Marketing Automation ROI: Myths and Facts

by Justin Gray


Marketing Automation (MA) is often perceived as a magic bullet solution to marketing problems. Marketers believe it will allow them to better communicate with buyers and to stimulate interest in their products or services. But MA is not a solution, it is a software platform–out of the box, it will do absolutely nothing.

Your success with MA hinges on your starting point. If you have been struggling to manage leads because manual processes are in your way, MA might be a good solution for you. But if you are struggling due to lack of process, MA will only compound your problems. This article looks at some of the more prevalent myths and facts about Marketing Automation.

Fact: Marketing Automation is One Big IF/THEN Statement

The notion that MA will fully automate your marketing efforts is a myth. MA provides insight into buyer behavior, activities to support that behavior and workflow-type rules for lead scoring. The “automated” part of that equation is the equivalent of saying that a nail gun automates building a house. It might make building a house easier and faster, but without a blueprint as a starting point, you still don’t have a house.

The real challenge for most marketers in implementing MA is having the knowledge of what to do IF and what content to provide THEN. MA does little for marketers if they haven’t developed buyer personas or have insufficient relevant content at their disposal. Many marketers starting out with MA will often take whatever content they do have and use the MA software to force it down the throats of the buyers they know little about. This is the wrong approach. In order for MA to work, you need to have something good to “automate” in the first place.

Fact: There is More To the MA Price Tag Than the Software

Marketing Automation is often justified as a way to reduce headcount or cut expensive marketing initiatives. In reality, MA comes with a fair amount of sticker shock. The price tag of MA is not limited to the software itself. It normally takes about three months for marketers to realize that from a content perspective they are unprepared for an MA system. And they discover that they need to assemble progressive nurture paths, develop a scoring methodology, segment content throughout the pipeline, and use a variety of mediums to stimulate interest. These are hard to do. They take time and cost money, and in many cases require more people.

Some marketers are not strong writers, or they don’t have the means to produce video. Perhaps their execs don’t blog, and the internal buy-in just isn’t there to embrace the edgier forms of content like games and surveys. Unfortunately, there really is no shortcut if you want to get your money’s worth from the software you purchase. The good news here is that after that first year of proper MA implementation, you should be able to report on ROI down to the penny and begin to predict what spending a dollar will result in.

Fact: Results are Multifaceted and Aren’t Always Immediate

Many marketers hear they should start seeing results from MA soon after implementation. All it takes is CRM and to start sending out the messaging. Then the leads will start rolling in. Right? Myth.

Most marketers will list goals for MA such as “more leads,” “better leads,” and “better reporting.” None of those will be realized within six months of implementation. The results that organizations do see from MA within six months are often overlooked. The immediate value of MA—if implemented correctly—is the revision of process. Marketers who us MA to establish a process are doing it backwards. You need to have something worth automating before buying MA.

In the first months of implementation, marketers should take the process the team already has in place and streamline it by using MA technology. This also is a great time to re-align sales and marketing on lead management, the definitions of a qualified lead and how that plays into scoring, and the different touch points along the lead success and detour paths. This time should also be used to identify holes in the content pipeline and make sure there is a plan to fill them. Also, revisit buyer personas to make sure they are still relevant.

Success with MA takes time. I tell customers that if you have all of your content in place and a solid plan, you will start seeing different (better) leads around the six-month mark as nurturing starts to precipitate leads out of the funnel and into sales.

Now that you know some of the facts and myths, here are four ways to make Marketing Automation work for you:

  1. Get executive buy-in for the purchase you’re about to make. This will not only help you align sales and marketing, but you will build a solid case for why Marketing Automation is needed. MA can get complicated and take a while to show results. You need the executive suite to fully understand this or they will get impatient, fast.
  2. Assemble and assess your content. Chances are you have a good stash of content you can utilize or modify. You also probably have a lot of content that you need in order to make this process work. Determine what that is. Then build that content right into your lead scoring by shaping it around the buyer personas you’ve created. Your MA software is built for this.
  3. Determine milestones. What will the major milestones be? What results do you want, and by when? How will you set expectations properly and who will be responsible for communicating internal success and failure? This is a trial and error process so the plan will probably change quite a bit in the beginning.
  4. Be stingy with your leads. Don’t hand off every single lead to sales. Your MA software is designed to nurture leads intelligently. By the time they do get passed off to the sales team they are so hot they’re ready to sign. The sales team might protest this at first, but when they start to get credit for astronomically high conversion rates they’ll be pleased as punch.

The Bottom Line

Good marketing is hard. Nothing will change that. Marketing Automation provides the much-needed platform for marketers to carry out their lead generation and management plans, but their own expectations get in the way of results. The more preparation marketers make prior to purchase, the better prepared they will be in terms of actual returns on their sizable investment. MA doesn’t represent a shortcut; it represents a change in the marketplace. Buyers want to learn in a trusted setting, and in order for marketers to respond with relevance they need a system that will assist them in measuring interest and responding according to the organization’s lead management plan. MA won’t assemble that plan for you, but it will make it better when best practices are applied.

Thumbnail image created by Micky.!



Very well said, Justin, and fits perfectly with my experiences as a sole practitioner.

Two questions: Is the six month time frame too long for management, and can you cite specific cases where the ROI HAS come after six months, especially for B2B sales?

Much thanks for good insights and advice;


Comment by Bob Scheier


Thanks for the comments and response. In regards to your questions:

1. YES. Yes, often times to tell management that it takes 6 months to do something right is met with great adversity. I’ve seen Marketo, and many others, put out content that helps marketers build a case to their higher-ups for marketing automation or for content. In my opinion that’s a recipe for failure. Anytime you “sell” marketing automation you have already lost the battle. Marketing automation is just good process marketing. The only way to really prove its value is to see what is takes to make good marketing work in terms of legwork and then weigh that legwork against technology. If you have a boss that doesn’t believe in marketing, marketing automation will only give them a scapegoat. So what’s the way around it? I don’t know – its why I work for myself.

2. We’ve done extensive research within our own customer base about ROI, timeframes, what drives nurture marketing etc. We pres released the findings here:

Justin Gray

Comment by Justin Gray

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