What Marketers Can Expect When They Use Marketing Automation

Marketing Automation.  To some people that may mean 'cool marketing software' and for others it probably sounds like a crazy pyramid scheme.  If you work in marketing chances are you've heard of marketing automation software (Marketo, HubSpot, Cision, Infusionsoft, Pardot, Polkadot... ok only 1 of those 6 is fake, but it's hard to tell which one)  and are considering taking the plunge to use it.  But do you really know what marketing automation does and doesn't do and how it will affect your marketing operations?

Some insight before we begin.  Our company started using marketing automation software several years ago.  As a company, we're in the business of providing development services to marketing agencies and marketing departments.  So, yes, we use marketing automation to market to marketers... and that's 3 different words that start with 'market' in the same sentence! That warrants a hardy handshake or a kick in the shin.  What I'm trying to say is we aren't a marketing agency and the following is our experience of what you can expect:

1 - Expect to write. A lot.

As you probably already know, apart from selling you a piece of marketing software, marketing automation vendors will also sell you on this marketing tactic called 'inbound marketing' or 'content marketing.' Inbound marketing in hockey fan terms means loading up your website with content your potential customers will find useful and sharing it with them based on where they're at in the buying process.  Content being videos, podcasts, blog posts etc.  That way, they'll find your site when they run Google searches and you can turn site visitors into contacts who may become customers.

The first step in that process means your website/digital footprint needs to be more like an online school - educating your potential customers instead of just advertising your services.  So, for most of you that means you can expect to get really cozy with Google Docs and start blogging.

Does inbound marketing work? Sure it does.  Many marketers get the right people to their site by having tons of content about their topic of choice indexed by search engines.  They can turn a few of those website visitors into customers a lot easier than if they had no content.

Think of it this way, let's go to Google and type in 'best Spiderman graphic novels' (I mean who doesn't type that into Google at least once this week anyway)

Here's what came up for me.

2016-08-16-1471366490-1768186-Spidermaninboundmarketing.jpg

Three things to note are:

  • None of these results are for spiderman.com or Marvel (the guys who make Spiderman....and Howard the Duck).
  • Three of the top four search results look like blog posts.
  • I could go into detail about what each of these sites is trying to do in the good name of Peter Parker, but you get the idea. They are using content to support their business (IGN is an ad-supported magazine for gamers and geeks, Amazon sells books to Spidey fans, Kirkus Reviews is a review site for all sorts of printed material etc).
So yeah, inbound marketing works.  If you're serious about using marketing automation software and joining the inbound marketing jetset then you'll need to write a lot and produce lots of content.  You can try to get freelancers or other people to write for you, but let's be real:  those people don't like graphic novels as much as you do nor share your love for your products and services.  Is a Trekkie who can't tell the difference between Harry and Norman Osborn really going to convince a diehard Spidey fan which graphic novels are the best? That's like buying sports memorabilia from a guy wearing an Armani suit instead of a Hawaiian, buttoned-down shirt.

2 - To spend extra time on training

Like most companies that sell SaaS products, all marketing automation software companies know that the key to keeping people addicted to their product is to make sure they use it.  That's why they generally require 'onboarding' with all of their plans.  I know, sometimes the onboarding that software companies do can feel more like waterboarding, but the training they provide is actually pretty good.  It'll get you familiar with the software over the course of a couple of weeks and you'll learn by doing - that means creating blog posts, landing pages and all other things related to implementing an inbound marketing campaign.  They all seem to have more streaming videos to watch than Netflix (or at least, that's what it feels like).

The best part about the training is that it at least keeps you accountable to running through the process once with your hand firmly held.

3 - Expect to have your patience tested

Look, for the most part the people who work at marketing automation companies are good people. They'll try to have a genuine concern for your success in using the product, but at the end of the day once you've been sold and trained it's on you to make it work.  They'll go back on their way of trying to put more people through that same process you just went through.  Depending on what you're trying to market it will take you months (if not a year or two) to actually see the fruit of your efforts.  What I'm trying to say is expect to write an article (or 50) and under 10 people to read each of them for the first little while.

During your training, expect your trainer to tell you to "share your post on social media!" or to "email your blog post to your contacts!" as ways of getting more people to read them.  That sounds fun and easy, but if you have nine friends on Facebook, two Twitter followers and mom and dad as your email subscribers, you're not going to set the Internet ablaze.  To get the views you want, you're going to be primarily relying on Google's search algorithm to find your blog, deem it useful and put it in their index of search results.  You don't know when Google will find your posts and if you're as technical as a cassette player then this is all going to seem like a lot of smokes and mirrors to you (which it should).

If you're some Type A, gung-ho marketing person then this 'posting and hoping' process is probably too passive for you.  In that case you'll need to find your own ways to get your content in front of people.  You'll have to figure out what that is.  Maybe it's sharing them in LinkedIn groups, guest blogging or printing copies of them on windshields.  Whatever it is just don't expect content promotion and quick results to be part of any marketing automation software company's promise to you.  Addressing this is particularly important if you're a marketing agency that wants to become a reseller or implement these apps for your customers.

4 - To cozy up with agencies

A common misconception among marketers is that you can really do everything in the marketing automation software all on your own and without technical knowledge.  The companies themselves may even allude to this when talking to you. For the most part, these platforms offer you modules to build and create your own content the same way any content management system (Wordpress, Dotenetnuke, Drupal, Squarespace etc;) does.  Chances are you're familiar with these.   Sure, to a point, you can DIY your website and its day-to-day management, but do you really want to? Think about it.  You're a marketer. Not a developer.  What part of the marketing automation software do you want to use? The parts that are all about helping you win more business or the parts where you can customize your designs into landing pages?

This is where adding developers intimately familiar with these marketing automation tools can help you.  They can serve as your back end development team helping you get the most out of the various tools these marketing automation platforms have in place.

You'll also probably need some coaching from a third-party outside of the vendor-supplied training.  An inbound marketing agency can give you the insight you need to make sure your inbound marketing tactics actually work.  I know what you're thinking "I'm a marketer.  I don't need agencies.  I hate them.  All I need is my own internal people and I'm all set." That may be true, but you should consider an inbound agency to make sure all of this investment of time and money in adapting marketing automation software goes as planned.  Inbound marketing agencies are in the business of using these tools to make amazing inbound marketing campaigns.  That's their specialty.  Go somewhere else if you're into radio jingles, billboards or TV commercials, but go to an inbound agency if you're serious about marketing automation.

As a marketer you know your industry and what the opportunities in your industry are.  The inbound agency knows how to apply the tools and an inbound marketing context to those ideas.  Also is there really any issue in getting help from an expert? Inbound marketing is not something you see results from in three days.  Getting help will get things done quicker.  This quick tutorial also outlines how your marketing team can get more agile.

Marketing automation is a great investment to make because it gets you in the mode of building out your digital footprint.  If you get knee deep in the tool and inbound marketing tactics you may just build your website into that opportunity-generating machine it's supposed to be.  Who knows? If you set things up properly and hire the right help instead of doing it alone you just may be alive to see it happen too.

About the Author:

Sajeel Qureshi is the Vice President of Operations at Computan. Computan helps short-handed marketing departments, inbound marketing agencies and traditional marketing agencies get more agile by providing them affordable and reliable back-end support. He has a degree in business administration from St. Bonaventure University, and an MBA from Eastern Illinois University.

Author's note: This article first appeared on GetApp. GetApp is operated by Nubera, a Gartner company. Nubera serves as an ecosystem of user-generated and editorial reviews of software and apps for businesses.