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The Top 5 Ways Marketing Automation Efforts Fall Short (And What to Do about It)

Marketing automation can make your life easier, but simply having marketing automation and successfully leveraging it are two very different things. Avoid these common marketing automation mistakes to ensure that your automation doesn’t fall off track.

At this point, there are few left in the business world who doubt the value of marketing automation — and an ever-increasing number of companies are already using it.

According to Forrester’s “Marketing Automation Technology Forecast, 2017 to 2023,” spending for marketing automation tools is expected to increase from $11.4 billion in 2017 to $25.1 billion annually by 2023.

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While the numbers paint a rosy picture of the state of marketing automation, on the frontlines, businesses are finding that simply having marketing automation and successfully leveraging it are two very different things. As a HubSpot partner agency that helps businesses at various stages of automation adoption and execution, we’ve been around this track a few times, and some trends have become clear.

Here are the five most common reasons we see marketing automation efforts falling short — and our tips for overcoming them.

1. Lack of Team Buy-In

Imagine you’re a sales associate for a company that recently onboarded a new marketing automation platform. The Marketing Director seems excited about it, the President is indifferent and the Sales VP is clearly skeptical. You’ve been given a brief intro to the tool but no real training and only about half of your colleagues are regularly using the software.

How likely are you to actually put in the time to learn, use and stick with it?

Buy-in is easily the most important factor to positioning a business for success when it comes to marketing automation. Without real buy-in, automation efforts are doomed from the start.

It’s not enough for leadership to simply tell employees to start using automation. Businesses must create a process that accounts for the following:

  • Connecting the technology to meaningful outcomes. Most employees won’t be excited about learning and using automation based on the technological features and benefits. They’ll be excited because it allows them to better qualify and nurture leads, personalize communications, hit their goals — or whatever the key outcomes are the technology helps them achieve. By framing the benefits of the technology in a context that’s important to the team, you’re creating much-needed enthusiasm required for successful adoption.

  • Providing training, resources and reinforcement. In a perfect world, your team is full of self-motivated learners with the time and inclination to learn and master your new marketing automation platform on their own time. In reality, people are busy and “learning time” usually gets pushed to the bottom of the to-do list. Help ensure buy-in by scheduling structured training or workshops to educate and reinforce best practices so that your team feels confident in leveraging the tool, and provide a library or knowledge base of helpful information for the team as well.

  • Accounting for company culture. The path to buy-in isn’t one-size-fits-all. As you consider how to approach the two items above, think carefully about your company’s culture. Will there be some resistance to change or will a move to automation be embraced? Will sales and marketing naturally collaborate, or will a more deliberate system need to be developed to facilitate alignment? It’s okay to use the culture you’re aspiring to — and those who don’t fit your aspirational culture may self-select out of the company with a shift like this, which can be a good thing — but make a point to tailor your approach to account for the reality of how your team works.

2. Poorly Managed Contact Database

If your organization does have sufficient buy-in but still fails to see positive results from marketing automation, the state of your contact database might be to blame.

Remember this: effective automation relies on accurate and complete data. Mismanaged contact lists can be the death knell for any marketing effort, but this is especially true when relying on automation. If your contact lists lack consistent data like first names, company names, lifecycle stage and so on, you run the risk of sending automated emails to potential valuable leads and customers that are clearly automated and messy.

To use a common example, think of a time you’ve seen an email appear in your inbox with a subject line like this: “CHARLIE , don’t miss this one time opportunity!”

The goal with these workflow emails is to provide a level of personalization to a prospect, but with the all-caps name and odd spacing, this tells your contact that 1) this was a mass or automated email and 2) checking to make sure their name was spelled correctly/not annoyingly capitalized wasn’t a primary concern for you.

It’s essential that, from the beginning, you take the time to make sure you’re uploading clean contact lists without these kinds of errors.

Once your clean lists have been uploaded, be sure to properly manage them by performing regular maintenance. This will ensure the analytics associated with your contact lists are accurate. Remove duplicate email addresses, update or remove (if necessary) invalid addresses, ensure you’re using workflows and/or lead scoring to ensure proper lifecycle stage and delete emails with hard or soft bounces.

Failing to do so will negatively impact your sender reputation, forcing more of your emails into spam folders and inflicting global damage on your email marketing efforts.

3. Lack of Coordination Between Sales and Marketing

Much has been written about the challenge businesses face in getting sales and marketing teams on the same page.

In theory, marketing and sales alignment might sound simple enough, but in reality, we’ve seen firsthand that creating and maintaining open, regular communication and coordination between these teams is a big undertaking that is much easier when established systems and processes are in place.

What does marketing and sales alignment have to do with automation? A lot. Without it, the goals of automation or mismatched, leads will get lost in the shuffle, databases will get mismanaged and bad marketing will almost certainly be a result.

For example, let’s say sales and marketing have different definitions for what constitutes a sales qualified lead, and there’s no clear process for how and when to hand qualified leads off from marketing to sales. In this scenario, there’s no way to accurately report on lead generation, which among other things means there’s no accountability. Furthermore, the teams aren’t clear on which tasks they’re responsible for, which means a good chance that leads are not nurtured or — even worse — wires are crossed and they’re getting conflicting communications from both teams.

To keep sales and marketing aligned, the teams should be in regular touch (weekly, monthly and quarterly meetings) to discuss and revisit the following:


  • What is the revenue goal?

  • What are the key metrics marketing and sales must be accountable for to deliver against the goal?

  • How many MQLs (marketing-qualified leads) and SQLs need to be generated each month to get there?

  • How are you qualifying MQLs and SQLs?

  • What percentage of leads need to convert into sales opportunities and closed deals in order to hit the revenue goal?


  • What are the current and planned marketing activities?

  • What are the current and planned sales activities?

  • What company/industry activities are happening that might have an effect on or be leveraged by sales and marketing?


  • What is the status of leads in the pipeline?

  • How have qualified leads engaged with the company? (i.e. pages viewed, content downloaded, emails opened etc.)

  • Which leads have closed and how much revenue was generated?

  • Which leads didn’t close, and why?

4. Overreliance on Technology

Automation is powerful, but it doesn’t replace humans. When there’s no human touch, you run the risk of bad automation.

Returning to a previous example, let’s say that a contact downloads a content offer by your organization and then reaches out to you directly with some questions. You have a great conversation, but unfortunately, you didn’t remove them from your pre-set workflow to follow up with all downloads 24 hours after they submit their information. Instead of receiving the personal email they might expect after your conversation, your prospect gets your standard, automated thank you message with no mention of how you previously spoke to them.

Put yourself in the prospect’s shoes — wouldn’t this be alienating? While automation can help ensure you’re hitting important checkpoints with potential customers, it can also lead to slip-ups like this if you’re not paying attention.

Scale is an important factor to keep in mind here as well. If you’re launching a very targeted, specific campaign, it might make more sense to personally respond to contacts where you can do some quick research on their company, showing that you took the time to understand their needs.

In all the automation you set up, a human (who knows what they’re doing) needs to oversee the entire process. Automation is definitely a time-saver, but you don’t want to become so robotic that potential customers feel like there may not be anyone behind the scenes.

5. Set it and Forget it Approach

Similarly, automation can, unfortunately, be seen as something you only have to do once. Set up an email workflow to follow up with anyone who submits their info via a contact form, then walk away, considering all your bases covered.

Unfortunately, your first attempt — even if it adheres to workflow best practices — may not resonate with your audience. Like any marketing effort, automation is an ongoing, iterative process – not a one-and-done project. You need to take a scientific approach, testing various hypothesis until you land on the best layout, imagery or language that resonates with your audience.

How do you accomplish this? Split testing or A/B tests are one great way to home in on what’s most effective for your organization. Choose one variable to test, like an image or subject line, then see which version connects best with your audience. Never test more than one item at a time, this will make it virtually impossible to determine which change you made had either a negative or positive impact.

Do this regularly for all your content. Remember that what works now may be less effective even a few months down the road, so it’s essential that you continue to test, analyze your reports and then do it all over again. Rinse and repeat, in short.

Automation can make your life easier, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy – and in the wrong hands the risk for damage is significant. By putting in the time and care upfront to avoid the common missteps above, you can ensure your automation doesn’t fall off track.

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Published on Apr 24, 2019 by Charlie Nadler