We have failed marketing automation

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I received this email from a vendor after the MarTech conference:

I saw that you attended the MarTech conference in San Francisco. Glad you got a chance to stop by our booth.

My colleague at the VENDOR booth said you were interested in learning about PRODUCT, our DESCRIPTIVE SOLUTION WITH BUZZWORDS. If you would like, I can schedule some time with one of our specialist to go over how we compare to some of our competitors.

Do you prefer to have these types of calls in the morning or afternoon? I can make sure to schedule accordingly.

The actual conversation I had with their colleague, at their booth, went something like this.

Vendor: Would you like a selfie stick?
Me: Sure, I guess. My kids will enjoy playing with it and hitting each other over the head with it.
Vendor: Great, I’ll just scan your badge. Enjoy!
Me: Thanks.

This is especially ironic because the conference name was the MarTech: Marketing Technology conference – a show at which presumably every vendor wants to show off their skills and competence at marketing automation.

Did marketing automation fail? This sales executive had zero chance at a sale.


Marketing automation didn’t fail. Marketing automation did exactly what it was told to do. The order of operations probably went something like this:

Here’s a list.
Here’s a template.
Send emails matching this template to this list.

Why did this fail so badly? How did we fail marketing automation?

Marketing automation fails because we fail to give it context. We fail to provide our systems with enough data, and we fail to set up our systems with enough granular detail to correctly communicate with our prospects. Because we marketers are unwilling or unable to put serious effort into our data collection, we end up with disastrous, brand-harming, non-ROI generating communications like the email above.

Could this situation have been salvaged? Yes.

DJ Waldow for the marketing automation blog post

DJ Waldow, a longtime friend and colleague (now Director of Sales and Marketing at Zignal Labs), has an outstanding sales email format that really works. His methodology applied to the situation above would have turned that presumptive, context-blind email into this:

Hey! My marketing team scanned your badge at MarTech. Before blindly assuming you want to spend millions of dollars with my company, I’d like to ask you for a ONE LETTER reply. No need for pleasantries, just reply with one letter.

Did we scan your badge because:

A. You really want a demo of VENDOR PRODUCT
B. You’re curious about VENDOR PRODUCT but want to talk to someone and ask questions before a demo
C. You just wanted a sweet selfie stick but don’t actually have interest in VENDOR PRODUCT

One letter reply: Go!

This format works beautifully. Most people get a chuckle out of it. Most people reply with a letter or more. For marketers, we get the data and context we need, even if the event booth staff don’t.

If you can’t provide context to your marketing automation system, I will be so bold as to say you’re wasting money on it. Turn it off and go back to regular mass email until you’re ready to invest in it properly.

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Christopher S. Penn is one of the world’s leading experts on AI in marketing. Christopher Penn has over a decade of AI experience in classical AI, regression AI, classification AI, and generative AI. Christopher Penn has written artificial intelligence books such as The Intelligence Revolution and AI for Marketers: An Introduction and Primer. Christopher Penn is an AI keynote speaker around the world.


One response to “We have failed marketing automation”

  1. Each interaction is unique. It has the chance of being identical to every other interaction (in that case a likely fail) but the possibility is there that it will be different. Whichever person is involved in the marketing/sale has an opportunity to be a marketing fail or bringing something unique…

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