wait to update this information after your goals change, the data will not be 100% accurate. This makes pulling reports and forecasting much easier. It also ensures that you’re running campaigns that align with projects that drive revenue and have proven value.

Integrate marketing automation with your inbound marketing strategy

Inbound marketing focuses on content that aligns with your customer needs at every stage of the buyer’s journey. Marketing automation allows you to use your own marketing data to determine what data should be delivered to leads and then set automated processes to deliver that information.

This also means understanding each stage of the buyer’s journey for your business and knowing what content customers need to move them to the next stage.

Here are some common lead stages your company might use:

  • Anonymous: someone who has been researching your company, but has not filled out a lead form or given your company any personal data
  • Known: someone who has self-identified and is now part of your customer funnel
  • Engaged: someone who has engaged with campaign or marketing materials but has not been qualified by sales yet
  • Marketing qualified lead (MQL): someone who has been qualified by the marketing team and has been passed to sales
  • Sales qualified lead (SQL): someone who sales has accepted as an open opportunity lead and begin actively nurturing
  • Close/Won: someone who converts from a lead to a customer
  • Close/Loss: someone who decides not to convert from lead to customer

There are many strategies you can use to reach leads. If you want to be competitive, you need to have a presence where your competitors are. Email marketing is the most popular inbound marketing strategy used alongside marketing automation.

Sixty-four percent of marketers say email marketing automation is their most used marketing automation technique. If you’re not focusing a lot of attention on email marketing but you’d like to use marketing automation, it’s time to start learning.

This doesn’t mean other content channels should be ignored. It just means email marketing should be given special attention when building your automation strategy.

Keep your content helpful and relevant

There are two key factors necessary for successful automation: market segmentation and marketing attribution.

The combination of these two things will allow you to deliver high-quality content to your audience at pivotal sales touch points. This added value makes it more likely that leads will continue to engage with your marketing.

Eventually, you’ll be able to pass these leads off to sales and tie your marketing programs directly to revenue. There’s no better way to show the value of your marketing.

Market segmentation

Market segmentation helps companies divide their target audience into smaller audiences based on shared factors. These groups are created because they often have similar buying patterns, work at companies of similar size, and have the same budget range. Each market segment can then be marketed to with specific materials that address their business needs.

Market segmentation makes it easier for marketers to build audience personas. These personas inform everyone in your company about how to sell to potential customers. As marketers, it allows you to create personalized content designed to sell. When you know a lead’s pain points and motivations, you’re better equipped to explain why your solution is the answer to their problems.

Marketing attribution

Marketing attribution is a strategy that helps determine which marketing efforts directly drove sales or conversions. Attribution helps companies focus the best use of their marketing budgets and contribute to revenue goals. Marketing attribution is not designed to replace marketing automation. In fact, these strategies can work seamlessly side-by-side to create best-in-class marketing campaigns.

Attribution helps marketers make the best decisions possible by allowing them to pinpoint which marketing strategies drive revenue. This information can help you decide which campaigns to move forward with and create your automation strategy.

Automating your marketing operations without an ineffective strategy doesn’t help drive revenue growth. You need both working alongside each other to be successful.

Make your customers part of the conversation

There’s a lot of focus on customer acquisition when it comes to automation. But you can use marketing automation for much more than converting leads. Current customers should be part of the conversation when it comes to marketing automation. You can use the same strategies you did to acquire them to keep them engaged.

Here are some marketing automation campaigns that keep customers engaged:

  • Welcome email series
  • Drip campaigns
  • Reminder emails
  • VIP programs
  • Customer birthdays and anniversaries
  • Email re-engagement campaigns
  • Survey and feedback emails
  • Product updates and launches
  • Newsletters

Don’t stop providing value after you’ve won a deal. Customers expect continued help and thought-leadership now that they’re paying customers. Deliver that same personalization and relevant content to keep your customers happy. It will work in your favor when it comes to resign contacts!

Benefits of marketing automation

There are few parts of your marketing strategy that wouldn’t benefit from marketing automation. It provides universal value to projects, allows you to fine-tune your strategies, and most importantly, it saves you time on tasks that can be handled by technology.

Here are some common problems marketing automation can help solve:

  • Doing more with less budget/fewer software solutions
  • Generating high-quality marketing qualified leads
  • Optimizing and reporting on user engagement
  • Proving the ROI of marketing programs and campaigns
  • Increasing the number of deals closed/won
  • Accelerating the total time to close in sales cycles
  • Lowering the cost cost per acquisition for leads
  • Bridging information gaps between sales and marketing
  • Creating personalized messaging for each stage of the buyer’s journey

All of these benefits allow you to create a more cohesive brand narrative across your marketing channels. Customers will feel valued by the hyper-personalization along every stage of the marketing funnel. This in turn helps you build trust that can be leveraged to convert leads to customers.

Challenges of marketing automation

Just because marketing automation lets you “set and forget” certain tasks doesn’t mean it’s a low-effort endeavor. There are a few common challenges that teams often face when building their first marketing automation process.

Upfront time and cost

Marketing automation doesn't happen without software. Automation only happens when humans are removed from the equation. There will always be an upfront cost when purchasing new software. Expect marketing automation to take up between 3-5% of your marketing budget.

Don’t let the sticker shock stop you from moving forward.

Once you’ve selected your attribution software, it’s time to implement your software. This can be a time consuming process depending on how much data your team handles. The great news is that the bulk of this work only needs to be done once. After you set things up, automation software can sync directly with your current tech stack and share information easily. It just takes a little work upfront to reap the benefits later down the road.

Staying on top of data cleanliness

Marketing information management ensures you have the most correct information when it comes to your customers. Marketing data provides you with insights on competitor behaviors, consumer behavior, and economic trends. This information allows marketers with data designed to help them stand out among competitors.

Marketing data is what allows marketers to create personalized marketing collateral for automation campaigns. But the personalization is only as good as the data. That’s why you need to ensure you’re using marketing information management strategies to keep your data fresh.

Dedicating team resources to marketing operations

Managing a marketing automation strategy is a full-time job. Handing your automation strategy off to a random employee as a stretch project won’t work. It takes daily monitoring, researching, and optimizing to keep things running smoothly. That’s why most teams choose to hire a marketing operations manager to handle things.

Marketing operations managers are the ultimate project managers. Their work touches every single marketing department. Without their help, data can be easily lost or rendered useless, automation funnels can go without updates, and more.

Dedicate the resources to build a team that handles these processes for your company. Revenue can depend on this step, so don’t be cheap!

Marketing automation takes time and dedication

Building a seamless automation process doesn’t happen overnight. Failure is part of the process and there are plenty of ways to automate your marketing that popular blogs don’t talk about. The best way to learn is to do the work, test everything, and create your own unique strategy that works for your business needs.

Still not convinced marketing automation is the real deal? Here are four real examples of how you can use marketing automation to drive sales.

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