Want more qualified leads? Don’t use marketing automation

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Ying Yi Wan | 19 October 2018

Remember when marketing automation became popular, around the early 2000s?

Back then, it promised to be a game changer for marketers.

Marketing automation would automate various tasks, from sending drip emails to uploading social media posts. It would provide a 360 degree overview of leads’ activities within the marketing funnel. It would enable marketers to measure the impact of their campaigns across various channels.

And so on.

Today, marketing automation is mainstream across many industries. In fact, Forrester expects global spending on marketing automation to exceed $25 billion by 2023.

But has marketing automation made marketing more effective?

We mean effective in bringing in more sales-ready leads. That’s the end goal of marketing after all.

Unfortunately, many marketers have had limited success with marketing automation.

About four in ten brands surveyed by Econsultancy and Adestra said that their marketing automation efforts are not successful. In a separate survey by Econsultancy and Act-On, just 27% of survey respondents strongly agreed that marketing automation has increased contributions to their pipeline. Also, 24% of respondents strongly agreed that marketing automation delivered a return on investment.

Marketing automation companies will tell you that if you’re not getting the leads and customers you want, it’s because:

  • Your marketing strategy is the problem; marketing automation cannot make up for a lousy marketing strategy
  • You didn’t put enough leads into the top of your marketing funnel
  • You’re not using your marketing automation software correctly

Sure, these are plausible scenarios. But what if we told you that,

Marketing automation itself is not good at lead engagement and qualification!

Yes, even if you use the most advanced software out there.

We’ll explain why, if your aim is to get more qualified leads that are ready to talk to sales, marketing automation is not ideal. For that, there is a better alternative that makes everyone -- leads, marketing, and sales -- happy.

Limitations of marketing automation

1. Marketing automation gives you little insight into your leads’ buying intentions

Leads can be anywhere along the buying cycle.

On one hand, some leads are tire kickers who want to know a lot about your business but would never buy.

On the other hand, there are leads who are ready to make a final purchase decision.

In between, there are various kinds of “unripe” leads. Some have just started exploring their options. Others are interested but not prepared to talk to sales so soon. This is especially true of B2B purchases, which involve complex decision making processes and multiple stakeholders.

Marketing automation cannot tell you much about the context of why the lead is interacting with your business in the first place. What’s the lead’s biggest pain point? What product feature is most attractive to them? How do they plan to use your product?

Sure, you could ask such questions on your forms and marketing automation could capture the answers. But marketing automation has no mechanism for taking all that qualitative feedback into consideration and providing contextualized follow ups until the lead is ready to purchase.



As a result, a lot of leads that marketing automation cannot deal with end up lost or neglected. One client of ours had a backlog of more than 10,000 leads that no one was able to follow up with. After re-engagement, we managed to uncover about 600 valid opportunities and deliver those to sales.

2. Lead scoring is just educated guessing

Lead scoring is a marketing automation feature that helps marketers qualify leads. Marketers assign points to each lead, based on their professional information and level of interactions with the brand. The leads with the highest scores are the most qualified leads, which are then handed over to sales.

The problem is that these scores are not always indicative of readiness to speak to sales. The scores are best guesses based on the information provided by leads, which may be vague or limited. As a result, marketing automation may miss valid opportunities or surface false positives.

An example: a lead that enters a personal email address into your contact form.

Marketing automation giant HubSpot advises its users to “think about which types of email addresses leads are using compared with the email addresses of your customer base. If you're selling to businesses, for example, you might take points away from leads who use a Gmail or Yahoo! email address”.

You could miss out on some big deals if you do that.

True story: we once helped a client re-engage their untouched leads. One of those leads had a Gmail address. After connecting with this lead, he turned out to be a key decision maker in a reputable company. He had signed up for the our client’s emails using his Gmail address, to avoid cluttering up his work email.

3. Best-in-class marketing automation is expensive and so complex that it is often underutilised

What about the most advanced marketing automation software in the market? The kind imbued with predictive analytics, behavioural retargeting, and other high tech wizardry. Surely such cutting edge software could deliver better quality leads?


But the problem with these software is they are costly and difficult to implement.

Take Marketo, one of the leading players in the industry. To get the most of Marketo, you need to have a Marketo Certified Expert credential. Passing the test requires: one year of general marketing knowledge, one year of marketing automation knowledge, at least 800 hours of Marketo hands on experience, and more. The certification doesn’t come cheap either. The exam costs US$225 whether you are doing it for the first time, retaking it, or getting re-certified (recommended every two years).

Sure, there’s a lot of advanced marketing technology out there. But how many marketers know how to get the most out of their software? Just 4% of marketers surveyed by Econsultancy agree that they use their marketing automation to its fullest potential. More than half disagreed that they’ve made full use of marketing automation. The study also found that the top five biggest challenges with marketing automation are: resources, skilled experience, data management, complexity, and integration.

Not satisfied with the leads you've been getting from marketing automation? We can get you more sales-ready leads! Learn more about our AI sales assistant here.

Use the right tool for the right job

If you want marketing to enable sales, start by seeing things from sales’ point of view.

Sales people don’t want to waste time sifting through leads and checking if the fit is right. They want to speak to people who are interested in purchasing the product. They want to work on accounts and active deals.

The problem with marketing automation is that it tells you little about account demand status or intent to purchase. For that, you’ll need a different approach. One that reaches out to leads directly and takes care of them until they are ready to speak to sales.

Yes, a viable customer driven approach exists, and it’s called conversational marketing.

Conversational marketing is about actively engaging with people. The conversations are two-way, personalised, and in real time. It’s a virtual feedback loop: businesses can ask questions, address queries, listen to feedback, and discover new ways to engage their customers. These conversations happen on the customers’ terms -- not marketers’.

The benefits are numerous. Leads have a more human and meaningful buying experience. Marketers will know which leads are not a good fit, which leads are interested but unable to commit right away, and which leads are eager to discuss purchase. Sales receives leads that are definitely hot prospects.

Thanks to the rise of marketing bots, it is now possible to have conversations with leads at scale. Here at Saleswhale, we’ve developed an AI sales assistant that engages with leads over email, until they are ready to have a sales meeting. There are also website bots (e.g. Drift), Facebook Messenger bots, and more.



Beyond marketing automation

We don’t mean to suggest that marketing automation is useless or a waste of money. Just don’t rely on marketing automation if your goal is to generate sales-ready leads.

It might seem like a huge challenge to consider a new approach to marketing, especially if you have already invested a lot of money into marketing automation. But it’s not all or nothing. You can keep your marketing automation and add conversational marketing to the mix.

For example, our client Randstad uses Marketo to generate inbound leads, and then feeds those leads into the Saleswhale AI sales assistant. The AI takes care of the follow ups, lead qualification, and routes the hot leads to Randstad’s consultants. The consultants can focus on speaking to those hot leads and turning them into customers. After deploying the AI, Randstad’s lead to meeting conversion rate improved from 15% to 79%.

For a long time, one of the biggest challenges in marketing was consistently delivering qualified leads to sales. Even with marketing automation, this was still difficult. The good news is that a viable, scalable, and customer-driven approach to managing leads exists. Combine it with marketing automation, and you can finally deliver the kind of results that truly matter to business.

Interested in using AI to get more sales-ready leads? Request a demo of our AI sales assistant today!


Ying Yi Wan Avatar

Ying Yi Wan

I take difficult and complex B2B tech topics and turn them into crisp, compelling, and creative copy. When I'm not doing content marketing for Saleswhale, I'm blogging or honing my manga drawing skills.

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