Why Marketing Automation Doesn’t Work (and What You Should Be Doing Instead)

Josh Z by

Over the last few years, marketing automation has shaken its “unproven fad” label. In fact, judging by the incredible success of companies like HubSpot, Act-On, Marketo, and Eloqua, the industry has become a full-blown phenomenon with many tales of successful implementations.

But that doesn’t mean that every expert is sold on the current state of marketing automation’s effectiveness. In fact, Sharon Drew Morgen, a New York Times bestselling author and the developer a sales model called Buying Facilitation® that helps buyers navigate through their off-line change management issues, believes marketing automation can be made far more efficient.

“That’s not a very popular opinion,” says Morgen. “But the problem is that marketing automation is based on a very traditional, outdated, failed sales model. It assumes that by merely correlating the ‘right’ need with the ‘right’ solution, a sale will occur. Or that if someone signs up for a webinar or a white paper, they ‘obviously’ have a certain amount of interest in a purchase. Neither assumption is necessarily true. And, even if they were, they constitute a very small part of a buyer’s purchase process.

In fact, the marketing automation process could be far more effective if it matched content and solution data directly with the buying decision stage that the site visitor is at, rather than sending out indiscriminate content that may or may not be relevant.”

Morgen sat down with OpenView for a Q&A, elaborating on why she believes the current marketing automation setup doesn’t work as effectively as it might, and what companies should be doing instead to more efficiently procure, manage, nurture, and close the large volume of leads their modern marketing efforts yield.

On your website, you write that just 10 percent of a buying decision is based on a solution-need match, yet marketing automation tools largely revolve around that part of the decision. What makes up the other 90 percent of a buyer’s decision and why does marketing automation fail to address it?

Like the sales model that it’s derived from, marketing automation is largely a “push” technology. It assumes that because prospective buyers visit a website, download an eBook, or click on an article in a newsletter that they likely have an interest (or can be convinced to have an interest) in buying something. As a result, marketers deliver content that tries to address prospects’ needs or answer their questions. In reality, not only is the Site Visitor/Buyer equation specious, but the solution choice is merely one factor that will determine if buyers will open their wallet.

A much bigger part of buyers’ decision-making process is tied to behind-the-scenes, internal change-management issues (buy-in, budget, timing, relationships, internal politics, vendor issues, etc.) that play a critical role in determining whether they can buy at all. And because marketing automation often fails to account for those things, it fails to lead buyers sequentially through their buying process, offering specific, unique data and content that speaks specifically to the stage they’re in.

As a result, marketing automation ends up making a lot of subjective guesses, inundating potential buyers with irrelevant – and might I say, annoying – emails filled with content somebody on the marketing team thinks might be of benefit.

Is it possible to know when a buyer is going to buy?

There are 13 steps to a buyer’s buying decision process. They get online during steps 3, 8, and 11. A marketer’s goal should be to make it possible for them to get help at each step, and stop attempting to shove inappropriate data at them when they are not ready for it.

So, how does your proprietary “Buying Facilitation®” process differ from marketing automation?

My model allows marketers and salespeople to work with and navigate buyers through their unique, behind-the-scenes buying decision process and change management process, helping them recognize and manage all of the buy-in issues they need to overcome before they ever progress to the solution-selection step. It helps buyers identify the people, politics, timing, and budget hurdles that could prevent them from making a change or implementing a new system. Unfortunately, neither sales nor marketing automation focus on the change management issues buyers must attend to before they can buy.

Yes, identifying a customer need, tying it to your solution, and delivering content that wraps everything up in a nice bow is an important component of lead generation and management. But that is the secondary stage of the buying decision, and none of that matters if there’s a significant internal or behind-the-scenes impediment that’s keeping a prospect from getting the buy-in they need to advance their buying process. Marketing automation largely ignores or fails to factor those types of things in, which keeps it from being as efficient or effective as it could be.

Do you think marketing automation is a completely broken system, or is it just something that needs to be reimagined or redesigned to more completely understand how and why buyers buy?

Ultimately, I don’t have any issue with the concept of marketing automation and its underlying tenants. It has the potential of being a very powerful model. These are the early days and I suspect the field will achieve great success once it manages the back-end change issues. I just have a problem with the way it’s currently executed and with the way most businesses define successful lead gathering and management.

If marketing automation were driven by change management — the idea that until or unless buyers manage all of their behind-the-scenes change or buy-in issues, no purchase can happen — it could deliver appropriate data and content to site visitors at each stage of their buying decision path, educating them on the right things to do at the right time to progress their buying journey.

Almost every marketer will admit that the Holy Grail of lead generation is to know when buyers intend to buy. Marketing automation claims to be able to do that, but what it really does is make an educated, wishful guess. I’ve developed an Intelligent Contact Sheet that uses Buying Facilitation to actually lead site visitors through their buy-in process that will lead them to their purchase. It will remove any doubt and create a better environment for objectively scoring, judging, and interacting with the leads you collect because you can follow the buyer/site visitor through their entire buying process.

Offering the right data at the right time is vital. Marketing automation currently closes less than 1 percent of all contacts. But by enhancing the tools being used it’s possible to close a far higher percentage. So, the question becomes: Is the field open to bringing in an additional solution that will target those buying decision stages?

Since 1988, Sharon Drew Morgen has trained more than 20,000 people on five continents to use her Buying Facilitation® model to help buyers manage their back-end purchase decisions. She has written seven books that have sold more than 500,000 copies collectively and her blog, SharonDrewMorgen.com, is consistently ranked among the top 10 of all sales and marketing blogs on the Web.


  • Many great points by Sharon Drew,

    However, volume:value and economies of scale apply too. Automation makes sense where there are multiple, repetitive, time sensitive tasks to perform, for example an email welcome sequence or pre and post webinar or event contact.

    Marketing Automation can also provide another content track or pathway to put a prospect on to. So, rather than a single next-step, event or piece of information a series of events over time can be invoked. This may well be educational content, to add value, with the benefit of feedback instrumentation to alert the sales guide that the contact is engaged, or not.

    Human intervention and client contact is still essential, to build the relationship and do the intelligent diagnostic to guide the purchase process forwards, but marketing
    automation can highlight who and when and why contact should be made.