Don't let the name fool you. Marketing automation is not completely automated.

With the rapid adoption of marketing automation technology, almost 11 times more B2B organizations used marketing automation in 2014 than in 2011, marketers often believe that marketing automation is the be-all, end-all to any marketing problem. Some think that marketing automation will effortlessly bring in a steady stream of leads and automatically move those leads to paying customer status.

Although this funneling process sounds wonderful, the real world doesn't work so effortlessly.

The Benefits of Marketing Automation

Marketing automation can empower marketers to better understand buyer behavior and to provide the experiences that today's customers demand... but the people behind the tool ultimately unleash that empowerment similarly to how a trampoline increases the apex of a jump.

Moreover, an automated system in the wrong hands can quickly do more harm than good. With the wrong people, marketing automation can enable a poorly thought-out campaign to spread quickly and make it even easier to be lazy and ignore feedback.

However, with the right people, marketing automation helps organizations reach many different channels with the right message at the right time.

Great marketers know to discard the "set it and forget it" mentality.

Here are key three reasons why marketing automation is not automated.

1. Informed buyers are drawn to informed marketers

Today's buyers are more informed than ever. Buyers are educated and have access to a vast amount of information. With this deep level of knowledge, buyers want, and deserve, value-based interactions throughout the buying journey.

Marketers must not forget that they're dealing with human beings at the end of any marketing automation campaign. Yes, marketing automation enables you to better segment your markets and deliver targeted messages, but without personalized and appropriate interactions, many targeting efforts can prove worthless.

Finally, if automated marketing efforts start to sound robotic and mass-produced, prospects will lose interest and move on.

Netflix does a great job of personalizing its emails. The company sends simple emails with recommended movies and TV shows. I know Netflix is paying attention to my viewing habits after every email. Netflix is an informed marketer. Additionally, I'm only one click away from adding these recommendations to "My List" on Netflix, which saves me time when I'm in the mood for a Netflix binge—a win-win situation!

2. Data without insights is…. well, just data

Marketing automation gives you plenty of data. What is done with that data, though, is what matters.

Pure data is like an uncooked steak, pretty unappealing to anyone except a wild animal. Insights are the perfectly cooked steaks, finally in a functional form, and ready to be devoured (sorry, vegetarians!). Marketers must think strategically and analytically to provide their customers and potential customers with the right insights. A marketing automation platform is never going to slog through data to find insights.

My team recently ran a six-email drip campaign for one of our product lines. The campaign targeted a set of approximately 3,000 leads in the nurture stage (not ready to be sent to our lead qualification team). We worked hard crafting the subject lines, body copy, and hyperlinked content within the email.

After setting up the campaign in our marketing automation tool, we closely monitored the performance. After every email, we went through a detailed and thorough step-by-step analysis to keep learning and changing the next email in the series for the better. It took a lot of work, but the results were worth it.

3. Experimentation matters

Today's top marketers think like scientists. They test, test again, and then test some more.

Experimentation is a prerequisite to delivering value-based interactions with prospects and customers. Something as simple as A/B testing can help you determine the most effective subject lines, content forms, messaging, channels, email templates, email images, etc.

After every experiment, marketing automation tools provide marketers with performance metrics, but those are not enough. Great marketers take it one step further and turn those performance metrics into actionable improvements.

* * *

Marketing automation is the current thing; however, like many other automated tools, it only takes you as far as the people behind it.

Today's effective and disciplined marketers realize a human being is at the end of every marketing campaign. Successful marketers understand that taking an insightful look at the data, from the customer's perspective, helps deliver value-based experiences that today's buyers want and deserve.

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Why You Need a Little Elbow Grease When You Use Marketing Automation

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image of Molly Koernke

Molly Koernke is director of Product Marketing at Upland Software, a provider of cloud-based enterprise work management software.

Twitter: @mollykoernke 

LinkedIn: Molly Koernke