How much marketing automation capability do you really need?

Barb Mosher Zinck Profile picture for user barb.mosher April 30, 2017
The martech vendor space is a recipe for brain freeze. 212 vendors - 66 of them new on the scene in 2017. How can a marketing department possibly make sense of this vendor overload? Barb Mosher Zinck shares data on where the priorities fall, and gives her take on a sane/judicious use of these tools.

All the marketing automation technology in the world won’t make us better marketers if we aren’t using it. But exactly how much do we really need to deliver successful marketing programs?

This has become a big question and it all clicked into place when I read Scott Brinker’s recent peek into the soon to be released Marketing Technology Landscape for 2017.

From many vendors comes much functionality

Brinker provided a preview of the landscape by showing the marketing automation category (which includes management and lead management technology). Brinker’s snapshot of this market shows 212 vendors, 66 of them of brand new for this year:


Brinker Martech image from

212 marketing automation technology How does a company even start to figure out which one - or ones - is the right solution for them?

When you look at the group of companies, you’ll see a wide variety of types of vendors. From bigger vendor platforms/suites like Adobe, Sitecore, SAP, to more pure play marketing automation names like Act-on, Marketo (which is not so much a pure play anymore), Kahuna, AgilOne, and Salesfusion to many, many more smaller offerings, niche in their sweet spot.

Much of the time when we are looking for technology, we look to research and advisory firms such as Forrester and Gartner. We examine their Waves and Magic Quadrants for who does it best. It’s not wrong to do this. But keep in mind those vendors have to have a certain amount of clients and a certain level of revenue.

There are so many more options that don’t fit into that grouping that might work for you. Some you may find in a Google search, others using crowd-sourced tools like TrustRadius and G2Crowd.

Personally, I would love to know how Brinker’s team found all of the ones listed. But even more, I’d love to see a directory that outlines what each one offers. And I’d love to see objective technology reviews, and I’d love a search facility that would allow me to filter down the options based on my marketing strategy and roadmap - not keywords, but use cases.

Those things don’t exist. So most look to the names that have the biggest recognition, the widest set of functionality, the ability to integrate with the other tools we have our marketing stacks. They don’t question that there might be something more fitting for our needs.

And that leads to my big realization.

We bite off more than we ever plan to chew

What in the world does that mean you ask? It means we implement technology with more capabilities than we ever use, or even plan to use. We budget for and spend money on technology we don’t need when we could be spending it elsewhere - like on good content development, or better training.

Here is a study that helps prove this point. It’s the State of Email Marketing and Marketing Automation in 2017, from GetResponse.

Over 255 email marketers in B2B and B2C were asked about the effectiveness of their marketing automation. Only 13.1% said they were highly effective. Most fell into the Good or Intermediate categories (14.4 and 18.5 respectively).

How are marketers using their marketing automation systems? Some answers:

  • 9% > informing about new offers/promotions
  • 7% > sharing information on the company
  • 5% > educating about products/related topics
  • 3% > consumer onboarding

Some specific MA tactics used:

  • 5% for email automation
  • 6% Basic profile-based targeting
  • 4% Personalization using dynamic content
  • 8% lead scoring

Here’s the interesting thing about these stats. Marketers are spending budget on marketing automation technology; it’s probably second only to what they spend on content management (for some companies, it may be the primary tool). But they don’t use most of the capabilities this tool typically offers.

Marketing automation is used mostly for email marketing. And basic email marketing at that. In this study, over 50% didn’t use targeting, and 51% don’t optimize their email marketing through testing.

My take - going niche isn’t such a bad idea

So why spend time and money implementing a big solution if you aren’t going to use it? Start smaller, or start with a solution that provides a specific subset of functionality that you can grab onto and build on. There are certainly many options to choose from as we see above.

There are consultants, analysts and others who suggest you define a roadmap and select your technology based on what’s on that roadmap. It’s certainly not wrong; it’s something I’ve said. But I think that mindset isn’t as important today.

With such a wide range of technology options to choose from and the continued effort to build solutions that can integrate, there’s more opportunity to look for a solution that meets today’s needs only. Think about how you can stand out from the crowd in your industry, about what your customers want and need. Then look for a tool, or tools, that will help you do that. Grow your toolset as you evolve your marketing. Maybe that’s a tool with more functionality, or maybe it’s another tool to add to the stack.

You may end up spending less of your budget on the technology and more on things like improving customer data, increasing your understanding of how your tools work and what they can do, measuring effectiveness. These things, by the way, are top challenges to using marketing automation.

Not every company needs an Adobe or a Marketo. Some do. And they make use of most of the capabilities those tools offer. But many more companies can think niche, finding different ways to reach out to customers and step outside the big budget marketing automation box.

It’s about spending your budget wisely across technology, knowledge, and training.

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