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The Five Biggest Automation Mistakes in Marketing and Sales

When you say “automation” in the context of marketing, the first thing people usually think of is email automation. The ability to send different emails based on specific persona and engagement triggers is the bedrock of inbound marketing and as such, has become synonymous with all automation conversations.

But automation can, and should, go beyond simply email. Used correctly, it should apply lead statuses based on activity, trigger alerts based on website activity, change messaging across advertising and manage leads through a combined marketing and sales process without manual intervention.

The result should be that the sales team spends more time on selling and less time on admin, while leads can be followed through reliably all the way from marketing through to sale with full attribution.

But that isn’t always the case.

High staff churn (because….start-up life) means that all processes and systems are a mash-up of different footprints that have been left from a myriad of different stakeholders, now either promoted, moved or left.

The sales team is doing their own thing – plugged-in to Salesforce and not really noticing what’s going on with the marketing team. What is it you guys do all day again?

The point that I’m laboriously trying to make is that with most scale-up companies in the B2B tech space, their tech hasn’t kept pace with the growth of the company.

Automation is often seen as the answer to this. With platforms such as HubSpot and Zoho, you can tie together marketing and sales processes, take Excel sheets with a hundred tabs full of leads and turn them into a highly segmented database and tie together marketing and sales. But often, the reality doesn’t quite match-up to the expectation.

Why is this? In this post, we’ll explore some of the main reasons why marketing and sales automation projects can go wrong and if you find yourself in this position, how you can go about fixing it.

1. No connection between different team systems

The dream that is sold by many marketing automation platforms is of a unified dashboard where marketing, sales and customer services can share information and work in harmony under the roof of one glorious platform. And for some, that might be the case. However for many companies that have distinct sales and marketing teams, the reality can be somewhat different.

Unless you’re starting from scratch, you may well find that your teams have different proficiencies and favour different tools. The marketing guys love HubSpot, Sales are wedded to Salesforce and a touch of tribalism has set in. Working across multiple platforms does present a challenge, but the reality is that when you have legacy systems and teams that lean towards one system over another, you’re going to have to figure out a way to make them sing in harmony.

Integrations are your friend here. While all platforms want you to be wedded entirely to all of their services, they understand that the true picture involves being willing to integrate with other services if you’re not going to alienate all of your customers.

Platforms such as Salesforce and HubSpot have a pretty good out of the box integration, but instead of worrying about the tech, focus first on how you want your process to work and how leads will be qualified and passed between marketing and sales. Identify the trigger points for different automations and understand how this data will be passed between all of the platforms in your marketing stack. And it might be worth deciding on a “single point of truth” – which of your platforms will be the trusted source of information that will then be distributed to other tools.

2. No agreed objectives and strategy

This isn’t the first time in this post that I’ve drawn battle lines between marketing and sales teams. And while some get it right, it’s still far too common to find marketing and sales working to objectives that are completely at parallel to each other.

Marketing is reporting on clicks, traffic and MQLs while sales are looking at revenue and sales. Often, little work is being done to understand the link between the two. While you can’t always aim for 100% attribution, the first step to implementing a successful sales and automation strategy is to at least understand how metrics from marketing and sales should fit together. What are the types of leads that make sales happy? How can marketing leads be treated differently to sales enquiries? The secret of successful automation is to get your processes right.

Ignore the tech, and get a pencil and paper out. The tech is useless without a decent process sitting behind it.

3. Processes not being followed

So you have a successful process. Marketing and sales are both aligned around shared goals and there is understanding on the relationship between the two. Happy days. But wait. Why are some people recording their leads in Excel spreadsheets? Why are only half of the team inputting into reporting? Why are some people recording lead statuses differently to others?

Processes are great, but when you often have reasonably high staff churn and new starters joining all the time, it’s vital that education and training is top notch. Otherwise it won’t take long for people to fall back into old habits.

And you have to make it easy. Sales people are there to sell and marketers have a to-do-list the length of Donald Trump’s successor’s. If you don’t make it easy to log the information you need, the automations are never going to work.

4. Lack of content to promote

Usually when you mention automation in a marketing sense, the first thing you think of is email automation. And in order to automate your emails with any valuable, you have to have something useful to say. We’ve all been on the end of stock email automations that just fire sentences at you that contain no value. They are generic, they don’t apply to you and they clearly follow the same old formula.

While automation by its very essence isn’t entirely bespoke, there’s no reason why you can’t identify some areas where you can identify closely with your target audience, be it through pains and challenges or knowledge of their stage in the buying journey.

Use this to your advantage. Rather than just firing out generic emails, create useful content for your automations that can be promoted through your emails. Show that you understand the audiences’ specific challenges and produce downloadable content that shows them how you are the solution. Rather than just firing out automated emails, see how you can add a little value.

5. Poor understanding of performance

One thing you get with most automation platforms is data. Looooots of data. But this doesn’t mean that you’re going to get great reporting as a result. A lot of this stems from the problem around not having agreed objectives as mentioned above. If your objectives aren’t aligned then you’re not going to get the most insightful reporting.

Most clients want to understand what portion of their marketing spend is resulting in sales.

This means having an agreed process through the funnel from lead through to sale and following this lead through all of the stages of the buying journey. If your marketing and sales objectives aren’t aligned, this lead is going to fall off the radar at MQL stage and you won’t have a clue on what marketing channels are actually working.

There is some truth in the fact that marketing can never be 100% accountable for every penny (it’s not just something we say to blag our way out of a bad report), but you have to have some basis of understanding of how leads move through the buying journey and the roles of all of your paid and organic channels if you’re really going to understand your performance.

Once you understand this, you can then get the data you need from your automation platform and get valuable insight on your marketing spend.

Setting Expectations

Automation between marketing and sales can be a great way to get your processes flowing effortlessly and get insight into where your customers are coming from and how much it's costing you. But it isn't a golden bullet that will fix all of your problems. As it says on the tin, automation is there to automate a manual process, and if the process isn't there or isn't working in the first place, you aren't going to get the results from the technology that you had hoped.

Do the hard work first. Understand your buyer journey (or at least map out what you think it should be, you can always change this later) and create a joined-up process with identifiable steps to take people through to sale. Once you've got this in place, you'll be in a much better place to automate it.

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