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If Marketing Automation is a good thing, why aren’t more companies doing it?

Author's avatar By Caroline Wilson 25 Feb, 2015
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Barriers to adoption of Marketing Automation and how overcome them

In research TFM&A (2014) identified that there were 5 main benefits to marketing automation: personalisation, campaign management, triggered emails, control and insight.   But with such clear benefits why are more organisations not adopting the tools that can lead to greater business success? In this blog I’ll be explaining the key barriers to adoption of marketing automation and give an action plan for marketers who want to persuade their organisations to adopt an automated approach.

Who are the non-adopters?

The barriers to adoption of marketing automation vary greatly depending on the type of company, their needs and their previous investments. In  research carried out by CommsBox we identified 4 key types of non-adopter. Although by no means exclusive, they give an in-depth insight into the difficulties that companies face when making major investments in change. You might recognise elements of your own organisation here:

  • Trailing traditionalists:   firms where things have always been done the same way.  They use traditional sales and marketing methods and place a great deal of emphasis on personal selling and deep personal relationships.  Whilst they have invested in CRM systems, they do not see the direct benefit of digital marketing.If automation is such a good thing
  • Bootstrapped businesses:  small or start-up outfits that are restrained by budget.  They have bootstrapped processes, typically getting by with spreadsheets to manage customer relationships.
  • Climbing companies:  fast growing complex organisations. In the swiftness of their growth they have made large investments in disparate systems which are becoming difficult to manage.
  • Established enterprises: organisations that have such a heavy investment in legacy systems, that even though they have a desire to move forward, they are bound to their current systems.  Moving forward is slow and difficult.

Design Capital – Cost Versus Benefit

Woodard et al (2013) put forward the idea that companies, are either constrained or enabled by what they call ‘design capital’. In simple terms this means how much a company has already invested in technical systems (technology debt) compared to whether those systems meet their needs (option value). Undoubtedly, any investment in digital marketing tools should increase the option value. However, at the same time it increases the technology debt.

Trailing traditionalists have low quality systems. They may have invested reasonable sums of money in CRM systems and they are reluctant to upgrade them. However, they have few tools with which to compete in the digital age. Their marketing options are therefore restricted.

Bootstrapped businesses have made very little investment in CRM or digital marketing systems. They are happy to carry on as they are because the pain and cost of putting in processes and technology to automate their marketing is just not a top priority. Although they don’t have to worry about technology debt, they are option constrained. These are the companies who can most easily move across to high quality systems when budgets open up.

Climbing companies and established enterprises by nature of their previous investments may have systems with high option value but are debt constrained. They are willing and able to carry out many digital marketing and sales activities.  However, managing disparate systems has left them with difficulties in getting their systems to talk to each other and data in many different places. These companies are in the hardest place of all because they can do a lot of what they want to do, but not very efficiently. They will find it difficult to let go of their previous investment whilst also realising that newer and better methods of digital marketing are now available to them. These technology debt constrained companies will want to get the very most from their past investments before considering a change.

High Quality: Companies with high quality marketing automation systems are those who, perhaps because of few legacy systems, have been able to invest in the cost effective marketing automation technologies that are on the market today. Many cloud based marketing automation systems offer companies with little technology debt the ability to jump right in at the deep end and benefit from highly targeted, personalised and automated digital marketing.

 Key Barriers to Adoption

In our research we identified a number of barriers which fell into these 3 categories:

  • Resource based
  • Motivation based
  • Cultural and organisational

Some of these barriers lie with an entire organisation, or just a handful of key decision-makers.

Resource based

Regardless of size most companies have to argue the case for new investment. There needs to be a clear benefit which needs to outweigh the costs. However, as with many things in the digital marketing world, the cost is not just monetary, but also human. Companies have many priorities and must allocate their resources wisely.

Many companies just lack the sheer time and human resource that it takes to implement a marketing automation programme. Systems have to be installed. Skills need to be acquired. Business processes may need to be completely rewritten.   For this reason that it can be harder for established enterprises to adopt marketing automation than bootstrapped businesses who only have to contend with the money issue.

Whilst the end outcome is almost certainly worth it, the pain and cost of implementing new businesses processes cannot be overlooked. There are parallels here with the companies that failed to adopt an effective online retail presence early enough. We have seen the demise of previously successful retail companies who have failed to adopt ecommerce as quickly or effectively as innovative retailers. The same fate could await those companies who lag behind their competitors in the adoption of marketing automation.

These companies may identify with the phrases “I don’t have time to invest in setting this up”, “I just have too many other priorities” or “a new investment is risky.”

Motivation based

Some companies simply fail to see the need for marketing automation. Prenksy (2001) coined the names Digital Natives to describe those who were born after 1980. Digital Natives grew up surrounded by digital media and are happy to use it in every context of their lives. These people were born digital. However, anyone over the age of 35 is labelled a Digital Immigrant. Whilst ironically digital immigrants have been around since the very beginning of the internet and the mobile phone, they were born in an era where most communication took place in a very personal way, or arrived on a piece of paper. It’s not surprising then if older middle and senior managers may not see the need for digital technologies. They are more likely to say: “we just don’t need it”; “low tech works for me”; “I prefer to deal with people face to face”.

Cultural and organisational

It’s not unusual to hear of a divide between sales and marketing.   You may well identify with the established enterprise where the Sales Director has the greater power. In these organisations the Marketing Department can be seen as the part of the business that provides leads and develops sales collateral. These are the types of organisation may have invested heavily in CRM systems, but not in marketing automation. They may not even see a difference between CRM and marketing automation.

Decision-making processes for this type of investment can be long and involve many people, with divergent ideas. Sales and Marketing Departments may have opposing views, whilst digital natives and digital immigrants see the world through very different eyes, and Finance need to see an evidenced return on investment. This is made all the more complicated in companies where all IT systems are owned by the IT department, regardless of who the main users are.

 Making the Case for Marketing Automation

With money, time and processes to be invested, it is clear that a case needs to be made for marketing automation, in order for non-adopters to be persuaded.

If you are the champion for marketing automation in your organisation these are the key actions you need to take to progress your case:

  1. Quantify the benefits of quick adoption
  2. Define the risks of late adoption
  3. Work out the steps
  4. Do the Math
  5. Build the business case
  6. Influence the key decision-makers

If you’re a marketing automation champion looking to get the buy-in of key decision makers, download the CommsBox Guide to making the case for marketing automation.  This guide expands on the six steps above, to give you an actionable business case for introducing marketing automation in your organisation.


Prensky, M. (2001) Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, Available at [accessed 30.01.2015]

Technology for Marketing and Advertising (2014), Available at http://tfmainsights.com/5-marketing-automation-benefits/ [accessed 30.01.2015]

Woodward, C.J., Ramasubbu, N., Tschang, F.T., Sambamurthy, V. (2013) Design Capital and Design Moves: The Logic of Digital Business Strategy, MIS Quarterly, June 1 2013

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Author's avatar

By Caroline Wilson

Caroline Wilson is Marketing Director for CommsBox, marketing automation software. As Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing at the University of Hertfordshire Caroline works with both undergraduates in the Hertfordshire Business School and with professionals taking Chartered Institute of Marketing qualifications. Her industry experience spans high technology companies, charities, membership organisations and the creative industries. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.

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AutomationData Driven Marketing

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