Marketing technology solutions: are they all they’re cracked up to be?

There’s a growing trend in the use of marketing technology solutions, specifically marketing automation platforms which are often hailed as the magic bullet to marketing. From a technical perspective, or feature / function / integration perspective, they offer an awful lot and certainly put the power back in the hands of marketing, but (and it’s a big but), they’re only as good as the people running them and in some circumstances, the technology isn’t all that hot.

I love the idea and the concept of marketing automation technology and what it can do for a marketing (and sales) team. Having everything in one place, access to data and list management, the ease of creating landing pages and forms – without the requirement for development or talking to the IT team – is always beneficial. They increase the speed of campaign implementation and allow the easy transfer of information into the CRM for reporting and tracking. All in all, the concept is pure genius.

Now here’s the ‘but’. If they’re not set up right or managed poorly, then the systems become pretty useless. Likewise, if you put someone behind the implementation of landing pages or email templates that has no appreciation for design, you get a substandard output and user experience at best, and a poor performance at worst. The other final flaw is that most of the marketing technology solutions out there force you down a particular process – their process, which in some instances isn’t right or doesn’t quite work for your campaign or the way your buying cycle works.

So, in this post, I’m going to outline seven key areas that I see as flaws or areas that tend to fall down with the promise of marketing automation.

Sales and marketing alignment

Go to any of the marketing automation vendors and you’ll see marketing and sales alignment as one of their big benefits. Whilst the information that’s in the system does truly provide a level of alignment, this depends on how the sales team is intended to use the system. This is in fact, a change management piece and needs careful implementation within a business to ensure the new behaviour (i.e. using the system to their advantage) is adopted so they reap the full benefit of the information within the system.


I have to say, I’ve been disappointed with the level of reporting in most marketing automation systems – it falls short in so many ways. The majority of systems focus on output – the amount of marketing that’s been done over the month, rather than the detail. There’s little ability to drill down into the numbers, or pull in financial information to get rich detail on opportunity or pipeline value attributed to activity, so for me, this is a major flaw across most of the systems.

Feeding the machine

Like a certain potato snack, “once you pop you can’t stop”, most of the marketing technology solutions are the same – you need content or campaigns to keep them running and working, otherwise they end up being a very expensive email service provider. Marketing becomes about creating the next campaign, built around content, in an effort to draw in more traffic and ultimately conversions. And now we have a deluge of poor quality content in the ether (not that this is the fault of the marketing automation platforms, it’s the fault of those pushing their buttons).

List management

I’ve come across a few systems where I’ve been surprised at the lack of ability to manage data lists effectively. Whether segmenting, deduping or simply just filing lists, it’s always surprising when it’s not possible to do something that would be deemed quite basic. Particularly when there are personas, or the need to do behavioural segmentation.

Programme design

Some programme designs can be pretty complicated and with multiple programmes running, there’s every possibility that a contact can be on multiple programmes. Practically speaking, this means they’re being inundated with those very important marketing messages about that new piece of ‘must have’ content to help the contact buy.

What we also see is a lack of management of programmes – once they’re set up they’re left to run. An analogy from my colleague Emi compares them to a herd of velociraptors – “let them loose and you won’t know you have a problem until everyone is dead”. Simply put, the power of programmes can be dangerous if they’re left unmanaged, aren’t fully documented or are managed by someone inexperienced.

Landing pages and email template design

Like I mentioned at the top of the post, there have been too many instances of poor landing page design where the template just sucks and the person behind creating it is either very inexperienced (and not managed) or doesn’t give two hoots that the page looks poor. By poor, I mean bad design, poor copy, poor layout (through technical issues with the WYSIWYG editor in the marketing automation system). It just shouldn’t happen.

Social media marketing

Many marketing automation systems promise the ability to manage social media platforms from their interface. Let’s face it, most of these systems are simply designed to manage marketing (in general) and not be an all singing and dancing social media management technology. The frustration though is that this is the claim and that marketers choose to schedule and run the social elements of their campaigns from the system, which takes the control away.

That said, what some of the platforms can do is monitor the social activity of your database contacts – now that is cool and very powerful.

Now, with these types of marketing technology solutions there are some very clever bits that really make me go ‘oooh’ – and these are pretty commonplace across all of them. My favourites are:

  • Dynamic or smart content, where personalised or specific content is displayed based on persona, score or previous behaviour
  • Progressive profiling, where you gather data through forms over time
  • Audience segmentation which can be based on any number of criteria
  • Complex programme design for long or complicated buying cycles
  • Tracking contacts (prospects and customers) and having a clear profile of their past behaviour

I’d certainly rather be with them than without them, but I hate to see the power of these tools go to waste. If you’re considering changing marketing automation platforms or just getting started, Econsultancy recently launched their Marketing Automation Buyer’s Guide. It includes profiles of the 20 leading vendors, the latest market trends and tips and pitfalls for buyers.

What are your frustrations with these types of marketing technology solutions? Let us know in the comments, or on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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