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Adopting Marketing Automation: Key Challenges and Solutions

10 min

The benefits of using marketing automation seem clear. Every year more marketers decide to move away from “spray and pray” campaigns and choose to automate their communication instead. But adopting marketing automation isn’t a walk in the park, as our research found.

In our survey, we’ve asked more than 2,500 marketers around the globe about the top challenges they saw when adopting marketing automation in their companies.

Having collected the data, we decided to ask some of the brightest minds in the marketing industry about why they thought those elements caused such a struggle and what could one do to overcome them.

Below you’ll find the chart showing the results of the above mentioned research, along with the comments from marketing experts and practitioners like Michael Brenner, Kath Pay, Erik Qualman, and more!

Once you’ve read them, please share your thoughts with us.

What were the biggest marketing automation challenges for your company and how did you overcome them (or how are you planning to overcome them)? Are the results from this study in line with what you’ve experienced?

Let us know in the comments below.

Top marketing automation adoption challenges – GetResponse report

Key challenges and solutions

1. Securing budget (36.1%)

Michael Brenner – CEO of Marketing Insider Group

Marketers’ biggest struggle with marketing automation is securing budget. And this is true despite the fact that we rate email marketing as the most effective marketing channel. Imagine if all our marketing efforts (time, budget, people) were directed at the programs that deliver the greatest impact.

Instead, too many marketing organizations are focused on checking the boxes. We do what our boss thinks might work. We create brochures for the sales team that get thrown in the trash. We run banner ads because the brand team asked us to. The main reason we struggle to secure budget is that we don’t measure the impact of our marketing activities on our business. Too often we forget to ask if our customers really want or need the things we invest in.

Email marketing works because our customers have to opt-in and they have the ability to unsubscribe. This forces us to really focus on creating valuable content that helps them. So we need to measure these results and learn how to present the business case for marketing automation in business terms that executives can understand.

Kath Pay – CEO of Holistic Email Marketing

I believe the problem lies in a couple of places. Firstly, 36.1% say that securing budget is a problem, yet only 15.1% have an issue with lack of buy-in/vision from the senior managers. There is a big discrepancy there and shows that a good percentage of senior managers have bought into it, yet aren’t allocating the budget. In my experience this is simply because marketing automation has been sold as a tactic, which sounds good, but without any specific business case as to what problem it will solve, and therefore the managers are hesitant to invest into it.

If, however, you went to the C-suite and said “80% of our database is made up of one-time buyers and we could make X% more revenue with a second purchase program to convert them into buying a second time” or “PPC is costing us $xx.xx and we keep paying for people who have already visited the website or signed up to our newsletter and therefore we should implement a robust first purchase program in order to not only convert these people into being customers but also reduce our PPC expenditure”, you’d provide clear persuasive reasoning that would get the C-suite’s attention.

This then brings us to the next issue, which is implementing marketing automation because they know or think they should implement it. If a customer journey and data insight review was performed, this would clearly show the missed opportunities that could be resolved by marketing automation – with the aim of solving business problems and achieving business objectives. Most marketers want to implement it because they believe it will free them up and make their life easier. This is not a reason that the C-suite will readily buy into, but resolving business pains will. And this business case can be put together by reviewing the customer journey and the data. I know this because we do it all the time!

Another example could be that, if you mined your data and found that people who spend an AOV of $xx.xx and have bought three times are more likely to go on to being your best customers with a high CLTV, then you could build a case to implement a third purchase program targeting those who have this AOV and have bought twice.

So don’t implement marketing automation because you think it’s a good idea or everyone says you should. Try and align it to your company’s business objectives and speak to the C-suite in the language they understand.

Erik Qualman – #1 bestselling author and motivational speaker

For many organizations and companies marketing automation is a new frontier. Like any new frontier this is a new line item on the budget ledger and it is often a challenge to secure funding for it.

If you are the person attempting to secure budget the key is to remember that this is a new destination and you don’t use old maps to get to new destinations. Remind your executives of this and also remind them that you are glad they are pushing back as pioneers get pushback.

Pushback is a signal that you are actually pioneering. You are blazing the trail. Help walk them through that in the long term this will actually reduce cost, improve customer experience, and make the company more human, not less, by automating redundant tasks and allowing employees to have real conversations with the customers.

Be patient and frame items in words they already gravitate toward: revenue, customer service, and cost reduction.

2. Quality of customer data (35.3%)

Andrew Davis – bestselling author and keynote speaker

It’s not surprising to hear that the quality of customer data is such a large barrier to finding success with marketing automation. In an age where “big data” is all the buzz, you’re much more likely to find success in small data points that point to major insights.

For example, I’m a proponent of “progressive registration”. The simple idea that lots of small choices from your email list over time can paint a really powerful picture of your customers and that’s where you’ll find actionable insight.

Instead of trying to marry all of your data together in one place, start by using small email interactions to trigger new insight. For example, if you send an email with two video choices to watch – one designed for audience A to watch and one designed for audience B, use their click choice to set a custom field.

For example, if one video is for C-level executives and the other is designed for entry-level tacticians, use marketing automation to set a custom field, like “C-Level=Yes.” Now, you can start to segment your list and provide new paths for those who’ve self-identified as C-level.

3. Knowledge to set up different types of automation, e.g. rules, lead scoring (35.2%)

Dave Chaffey – CEO and co-founder of Smart Insights

Our research found that there were 5 major problems of marketing automation which were rated at a similar level, with around one third of businesses experiencing each challenge. I was personally surprised that securing budget was the highest rated challenge, since most businesses will already be investing in an email marketing service. Many of these services now including highly capable marketing automation features as part of the fee, so it should be possible to overcome this problem by switching vendors, although this requires planning and an investment of time.

The other challenges require recognition of the issue and then putting in place processes to overcome them. Developing specialist knowledge inside the business is also important. Some vendors have better levels of advice and support to develop these, so you should consider the level of support available from your vendor. Alternatively, you can use an online education platform like Smart Insights, which offers advanced advice on email and marketing automation.

4. Producing engaging content and communication (33.9%)

Jamie Turner – author, speaker, and the CEO of

There are two key issues many marketers face regarding content.

The first is that there is a huge amount of existing content on any and all topics already, so it’s getting more and more difficult to break through.

The second is that most corporations are reluctant to put in the extra effort to get their content to break through.

Those two issues — the huge amount of content and the resistance corporations have about going the extra mile — are interrelated. That means if you solve one of them, you’ll solve both of them.

There are three secrets to breaking through the clutter with your content:

  • Target niches: By narrowing your audience, you actually increase the odds of your content breaking through. So, instead of writing a post titled “7 Secrets to Get Your Blog Posts Shared” you would hyper-target the post so that it reads “7 Secrets Every Accountant Should Know to Get Their Blog Post Shared.” By hyper-targeting, you actually increase the odds of breaking through.
  • Take a contrarian viewpoint: If everybody is saying one thing, then you can stand out by taking the opposite point of view. For example, if everybody is writing posts about what a great CEO Steve Jobs was, then you should write a post saying, “Why Steve Jobs Was One of the Worst CEOs of All Time.” That approach can help you break through.
  • Use paid ads to promote: Most businesses have been led to believe that they can break through the clutter by promoting their posts organically. While that’s still true in some cases, more and more businesses are realizing that they have to pay in order to expand their visibility. (We can thank Facebook for that trend.) Don’t be afraid to use paid ads to promote your best and most viral posts.

5. Measuring effectiveness (32.9%)

Daniel Brzeziński – COO at GetResponse

Adapting new marketing technology is never an easy process. Especially when it’s meant to be used by different teams who have their own long-term objectives and KPIs. You can see it very clearly in the case of marketing automation, which – among many things – is meant to break down the silos built by sales and marketing departments.

Seeing the results from our study, it’s not a surprise that budget is the top challenge marketers face when they first adopt marketing automation in their companies. It’s directly linked to the other challenges mentioned, notably to the problem of measuring results.

Teams responsible for running marketing automation campaigns need to figure out the shared criteria for measuring their effectiveness. They need to find a common ground and understand each other’s objectives. Measuring campaign performance by the number of generated leads may be sufficient for the marketing team, but understandably, it won’t be good enough for the sales department.

Gather your team, get them to sit down and list all the essential metrics and requirements for reaching their objectives. Be clear about what makes a marketing-qualified and sales-accepted lead, and be open to re-evaluating this after some time. Plan your campaigns, always having the lead acquisition cost in front of you, along with the CLV you get from each of them.

Then getting the buy-in from your CMO or securing a budget should no longer be a challenge.

Where to start

Regardless of whether you still haven’t decided if marketing automation is the right fit for you or you’re already thinking of what you’ll do with all that extra time and resources, you’ll want to come prepared when the time’s right to launch it in your company.

So before you jump right in and hope for the best, take a moment to get familiar with these best tips for getting started with marketing automation, and learn how to measure the ROI of your automated campaigns.

Good luck with your campaigns!

Michal Leszczynski
Michal Leszczynski
Meet Michal Leszczynski, Head of Content Marketing and Partnerships at GetResponse. With 10+ years of experience, Michal is a seasoned expert in all things online marketing. He’s a prolific writer, skilled webinar host, and engaging public speaker. Outside of business hours, Michal shares his wealth of knowledge as an Email Marketing lecturer at Kozminski University in Warsaw. You can reach out and connect with Michal on LinkedIn.