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The Day Marketing Automation Stopped Working

Submitted by 11 Comments | 5,868 views
How the Laws of Engagement Can Save the Day


There’s a problem brewing in B2B marketing land. The stuff that used to work doesn’t seem to be working as well anymore. Below is a chart from Marketing Sherpa’s 2012 B2B Marketing Benchmark Report (click here for the 2012 report excerpt). You’ll notice that the 1,745 B2B marketers in the study are losing faith in every marketing tactic there is. And shiny, new marketing automation software doesn’t seem to be helping. Presumably, this means that the leads marketers are generating are not converting to sales at the expected rate. What’s going on?

Marketing Effectiveness Marketing Automation


In the world of possibilities (assuming there’s actually a market for the product or service being offered), here are the usual suspects for marketing underperformance:

1. The marketers’ targeting is off (they’re attracting the wrong people).

2. The marketers’ offers are off (they’re attracting the right people, but the incentive to create real engagement is too low).

3. The marketers’ communications are off (they’re attracting the right people, the offer is good, but the value of the offer is being lost on the audience).


Desktop Publishing didn’t make everyone a graphics whiz

When desktop publishing became available to the average person years ago, a funny thing happened. The quantity of brochures and flyers increased significantly, but the overall design quality plummeted. Putting enabling technology in people’s hands didn’t make them great designers. The principles of good design didn’t change. It just became easier to disseminate mediocre design.

Fast-forward to today, and we see the same thing happening with marketing technologies such as email, landing pages, pay-per-click ads, social media of all stripes, Search Engine Optimization, and marketing automation systems. The quantity of “stuff” marketers are producing has increased exponentially. As in the past, putting enabling technology in people’s hands didn’t make them great marketers. The rules of good marketing remained the same.

In a nutshell:  just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

So in the interest of contributing something useful to the whole discussion, here are some baseline marketing strategies that are too often lost in the rush to get the next email campaign out the door. We call them the Laws of Engagement, and if you want to convert more prospects to sales, you have to honor the Laws ahead of the Technology.

1. The Law of Targeting

If you find more customers like your best customers, you will sell more.

The Law of Targeting states that in order to engage your prospects, you’ve got to be talking to the ones who will buy. Well, how obvious is that? Apparently not very. Most companies violate this Law every day, by targeting too widely and pursuing too many prospects who don’t tightly match what they have to offer. The secret to Targeting is to identify those prospects who share the same business pain as your best customers, then target them.

2. The Law of the Offer

Your offer must be valuable, timely, and relevant.

The Law of the Offer states that in order to engage your prospects, you must offer them  information and insight that they value, and which will help them to better understand and deal with the business problem they’re facing (which you must be able to address). Your offer, be it information or a webinar or an analyst study or a white paper, must match their needs at the time (i.e. where they are in their Decision Cycle). If it doesn’t, you’ll have to refine your offers until there’s a fit.

3. The Law of Value

Your value proposition must be presented in terms of your prospect’s pain and viewpoint.

The Law of Value states that in order to engage your prospects, you must talk to them in their language about their pain. What is their pain? A business problem that they have that you appear able to solve. If you’re making an offer to these prospects, they need to be able to connect the dots between the value in your offer and the pain they’re trying to remedy. To really understand your prospects’ language, you need to talk to your prospects (or their able proxy, your best customers).


Marketing doesn’t have to be complicated, no matter what you’ve heard. In a world of shiny objects (the latest technology innovation goes here) and hyper competition (good ideas travel faster than ever), the basics still apply: buyers have pains, and if those pains are big enough, buyers will pay to have those pains resolved. But to do that, you have to engage them first.


About Drew Williams

My name is Drew Williams. I’m an author and marketing entrepreneur. “A what?”, you say. I call someone who’s passionate about building businesses a marketing entrepreneur. So that’s me. Full Profile | Google+

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  • Idan

    The title is classic bait. But the content is right on and provides a plausible explanation for that alarming chart. One more thing to consider is that nowadays marketers are held much more accountable than before for tangible (mostly lead gen) results, and possibly this added pressure has led in turn to a more sober overall appraisal of available tactics.

    • Drew Williams

      Thanks Idan. I completely agree. I think that accountable marketing, and the tools that come with it, are so new that everyone’s scrambling to make sense of it all. Still very early days. But we have to remember that buyer motivations haven’t changed, and we have to keep the focus on trying to resolve their pain better than the next guy — whichever tools we choose to use.

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  • Paul Y Realtor

    Drew is bang on here. I just received an email from the Weather Network announcing a new service for Realtors and their participation in an upcoming trade show. Click on the new service link and guess where it takes you? To their general inquiry page on their website where all the complaints and general questions go! Guess what their offer is to entice you to visit their trade show booth? Nada, zip, zilch. You can bet that the campaign debrief will conclude that email has lost it’s effectiveness and that trade shows don’t generate leads when really the conclusion should be (as Drew points out): “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”

    • Drew Williams

      Thanks Paul. Kinda makes you scratch your head.

  • Amy K Coaching

    And I think the general population passed marketing overload a few years ago. The avalanche of social media & e-marketing has created so much white noise – I think less than ever makes it through. My best marketing, after 10 years, is still the direct word of mouth from my satisfied clients. Period. :)

    • Drew Williams

      All that’s old is new again :)

  • Calle J.

    Just seems to me that saying “marketing automation stopped working” from not being able to use the available tools properly is kind of like saying that a bicycle stopped working because someone was trying to use it using only one leg. Nonetheless, good article. To make anything beneficial, you have to spend the time to use it properly. It’s just such a paradigm shift for marketers to move away from casting as wide a net as possible to be much more targeted and specific.

    • Drew Williams

      Fair comment, Calle. It’s not so much that marketing automation stopped working, as much as it is that many marketers’ expectations of marketing automation weren’t met. But, as you say, that’s because many have been pedaling with one foot. There’s a good story of one company’s one-footed pedalling at

  • Emily Maloney

    Great points, Drew. As marketers, we need to remember that marketing automation is a means to solve a marketing problem, not the solution to the problem. Automating messaging can make it more efficient but without following the laws of engagement you describe, and having a strategy in place, it won’t actually make your marketing program more effective.

    • Drew Williams

      Well put!

  • Drew Williams

    I need to add one more thought, based on feedback I’m getting. I’m a big fan of marketing automation. There is no better way to scale your business. My point is that the technology is great if it’s used well. It’s the patience to use it well that seems to be too often lacking.