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Fool’s Tale: A True Story of Sales & Marketing Automation Failure

Sales Marketing Automation Failure

You’re in sales. I’m in sales (and marketing). But, we’re all also customers. It’s honestly one of the more fun things about the work we do. We get to work with people every day to help make their lives a bit easier. We do this by understanding other people’s challenges and triumphs and looking for ways our solutions intersect to reduce those challenges and expand those triumphs. We use our verbal communication skills, our writing skills, and lately we rely on a TON of technology to help us along the way. And when we (the collective sales and marketing professionals in the universe) succeed, it’s awesome. But sometimes we fail. Miserably.

Sales and marketing technology can be amazing. Before I speak with a future customer, I typically know what pages of my website she’s viewed, what webinars she’s registered for (and if she’s attended those webinars and asked any questions), what content she’s downloaded, and I might even have insight into how she prefers I communicate with her. Creepy, I know, but this is our new normal. We have access to more demographic, psychographic, historical, and behavioral information than ever before. And yet some of us are cutting corners that make us look foolish. This is a story about one of those fools.

 Automated or asleep at the wheel?

One lovely day a couple of months ago, my colleague looked up from his computer with a completely perplexed expression. He had just received a new sales contract via email. Had he placed an online order? No. Had he agreed to any services via the phone? No. Had he spoken with anyone at all at this company? No. But he HAD downloaded an ebook that this company had been promoting online. The content looked interesting, and he took the necessary steps to input his information to gain access to the ebook. His name, company name, phone number, email address, and the number of employees at our organization. If you think about it, a salesperson had pretty much everything he needed to send my colleague a contract. So, he did. Here’s the kicker: we are already a customer.

Because we’re in sales and marketing, we often have a backstage view to every sales show, and I can write the script for this story:

  • Buyer persona is served valuable content via social media promotion.
  • Buyer persona completes the marketing automation form to access valuable content.
  • Buyer persona, once a prospect, is now a lead.
  • Lead information is delivered to sales.
  • Sales sends the contract.

First of all, above everything else, someone or something should have checked to see if my colleague was already a customer. I mean, really. But let’s say we weren’t already customers. What about the consumption of an ebook — ANY ebook — let’s even pretend the ebook was fortuitously titled, “So, You Want to Buy XYZ Solution?” What about this tells anyone that a sales contract is the very next step?

It’s not. It never will be. Content marketing provides us with a great opportunity at the top of the funnel to discover new prospects, and then later to nurture potential customers as they are gaining greater awareness of their problem and begin researching solutions. What it’s not is a silver bullet. A magic wand. A fast pass to the front of the line.

Back to my colleague. Since we were already customers, he did not sign and return that contract. After we had a good laugh, an upsetting feeling washed over us. Clearly we meant very little to this company. They didn’t even recognize us as customers. After all, they are a large corporation, and we’re a small software company (for now). Moreover, if they couldn’t get something this simple right, what did that say about their infrastructure? Their personnel? We started second-guessing exactly how comfortable we felt relying on this company for an integral element of our business. And just like that, thanks to one great piece of content, a poorly architected marketing and sales handoff, and a bit of laziness, we were shopping for a new vendor.

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    • Jen – great post. Automation in the hands of the lazy, ill-informed, or over-eager is a dangerous thing. Automation can’t be used in the place of brains and hustle, but it is a great force multiplier of effort when used to leverage personalization and “caring”.

      One thing to note: Automation is here. Those who don’t use it will be crushed by those who are. For every story of poor use, there are dozens of deals won that would never have been without automation. That’s why (shameless plug warning) it is very important to have a platform with copious safety settings and a team behind the platform that can be a true partner in creating the best use case for your business needs.

      • Agreed! And I’m a marketing automation power-user. I love being able to deliver content to people based on their buyer persona, their lifecycle stage, and/or what other content they’ve consumed.

    • This is a great article and really speaks to the rise of Account Based Marketing and why some of the best minds of the industry are preaching ABM. The one problem between marketing automation and CRM has been segmentation and the ability to have visibility into who are your customers and who are not. Customization and personalization are now key to the whole experience. Great post and awesome how you are taking action to find someone who truly cares about you as a customer. As great as technology is becoming, people will still always want the personalization from first touch to last touch.

    • Jen – thanks for sharing your story! I’m sorry to say that I’ve experienced the same as well 🙁 I have one question for you, however. Do you believe that this miserable experience that you and your colleague endured was due to a misuse of a sales/marketing automation tool, or because of a complete breakdown of the sales process? I would argue the latter. Often times sales professionals will cut corners not because they are lazy (well, some of them are!), but because the organization has not spent the time and energy up front outlining and implementing a well thought-out and measurable sales process. In fact, I would also argue that one’s sales process in today’s hyper competitive environment is what truly differentiates one company from another, and, if leveraged properly and consistently, will act as its competitive advantage. Anyone can purchase tools and technology to make its sales team more efficient and productive, but it’s up to the sales leadership to ensure that the team is using the investments properly. Fully understanding why a customer buys and the journey he/she took to get there is absolutely critical, and will directly impact not only the structure of the sales process, but how technology, such as marketing and sales automation, can be used to expedite it.

      • Hi Chris — I think it’s a bit of both, and you’re absolutely right. It wasn’t the tool that failed this company, it was the lack of process and the PEOPLE “behind the wheel” of the tools. I speak to people in sales and marketing every day who are searching for the silver bullet, or the quick fix for all of their sales and marketing challenges. We both know it’s simply not that easy.

        • Agreed. If you’re a follower of the billionaire entrepreneur, Marcus Lemonis, you’ll know that every successful organization has mastered the three critical “P’s”: People, Process and Product. More often than not it’s the people that actually ruin a business. Thanks again for the post!

    • Thanks for sharing your experience Jen. One question that I’m interested in knowing is how the company who made the mistake responded when they realized they made a mistake? Or did the vendor never recognize that a mistake had been made?

      How a company responds when they make mistakes (and all companies make mistakes) speaks to the organization’s values and culture.

      • Interesting point. My colleague emailed back the rep letting him know we were already customers. The rep thanked him for the information, and that was that.

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