History is jampacked with world-changing miracles, some of which you’ve probably used. Penicillin, for example, or airplanes or smartphones. As a patient or passenger, the purpose is clear – cure disease and get from point A to point B. The smartphone, though, has several “basic purposes” – from phone calls to film clips to photos plus everything from email to enterprise access.

Marketing automation is somewhat akin to the smartphone – you can do a great deal, but it’s all aligned with... what? Generating leads? Routing inquiries? Converting leads into sales? Retaining customers? Boosting revenue? Announcing new products...? It could be all of them but, on its own, it’s none.

No matter how many features and functions a marketing automation platform (MAP) may have, they’re useless if you don’t know what you want to achieve. Yet vendors will try to persuade you that, no matter what marketing problems you have, a MAP is your map to a solution. They’re wrong.

Thinking Before Doing
Before anyone starts examining the options in MAPs, they need to examine their strategy – what must be accomplished, who is going to be involved, which tactics are appropriate, and what the desired outcome must (or should) be. Lacking that, no MAP will provide a discernible benefit. However, with a definitive strategy – a comprehensive plan to accomplish specific objectives – it’s far more likely that the choice of a marketing automation application (if you need one at all) will be easier.

Why might you not need a MAP? Your staff might not have the time, inclination, or skill to use it – even if the software will save time and effort in the long-run. Marketing automation relies on content – from email messages to response-triggered follow ups, landing pages, downloads, drip campaigns, Sales integration, reporting (and analysis), etc. It might be more effective to outsource part of all of the process – the creative to freelance writers and designers, the mechanics to a service provider, or all of it to an agency.

Past Parallels
In the hazy bygone days when people did the work that software now claims to do for them and marketing automation was a manual process, I ran an in-house agency at a company where each product, service, and post-sale activity had its own well-defined marketing plan, and those plans were part of a more global strategy focused on market penetration, competitive displacement, and revenue growth from multiple lines of business. Those plans were also synchronized across the organization with Sales, Product Management, Operations, and Finance. It guaranteed that every employee who was involved with or affected by the varous steps in the plan knew where they fit in and what they had to do.

The content (which we used to call collateral, sales aids, sales literature, etc.) was specifically designed to initiate or augment the sales cycle to improve the chances that leads became prospects; that prospects evolved into sales-ready buyers; and, ultimately, that buyers were transformed into customers. Input from Sales was integrated with primary market research to determine the content of each component in the journey from “interested” to “sold.” The method of communication that was used was based on additional input – both internal and external.

Product managers supplied details about features and functions, and Marketing converted those to benefits. Marketing handled the writing, graphics, layout, and printing, of course, but had to ensure that Finance implemented the correct departmental bill backs and that Operations was prepared to handle receiving (of printed material), manage the inventory, ship it on-demand, and take care of all the related administrative tasks.

Today, marketing automation can handle virtually all of those components. Yet until it can eliminate the need to devise the strategic objectives and tactical choices, as well, it is not the magic bullet that it’s too often touted to be.


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