Surveys have shown that the number companies truly benefiting from marketing automation (MA) is abysmally low.  No surprise there. As Clayton Christiansen, author of the Innovator's Dilemma, pointed out decades ago: new technology adoption starts out overhyped by the geniuses who create it, but doesn’t really get traction until average Joes and Josephines figure out how to use it.

But MA is not so much a technical innovation as it is a new way of thinking. If you try to make MA fit without changing how you think about marketing you will - as many have found out - waste your money.

In this blog post series about Marketing Automation we focus on how to rethink your marketing to get the most out of this overhyped, genius, and still misunderstood technology. 

Succeeding with MA means learning to think and feel like your prospects—every segment of them. And that is no easy task; in fact it is an impossible task without the objectivity that comes from looking at data. But when you get it right the rewards can be tremendous and long lasting.

You are not your customer. You may at one time have fit the profile of a customer for your company’s products or services but now you are not. Why? Because you know too much about the products, the industry, or competitors. You are now an insider. Your prospects are not.

So what can marketers do to think and feel like a customer? In the past, we relied on surveys; focus groups; and trial and error. While they have their use, surveys and focus groups are often predictably unhelpful. (For example, it is much easier to say that you will buy a product from someone who is giving you a free lunch than it is to actually spend your own money on a product).

Marketing Automation is a customer laboratory

What marketing automation does is give you the laboratory in which you can observe prospects actual behavior at each stage in their buying process. From those observations you can make inferences into what motivates them to become your customers. It changes marketing from a mostly disconnected group of activities to one that actually creates comfortable paths for targets to follow to become leads, prospects, and customers.

The real power of MA is it allows you to watch them as they walk their path. You can learn what they really care about, and what motivates them. Sometimes you simply find common ground that helps lower their guard, and make it easier for them to overcome the barriers of mistrust.

For example, Pierpont Community College learned that the best way to fill a course on writing government contracts was to first have a conversation about canning. Knowing that someone is interested in canning is like walking into their office and offering them a bag of fresh picked vegetables from your garden. It is an icebreaker, an offer to connect with them. It is something that makes it easier for them to listen and transition, in this case, to reviewing Pierpont’s professional services courses. As a result Pierpont has seen a dramatic increase in course purchases.

Email analytics are not enough

When just starting out with MA most find surprises in the data. Shockingly we don’t know everything about our customers.

In the Pierpont case the insights were not just a surprise they went against the conventional wisdom. Hobby classes and professional services courses were two separate lists and should not be mixed. It was only by following prospects path after they clicked through an email were they able to see the connection. Email alone could not have provided the insight. If all your marketing systems can measure are open rates and clicks, you are not following prospects through the entire buying process and you are missing valuable insights.

Marketing automation allows you to create a holistic view of your prospects. Who are they? What shapes their thinking and feelings around your products? What encourages them to move through their buying process with you? And the goal, of course, is to allow you to communicate more effectively with prospects so that you can provide them more of what they want; in other words it allows you to sell them more.

If it has been a while since you looked at it you may want to give it another look.