Why Marketing Automation Isn't Always the Answer

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Cliff Pollan, Postwire
Cliff Pollan, Postwire

Over the past decade marketers have increasingly added a new tool to their tool belts: marketing automation. If you're in a business that sells consumer goods or a commodity business offering, then marketing automation is one of the most important and powerful technologies you can invest in. After all, your product is probably well understood, so your goal is to be in the right place when the prospect is making the decision to buy. However, if your product is disruptive, innovative, or complex, you have to educate your audience, and relying on marketing automation alone can tank your business.

In these organizations, the job of a marketer is not to go for the quick conversion. Her job is to educate people on the pain that the product solves and why it's better than the alternatives. It's been shown that if you're the one doing the teaching you have a 65% chance of being selected when a prospect is ready to make a decision. So where does the teaching begin? Marketers need to educate their internal team first, from the executives to the engineers. They need to especially educate the customer- and prospect-facing staff: sales, account management, client on-boarding, support, etc. Everyone needs to be “speaking the same language.”

Innovative and disruptive companies typically have an army of customer-facing folks on their team. Instead of making that army spend a large part of its day entering data into a database so the marketing staff can do more targeted campaigns, marketers need to embrace the power of the customer-facing army. While marketers may be analyzing data to determine what to “push” next, at the same time salespeople are building a relationship with prospects, and account managers are doing the same with clients. They know their motivations, interests, company structure, and more, and with this knowledge they can do a much better job targeting, educating, and nurturing relationships than any automated campaign could ever do.

The good news is that marketers can not only provide guidance on messaging around an offering, they can also produce massive amounts of valuable educational content. Marketers are publishing customer videos on YouTube, product demos on Vimeo, slide decks on Slideshare, blogs, eBooks, and webinars. Instead of spending weeks configuring marketing automation solutions and building sophisticated drip campaigns to share this content, marketers should instead take the time to train their teams on what they've produced, curate some great content that helps their teams “get it,” and organize the materials for easy access (e.g., by categories including sales stage, customer industry, customer need, use case, or similar classifications) so the customer-facing staff can be evangelists and educate their target audiences. This lets content produced by the marketing team get in the hands of the people who need it most: the customer-facing army whose job is to nurture prospects and help customers succeed.

How might this look in practice? Here's an example:

The marketing team at Healthways, the largest independent global provider of well-being improvement solutions, currently develops and collects many pieces of educational content, including industry news, thought leadership articles, analyst reports, etc. While marketing organizes and manages all of the content through its centralized repository and shares what's new with the sales team, it's the sales team that determines what's most relevant to their prospects and is empowered to share that content as appropriate. Since they know the prospects best, they can provide only the most pertinent pieces, along with tailored messaging, so it's highly personalized. The sales team is then seen as a purveyor of insight and industry issues, and is able to nurture prospect relationships to help drive client engagement.

Rather than relying on marketing automation alone to help drive business, for certain companies it's much more beneficial for marketing to educate their sales and account management teams on what content they have available and empower them to use the content when they feel it's most needed and will provide the best education to prospects and customers. This way, the great content created and curated by marketing does its job as effectively as possible.

Cliff Pollan is cofounder, CEO, and president of Postwire.

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