At Leader, we certainly appreciate the huge value that modern marketing automation tools deliver. But we’re also well aware of their limitations, and the risks of using them carelessly…

So what do we mean by marketing automation?

Well, at its most basic this is essentially about software that follows pre-programmed rules with the aim of delivering the right marketing materials to the right people at the right time.

So if someone downloads a whitepaper or e-guide from a website having been asked to first submit their contact details (also known as ‘gating content’), then automation software can be used to store this information, recognise what content was downloaded, and then send a further sequence of relevant information based on the responses or actions of the recipient.

In many respects automation is the workhorse in our lead generation programmes, delivering carefully chosen content to the prospects who engage with our clients in order to encourage and support them along the customer journey to an eventual purchase.

The human touch

So clearly we use automation all the time. But that doesn’t mean we’re happy to just set it up and let it run.

Our approach has always been to maintain a healthy dose of human judgement and manual intervention throughout the process. After all, you only get one chance to get things right, particularly in the complex B2B markets in which we often operate.

And if you’re not entirely sure why too much automation and process-driven marketing might be a bad idea, consider the viral spread of a recent blog post in which the author describes putting their details into a form to gain access to a whitepaper, only to be overwhelmed less than a day later with a series of automated responses which included an email, a phone call, an invitation to a webinar, a newsletter, another newsletter… well, you get the idea.

Smart, sophisticated or proportionate this clearly wasn’t. And the writer didn’t keep his thoughts private. He shared them widely, naming the company involved and making clear his frustration. I doubt that the writer – or many of the people who read his blog – will in future be quite as keen to engage with the company that besieged him.

And who can blame them?

Magic bullet?

Used properly, marketing automation is a powerful and useful toolkit. But it’s certainly no magic marketing bullet, and it’s no substitute for human judgement.

Artificial intelligence and the rise of the robots might be dominating today’s headlines but, for the time being at least, I wouldn’t want to be completely reliant on any machine or automated system to build the kind of trust and relationship that lies at the heart of anything other than the most functional of commercial transactions.