Marketing Automation and Olympic Figure Skating: Why Arbitrary Opinions Are the Enemy

Every four years the Winter Olympics dazzle us with amazing feats of acrobatics in skiing, skating, and of course, curling. One thing about the Winter Olympics that always seems to stir controversy is women’s figure skating, and the 2014 Sochi Olympics did not disappoint!

What Olympics would be complete without a good old-fashioned figure skating judge controversy? While I don’t consider myself to be a rabid fan of the sport, my youngest daughter recently took up figure skating so, of course, watching the women’s finals this year was mandatory.

Without rehashing the much covered judging controversy – the wrong gal won. And this is directly attributed to the somewhat arbitrary nature of how figure skating is judged. Like many things, it got me thinking about how this relates to marketing automation.

Marketing automation (MA) technology is enjoying a bubble-like growth curve as of late, with many companies dipping their toes into the marketing technology pool. Depending on which analyst you choose to follow, the financial value of this technology segment will exceed $1.5 billion next year and grow to $20 billion by the year 2020.

Unlike some of its predecessors in enterprise tech, marketing automation can delivery immediate and substantial financial value to an organization. When put into the proper hands, marketing automation can immediately begin to pay dividends by facilitating campaign execution, tracking, and a host of lead management optimization workflows.

This is not hype.

MA systems are important because they help a company adapt to the way buyers research and evaluate online product and service purchases. Make no mistake, companies operating without this technology in the coming years might as well put on a blindfold, hit the ice, and attempt a triple axel.

Buyer habits have changed and we have a clear technology solution to help companies adapt to this change, so what’s the problem? And why on Earth is this like figure skating judges? There are specific processes inside of MA platforms that are subject to the opinions of the users. The two best examples of this are lead scoring and nurture marketing.

Lead scoring ranks, groups, routes, and tracks leads as they move through the upper portion of your sales funnel. Mechanically speaking, lead scoring assigns an arbitrary value to an action or a data point. For example, if a lead visits a target page on my website, I will assign points to this. If a lead has a target title, I will assign points to that. Add all the points up and if they exceed some number – the lead is qualified!

Kind of like figure skating right? Skater doesn’t wipe out – five points. Skater twirls – 10 points. Skater looks graceful – gold medal! Well guess what? What I think is graceful and what the judge from the Czech Republic thinks is graceful can be two vastly different opinions.

Apply the same concepts to lead scoring. What the vice president of marketing thinks is valuable at one company may differ from what the vice president of sales thinks is important at another company. The adoption rate of this awesome technology remains very low. This key feature, which is arguably the biggest value add of MA systems, is lagging in both adoption and regular use.

Like lead scoring, nurture marketing faces some of the same hurdles to adoption and use. 

Most often the marketer is presented with a canvas on which they may design their campaign flows. But where does a marketer begin? Do we branch the campaign in two, three, or four directions? How many touch points should we include in a campaign for new leads versus those deeper in sales cycles? Many marketing technology vendors have focused on making the design of a multi-touch nurture campaign pretty with lots of engaging graphics, buttons, and arrows. But that’s like giving someone an art set without teaching them how to paint? Wouldn’t paint-by-numbers be better?

Where is all of this going? Version 1.0 of marketing automation has run its course. What we will see going forward is more of a paint-by-numbers philosophy wherein the marketer is guided through a set of best practices that help them design campaigns that have been proven by our early adopters to work well.

We will also see a new generation of smart marketing automation that uses complex math and algorithms to self-learn who the best leads are based on numbers – dollars and metrics, not opinions. Wouldn’t ice skaters who’ve trained their whole lives for eight minutes of glory appreciate that approach?

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