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These 7 Mistakes Can Make Your Marketing Automation Investment Worthless

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If you’re an entrepreneur, at some point you have to put on your “sales and marketing” hat. All good entrepreneurs are marketers, even if by default.

This doesn’t necessarily mean you’re the person executing the day-to-day marketing activities. But it does mean that you have to think and act like a marketer, with everything that it implies.

Luckily, it’s never been easier for entrepreneurs to learn, test and execute various marketing strategies. There are a ton of great (and free) resources available and even more great (sometimes free) technologies.

Related: Marketing Automation Can Help Startups Sell Like the Big Brands

From content marketing software, to landing page builders, to marketing automation tools that tie everything together, there is everything you need to step up your marketing game.

At the heart of this is the rise of marketing automation. It is, with good reason, one of the fastest growing sectors in the marketing technology landscape. It has the potential, when executed well, to drive significant growth in small and large organizations. But like anything else, a marketing automation tool is only as good as the person pulling the strings.

Whether you own a small business looking to use something like MailChimp or Infusionsoft, or an enterprise leveraging a more sophisticated platform, there are some major pitfalls that can turn your marketing automation tool from a growth engine into a cost center. Here’s a breakdown of the top seven marketing automation mistakes.

1. No documented strategy

Using a marketing automation tool without a documented marketing strategy is like shopping for groceries without a list. You go home with a bunch of stuff you don’t need while missing essential ingredients for dinner that night. Remember, your marketing automation tool is simply a means to an end. It’s not the strategy itself.

Be sure to tie your strategy to the overall goals of the company. When everything is aligned, you’ll have an easier time measuring success and achieving your desired results.

2. Lack of "ridiculously'' good content

Content marketing fuels marketing automation. Otherwise, what are you going to send people? How will you gauge interest? Generate engagement? Capture leads?

While content is still king, that doesn’t give you license to simply churn out more content. Take the time to define your buyer persona and determine what topics will appeal to them at each stage of the sales funnel. If you have gaps in your content, you’ll have a hard time guiding people on their journey from visitor to lead to customer.

Beyond that, take the time to craft quality content. As Ann Handley says in her book, Everybody Writes, we all have the capacity to create "ridiculously good content.'' All marketers should aspire to do so as well.

3. No segmentation or targeting

Even the most rudimentary marketing automation tool allows you to segment your audience in some way. Failing to do this is like sending the same birthday card to your boyfriend and your grandmother - probably a big mistake.

Avoid sending everything to everyone. To make communication as impactful as possible, take the time to segment your audience based on their interests, behaviors and other relevant factors .

4. Going it alone

Depending on the size of your organization, you may have different teams working on content and demand generation. Typically, the demand generation person is the one working with your marketing automation platform. Too often,  they’re living in a silo without much interaction with the content producers.

Because content fuels marketing automation, that segregation poses a major problem. The two teams should be working together to determine which content is resonating with people and what should be created, moving forward.

Related: 3 Ways to Optimize Your Marketing-Automation Systems

5. Using marketing automation as a glorified email tool

We’ve all heard it before: “email marketing is dead.” While this channel has changed, it’s far from dead. If the integrity of your email database is good, meaning people actually want to hear from you, then email has the potential to be a major driver for you.

Despite that, if you’re using your marketing automation tool as a glorified email marketing service, you may not be leveraging the full power of the software. Depending on the tool you’re using, this might include search engine optimization, metrics and reporting, lead scoring and landing pages. 

6. No process between marketing and sales

Depending on the structure of your business, you may be using marketing automation to funnel leads to your sales team. For this to be effective, you need to define a process that allows for effective lead management.

According to a recent report by SiriusDecisions, companies using marketing automation without a solid process in place see a smaller (and in some cases negative) return on their investment.

The takeaway is that people, skills and processes must come first. Once you have those in place, the right technology is simply there to support, enhance and simplify the processes you’ve already defined.

7. Selling instead of nurturing

While lead management is a key component of helping your sales team convert more customers, lead nurturing helps keep them warm throughout the process.

But nurturing doesn’t mean selling, especially at the beginning of the buyer journey when people aren’t convinced of the value you can provide. In the early stages, nurture leads by sending them useful content about broad topics that relate to their interests and align with your company’s philosophy.

Once you’ve determined that the person is engaged (they’re opening emails, visiting your site, reading your blog posts, etc.) then you can begin to send them content that is more product-related.

Bonus: Taking the “Automation” in Marketing Automation Too Far

Your leads aren’t the only things that need to be nurtured, so do your marketing automation programs. Avoid a “set it and forget it” mentality and focus on continual testing and optimization. Everything from email marketing to lead scoring to landing page layouts can always be improved.

Related: 5 Tools That Put Content Marketing Analysis on Autopilot