The Real Cost of a Bad (Marketing Automation) Decision

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Umbrella rainingBefore helping to found IQM (our marketing agency, which happens to use marketing automation software as a staple), I was involved in several marketing automation system implementations that had varying levels of success. In one particular deployment, I observed a bad decision spiral into a very costly mistake. Looking back, it was easy to see where the breakdown happened.

Let’s digress for a moment: The best way to mitigate the effect of a bad decision is to first acknowledge it. As a company, you want full disclosure. If you’re the one who made the bad decision, be straightforward and honest about what happened and then deal with it right away, with a logical, fact-based mindset rather than an emotional one. As a company or as a person, you can’t cover it up, you can’t evade it, and you can’t ignore it. It’s always a sensitive issue and nobody wants to look bad … or be the one blowing the whistle and pointing a finger at a co-worker. But the best damage control is fast damage control, so just do it, and hold off blaming anybody until the dust clears.

A cautionary tale about choosing marketing automation

In the specific example I want to discuss, a business was choosing marketing automation software. The first bad decision was thinking it was okay to make a decision without taking into account all stakeholders. Research was limited in scope; only one person had input in the process of the final recommendation. Here’s how it went down. All names have been changed to protect the innocent (and the guilty).

The HaveItYourWay (HIYW) company had a small marketing team. Toby, the vice president of marketing, was in charge of the traditional 4Ps: Product, price, promotion, and place. She had a staff of four to help, each in charge of one P. Robert was in charge of promotion, which meant he ran the outbound marketing programs, and was assuming increasing responsibility for the inbound too as HIYW did more and more online digital marketing.

Toby did what she thought was a pretty good job of looking at the various marketing automation systems on the market, and she did a smart, sharp negotiation to get the best price possible. However…

1)      The program was too complex for the primary user. Robert’s skill set was primarily in the creative area, and while he was comfortable with a rudimentary email marketing program, he wasn’t yet highly skilled with other technology. He was intimidated by the marketing automation platform. He tried to do a few things, but kept stumbling. He never read the Quick Start guide or watched the Getting Stated video. To be fair, the marketing automation vendor wasn’t very helpful or proactive about seeing how he was getting along. Robert began to complain about how hard the system was to use, and he continued to use the old email program.

Marketing automation software is meant to net you gains in efficiency and efficacy; if the program goes unused it becomes an expensive (virtual) paperweight. Consider the user when you purchase a system, and always make sure the software you choose has a good support system.

2)      Robert came to the table with a negative outlook. Since Robert wasn’t consulted on the technology, he felt like it had been imposed on him, and he was grumpy about it. He also felt like he hadn’t had time to prepare for the change or get up to speed on what it meant, and he was grumpy about that too. When implementing any change it is imperative to give people plenty of notice, and do a lot of communication around it. If you spring something on someone it may be hard for them to receive it with an open mind and positive attitude.

Sometimes things just don’t work. But when a stakeholder comes to the table with a negative attitude it is very difficult to determine if the change is just being met with resistance or utterly failing. Think of constant negativity like the boy who cried wolf. Managers are only human and they can’t tell if a negative person is just being negative and problem-oriented, or if there’s truly a problem that has created an impasse.

3)      Evan’s recommendation was rejected. Toby wanted to be able to tell the CEO that the new program was working well, and it wasn’t. Robert was adamant that the system was flawed. To resolve the impasse, Toby called in Evan, a consultant who had helped HIYW structure their marketing two years ago when the company began doing more digital marketing.

Evan evaluated the situation, talked to various stakeholders, and suggested a switch to a less complicated system. Due to the now-intense pressure of the situation, Toby became even more entrenched in her decision; she felt she could not afford the career risk of being seen as wrong. She decided to demand that Robert spend more time getting the new system operational, and she implemented an aggressive schedule of new features adoption. She hired an assistant for Robert who was to get up to speed on the technology and take over part of the operation of it. (Robert, for his part, took up boxing, meditation, and Scotch to get through this.)

4)      The symptoms were addressed, not the root cause. If you find yourself throwing more money or more people at a problem, this may be an indication that you should take a look at the decision that led to the problem. Continuing to work to mitigate the effects (rather than deal with the core problem) can be a long, painful death when it comes to bad ideas.

The fallout of this happened over two or three months. Instead of smoothly deploying a program with tangible ROI for the employee, the software, and the cost of deploying the program itself – three-plus months of cost – generated no result. In addition, management time was lost to deal with the fallout of the bad recommendation… and there was an opportunity cost as marketing took its eye off the ball, and lead generation suffered.

So what were the costs of our bad example? By my estimate, the total bill for this decision was at least to $50,000. If this situation had been fixed within the first month, the resulting cost would have been less than $3,000.

Bottom line: Entrenching in a bad decision costs a lot – 10 to 20 times more – than facing it and quickly correcting it through open conversation.

The moral of the story? If you’re the buyer, get input from all stakeholders, and don’t spring surprises. If you’re the one who will be the user, always come to the table with a positive attitude, an open mind, and be clear about what you need to do your job. Be willing to learn new things. Everyone makes mistakes, everyone makes bad decisions. Success comes from acknowledging them, and responding quickly and decisively.

Nick Bideshi is Co-Founder of Industrial Quality Management, a company that helps B2B clients with revenue growth and profitability.  In addition, Nick is a passionate business consultant, entrepreneur, and business coach, and loves to build responsible leadership in SMBs.

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