8 Reasons Why Marketing Automation Fails

Louis Foong 7

B2B Marketing AutomationIt’s the classic case of throwing the baby out with the bath water. B2B organizations ruthlessly trash tried and true marketing and lead generation methodology to make way for the new, shiny, sexy marketing automation. Don’t get me wrong—I do love technology. I just don’t agree that it can be brought in as a blanket solution to boost B2B lead generation. Automation is useful when it works to enhance proven processes and help organizations be more effective with digital marketing. It must simplify, speed up and make lead generation more transparent and accountable. In the absence of a strong marketing foundation and a 360° view of lead generation activities, your marketing automation “solution” will fail. (Click here to Tweet this.)

Below are some of the top reasons why B2B organizations experience marketing automation failure:

  1. Unrealistic Expectations: Marketing automation vendors will, no doubt, pitch their tool as the answer to all your needs. The Bean Counters in most companies are usually very enthusiastic about implementing automation in their greed for savings down the road. What really happens though, is that marketing must now focus on feeding the automation beast vs. doing what they should be doing, i.e., marketing.
  2. You’re Not Asking the Right Questions: Frequently, the marketing automation purchase is made without asking vendors the right questions. Vendors will go all out to canvass what the automation tool can do. The important questions to ask are about what it cannot do.
  3. Automation Is Not A Substitute for Process, Planning and Preparation: No automation in the world, no matter how advanced, can be a substitute for proper process, planning and preparation. You need an integrated lead-to-revenue process model. If you’re considering investing in marketing automation, check first if your existing systems and processes are ready for it.
  4. Placing Technology Ahead of Organizational Readiness: If you are hoping for a successful implementation of marketing automation, the essential first step has to be about matching it to your current processes, giving it data to work with and using the outcome to achieve your goals. In addition, you need to prepare your staff to use the technology. Organizations commonly make the mistake of going out and investing in fancy, expensive market automation without due diligence to first ensure that everything else is in place for it to work. Read “The Yin and Yang of Marketing Automation”—a recent piece I wrote for the Canadian Marketing Association Blog.
  5. Misdirected Assumption that Marketing Automation Will Close More Sales: It will not. Technology can help make your processes simple and more efficient. But if you’re thinking marketing automation will help you close more deals, you’re betting on the wrong horse. As they say, the wand does not make the magician.
  6. Can You Really Automate Personalization? That is what buyers want today. As I said in a recent piece, “Business is Personal”. Big Data and Predictive Analytics are the essential tools on which to build a personalization strategy—but having the data alone is not sufficient. It’s what you do with it to build engagement that matters. Marketers are using social media and content in an attempt to reach out to their audiences. However, just adding complex automation tools will not help you build social engagement. You also need a forward-looking mobile strategy for emerging markets, where the phone is the primary means for Internet access. And don’t dump word-of-mouth as an old world marketing method. It may not be as fast and as measureable as the newer, technology-enabled tools, but it is still the strongest, most effective one.
  7. Marketing Automation Can Be Friend Or Foe, But How Will You Know?: Far too many companies are mistaking automated lead generation campaigns with marketing best practice. The point is, if you need to hire a highly paid consultant to implement your lead nurturing plays, I believe that is genuine cause for concern. Click here to download a free eBooklet: 13 B2B Lead Generation Mistakes You’ve Made. So What Can You Do Now?
  8. The Average CMO Has 45 Months To Deliver: That’s according to a Wall Street Journal article with statistics from a Spencer Stuart study. Now how about, “the average marketing automation implementation takes _____________________”? I’m going to leave that blank…there is no correct answer to that question, in my opinion. Vendors are pushing quick install times but as we know, the typical B2B organization has too many moving parts. From integration with existing systems to lead routing, scoring, measurement, testing, user training, and more, all of this takes time. In the meantime, the CMO is in a hot seat as the rest of the C-Suite gets increasingly impatient with wanting to see marketing automation ROI. The fast and easy solution ends up being a frenzy to show quick numbers. So as is frequently the case, quality gets sacrificed for quantity at the lead generation altar.

Under pressure to automate your lead generation activities? Too many vendors soliciting your business? No clear-cut answers on how to build engagement and drive conversion? Let’s discuss this on my blog.    



Image credit: Shutterstock


  1. Chris Boulanger April 1, 2014 at 6:58 pm - Reply

    Several good points. I think the #3 & #5 are the ones that people have the most trouble with and they are closely linked. Marketers expect automation tools to correct their bad processes when they actually accentuate them. Then there is the assumption that automation will make in volume what they lack in targeting or overall strategy.

    • Louis Foong April 10, 2014 at 2:30 pm - Reply

      I don’t think automation vendors can take all the blame for this situation.

  2. Brian Hansford April 2, 2014 at 12:53 pm - Reply

    Excellent blog, Louis. Marketers and other execs eagerly buy into the promise of marketing automation. After all, a flood of revenue will result easily and immediately, right?

    MA is hard. Business process, content, training, data, and politics can all drive an MA initiative into the ground. Build a good plan. Map the right processes. Start with reasonable expectations. Prepare the people. Develop content. Manage the data. When used properly, MA powerful and effective. However, marketers need to realize that marketing automation doesn’t automate marketing.

    Brian Hansford

    • Louis Foong April 10, 2014 at 2:31 pm - Reply

      Fully agree Brian, and thank you for adding to the debate.

  3. Brian Fey April 10, 2014 at 7:04 pm - Reply

    Here are a few thoughts on your numbered list of “Reasons Why Marketing Automation Fails”:

    1. Disagree with you here. If our expectations are out-of-line — it’s our own darn fault for letting the “Bean Counters” drive investment that we’re on the hook for;

    2. The important questions to ask have to do with what it is you want to accomplish, when & to what degree (i.e. metric/objective) — there isn’t an answer that your technology rep can give you that will save you from failing;

    3. Couldn’t agree more;

    4. Spot on — now you’re getting at the essence of the problem;

    5. Disagree with you on this one — if MA does anything (assuming a reasonably intelligent implementation) it will help Sales close more deals. Better leads mean a higher close rate — that’s a leap of faith most are prepared to make;

    6. You miss out on making a really important point here — from Mom & Pop operations all the way up to IBM, Ford, AT&T, CitiBank & Xerox. Most company’s DON’T have the data. It’s the #1 reason most Marketing/Sales technology fails.

    7. Not sure what this means — I’ll skip it;

    8. No doubt, the CMO is under pressure these days — so what’s new? 45 months? That’s plenty of time to show iterative improvements in business performance.

    Here’s my REAL critique on your post:

    Your title “Why Marketing Automation Fails” suggests that there is something inherently wrong with the concept, or the technology — and that’s false.

    I think a far more compelling title would be:

    “Why Marketing Fails so often with Advanced Technology”.

    This is really the question at hand, isn’t it?

    . . . and a few of the really compelling reasons would be:

    1. DATA – they don’t have the data they need and aren’t prepared to go to the carpet to get the resources required;

    2. STAFFING – they don’t have key skill-sets/disciplines in-house (or even under contract). Data, analytics, system administration, program management – these skill sets are still fairly new for marketing.

    3. PLANNING & PREPARATION – with the addition of clearly stated, quantified and communicated Strategies & Objectives.

    4. BUSINESS PROCESS – while we’ve come a long way since the “Mad Men” days of dropping a million bucks on a TV campaign and going out for Martini’s – formal business processes have yet to really be established in the Marketing Department.

    Looking forward to hearing back.


    Brian Fey

    • Louis Foong April 24, 2014 at 1:47 pm - Reply

      Hi Brian, thank you for your feedback. I am happy to see that we do not disagree on all counts.

  4. Ruth Farvardin July 25, 2014 at 2:07 pm - Reply

    Hi Louis, You have a great blog with a lot of informative and thoughtful content. Feel free to connect. I just ran across your information, and will be reading more, but I would be happy to hear from you.
    Ruth Farvardin
    P.S. My contact information is at the top of my website. Have a wonderful day.

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