Marketing Automation Is Not Marketing Strategy

Too often these days, I hear B-to-B marketers mouth claims like, “We got this new [fill in the brand] automation tool, so now we can reduce headcount.” Or, “Once this automation system is installed, it will take our marketing to the next level.” This worries me. Marketers sometimes see automation as a silver bullet. But it’s only a tool

Too often these days, I hear B-to-B marketers mouth claims like, “We got this new [fill in the brand] automation tool, so now we can reduce headcount.” Or, “Once this automation system is installed, it will take our marketing to the next level.” This worries me. Marketers sometimes see automation as a silver bullet. But it’s only a tool. Marketing automation doesn’t identify your best target audiences. It can’t develop value propositions. No way will it make the tough decisions among competing investment options. I’m reminded of Mike Moran’s great book title, Do It Wrong, Quickly. In other words, marketing automation doesn’t work without strategy.

Remember ten years ago, when CRM came along? Déjà vu all over again, to echo Yogi Berra. Marketers thought that the new CRM software would solve their customer service and customer retention problems. Expectations dashed. Not only was it a nightmare to get up and running, the software served only to automate the processes—good or bad—that companies already had in place.

Even the marketing automation software vendors themselves recognize the importance of strategy, for their own success, as well as that of their clients. Think about it: If their clients can’t get the value from the software, their revenues are going to be impacted.

So education campaigns are underway. Marketo, for example, sponsored a compelling study by Sirius Decisions that explains the importance of a strong process in driving results when using marketing automation software. Their data shows that companies using automation combined with a reasonable lead management process—inquiry generation, qualification, nurturing and hand off to sales—produced four times the sales volume of companies with automation but with weaker processes.

Eloqua, too, makes a strong case for strategy in its guide, “6 Pitfalls to Avoid in Your Marketing Automation Journey,” which contains the important reminder to avoid putting “too much focus on technology, and not enough focus on buyers.”

So, what should we be doing with automation, to ensure its success? Three things come to mind.

  1. Be realistic about what it can and can’t do. Automation is not a silver bullet that you can set and forget. So make sure real humans are thinking through the essential tasks of identifying your key audiences, understanding their needs, scoping out their buying processes and developing contact strategies to move them along, in your direction.
  2. Clean up your database. By now it’s clear that the database is the single most important success factor in B-to-B marketing communications. So don’t be automating messages that can’t or won’t be delivered to the right targets.
  3. Train up your team. Too many marketing groups are leaving the campaign automation system to a set of junior staffers who interface with the tools, deploy campaigns and report results. I am not saying the marketing VPs should be executing campaigns, but to get the right mix of strategy and tools, we need better integration. Senior marketers should be deeply aware of the capabilities of the software. And junior staffers need training in strategic marketing thinking.

Are there other success factors in B-to-B marketing automation you can share?

A version of this article appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

How ‘Keeping Up’ With Social Media Will Sabotage Your Ability to Sell With It

What separates the leading social sellers from the aimless, follower marketers? Thinking. Sure, most of us believe we’re thinking about social media, but we’re actually just reacting to it. The sooner you stop reacting to every johnny-come-lately and defending against “the next big thing” in social media, the sooner you can start creatively applying existing strengths with the new social tool set. It’s the difference between an attitude of lack and one of abundance.

What separates the leading social sellers from the aimless, follower marketers? Thinking. Sure, most of us believe we’re thinking about social media, but we’re actually just reacting to it. The sooner you stop reacting to every johnny-come-lately and defending against “the next big thing” in social media, the sooner you can start creatively applying existing strengths with the new social tool set. It’s the difference between an attitude of lack and one of abundance.

Ignore the Deluge
“How do you keep up with all the change in social media, Jeff?”

I don’t. Keeping up with technologial change doesn’t grow my business. Adding new knowledge about Pinterest, Google+ and whatever might come next into my consciousness only inhibits success. Keeping pace with how, when and why customers are using social platforms might help grow my business and is where to focus attention.

The belief that we must keep pace with social technology arises out of a feeling, not an actual business need. Social media marketing feels very new, dangerously fast-paced, difficult to understand or define, and that’s a little scary. We’re only human, and like every new technology before it, it feels damn urgent to get involve with because … well, just because. Paradigms are changing yada-yada. Your business depends on it, right?

The truth is your business probably already has the answers it seeks from so-called social media experts.

Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing
Most social media platforms are solutions looking for problems that offer little, if any, immediate or future value to marketers. Consumer buying paradigms (their collective habits) are not actually revolutionizing, they’re just speeding up. Sure, once in a while something really useful comes along but even then it’s typically years before most of us can figure out how to apply it in ways that serve us. Why? Because we’ve lost track in keeping the main thing-customers-the main thing.

Social media has literally become the main thing! The conversation should be about how to sell stuff by innovating around customers’ problems, goals, fears or ambitions. Right? Instead, it often devolves into using social media to create conversations about the conversation. Whoops!

Social media has become “the main thing.”

Speed Up, Calm Down
The real opportunity for your business and you is to speed up and calm down. This has been the promise of every technological advance history has offered. We’re supposed to be launching, selling and distributing our products and services more efficiently to customers-and kicking our feet up a bit more. Right? Well, for some businesses, large and small, this is actually happening. Even kitchen cabinet dealers are selling with social media!

Hey, I know, the marketing world certainly didn’t ask for Facebook or Twitter. We didn’t need more ways to market our businesses. Social media just showed up at our door on a Wednesday night at 5 p.m. and invited itself over for dinner. “Hi, I’m social media. Need another dozen ways to do marketing?”

Who were we to say no? We let the well-dressed fella in. No sooner was he inside than he texted all his buddies to join in. So what did we do? We ordered take-out and outsourced to social media experts who, in fact, aren’t very expert because it’s new to them too!

Get Things in Order
In the end, we don’t think we have time to get creative in the kitchen feeding this beast, but we actually do. Therein lies the opportunity. The best “next step” you can take is to surround yourself with what you already know about customers. Find ways to leverage what you are already doing (outside of social media) that effectively creates and nurtures leads. Start using social media to give customers results in advance-a taste of success-in ways you can easily connect to the lead management process.

Next time a social media expert says something like, “You’ve got to be authentic, transparent, human and honest,” muster up the courage to say, “Well DUH, we didn’t build our businesses on a pack of fake, opaque, ogreish lies.” Now go get ’em!

Why Your Engaging Content Won’t Produce Leads

The ugly truth is, for many of us, engaging customers creates profitless prosperity—impressive marketing statistics that don’t ultimately, directly help generate leads and sales. Engagement is creating momentary value that is aloof from any kind of sales lead management process. Yet businesses who do create sales using social selling know something the rest of us don’t. Let’s find out what that something is.

The ugly truth is, for many of us, engaging customers creates profitless prosperity—impressive marketing statistics that don’t ultimately, directly help generate leads and sales. Engagement is creating momentary value that is aloof from any kind of sales lead management process. Yet businesses who do create sales using social selling know something the rest of us don’t. Let’s find out what that something is.

Why We’re Failing to Sell with Engagement
For years now, we’ve been rising each morning, downing our coffee and suffering through questions like, “How do I know what to blog each day?” And the biggie, “How do I become engaging enough to produce leads and sales?”

Most of us are busy producing engaging content on LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube and other social media. But in the end, even our most engaging blogs, YouTube videos and other forms of online publication fail to produce leads and sales. At best, sales are blindly attributed to content as part of a mass media branding success using fuzzy math. Why?

My on-going research confirms it: We’re failing to create sales engaging social media because we’re building content marketing on an outdated foundation. We’re clinging to mass media advertising ideas and values. Instead, we should be exploiting direct response marketing tactics.

“Marketers often come from two distinct backgrounds,” says best-selling author and IBM distinguished engineer Mike Moran.

“Brand marketers are the ones whose work you see on TV. They are all about branding, brand image, brand awareness—use whatever word you want—and their success has made Coca-Cola and many other consumer products into household names. Direct marketers are decidedly less sexy … constantly searching for the next idea that increases response. They are all about sales, and couldn’t care less about brand image as long as the cash register rings.”

Moran says engagement marketers with an interest in driving sales have much to learn from the practice of direct response marketing. Again, it’s not about influencing or leading thought, it’s about being a thought provoker.

How to Always Make the Sale
Why do so many of us pursue getting “liked” on Facebook or followed on Twitter? Because of this single idea: getting a lot of customers’ attention (reach) over and over (frequency) is enough to earn a sale … somehow, sometime. This is how advertising works.

Today’s best social sellers do not believe for a minute that exposure to engaging content will result in a sale. They have no faith that it will produce a lead. Rather, they believe in, and execute on, carefully mixing in calls-to-action. The content they create solves customers’ problems or vividly demonstrates (proves … think “infomercial”) compelling experiences relating to their service.

The best way to sell on Facebook is to solve customers’ problems (yes “for free”) in ways that earn trust and ultimately help them navigate their way toward your paid products and services. And by the way, I’m not saying attention or branding doesn’t matter. It does. I’m simply saying it’s not enough. Stopping at earning customers fleeting attention is a sure-fire losing strategy online.

I say avoid getting sucked into the profitless prosperity black hole by thinking in terms of direct response marketing when engaging with social media and content marketing. What do you think?