Marketing automation pain points

Marketing pain points like limited systems, bad data, and not enough content can severely limit any advantage you may have.

By Curtis Kitchen, NAA Director of Communications

Ed note: In the November 2015 issue of Auctioneer, I dove into the world of marketing automation. In “The Speed of Disengagement,” we explored whether automation, built with the purpose of closing more sales, was actually killing the already short shelf life of an online sales lead. Much of that piece is even more relevant today, and therefore, I felt it was important to revisit a lengthy excerpt, along with providing some additional year-later thoughts. -ck
Excerpt from November 2015:

In 2011, Harvard Business Review published “The Short Life of Online Sales Leads,” which illustrated the frenetic footrace that marketers believed they needed to win with online consumers.

One batch of data showed that while a very solid amount of companies tried to respond in less than five minutes, most waited more than 24 hours. The article slapped slow responders with a one-response-size-fits-all glove, saying, “Companies are making big investments in order to obtain customer queries from the internet, and they should be responding at internet speed. Why aren’t they?”

Thankfully, the response time conversation evolved by September 2014, evidenced by another piece, “New Research Reveals Average lead Response Time [Sales Data],” which appeared via HubSpot. In it, some sense of sanity came forth as the article said “not all leads require or even want a lightning-quick reply.”

The good news is someone out there gets it. However, some companies have decided that despite the general U.S. culture’s growing aversion to phone calls (the use of voice calls has fallen off each year from 2007, according to an article by New York Magazine), they want to be even faster in responding via phone – sometimes within a few seconds of a website click. Fill in some information about the type of mortgage loan you may qualify for, and your phone rings or buzzes immediately (along with emails, if you provided that info). The same is true for auto quotes, along with many types of home services.

That might sound cool in theory. In reality, it feels intrusive (“Ugh. Why are the calling me? I just wanted to browse some info online”) or even a little unnerving (“How did they do that so fast?”). For many consumers, their phone has become their home’s front porch, and businesses should stay off of it.

That applies to other similar situations such as a consumer leaving an item or two in an online shopping cart, only to be harassed by phone or email as to why he or she didn’t complete the purchase. Here’s a thought: If the consumer wanted to complete the transaction, they would have. Sometimes, it’s that easy.

For auction professionals, this could apply in areas such as someone registering to be an online bidder versus just browsing. Or, perhaps you’ve built your site to track behaviors and have a marketing response API set to email a follow-up. Do you have a blanket message (“Thanks for coming!”), or is your system sophisticated enough to email scheduled upcoming sales to web visitors who have clicked on similar items?


And so, here we are a year later, and the issues surrounding too heavy of a reliance on automation appear to have grown instead of waned. There are three problems that particularly stand out as major pain points for many automation systems.

1.    Marketing pain points: Customer journeys still largely outpacing automation systems

This is the overall issue facing marketers in general, but especially those who try to reach the masses all at once. Unless you have the time, energy, and resources to develop or employ an automated system dynamic enough to independently recognize new patterns, develop the correct rules to meet changing needs, and form responses custom enough to create a suitable individual experience, your system always is going to be behind ever-changing customer journeys.
“Behind” isn’t an option if you’re trying to get ahead, according to Marketo CEO Phil Fernandez. At the Marketo Marketing Nation Summit last May, Fernandez told attendees there are a billion customer events each day – a number “far bigger than most people use in their marketing automation today,” he said.

With so many events happening between consumers and brands, it becomes imperative that marketers find ways to harness the resulting patterns, or journeys, and be able to market at every step.

“Tomorrow’s marketer never leaves the side of the customer,” Fernandez said. “We have to think about the entire customer experience, a journey that takes weeks, months, and years.”

Depend wholly on automation, especially a limited solution, and you may become limited in response and flexibility while serving customers’ journeys.

2.    Marketing pain points: Not having a solid data strategy

No automation system is able or will be able to operate efficiently without solid data. If anything else, we should be able to agree on that point.

A recent webinar I attended hammered that point by repeating “garbage in, garbage out,” with regard to data, analytics, and data-driven decisions. The same is true when setting the rules by which your automation system will operate.

So, companies need a sound data strategy. Think of it as having a sound diet as you train for an upcoming running event. Your company’s strategy should: a) contain the steps needed to audit your existing data; b) identify the data you are missing; c) develop a plan for you to capture the missing data; d) put protocol is in place for keeping the data capture intact; and, e) ensure your data is kept clean through regular maintenance.

Remember why this is critical: Feeding incomplete or outdated data into your marketing automation system will lead to subpar performance and customer experience.

3.    Marketing pain points: Content shortage

Lastly, after several years of leaking into the marketing conscious, content marketing is finally on the mainstage for many marketers who love the idea of “showing the story” about their brand. With hair on fire, they rip off 10 blog posts in two weeks, launch a weekly podcast, and send thousands of emails exclaiming the “new face” of their brand.

Two months later, they are scrambling for content because everything they developed was designed to explain who or what their brand is instead of planning content around each step of their customers’ journeys and illustrating how their brand connects to them emotionally, informationally, and eventually, as the right solution.

See the difference?

Even for those who understand the “how and why” of content marketing, time can be a huge limiter on effectiveness. Your marketing automation system might be able to pick out the right piece of content for a consumer based on their journey, but your system probably doesn’t create the actual content for you. That still falls on the marketer, and if results from a content marketing strategy aren’t coming fast enough (“My blog posts only had how many views in a month?!”), the first thought typically revolves around “I can spend my time better elsewhere.”

Before long, your automation system is left to dole out old content or stuff that doesn’t match your consumers’ changing needs. We know how that turns out.

Keeping marketing automation in balance

So, as you consider how to reach more people, how do you avoid crossing the “too much automation” line with consumers who want a custom experience without feeling bombarded?

First, use data to find the contact point sweet spot – both in time and place. Find out how often your consumers would like to hear from you. Someone who is looking for general information on your website may not want a phone call less than a minute after clicking “find out more.” But, someone who is searching your calendar or browsing what kind of auction services you provide may be more open to hearing from you in person (or through social media, etc.) much sooner rather than later.

Second, while your marketing automation system may be able to handle a lot of mundane tasks, it is my opinion that you still should be human whenever and wherever you can. In your thank-you emails that go to all bidders, do you have a personal note from you to them, along with your picture and an invite to come back again? Or, does your email simply shoot a receipt showing purchase? Little things like that can add a bit of personal feeling and really make your marketing automation services work in the right way for your business.