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From the Trenches

Can Software Build Your Marketing Plan?

Mike Sweeney | February 25, 2010

I love software. I use software as a consumer. I use software as a businessperson. I use relatively simple software for simple needs – Outlook for email, Salesforce for CRM, QuickBooks for accounting, WordPress and others for publishing and content management, and so on and so forth. I also make part of my living from advising and providing services to software companies, and those services often include software recommendations.

Great software is irreplaceable. Most software is easily replicated, but nonetheless irreplaceable. As a matter of fact, some types of software are so irreplaceable that they have even made certain types of people…well, replaceable.

Marketing software comes in a lot of flavors – CMS, CRM, Analytics, Marketing Automation, PPC Management, Email Marketing – and can help you accomplish many of your marketing goals.

Here’s what it can’t do. It can’t build your marketing plan. It can’t develop your core message. It can’t replace leadership. It can’t generate creative ideas. Software is just a tool, not a marketing strategy.

Do Businesses Actually Think Software Can Solve all Marketing Problems?

Yes, some do. The blame for this lies with both the software providers and the business decision-makers.

I met with well-respected software executive a few weeks back to discuss some upcoming projects. He makes and sells B2B software, and therefore needs to market his B2B software. We discussed how we work with software companies, tossed around ideas about what is working from a lead generation and nurturing standpoint, and made some plans to address some of his company’s immediate needs. Towards the end of the conversation, he asked a seemingly innocent question:

“What about using HubSpot? Seems like a pretty sophisticated, comprehensive solution. What are your thoughts?”

My problem wasn’t the question. It wasn’t the mention of HubSpot, or software in general. It was the implication that this type of software could really represent a “plug and play” marketing solution. Marketing strategy, design, tactics and tracking in a box. Fill out a few forms, and…BAM, you just built a world-class marketing program.

(Disclaimer: This post is not a rant about HubSpot. I don’t know a single person that works for the company. I’ve never even seen their products, never hired them for their services. I am familiar with the model they are pursuing because they’ve been pretty transparent about it (kudos to them) and familiar with the company because they’ve been very smart about marketing their wares (kudos again). Hell, I even invested in a company that was designed to deliver on the same promise HubSpot wants to deliver on.)

Anyway, I answered the question in the most diplomatic way I could think of, and we moved on to other topics of discussion. That being said, the brief conversation clearly stuck with me and inspired this post.

So What’s the Real Problem You Are Getting At?

The real problem is two-fold.

First, many software companies are being deceptive. Deceptive with their messaging. Deceptive with their sales tactics. Even deceptive with how they represent the people they employ.

Second, while many of these software companies profess to “make your business stand out”, in the end they are contributing to the “Me Too Marketing” that results in every company looking like a mirror image of the next one. Sure, they put a nice messaging spin around it. I’ve seen Find/Get/Keep. I’ve seen Find/Convert/Close. And one more: Turn Searches into Sales. Is that all that marketing is about? Is it that simple?

Let’s dive into the deception topic quickly by way of example. One particular company raised a boatload of money a few years back and used it to build what amounts to an automated pay-per-click search engine marketing platform. They also used the money to hire “Internet Marketing Consultants” in bulk, in every major city, and now in secondary markets as well. Here’s the problem. These “Internet Marketing Consultants” are media salespeople. The only consulting they do is helping their small business clients figure out whether to spend 5k or 10k per month on…you guessed it, their pay-per-click platform. Need I say more? Is that what a company really wants out of their “Internet Marketing Consultant”?

And now, let’s get into the “Me Too” issue. I love processes. I love systems. I love software (really, I do). If everyone follows the same “rules of the game” put forth by the same 2-3 software companies, social media superheros, or agencies, then we’re just building factories. Factories that find, get and keep. Factories that listen, engage, connect. Factories that crank out the same website, PPC campaign, email template or landing pages as the next guy.

It’s a beautiful thing that so many entrepreneurs (and accompanying businesses) have been created over the last 10-15 years. It would be awfully sad for those same entrepreneurs – after exhausting the requisite blood, sweat and tears – to look, feel and operate just like the next guy. That will make for a lot of followers, and very few leaders.

My Advice to Businesses

Strive to be different. Sure, go ahead and look at the 800 pound gorilla, then decide to do something different.

Recognize that no piece of software can replace strategy.

Recognize that no piece of software can replace a well thought out plan.

Recognize that no piece of software can replace talented people.

If marketing software continues to encroach upon the “human” facets of marketing, will all marketers just become software consultants who know how to operate the latest and greatest on-demand, dashboard-based, WYSIWYG, web-based solution?

If so, I’ll certainly take myself out of the game. Maybe I’ll just write blog posts.

Oh wait. That won’t work. Just read about a new software company that reads your mind, writes and formats your blog posts, distributes them, reads and responds to comments, and even compiles all the good ones into an e-book. Sigh.

Related Resources

About Mike Sweeney:

As Right Source’s co-founder and CEO, Mike Sweeney creates, plans, and implements our vision, mission, culture, and strategic direction as well as serving as an advisor to our clients. Mike received a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a major in marketing from the University of Notre Dame and has more than 20 years of experience in B2B marketing strategy, including digital, content, and marketing technology. You can find Mike on LinkedIn.