Marketing Automation Is NOT the Silver Bullet for B2B Marketing

7 minute read

Upland Admin

[Last updated August 11, 2017]

Three Deep and Ascend2 asked B2B marketers how successful they considered their use of marketing automation. Only 32% said they were very successful, yet 91% of them agreed that marketing automation was very important to the overall success of their marketing programs. Top obstacles cited include the lack of an effective strategy (58%) and poor marketing-sales alignment (42%).

With so few successfully implementing marketing automation, it begs the question: where’s the disconnect? The 91% of marketers who believe in it can’t be wrong, can they?

It goes deeper than what appears on the surface. With the massive growth in the marketing technology stack, B2B marketers seem to think that technology will make their jobs easier. It’s kind of like the Field of Dreams approach: build it and they will come—without any human intervention.

Except it doesnt work. Technology actually requires that marketers have done the foundational work to enable execution. This includes strategy, process, people, content, and innovation.

Shiny Object Syndrome Isn’t a Stand-In for Strategy

Marketing automation has been the talk of the B2B marketing town for more than a decade—and rightfully so. When used well, it simplifies execution and is capable of fostering engagement and pipeline progression that isn’t possible to do as well manually. But without a strategy that includes the components below, it’s merely software.

In the worst cases, it can become really expensive alienation tool that actually drives your prospects away.

Here are the main components to make marketing automation work for your B2B marketing strategy:


  • Which target markets must be defined in your database?
  • How accurate is the data?
  • Do you have personas to guide your decisions on how to segment your audience?
  • What makes each segment different enough to warrant its own program?


  • What story will you tell across the entirety of the buying process for each target market or persona?
  • How will the story connect personas from an account to help build consensus?
  • How will you connect the content assets to build the pathway through each story from beginning to end?
  • Which content is needed at each stage of the buying process?
  • Does your story line up? Are there any gaps or leaps of faith?

Engagement Plans

  • What channels will you use that can be tracked by marketing automation?
  • What behavior will indicate the need for a trigger to extend engagement?
  • How will lead-scoring apply to goal achievement?
  • What’s the hand-off process to salespeople that will continue to strengthen engagement?

Short and Long-Term Goals

  • What does success look like? At the monthly, quarterly, and annual milestones?
  • Have you benchmarked past performance to prove new progress?
  • What steps will you take as you build proficiency with the technology?


How will you measure progress?

  • Momentum across buying stages
  • Cumulative, focused content engagement
  • Shorter time to sales accepted and qualified leads
  • Multiple personas engaged from the same account
  • More complete profiles (progressive profiling)

What can you measure that ties to business objectives?

  • Contribution to revenue
  • Sourced pipeline

Shining the Spotlight on Lack of Process

Automation amplifies what’s there. If your lead-management process isn’t well defined, it will become glaringly obvious. If your content workflow isn’t consistent and managed well, marketing automation will become the nightmare you wish you could wake from.

The whole idea of B2B marketing automation is to foster engagement based on behavior and intent. If you haven’t defined what that means, it’s not possible to tell the software what to do based on those factors. Marketing automation is driven by rules that create a flow. Without a defined process, it’s nearly impossible to implement rules in a manner that will drive engagement.

But process also means defining sales engagement and closed-loop reporting that will leave no lead behind. Process is not one bucket, but many. This includes processes for lead generation, nurturing, retargeting, informational “keep in touch” programs, customer retention, and more.

Machines Can’t Replace Human Intervention

The biggest myth of them all is that marketing automation enables a “set it and forget it” approach to buyer and customer engagement. Many are under the impression that if you create a batch of content and set the timing for touch points, you’re done. Your prospective buyers will just latch on to every word and fall into the qualified lead bucket on their own based on your brilliant lead-scoring method. But this isn’t true.

Nuance is the name of the game in marketing. While we may have personas and other tools to help us understand our market segments on a macro level, we need to remember that we’re still marketing to individuals. It’s only by assessing the patterns of engagement and the obstacles that stall forward movement that we can improve our programs—and their performance. Also, a lead score that indicates a lead is qualified may be incorrect for another. Without looking at what makes up the score, you won’t know.

Speed of change is the other factor. What may have been compelling last week or last month may not wield the same levels of performance today or tomorrow. Marketing automation can help us to see change as it starts to happen—if we’re looking. That way we can stay ahead of it and shift our content and our stories so that relevance never wanes. Machines can’t do this; humans are required.

Automating the Road to Nowhere

B2B marketing automation runs on content. Without that fuel, there’s nowhere to go. A quality content asset every now and again isn’t the answer, either. Content needs to have a collective purpose; it needs to tell a story. Content must help buyers or customers connect the dots to solve a problem or capitalize on an opportunity.

Research shows that B2B buying cycles are lengthening. Depending on which research you believe, the B2B buying cycle can average seven months and require 10 to 12 interactions before a decision is made. Just tossing out a dozen content assets over seven months won’t get the job done. Each content asset you create must help the buyer or customer take next steps. Your content should lead somewhere your audience wants to go.

Innovation Comes Beyond the Core

Unfortunately, many organizations only utilize the email-blast capabilities of marketing automation. Quite frankly, if this is your approach, you can save a lot of money and effort by sticking with an email service provider. But you’d be giving up a lot.

For instance, utilizing trigger events to provide follow-up content based on what content the buyer or customer just engaged with. Or refining your lead scoring methods based on identifying patterns of engagement and intent. Or using progressive profiling to ask incremental questions to help validate what you believe to be true about a target segment and to better align content to needs.

Marketing automation enables marketers to see the big-picture view across the entirety of the buying process. That’s something that hasn’t been available before. And it’s something that can help you to innovate the ways you go to market and the time it takes to help your buyers and customers choose to embrace change. And that’s a big deal for marketers willing to put in the effort and do the hard work to innovate beyond what they’ve always done.

B2B Marketing Automation Doesn’t Need to Fail

Obviously, I’ve only scratched the surface. Yes, it’s hard work to maximize your investment in marketing automation. Start slowly and iterate. Each win will make you stronger. I’ve seen and helped companies use marketing automation to break into new markets, shorten time to revenue, build subscribers, increase customer retention, and more. But these successes will only come once you’ve realized that marketing automation is not the silver bullet for B2B marketing. It is, however, a very powerful enabler.

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