Plan Now to Avoid These Four Marketing Automation Roadblocks

by Matt Smith

Executive Vice President, Co-Founder,

We are well past the point when anyone claims establishing a successful marketing automation program is either fast or easy. Done correctly, it takes time to plan and prepare for the implementation, put the structure in place, and finally begin executing. Post-launch, expect a learning curve to managing the program: getting scoring, campaigns, metrics and reporting dialed-in.

And all this is assuming everything goes as planned! Sustaining a marketing automation program is often complicated by the availability of good original content, competing priorities or internal politics.

Across 3forward’s engagements we see clients face a variety of challenges when integrating marketing automation into their demand generation programs. Some quickly adjust whereas others lose traction, costing them valuable time and momentum. Because we learn from observing struggles as well as achievements, it’s valuable seeing where organizations stumble and considering the approaches that will get them back on track.

Afraid of the Water

Current Situation: Still not sure what marketing automation really is, much less the need for it. Relying heavily on traditional marketing and also believe creating leads is sales’ job. Marketing is heads down working on brand, brochures and identity. Sales complains they do it all themselves and get no help on the pipeline.

This company’s marketing team spent big on a 90’s era website, trade journal display ads and putting their logo on tchotchkes at the annual convention. (Guess how many sales-ready leads that created?) They hired a pricey advertising agency to create their identity package (logo, style guides, brochures, etc.), then spent even more with another company to create their messaging platform.

Biggest Roadblock: Actually, two things are holding them back. First is their lack of knowledge about marketing automation and how it has forever changed marketing best practices. Second, they have a culture that wants everything perfect before it gets released. They spend hours and hours in ‘word-smithing’ sessions where everyone on the C-Team has an equal opportunity to change every word, phrase or comma.

Getting On Track: Before they begin thinking tactically about marketing automation, they need C-Team consensus on these three issues:

  1. Realize that marketing rules have changed and get their leadership up to speed on today’s best practices. The CMO should take this one on – after some personal education first – by hosting a working session for the rest of the C-Team. It will be even more successful if led by an outside expert the CMO brings to facilitate/teach.
  2. The CMO and the Chief Sales Officer must jointly set the goals and measurements for a demand creation program. They should consider metrics for new sales-ready leads, leads converted to qualified pipeline and closed new business. Both leaders should also establish a shared bonus for their teams when goals are achieved.
  3. Lastly, the CMO and CEO need commitment from the rest of the C-Team to stay out of the weeds. Marketing needs to be able to complete a tremendous amount of work (process, technology and content) and will never get there if every decision, tool and subject line must pass through committee.

Blissfully Ignorant

Current Situation: Believe their ‘batch and blast’ program is awesome. They can count opens and see who clicks on their links. But they are unaware that technology has passed them by and features such as website visitor tracking, lead scoring, automated drips, etc. are today’s minimum requirements.

To their credit, they are longtime users of email marketing and regularly host very relevant webinars and live events. They are into social media and have a reasonable following on their groups. They boast of a sizeable database and that entire list receives every message they send.

Biggest Roadblock: Their blissful lack of awareness in current marketing technology and an old-school approach are this company’s biggest obstacles. Their top three challenges:

  1. Their dated MA technology does them few favors. They don’t purge hard-bounces, cannot track site visits or page views, they don’t practice any form of scoring or automated drip marketing, and can’t do any lead tracking. They leave money on the table, ignore low hanging fruit – use whatever cliché you prefer – but it’s hurting them and they don’t see it.
  2. Their database is one-size-fits-all. Although they target three very distinct customer groups, they have no list segmentation and therefore cannot send target-specific messages.
  3. While they do have really great content and many on- and off-line opportunities for prospects to engage, none of their marketing efforts connect in any way. Integrating their events, content libraries, social media, reference resources and newsletters into their website, and using landing pages and other opt-in strategies to build out a segmented database, would improve results greatly. Lead management technology based on all this new data would blow away their past conversions.

Getting On Track: This group will be naturals once they get with the times! They are a lean shop like most these days, so having an expert guide them through the launch and development stages of marketing automation will save them a lot of time trying to figure it out on their own. From there, they will do fine. Six months after they upgrade to the new standard in marketing technology and current best practices they will wonder how they ever managed without it.

Content Challenged

Current Situation: They followed all the right steps to a successful launch of MA. From there, they thought a couple blog posts a month, an occasional newsletter, one webinar and some random Tweets were more than enough new content to make it successful. Now losing confidence in the program as metrics worsen and qualified leads are nowhere to be seen.

Biggest Roadblock: Mechanically speaking, this firm has done everything right; they have the process, technology and marketing infrastructure engine in place. What is killing them is fuel. Content fuel! And they have precious little of the right kind.

Their two biggest challenges:

  1. Frequency – Their irregular and limited content updates teach their prospects it’s not worth their time to come back often. It also kills their SEO efforts since their pages so rarely update.
  2. Relevancy – Far too much of what they do publish either sells too hard or is too folksy. Hyping your latest offering on every blog post, drip message or Tweet is bad practice. So is posting New Year’s diet tips and pitching social causes on a B2B blog.

Getting On Track: Current best practices for B2B companies are to blog at least three to four times a week, host monthly webinars or on-line events, and produce quarterly whitepapers or e-books. Several times a day B2B companies should Tweet to promote new content and to share links to relevant external material. Throughout the week get out and comment on other relevant blogs and forums and occasionally include links back to your own material when it adds to the discussion.

Realize this level of content generation and sharing is an on-going practice that must be sustained. Stops and starts kill momentum and keep success rates in the ditch.

Buried in Bureaucracy

Current Situation: Big companies face different challenges. This firm has tons of excellent content but can’t get out of its own way to put it to use. ‘Siloed’ marketing teams compete with one another on timing, frequency, lists, and schedules. Datacrats bog down efforts by demanding everything follow their procedure. Sales units bicker over ‘whose lead it is’. Marketing leadership is not setting strategy. And the C-Team isn’t even aware there is a program in the first place.

Biggest Roadblock: The knee-jerk assessment of this situation is politics, the frequent scapegoat for everything wrong at big companies. However, in this case it is actually executive leadership. As big as this company is (right around 100,000 employees worldwide), they need coordination from only two people to be hugely successful – the chief marketing officer and the senior sales executive. While it is possible these two are unaware of what they could gain by setting shared demand generation priorities, that is doubtful considering how much is now published about this area. The problem here is neither leader has made it a priority to the other – then worked together to ‘make it happen’ for the good of the company.

Getting On Track: Either the chief marketing officer or the sales leader can take the first step to get this going. Sales will never say no to the offer for help creating and qualifying leads – it’s not what sales reps do well anyhow. And, today’s marketing leaders know very well the huge impact they can have on the sales pipeline by implementing lead management technology, content marketing and lead nurturing.

When shared priorities like this make sense and top executives set them together, even big company teams will rally together. Sharing compensation tied to the success of the program will make it even more meaningful. Nothing says priority like the company putting it’s money where its mouth is!

Sales and Marketing Alignment Made Simple

We believe there are four shared metrics for marketing and sales to follow in order to truly align their efforts. They are outlined in the table below.

1Mutually define a sales-ready lead
2Decide how many sales-ready leads must be created each month
3Set a shared target % for how many sales-ready leads convert to qualified pipeline opportunities
4Agree on the target % for how many qualified opportunities become new wins

Start measuring the effort and begin looking for opportunities to improve results over time. How long lead generation and sales cycles last suggests how quickly to evaluate results.

Did this help?

As we said at the beginning, getting marketing automation right is challenging and we can learn much by understanding the struggles someone else has experienced. What’s most important is getting started, having a plan and preparing for those inevitable setbacks. When they happen, you can be ready to adjust and keep right on going!

All the best with your efforts! Let us know if this helps.

Thumbnail image created by thecrazyfilmgirl



Great article! In addition to these areas, I’ve also seen another type of challenge, where a company is struggling to find the best way to integrate marketing automation with a complex web of online technologies and legacy databases. In those cases, it is best to take a step back, evaluate the business objectives, and get a good hold on what data exists and how it should be mapped out efficiently to support the business.

The Pedowitz Group recently hosted an online radio interview around this topic of the dos and don’ts of deploying a marketing automation system. I’d recommend for anyone looking to learn more:

Comment by Christine Pechter

Fantastic post, really great job here of laying out the most common challenges. (I am still chuckling at “Believe their ‘batch and blast’ program is awesome.”)

All of these challenges are significant and very real. I think the database challenge meniotned briefly under Blissfully Ignorant is one that could probably be its own post. Incomplete data, incorrect data, lack of normalization…these are problems that make people’s eyes glaze over, but they are critical to being able to leverage marketing automation in any real way.

Comment by Amy Bills

I have always been focused on sales, so we have had the best success starting with the sales goals and who we need to direct our message to and then planning the marketing around these. With the first two thirds of the sales process being driven by the buyer on line, sales is supported by marketing before the sales team gets a chance to get involved. We’re one team now; marketing is the opener on the sales team and the people with sales titles are the closers.

Comment by Koleen

Christine, Amy and Koleen, Thanks so much for the comments and contributions to the discussion. You each hit on such key points, such as assessing existing data sources (huge issue for big co’s) and the overall importance of database integrity. Amy, you’re right, peoples’ eyes do glaze over – or they take for granted that ‘database of leads’ will just happen. Yeah, right!

Koleen, love your point about “starting with the sales goals”. Seems so evident to do it that way but a lot of companies fight it! I hope more and more companies come to see Marketing and Sales as ‘one team’. That functionally avoids a lot of challenges.

Thanks again for the comments! – Matt Smith, 3FORWARD

Comment by Matt Smith

Thank you for that post Matt, I very much enjoyed reading it. It made me think of another trend Ive come across recently: The “Easy Way Out-ers”. Ive seen this happen frequently when a company jumps into an ineffective marketing campaign only to realize they need to pull their way out of the hole they’ve created. Instead of starting from square one with a revamped marketing plan, they try for the quick fix, list purchasing. Its fast, easy and not a surprising move for a company with a history of poor decisions. They’ll find out soon enough this will lead to deliverability issues and land them right back where they started. Check this out for a more in depth look

Comment by Christine Howell

Christine, We’ve too have seen first-hand the ill effects of mass messaging to purchased lists. It’s a great point you raise and you’re label of “Easy Way Out-ers” is perfect (I’ll add it to the list!). Thanks for adding the blog post on this trend. Already Tweeted it out! – Matt

Comment by Matt Smith

I found the content challenged section most telling. I struggle with this every day as we try to expand our focus in a small business with combined marketing and sales. The Getting on Track suggestions are a great target for improving the situation and with specific enough information to help have an impact.

Great material to help encourage those trying to do it right to keep at it.

Comment by Lee Kirkby

Lee, Very glad you found some helpful suggestions in the article. Creating good, value-add content at a frequency that keeps you visible is tough for companies big and small. A lot of marketing teams find that developing an editorial calendar really focuses them on their themes and helps keep them on schedule. Give it a try! All the best, Matt Smith

Comment by Matt Smith

Matt – Great article! You did a great job of hitting on so many of the reasons why companies fail at executing their marketing automation strategy.

Comment by Kevin McArdle

Kevin, Thank you for the comments! Hopefully we can continue seeing more and more companies experience success with their marketing automation efforts. It’s such a powerful program when well managed. Best regards, Matt Smith

Comment by Matt Smith

these are good and realistic scenarios. I’d say that the “Buried in Bureaucracy” is the most difficult to overcome, since this one is about politics and in many cases beyond rational thinking.
I’d also add that in some cases the IT might be a roadblock as well. As marketing automation systems need to be integrated with CRM systems, this can be a challenge. New workflows in the CRM, additional data fields, etc. are always a result of implementing a marketing automation.
Hence, I’d also recommend from my experience to have the right guy from the IT sitting in the steering committee next to the CMO and Sales Exec.
Thanks again for positing this!

Matthias Rothkoegel
– Engage Marketing

Comment by Matthias Rothkoegel

Matthias, Thanks for the great feedback and recommendations. Your point to include IT because of MA’s impact on CRM systems and other applications is an excellent one. Thanks for making that part of this discussion! All the best, Matt Smith

Comment by Matt Smith

The best marketing strategy is the one that customers understand and accept

Comment by Market Automation Software

Leave a comment