Abandon Your Marketing Automation System!?

I’m working on an interesting project right now: moving away from a marketing automation system. The plan is to go back to using only Salesforce.com with some cheap add-on tools for email, form submission and data quality. Smart or foolish? I’d love to have your input on the potential pitfalls (and benefits) of this approach.


The company in question has used a comprehensive marketing automation system for about 2 years. In the early days it was used to sift through hundreds of new B2B leads per day to identify the valuable leads. This changed over time: now the focus has shifted to pro-active outreach to a handful of executives, instead of targeting thousands of software developers. In addition to cost savings, the thinking is that a full-blown marketing automation system just makes less sense with the new strategy.

How to Replace a Marketing Automation System?

My first reaction was: no way, you should not want to do without any type of marketing automation system (for simplicity sake, I use this term as synonymous to demand generation and lead management). However, when I started looking into Salesforce.com and the wide variety of add-ons, I was less convinced. The Salesforce.com database has some big issues (e.g. the split between Leads and Contacts), but many 3rd party tools are addressing these weaknesses.

What is easy to replace?

Email marketing that integrates with Salesforce.com is provided by many vendors, like VerticalResponse, Boomerang, ExactTarget, Genius, Lyris and more. There are also some relatively affordable registration form vendors, like FormAssembly and OnDialog. Basic lead scoring features are built into Salesforce.com, and data quality tools are available from vendors like Ringlead, CRM Fusion and Datatrim. Notifications of companies visiting your website are available from Leadlander, Netfactor, LEADSExplorer and DemandBase. You can create reports and dashboards in Salesforce.com to provide analytics. So there are lots of useful add-ons available at a nominal price.

What Is Going to Be Missed…

Some Email Service Providers can send email on behalf of the record owner or can handle drip-campaigns, but those are exceptions and you sometimes pay quite a bit more for these advanced features. Unsubscribe handling is typically done via a generic page, rather than via branded page.

If you use a basic form vendor, you have to manually map the fields, and put the form on a landing page yourself. You may want to pre-fill the form, or send a thank-you email or the start of an email drip campaign: this is not always possible. Also, some form vendors are not able to append to existing records (resulting in duplicates) or to link new registrations to a Salesforce.com campaign.

Lead scoring based on attributes (e.g. job title) is built into Salesforce.com, but that does not include activity-based scoring, such scoring based on website visitors, clicks on links in emails or form submissions.

Even though you can get reports on anonymous visitors via stand-alone tools, it’s much more work to set up notifications of website visits by known users, and even more challenging to sync that information with Salesforce.com.

Then there are specific usage scenarios that are automated in a marketing automation system, such sending a reminder to non-registrants for an event: with the new approach this needs to be done manually, which takes a lot more time.

Most marketing automation systems replicate the Salesforce.com database with their own database: in the new situation everything is stored in Salesforce.com (or at least: that’s the goal). That is great for manageability, but – if you have the habit of qualifying leads before sending them to the CRM system – you now have a database full with unqualified leads.

What Is Your Take?

This project is still in the planning phase, so I’m still compiling a list of all the pros and cons. One thing is sure: in the new situation the monthly cost will be about $200, down from well over a thousand dollars. That is a significant savings.

But how much more time will it cost to manage the new situation? Are there specific features that create revenue, but simply cannot be implemented with the new approach. What is your take on this?

Please consider sharing this post via the buttons on the left. Or subscribe via RSS or subscribe via email.

15 thoughts on “Abandon Your Marketing Automation System!?

  1. David Raab

    Hi Jep — As you point out, the savings is likely to be less than $800 per month, and the additional time may be substantial. At $100 per hour, if it takes an extra 2 hours per week, your client loses on the deal. So I wouldn’t do it to save money.

    But it might be worthwhile if there were other benefits. Working with one database rather than two might allow more immediate alerts, for example.

  2. Saad Hameed

    I currently use Salesforce and an Email Service Provider to do the lead nurturing and I can tell you that the cost of managing a homebrew system is high and it would prevent you from doing more value-add work for your client which could affect marketing productivity..so the cost is twofold opportunity lost and time cost.

  3. Fred Yee

    I agree with David and Saad. The client is moving from one extreme to the other. I think they will find that the right solution is somewhere in the middle, with a product that works with an ESP, but does all the things an ESP can’t. As you know, ActiveConversion does that.

    Many marketing automation systems require too much hand holding, and have gotten too complex. We find that most companies, aren’t really interested in campaigning ALL the time.

    If their system is 2 years old, the client originally bought fairly primitive capabilities – the ability to tell when someone is interested. Not everyone needs to go beyond that – professional salespeople know what to do with a lead that has a ‘heartbeat’.

  4. Scott Mersy

    Hi Jep,
    I agree wholeheartedly with Saad. Prior to my current role, I worked first as a lead/demand generation B2B marketer then in B2B Marketing/Sales Ops trying to make sure we had the right toolsets (at the right price) for our users. We started with a cobbled-together homegrown system. It took major time and investment outside of our core competency from me, from IT, and many others in the company. Ostensibly, we were saving thousands of dollars. In reality, we lost all that and more in time and lack of utility.

    We then purchased a solution that was probably overkill (this was before the SaaS vendors we know today were available). Today, there are choices that integrate through Salesforce.com to deliver some of the functionality an ESP does not (as Fred mentions) which can be used in conjunction with the ESP and SFDC. Also, there are now reasonably priced demand generation solutions that can deliver ESP functionality, integrate well with Salesforce.com, provide marketing automation capabilities, and are not costly or complex. Genius.com is one of these.

    Because of SaaS and the AppExchange, it seems like a major step backwards to abandon marketing automation systems in general, though the particular one in use may indeed not meet the needs. Still, you should be able to find a system that meets the 80/20 rule for your requirements, delivers value within your budget, and beats the time and hidden costs/effort of trying to cobble something together to do the job.


  5. Adam Blitzet

    Definitely an interesting case and I hope you will let us know how it turns out. The trick will be measuring the following:

    1. Time/cost of setup
    2. Ease of management
    3. Gained/lost functionality

    You may find you do not need some of the functionality that you were paying for previously.

    The things I would miss the most:
    1. Having a lead “holding pen” so I don’t have to put junky records into my CRM
    2. Prospect level activity tracking

  6. Jep Castelein Post author

    All, thank you so much for your input. It gives me a lot of useful suggestions.

    I feel there we should look for some standard qualification questions to determine the amount of value that you can get out of marketing automation.

    For example: how many new leads are added to the database every week? How many are clearly unqualified (e.g. students)? Of the remaining leads, is it useful (and feasible) to contact all of them personally, or is it better to nurture them via email until they reach a certain lead score, and then contact them?

    With these questions you’ll find out whether lead scoring and email drip-campaigns are valuable. If you choose a marketing automation system that is strong in these areas, but you don’t use them, that’s of course a waste of money.

    The other thing that I pick up from all comments is that easy-of-use is essential. David Raab already did a lot of work to try and quantify this. Using only Salesforce.com add-ons may not score very high on the usability scale. I’ll look into this some more.

    I’ll try and write some more about this in the next couple of weeks.

    Please continue adding comments: this is an interesting discussion! Thanks, Jep

  7. Adam Needles

    I think this is an interesting concept. And I believe it speaks to the viability of ‘advanced’ CRM owning the integrated marketing management space.

    This is the ‘third camp’ I’ve discussed in my own blog pieces (see link), and I think it is worth not discounting this segment.


    Add-on (i.e., sitting on top of CRM) demand gen and marketing automation/EMM is powerful and critical today, but what’s to stop Salesforce.com, Oracle/Siebel CRM et al. from moving ‘upmarket’ and becoming more robust. Nothing.

    I think this also speaks to the need for the demand gen and marketing automation/EMM segments to maintain their value-add.

    Good dialogue, Jep.

  8. Chad Horenfeldt

    Jep – great discussion and interesting points above. To add to the “things I miss the most” (I liked that), I have the following:
    -Activity based segmentation. Beyond the scoring, some systems will allow you to segment your database across all activity data points (email activity, web visits, forms). This is key to get to the “meat” of your database – especially with all the turnover these days. You need a unified marketing platform that has the power to do this.
    -Dynamic content. While this may be a nice to have, it’s a time saver for many as different offers can be displayed on email and landing pages saving the marketer countless hours
    -Flexibility/Scalability. Lead management software allows you to customize your lead flow as requirements change. I’m finding that marketers are modifying the lead management process as objectives change and marketing systems need to be flexible to accommodate this.

    What I would miss the most:
    -The community. It’s difficult to put a price on having fellow marketers around you that you can meet with and discuss your common challenges and opportunities. In addition, marketing automation organizations typically understand your marketing goals from end to end from campaign management, lead management, contact management and marketing effectiveness. They can guide you down a path or “marketing journey” that will help you achieve your goals more quickly.

  9. LEADSExplorer

    €Jep – Thanks for the mention.

    Our take:
    – The CRM should become a source of information instead of a data entry system.
    Data from website, email, Internet all has to come together
    – Email marketing has had its’ best time
    – People prefer to find information on the Internet themselves instead of being pushed.
    – Trade shows might just be on their path to extinction due to the search engines who have turned the Internet into a 24/7 worldwide trade show.

  10. Adam Needles

    Hi, Jep. Was reading through this piece and thread again.

    Two other toughts — the opposite POV from my original post — on how going ‘simple’ with SFC.com and a few add-ons may have additional impact that still requires a more-robust demand-gen or marketing automation/EMM platform:

    > One overall goal in becoming more customer-centric is in personalizing both the dialogue and the communication channels. The stronger automation platforms already handle a number of diverse channels, and top-tier demand-gen platforms also are multi-channel. This is something that may be critical even if you have a smaller number of customers.

    > Related to this, smart ‘automated’ dialogue in nurturing requires smart content management strategies, and this is a component of several of the more-robust platforms. Again, I think that — particularly for sales to less clients but with more-sophisticated, consultative purchases — this is something you may not want to walk away from.

    So my challenge in re-designing your system would be this: What steps will make you more customer-centric and help you improve your customer engagement and subsequent revenue opportunity? vs. Can I get the same functionality for less money?

    This has been a really great thought excercise. Thanks, again, for this post.

  11. Pingback: How Are CRM and Marketing Automation Different? | LeadSloth on Marketing Automation

  12. Laura Hoffman

    At the end of the day you ‘ve gott ask yourself how many different interfaces, systems, and processes you want to use and maintain?

    Comprehensive marketing automation vendors have one interface that can do so many things. It may seem like more $ up front, but the hassle tax of going through demos and negotiation proces with multiple vendors, then learning and making sure key staff know the ins/outs of multiple systems…huge hassle tax in my mind.

  13. Jep Castelein Post author

    Hi Laura, I agree with your suggestion to go for an integrated system, especially if you’re running lots of campaigns. If you’re just getting started with campaigns, a Salesforce-centric approach may work, but you will very quickly grow out of that.

    Also, the cost of a system is small compared to the people who are running it. Make them more productive, and you’ve recouped your investment.

  14. Pingback: Should Salesforce.com Be On Your Marketing Automation Shortlist?

  15. Pingback: Should Salesforce.com Be On Your Marketing Automation Shortlist? - Software Advice Articles

Comments are closed.