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#MAFails: The Karate Kid as Your Marketing Automation Sensei

August 30, 2016 | Justin Gray | No Comments |

We’ve all heard the phrase “practice makes perfect.” Well, I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t.

Most people relate practice to repetition. Performing the same action over and over again to create confidence, comfort and generally prepare you to perform under pressure.

After all, pressure and the feeling of anxiety is what is most of us want to avoid. Strangely, pressure can either bring out the worst or the best in people. I fall into the latter bucket with one exception: I am really bad at light pressure.

I’d rather speak at a stadium of 10,000 people than a room of 10. I’ve always attributed this to the rush of adrenaline that occurs in big settings, unlocking something special within my psyche or at least it gave me such a rush I no longer noticed the nerves causing my brain to shiver. It hasn’t been until recently where I started to attribute this strange phenomenon to something else.

When we first came up with the concept for #MAFails I was excited to get the great stories from across the team about their learnings.

And more specifically, their biggest takeaways from failure. As I thought about this topic more and more, I also began to wonder how many other failures go unnoticed. Not in a scenario where a marketer was able to cover up their mistakes, but quite simply because there was no frame of reference.

When you practice something you should practice the hardest situations or against the most skilled opponents to learn the most. When you measure success and failure alone, let’s face it, the possibility for true growth diminishes. Your practice becomes less valuable.

We’ve helped over half of the Marketo user base implement and manage their digital marketing efforts through the use of marketing automation. Even within the large enterprise organizations there are, at most, only a couple of power users of the digital marketing stack.

And often times, the same practitioner is the brain trust across several (if not all) of these critical marketing pieces.

As a result, I’ve really started to question how much of our daily practice involves deliberate practice.

Deliberate Practice is a concept introduced by K. Anders Ericsson, a psychologist and scientific researcher out of Florida State University. I recently listened to James Altucher interview Mr. Ericsson (for what is in my opinion one of the greatest Podcasts out there – appropriately titled The James Altucher Show) and the topic was all about deliberate practice. It’s a concept that replaces repetition as the primary driver of value in practice, with quality.

To truly improve you have to challenge yourself daily and often that means getting a different point of view.

The karate kid didn’t teach himself karate! Those crane kicks don’t magically materialize from a bit of messing around in the garage. You need Mr. Miyagi challenging you to lay down a fresh coat of wax on his classic step side.

Like those household sessions in which Daniel San gruelingly completed task after task with methodical repetition, the best practice doesn’t always take the most straightforward or even readily apparent path.

The best practice is curated by an expert.

As the marketing world transitions further into a technology driven science, the biggest fail I’ve seen is a lack of respect for just how much of a transformation this is for marketers and how the path to expertise is not one completed in a matter of weeks or even months. Marketing is a profession and right now students are learning on the job. What should keep you up at night is that they’re learning while they juggle billions of dollars in software, customer relationships and ultimately the success of your business.

The modern day marketing role has obviously changed a great deal and we cannot glibly walk right past this massive overhaul. When it comes to marketing today vs. marketing a decade ago, we are literally talking about a difference as stark as night and day.

With such a skills transition agreed upon by really, everyone, how then can we send an employee to a class or tell them to take a test and then leave them to their own self-governance?

Moreover, how can we manage these individuals when no one else in the organization understands what they do or how they do it? There’s a reason most organizations continue to use marketing automation as an email tool, something they could do at a much more cost effective price point: they simply don’t challenge themselves.

Over and over again we’ve seen the fallout from this recipe for disaster. What are the results?

  • Huge spending concentrated on sales and marketing IT infrastructure and technology
  • Human capital resources that are unprepared and unsupported for new technologies
  • Siloed points of failure centering around a limited resource
  • Unrealistic expectations of returns and time to value

When you compound all of this with a climate where employees believe a year is a long time to work for the same company and this #MAFail can topple an entire marketing department and hamstring a company’s growth.

When a new company approaches us asking for the number one area they should invest in to ensure success, the answer is straightforward and simple. In fact, it’s the only recommendation I would guarantee regardless of variables – it works 100% of the time and anyone can do it.


It’s incredibly un-sexy yet establishing process governance and deploying a solid change management strategy is the one sure fire tactic to ensure success. After this is done, make sure your teams have solid mentors or partners in place that can challenge them and ensure that your process is continually improving. By utilizing deliberate practice you’ll ensure the team never stagnates.

Finally, setup training structures. Offer company paid training and certifications to ensure your team stays on the cutting edge of the MarTech landscape and that they become a master at their craft. Also, ensure that the team is educating the rest of the organization on what they’re doing, how they’re going about it and how everything works. Make sure they’re talking about both the good and the bad – as I hope this series has demonstrated, you often learn more from failure than you do from success.

Pain does exist in this dojo. Anyone that says otherwise is lying.

Things go wrong, campaigns miss the mark, our assumptions are disproved. When the proverbial stuff hits the fan, the pro with quality of practice beats quantity every time. Like that championship match against Cobra Kai, the fighter trained with deliberate practice can dig deep and find skills they didn’t even know they had, the skills honed by hours and hours of learning.

If you’re looking to marketing, as we all are in this modern landscape, to be the cross functional driver of revenue, you want a team in the seat that has practiced deliberately. They’ve anticipated the need to push themselves and they’re prepared for the worst situations thrown at them.

At crunch time surprises are never good, and trust me when it comes to an annual fiscal performance review it’s much better not to be on the receiving end of an unexpected crane kick to the chops.

Have your own #MAfail to share? Leave a comment or hit us up on Twitter using #MAfails

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