Over the past five years, marketing automation has ballooned into a billion pound industry.

Many businesses of all shapes and sizes have been drawn in by the potential upside of lead nurturing, lead scoring and triggered responses to critical prospect activities.

Marketing automation has promised the ability to bring efficiency and scale to marketing programs in a way that has, up until now, been impossible.

As the co-founder of a B2B technology company and having spent the past few years refining our demand generation process, I know just how powerful a good marketing automation system and practice can be.

However, there are some pitfalls that one must be aware of if marketing automation is to be as successful as it promises. Along the way my team and I have made some mistakes that in retrospect could have been avoided.

Here are seven that you, too, should look out for:

1. Not knowing who your buyers are

If you are going to get the most out of your marketing automation tool then it is critical that you go through the process of defining your ideal customer profile and your buyer personas upfront.

Here are a few things that you must do:

  • Recognise that B2B buying is now a team sport requiring on average 5.4 people to reach a consensus before making a purchase.

  • Discover who your 5.4 people are for each of your product and solution offerings.

  • Develop buyer personas for each of your buyers, going in depth into the needs and pain points they confront in their day to day work.

  • Decide on a shared taxonomy between marketing and sales about the ideal customer profile and the buyer personas.

2. Not having a well thought-out data strategy 

One of the things that will become clear early on in your marketing automation journey is that data quality is everything. 

The quality of the data you collect via your web forms or social sign-ins will determine what you can do with those leads.

As a result, it is vitally important that you always collect enough data to be able to segment leads in your database. At a minimum I would say you should collect the following:

  • First Name

  • Email

  • Job Title

  • Industry

  • Company Size

If you do not feel comfortable collecting all this data in one go (before landing page best practices say that the forms must be as short as possible) then choose a tool that allows you to do progressive profiling and can collect more data from prospects in exchange for valuable content.

It is better to put in the work of deciding what data fields matter to you upfront because the exercise of cleaning up bad data is painful and can cause your marketing automation programs to stall.


Of course, you don’t have to stop at mere ‘firmographic’ data. I’ve written more on the ‘lead data hierarchy’ and how B2B marketers can capture data such as lead and prospect ‘interests’ here

3. Not buying into the marketing automation platform as a team

One of the most common mistakes I’ve observed is when the procurement of a new technology is a joint venture between the CMO and the Head of Demand Gen that does not involve the content, email, CRM and SEO teams. 

The reason why this makes it onto the list is because unless you create ‘buying vision’ in the minds of these teams it will just feel like you have added more to their workload without articulating any short or long term benefits to them in their specific roles.

This has an obvious impact on morale and ultimately the quality of work that is produced.

4. Not allocating enough time for implementation and testing

Because the promise made by marketing automation vendors is so compelling, most organisations cannot wait to launch nurture programs or introduce lead scoring.

However because these techniques fundamentally change the way a business does its marketing, a lot more time needs to be spent crafting definitions and service level agreements between the various departments affected by the introduction of marketing automation.

Furthermore, if there is not enough testing done on sample groups then you will fatigue your prospects with experiments and face high rates of attrition.

5. Not having enough relevant content 

If your marketing automation tool is an engine then content is its fuel. One of the most common mistakes made by B2B marketers is to assume that their existing content is suitable for nurture programs without referring to their buyer personas.

Content is certainly not “one size fits all” and care must be taken to ensure that the content being produced and inserted into the nurture programs is fit for purpose.

Content that accelerates engagement is focused on helping your buyers resolve their pains and needs. This type of content loosens the status quo and creates buying vision in the minds of your target personas.

6. Not having any idea of industry benchmarks

Acquainting yourself with industry benchmarks is a great way of setting some minimum level expectations for performance. 

Benchmark reports such as Econsultancy’s Marketing Automation Buyer’s Guide 2015 give you an idea of what you should be measuring in order to see potential pitfalls before they confront you.

Benchmarks also put your own performance metrics into context and prevent you from focusing on metrics that may look interesting but do not move the bottom line.

7. No patience

Ultimately it takes time to get marketing automation working. It requires discipline and commitment as well buy-in from multiple stakeholders within both marketing and sales organisations.

The effort required to create proper buyer personas, set up an editorial calendar and define service level agreements means that investment in marketing automation must be for the long term.

Andrew Davies

Published 26 November, 2015 by Andrew Davies

Andrew Davies is co-founder and Director of idio and a contributor to Econsultancy. 

13 more posts from this author

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Comments (3)


Bart Zerebecki, Product Manager at Benhauer

Hello Andrew, cool note. As marketing automation is growing, it seems that not everyone is adapting the tool thoughtfully and well enough. Thank you for pointing out how to avoid them and be better. If you wish you can see another list of common mistakes here: http://bit.ly/1lNByRI What else could be added there?

about 2 years ago

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, CINO at Fresh Relevance

This is only about B2B.

B2C marketing automation is inherently simpler and more automatic, because it's much larger scale (every product view) and your system can collect vastly more data automatically and update what's collected almost instantly. You don't need buyer personas, or much of a data strategy, or to get team "buy in" beyond installing a one-line script on your site. It can even be implemented as full service very cheaply.

about 2 years ago


Priyanka Deb Basu, Marketing communication at https://prodigitas.com/

Great article Andrew.. very useful for newbies in marketing automation!

28 days ago

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