Top 10 Marketing Automation Mistakes

It’s well documented that, of the companies who invest in marketing automation, many fail to achieve maximum return from that investment, or even utilize marketing automation technology to its full capacity.

Many of the pitfalls that cause the returns on marketing automation to fall short can be distilled into a handful of common issues. In our agency’s work with marketing automation users, we’ve identified 10 of the most common mistakes to avoid:

1. Not having a larger strategy/plan for how you aim to use the platform.

marketing automation mistakesEasily the most common problem we see with marketing automation deployments is the absence of a firm strategy for how the company plans to put that technology to use. Frequently, this is due to a backlog of campaigns and other tactical needs – as soon as the platform is deployed, the company moves immediately into “campaign mode” to address that backlog, and never has the time thereafter to hit “pause” and address the big picture. Ideally, a company investing in marketing automation should have a solid plan, including quantitative objectives and campaign workflows to address key audience segments, before the technology is even turned on.

2. Launching lead scoring too soon.

Lead scoring is a core marketing automation functionality, and a key driver for one of the primary benefits of the technology, namely sales productivity. A well-planned, well-designed lead scoring schema ensures that sales reps are spending time with the leads that most merit the investment. Unfortunately, for many of the same reasons that companies fail to develop a larger lead management strategy (see #1, above), new marketing automation users tend to rush to put a basic lead scoring schema in place in an attempt to “shorten time to value”. Unfortunately, when that basic schema fails to score leads appropriately, reps will very quickly lose confidence in the system, and start to ignore lead scores altogether.

3. Not setting up SPF and DKIM.

SPF (Sender Policy Framework) and DKIM (Domain Keys Identified Mail) are two key technical settings that are often overlooked by new marketing automation users, but should be a standard part of any marketing automation implementation. In simplest terms, incorporating both SPF and DKIM into your DNS (Domain Name System) settings means you’re telling other email servers that you’ve authorized your marketing automation vendor to send emails on your behalf. Failing to incorporate these settings can have a major impact on email deliverability, because those same servers will send emails “from” your domain but are in fact sent from an IP address with a domain associated with your marketing automation vendor. That discrepancy may cause your outbound emails to be blocked.

4. Not changing default email domain to properly brand tracking links.

In a similar vein, many new users fail to change the default email domain to a domain that reflects their own brand. Platforms vary, but broadly speaking a marketing automation platform will take whatever tracking links you put in an email and automatically rebrand it to one that reflects its own server. (For example, Marketo users might see links that reference something that looks like: However, you can choose your own email branding/tracking domain (referred to as CNAME) and map that domain to the auto-generated domain created by the platform. As with SPF and DKIM settings, failing to do so can have a major impact on email deliverability.

5. Not testing enough.

The core functionality of marketing automation technology – i.e. the fact that it “automates” multi-touch email campaigns – means that many of the programs it enables are of a type that continue over time, triggered by a particular event or action. It’s these repeatable programs that are prime candidates for A/B testing – subject line, headline, message, offer, landing page, etc. – because any learnings from those tests can immediately be deployed to improve ongoing campaign performance. Unfortunately, many marketing automation users fail to test, sometimes at all, even though the underlying technology makes it remarkably easy to do.

6. Trying to be too complex too quickly.

I’ve written earlier in this space about the myth that is the B2B “customer journey” and how, in reality, it’s almost impossible to know, even with the most advanced marketing technology in place, exactly where an individual prospect is in the lead lifecycle. However, that doesn’t stop some marketing automation users from designing incredibly complex programs on Day One designed to “reach the right person, with the right message, at the right time.” That may be a laudable, if unrealistic, goal, but the effectiveness with which you’re able to deliver relevant information to each and every prospect is typically much greater if you start small, design basic programs to address key areas of need (tip: start with the very top of the funnel) and then test and iterate from there, building out a more complex program over time.

7. Sending too many emails.

Marketing automation makes it easier to send multiple, automated, personalized emails, at scale. But just because the technology allows you to increase your email volume substantially doesn’t mean you should. If anything, the true value of marketing automation is that it allows you to email smarter, delivering information that’s more timely and relevant. Don’t make the mistake, as many do, of bombarding your database with emails just because you finally have the firepower to do so.

8. Not investing in first-class, professional templates

It’s a common fallacy, as with martech in general, that simply the act of implementing marketing automation breeds success, and that the technology alone renders all other factors – content, offer, creative, etc. – irrelevant. Of course, all these factors are as important as they ever were. Without them, as a client once observed, marketing automation simply gives you the power to “create more cr*p, more quickly.” One of the first steps we recommend to new marketing automation users is to develop a library of custom email and landing page templates that not only reflect their brand but that also adhere to best practices for deliverability, responsive design, etc. (We normally advise a template version for each major use case – say: white paper campaigns, Webinar invitations, and newsletters.)

9. Lack of segmentation.

Marketing automation provides the ability to segment – and version – campaigns not just based on demographics (job title, industry, geography) but also behavior – Webinar attendees, Web page visitors, people who haven’t responded to emails in the last 6 months. However, few users take full advantage of segmentation. Again, in large part due to the campaign demands put on most marketing operations teams, companies default to a “one size fits all” email strategy because that’s what allows them to get campaigns out the door faster. In the process, email performance suffers because the emails are generic and lack relevancy to individual users. (In a similar vein, many companies fail to standardize or normalize data fields – job function is a prime example – that are necessary in order for segmentation to take place.)

10. Not setting up data management to empower effective reporting.

One of the primary benefits of a well-executed marketing automation system is the degree of visibility it affords companies into campaign metrics, revenue attribution, lead velocity through the sales funnel, and overall marketing performance. But few marketing automation users generate the reports that would provide this visibility, in part because they don’t set up the platform’s data management features in a way that would empower effective reporting. Marketing automation platforms generally don’t tag or track everything automatically, but it’s relatively simple to set up “campaigns” to perform data tasks such as date stamping a field, copying one field to another, etc.

For further information on a related topic, download our free white paper on “Top 10 Tips for Lead Nurturing Success.”


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