Buyer Centricity / Digital Transformation / Strategic Planning

Going With the Flow

Have you ever come home from a trip to Paris or Mumbai or someplace else that doesn’t have the same traffic mentality as the US and given thanks for all those darned pesky lanes and stoplights? I have.


I sit in my taxi cab coming home from the airport, marveling at how well the system anticipates when the car will reach the next light. I admire the precision that allows all cars that want to turn to all turn at the same time though coordination of the lights across all the directions of traffic. When we drive through Chinatown, I see how all the pedestrians can crisscross the intersection all at one time (like in Tokyo, just outside Shibuya station) because all the traffic signals across the intersection have turned red all at once to stop the cars for them.

In the same way, marketing technology allows information from an organization to intersect in a logical fashion with buyers under the umbrella term of marketing automation. The reason many people find marketing automation so daunting is that it’s a lot harder to understand the behaviors of buyers and map it to information from an organization than it is to understand travelers and their interaction with city infrastructure, at least in the beginning.

Marketing automation is a key part of digital transformation, as we’ve discussed before. You may have heard the phrase that marketing automation is basically customer experience. I think that’s true. Really well-done marketing using marketing automation feels like you hired a butler who now knows what you want before you do as well as exactly how you want and when. Except, in this case, the butler is getting you information and not a martini.

The big challenge in building good customer experience via marketing automation is the same issue we just talked about – the complex intersection of buyer and organizational info. That’s also, interestingly enough, the same reason so many people seem to have such problems understanding marketing automation.

Part of my job requires presenting at trainings, workshops, and conferences.  There is always a group of people who think the marketing automation process will work just fine if you send out solid information about your product or service to people likely to buy. This is why marketing automation so often fails and why it has such a bad reputation in some quarters.

People learn differently, have different consideration points at different stages of the purchasing cycle, and have different speeds in consuming information before moving to something new. You have to take that into account when you build out an automated system to send them things. There is no point planning out a series of email interactions for a buyer on topics she is not interested in and will never open. All you’ll do is reduce your credibility and increase your opt out (a.k.a. ‘unsubscribe’) rate because you are providing bad customer experience.

The ultimate result is that you are contributing to the long term loss of revenue for your company each time you send an email since you will have to spend more money to require contacts via more expensive channels and, even then, past experiences with your brand may reduce effectiveness, so you will have to spread a wider, more expensive net to capture all the contacts you need to reach your conversion goals. Why would you want that?

You have to study the buyer and respond to her needs/wants with appropriate content (this is the concept of Buyer Centricity we talked about in earlier blog post). Then you have to plan out what to do to intercept them on the journey. It’s like how the traffic flow people are just trying to space out travelers who already have a destination in mind and are just being guided by the lights, etc. They are not just randomly going to follow lights in some strange direction for no reason. They have lives and the traffic system is just helping pedestrians and drivers reach those destinations in a safe way. In the same way, buyers will follow the path you set them on if the information your organization provides aligns to their goals and interests. They will not follow your breadcrumb trail if it leads them to things that do not align with their expected journey or desires.

However, since lying is bad, I will just tell you up front that marketing automation is hard, at least in the beginning. The first time I used a serious marketing automation tool I was not a happy camper. I was working at a consumer electronics firm so I had to integrate events, direct mailers, digital tactics, and regional account managers into the process.

I was factoring in how long it took for the postal service to deliver items, the number of days I should wait to ensure post-event follow up didn’t look like stalking, all kinds of things. What if they didn’t respond to the offer on the mailer? I had to drop an email into the mix and have it ‘sent’ from the local sales rep so I had to create different content for each of the six major geographies I supported. What if the ordered online? I had to set up business logic to switch them from the baseline email thread to one for online purchasers and change the display ads they saw.

Things got more complicated later but, oddly, it got easier later on when I started to break the audience down into more, but smaller, chunks based on the products purchased, quantities, etc. This let me tailor my interactions with them even more, such as rewarding volume purchasers and encouraging buyers at a lower price point to spend more with discounts. The reason it got easier is that I understood my customer segments better so the conversions were going up.

Part of this was due to looking at the data. Part of it was looking at the data from other parts of the company. Specifically, I spent a lot of time with the lovely gentleman who determined what items to bundle together (based on purchasing patterns, cost of goods sold, etc.) and began to segment in a similar manner, though on a smaller scale since he had micro-segments with just a few very important buyers in them that I left mainly to the account reps.

I didn’t need to market a great deal to all the same segments but just making that decision strategically, based on who purchased what and what the cost per lead and cost per sale were, was incredibly liberating. I focused on segments where I could really make a difference and tailored campaigns to the unique issues of the different segment types (i.e., there was one segment that was influenced a great deal by results of voting at a certain trade show so, while I couldn’t afford to blanket cover the show, I could promote how well we always did in voting at the show in all my media for that segment).

It was painful to do all that thinking up front but it was so worth it when all my little emails, ads, and offers went out to people like a falling stack of dominoes without me doing anything. If they did action X, follow up interaction Y was initiated all by itself. If they failed to do action X within a certain number of days, alternative 1 was initiated by itself. I will expose my utter nerdness to tell you that it was super exciting for me.

While reading my little story, though, you’ve probably been able to figure out some of the reasons not to do automation. Specifically, for some organizations, the cost of software, training, associated support services (like analytics) and the long timeline required to implement the process is too steep to warrant the investment.

In other cases, organizations who do invest in marketing automation never get full return on investment, let alone a boost in revenue, because they don’t take full advantage of the capabilities and wonder what why the cost is so high for something that other tools do faster and more cheaply. Having seen this happen personally, the level of frustration is so high that many people are tuned off the entire genre of marketing automation, from IT that complains about the unnecessary complexity to sales that says they are not getting what they need from marketing yet marketing gets a bigger budget.

For most organizations of a certain size – or those who want to get to that size – marketing automation is not an option. It is a necessity. In fact, many marketing transformations, especially those with a desire to be more digital or buyer centric in their marketing, are built around a shift to marketing automation.

As you move towards building campaigns that take advantage of marketing automation, investigate expert sources who can connect all the dots for you to make sure you take into account all the issues you need to face to make the most of your investment.

Comments welcome, especially if you have some examples of how your team dealt with implementing marketing automation.

18 thoughts on “Going With the Flow”

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