Marketing Automation in the Danger Zone

Modern SaaS based marketing automation software (MAS) is flexible and loaded with potential. Many sales and marketing operations teams are stretching the boundaries of how marketing automation is used by crafting customized solutions — often combining the power of marketing automation with other third-party tools like Salesforce.

As a manager, you should encourage innovation. But you also don’t want to have to make an apologetic call to your client explaining how something broke… two months ago. Or worse, get a call from the client alerting you that something has gone wrong. Encourage innovation but anticipate failure.

Ride into the danger zone

As you get deeper into marketing automation, you will eventually ask your team to do something with it that your software wasn’t explicitly built to do. Maybe you want a price quote to go out in real time. Maybe you want to make sure you never send the same asset to a contact twice. Maybe you want a piece of third-party analytics or tracking to go on a form that is built to be tracked only by the marketing automation that created it.

Marketing Automation. Not as much fun as it would be to fly this.

Your sales/marketing operations team will relish the opportunity to do some creative problem solving. They will make it work and move on to the next problem.

I don’t like you because you’re dangerous.

However, marketing automation is not a closed box. The rest of your team will be generating new emails, changing contact fields, building forms, designing new landing pages, and continually generating new content. If you have a system that is being pushed to perform, chances are that it will eventually get broken.

For example, think of a case where marketing automation is used to send real-time price estimates to prospective customers. The form is generated in the MAS, the price data lives in Salesforce, and the email is sent from the MAS. When a prospect completes the form, the information they provide is passed to Salesforce. Salesforce passes back the correct price. Safeguards have been put in place so that the email would not be sent to the prospect before the pricing information has been updated by Salesforce. The safeguard rule tells the system to not send the pricing email unless the price field has a value greater than zero.

The system breaks when a marketing manager changes the email to include a price with a ‘$’. This changes the pricing field from a number field to a text field. The safeguard rule now prevents any pricing emails from going out because only numbers are considered “greater than zero”. The development team would have recognized the problem right away but they weren’t watching the project anymore, they’ve moved on to another problem. No one else thinks about non-zero values on a regular basis, so they don’t realize there’s a problem with their “minor” edit.

A process is needed to catch these types of errors. Such as a “Waiting for Price Quote” report that generates a real time list of everyone who has yet to receive their pricing email. If anyone has been on the list for more than a day, then operations gets notified. Otherwise, you’re dependent on someone just happening to notice that no prospects have gotten a price quote recently.

Talk to me, Goose.

And that’s really the point. Your carefully (and not-so carefully) laid plans and systems are going to break. Expect them to break and plan for how you will be the first to know.

We live in a world where many different departments have access to software and are pushing the limits of what it was built to do. This is a really good thing and enables, for example, Marketing and Sales operations to act with great agility and flexibility. But… these ad-hoc systems can be fragile. We should anticipate failure. I’m all for trading robustness for flexibility and creativity. If we accept and acknowledge that things will break, it gives us the opportunity to anticipate and mitigate.

Susan Gamble
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