10 marketing automation pitfalls you need to avoid

At Upperscore, we sometimes jokingly tell each other that automation tools are really toys for us. And that’s because we are very passionate about automation: there is nothing like automating complex business processes. It’s incredibly satisfying when we see things happen automatically based on triggers like a form submission, a page visit or clicking on a link or a button.

Now don’t get me wrong: automation software is very serious business. Your business processes, employees and customers rely on them, and when things go sideways, it can have serious consequences. That being said, there are quite a few very good reasons to automate your marketing and sales processes. And even though us marketeers derive a lot of pleasure from automating stuff, we do look at it from the business perspective of your organization. Every marketeer will strive to set up automation flows that actually reach their goal and ultimately make  your organization better.

However you look at it, there will always be a human being pushing the buttons. That creates a lot of room for human error, so we want to share with you our top 10 marketing automation pitfalls to avoid.

1 - Starting without a plan

So you want to automate, and you decide to just get started immediately. You set up an account, import your contacts, set up a few workflows, you’re in business. Right?

Wrong. It really doesn’t work that way. Without a decent plan, your automation efforts will lead to no good. So before you dive in to things, just take a step back and think things through. The following questions will help you define your ideal strategy:

  • What goal do I want to achieve?
  • Who are my buyer persona’s, and what are they looking for?
  • What processes do I want to automate?
  • What other tools do I need to connect to my automation platform?
  • What content do I need to achieve my goals?
  • Who else needs to be involved and what will be their responsibilities?


You can get more thorough on this with our marketing automation guide as your reference. In any case, you should never just start automating without having a plan. Otherwise you will get stuck very soon, start spamming people and make automation actually work against you. Definitely something to avoid!

2 - Starting off really big

We totally get it: after a lot of thinking and comparing, you decided to start using a specific platform to automate sales and marketing. There is a significant cost involved, and you want your investment to start paying off as quickly as possible. So there’s a good chance that you want to start automating a lot of things from the get go, to reap that ROI as soon as you can. But that’s a bad idea.

You see, automation is like planting flowers in your garden: it needs to grow within your organization. First and foremost, you need some time to get familiar with the tool and all the features it has to offer. What are the powerful features that we can benefit from, and what are the system’s limitations? Furthermore, workflows tend to get complicated quite fast, and on top of that they can impact each other. If you want to do too many things at once, chances are you will see things happen that you would rather avoid. For example: sending too many automated messages in a very short time frame to the same people, or having people enter the wrong workflow. These are classic examples of automation rookie mistakes.

It is much wiser to start off small, test what works and what doesn’t, and build on that. That way you can test and tweak on a small scale, until you get something that works for you. Then you can scale that up, without all the teething problems of that initial phase. Starting off big is one of THE major mistakes to avoid in automation.

3 - Set it and forget it

When automating sales or marketing, people tend to just set it up and then forget all about it once things are up and running. Whenever we hear about a case like that, we feel chills. It’s a surefire way to mess up your automation flows, I guarantee it. ‘Set it and forget it’ is a strategy that you should… well… forget!

The fact of the matter is that there is always something changing. It might be that your target audience starts looking at your services or products differently and interacts with you differently because of it. Or it could be that you are changing your website, branding or social media, which can also have an impact on your automation flows. Like adding a page to your website, that unwillingly triggers workflows that it shouldn’t touch.

The bottom line is that you can not and should not completely let go of your automation controls. Keep a close eye on the performance of your workflows and look at any significant changes. Do you get error messages? What do these tell you? Do you get emails that suggest there is something wrong with your automation flows? Those are all good reasons to keep an eye on your automation, so you can intervene whenever it’s needed.

4 - Paying too little attention to content

Like we stated: a state of the art automation platform is a real joy to work with. But unfortunately it doesn’t write its own content. Not yet anyway. One pitfall a lot of companies fall into is not taking enough time to create enough of the right content. Especially content that also takes buyer persona’s into account.

Often you have different segments in your CRM, and they all require relevant content. Depending on your buyer persona’s and where they are in their journey, you need to provide customized content. So your automation efforts require a fair amount of content.

Let’s say you’re having a webinar with a few reminders up front and a few follow up emails after the event. On top of that, you need a landing page and some social media posts, invitations, advertisements and so on. That adds up quickly to a lot of content, and someone needs to create all of that. Granted, you can outsource content creation. The point is that the amount of content needed for automation is systematically underestimated, and at the same time it’s crucial for your marketing success.

5 - Quantity versus quality

One is quickly tempted to set up lots and lots of campaigns when using a marketing automation platform. And that’s quite normal: it is easy to set up everything quickly in one single platform without having to write any code. It’s a surefire way to create tons of landing pages and emails with very little effort.

But we keep on believing in well thought-out campaigns with the right approach, with content that actually reaches and touches your target audience. We also believe in taking enough time for analysis afterwards, and in timely adjustments. Less is more, to use a cliché.

So if you want to focus on quality just like we do, then do use all data in your CRM. It will make your campaigns that much more personal. Build workflows tailored to your buyer persona’s, instead of sending unpersonalized mass emails to your entire database. Your emails will do much better and you will see your number of conversions increase significantly.

6 - Not using all the functionality

Let’s face it: you’re investing a decent amount of money in a good platform with lots of bells and whistles. Then use them! The functionality you get is built for a good reason: because it does help your company grow. So take some time to get familiar with all the features your platform offers, and try them out. Your automation platform is much more than just a fancy email marketing tool.

What else can you automate in your software of choice besides emails? Does it also offer functionalities like automatic task creation, enriching data or automating your sales pipeline? Can you set up lead scoring so your marketing and sales team can get aligned and collaborate more effectively?

With a bit or research I’m convinced that you can get some extra wins out of your software that will really boost your lead generation and conversion rates, and that go a lot further than just email marketing. If you don’t see any of those options, then you might want to look for a different solution.

7 - Involving only your marketing team

I kind of gave this one away already: you can automate a lot more than just your marketing emails. That means your automation platform can also have impact on people in other teams. Why not involve your sales or services team as well? After all, they will be using the same data in the same database, and they will benefit from having all that information to do a better job.

Imagine the added value if your company’s account manager could see what emails a prospect liked or didn’t like. Or what landing pages a lead has visited, or the content they downloaded from your website.

Apart from all that, you can also automate a lot of sales actions in your automation platform, like setting up a sales email sequence that helps your sales team follow up on SQL’s. Indeed, automation is not only useful for your marketing team.

8 - Not testing anything

Most people are lazy. After setting up some workflows, testing them is a boring and tedious job. It’s no fun at all, we’ll admit that. But at the same time, it’s incredibly important.

First of all, you want to make sure that your emails look good and your personalisation is set up correctly. You’ll also want to know whether the triggers you use in your workflows work as expected and whether the logic you applied to your workflows is actually logical. In other words: does a workflow do everything you expect it to do? Is the sequence of events logical? Did you forget any important actions?

I warmly recommend testing too much rather than not enough. Because one mistake can go to a lot of people in your database incredibly fast. If it’s just a typo, there’s no harm done. But it could also be something big in your workflow, which could mean a big negative impact for your business. So watch your six, and make sure to test enough.

9 - Creating (too much) overlap in workflows

An automation platform helps you communicate with your target audience in a personalized way. All these contacts are in different workflows, so you quickly run into the danger of creating overlap between workflows. So it can happen that some contacts in your database receive a lot of emails from your organization in a short timeframe. This can cause your company to be seen as a spammer, while that was absolutely not your intention.

So pay close attention to overlap in different workflows. Double check whether some of your contacts can be in different workflows at the same time or not at all. The strongly depends on how many campaigns you are running simultaneously, on your data quality and how many different touch points you built into every workflow. You might also want to be aware of conflicting actions in your automated flows. Automation is supposed to make your life easier.

Some advice: document existing workflows carefully, so you always have a good overview of what is happening in each workflow. This way you can quickly check if a new workflow will cause unnecessary overlap or not.

10 - Sending unnecessary or unwanted emails

Just because you can send a lot of emails automatically it doesn’t mean you should. Don’t be tempted to send emails if it’s not needed. Your target audience is highly allergic to it anyway, they will see right through it and they will feel like you’re only trying to boost your own metrics without giving them any value.

Even worse is sending them emails they don’t want. It’s best to check in advance in the buyer journey whether your email is appropriate or not. Does your audience really need 4 reminders, or is one sufficient? Do you really need to invite your entire database to your next event, or is it irrelevant to many of your contacts? Always be critical for outgoing emails. Once they are sent, the damage is done and you can’t take them back.

So there you have it: these are our top 10 automation pitfalls to avoid. We keep on having loads of fun automating marketing and sales for our customers, but along the way we have learned some valuable lessons. We hope you can learn from them too and improve your automation efforts. Be sure to check our automation guide for more tips and tricks and some examples that can help your organization to really grow. And remember: Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was automation. Good luck!

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