I have often wondered where the term ‘snake oil’ came from.  After recently researching it, I discovered that the expression predates the 19th century and originally referred to fraudulent health products or unproven medicine. In recent years it has come to refer to any product with a questionable or unverifiable quality or benefit. By extension of this term, a ‘snake oil' salesman is someone who knowingly sells fraudulent goods, or who is a fraud themselves.

Unfortunately, there are many of them in the marketing automation (MA) arena, and I am constantly amazed by the number of consultants in the space that profess to be experts in their field, when in fact they know very little. As a core component of the marketing technology stack and the fastest growing segment of the CRM space, it’s not surprising that there are so many emerging marketing automation consultants - but what qualifies someone as a genuine expert, as opposed to a snake oil consultant?

The 10,000 Hour Rule

In an excerpt from his book, Outliers, Malcom Gladwell talks of anyone becoming an expert within the 10,000 hour rule. His primary example stems from a list of the 75 richest people in history, 14 of whom are Americans born within nine years of each other in the mid-19th century.

So how and why were 14 out of the 75 richest people in history from the same country and of the same generation? In the 1860’s and 1870’s, America built its railways, Wall Street emerged and the country’s economy underwent enormous transformation. The time frame during which all of this transformation happened created a window of opportunity for those who were opportunist enough to seize it.

In the case of MA, I think that Malcom Gladwell’s rule can be reduced as low as 100 hours – and though there are now many ‘experts’, less than half of projects are successful. For experts read opportunists.

Experts or Opportunists?

Marketing automation is a popular area of discussion at the moment with digital transformation, digital disruption and customer experience very much in the business spotlight. But, the increasing demand for MA information is no excuse for copying material without permission. A frustrating and often illegal feat that is happening more and more often.

If They Don't Use it Themselves, Then Don’t Use Them

What is the most surprising is the number of marketing automation consultants that don’t actually run MA themselves. It is understandable that some digital agencies don’t, but as MA becomes an integral part of your technology stack, you need to work with a partner that really understands this space. I was at an investment bank this week and I was shocked to learn that the consultant in there deploying Pardot / Salesforce doesn’t even use Pardot themselves, but were providing ‘the strategic advice’ on its set up and roll out.

So, how do you avoid the snake oil consultants? Before you pick a partner to work with, download the BuiltWith or Ghostery Chrome Extension and it will tell you who is running or not running marketing automation on their own website. For example the screen shot shows the drop down BuiltWith icon and menu detailing that OCLC, a CleverTouch client, is running Pardot.

Short-cut the Consideration Phase

If you want to de-risk your implementation, make sure you work with someone that at least uses the technology themselves. If you’re in the UK then I’ll save you some time and suggest CRM Technologies, Tracepoint and, of course, CleverTouch as a starter for 3. Or if you are in Scotland, why not check out McRae & Co  – at least we run the platforms and know what we’re talking about!For marketing automation news and services, follow us on Twitter @CleverTouch.