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5 Things to Know Before Buying Marketing Automation

by Carlos Hidalgo  |  
October 1, 2010

I had the good fortune of spending most of my childhood in a rural area. One day, when I was 13, my dad asked me to get on our old Farmall red tractor, drive down to the barn and get a few bales of hay. My father gave me a crash course in how to start it, shift gears and steer. And then I was off---feeling like I was king of the world. 

But I neared the barn, I suddenly realized I didn’t know how to stop.  The barn kept getting closer, and I kept getting  more concerned.  Desperately, I pressed the brake as hard as I could!  The tractor was still in gear. It lurched and choked then crashed into the side of the barn as it stopped.  I went from king to court jester in just minutes.

Rather than rely on a crash course and jump into action, I should have been more prepared. That would have prevented my crash. Likewise,  many companies leap into marketing automation without being completely ready.

If you are thinking of automating your marketing, here are 5 thing to know before buying marketing automation.  If you have already purchased it, don’t worry, it’s not too late. These 5 tips can help you too.

1.  Technology alone is not the answer.

Many companies have made or are looking to make the major investment into marketing automation because they believe that, once they get it implemented, their marketing issues and challenges will be solved. Nothing could be further from the truth, yet still many companies are buying into the “technology as savior” myth.  We all watched this same dynamic unfold in the 90s during the early stages of the CRM market.  Sales management believed that CRM would improve the performance of their sales teams.  What happened, however, was that sales teams failed to adopt the technology. They became frustrated, and instead of improvement, many sales teams experience a decline in their performance.

Though marketing automation can be a valuable asset to a marketing organization, the technology alone will not provide a cure-all to an organization’s ills.  Before making the purchase, make sure you have the right foundation in place for automation to be a success.

2. It’s so easy a caveman could do it.

While this may be true for some insurance companies, it’s one of many myths that several of the marketing automation vendors are claiming.  Promises of 5-day installations and even giving the software away as a way to show “ease of use” are all gimmicks that have arisen as of late.   If you are looking to simply use marketing automation as a place to house your database and fire off some emails, then I would agree that the “5-day, easy-to-install” message would apply.  However, automation is used for much more than just email.  Marketing automation helps to streamline data segmentation, dynamic content delivery, metrics, etc.  Rushing to set up those processes with a new software platform can actually be reckless.  There is a difference between doing it right and doing it right now.  Marketing automation done right will take time.  This is evidenced by the 75% of marketing automation owners who claim they are still not getting the full value from it.

3.  Process is key.

Along with the idea that the technology alone is not the answer, companies that have taken the time to develop a defined lead management process often get the most value from their automation investment.

Aberdeen concluded that process is key when it said, “Nothing is more important than process when it comes to building a best-in-class lead management engine.”  Notice Aberdeen did not state technology, but process.  Companies that adopt automation with no forethought to process will in all likelihood automate chaos.  To reverse this effect and get the most out of an automation investment, companies should develop a Lead Management Framework consisting of the following processes:

  • Data

  • Lead Planning

  • Lead Routing

  • Lead Qualification (includes Lead Scoring)

  • Lead Nurturing

  • Metrics

Once this framework is defined among marketing, sales and other key groups, the implementation of automation will be the next logical step.

4.  You need people.

Any kind of new technology requires people to run it.  Whether it’s your own internal team, or an outsourced team, you’ll need to have someone (or more than one person) responsible for the day-to-day management of the tool. I’m not just talking about a junior marketing coordinator, or simply training your interns on the speeds and feeds of the software.  To have marketing automation work, you need the right people, people who are process minded, who understand sales’ importance, and who measure effectiveness.  Without them, you won’t get the desired return from your automation investment.

5.  It’s all about the customer.

Often times when discussions turn to why marketing automation makes sense, the reasons are focused internally  . . . making marketing more efficient, doing more with less, automating the every day tasks.  While these certainly are all benefits that can be derived with automation, it should be noted that the drive behind marketing automation should be focused outwardly... to improve communications with your prospects and customers.  Specifically, the goal of automation should be to have an ongoing 1-1 dialogue with your buyers, allowing you to develop and grow a business relationship.  Automation allows you to deliver the right content at the right time, which can often be the difference between developing a relationship and losing a potential customer.  If automation isn’t being used to grow the customer base, then what’s the point?

Acquiring marketing automation without being prepared can have a profound negative effect for your organization.   However, if you take the time to prepare yourself and your company, then maybe you can avoid crashing the tractor into the barn.

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Carlos is founder and CEO of VisumCx, a Customer Experience Strategy Firm. He has over 20 years of experience working with B2B organizations in delivering multi-channel customer experiences. Carlos is widely recognized for his expertise and as an international speaker on how organizations need to transform to meet the needs of their customers and buyers. He is the author of Driving Demand, has been named one of the 50 Most Influential People in Sales Lead Management for the last six years, and is recognized by Onalytica as the Most Influential Person in B2B North America in 2015.

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  • by Tom Stockwell Fri Oct 1, 2010 via blog

    Hi Carlos, excellent article! I like your outline and thesis but I'd also like to offer some perspective. There are cases where just by implementing a marketing automation tool (MAT) you can benefit from substantial cost savings particularly if your organization is using snail-mail as a primary marketing communication media. You can implement a very sophisticated MAT and just use it to send a digital asset instead of print and improve your ROI. The company I work for hasn't even scratched the surface in gaining the full value from our MAT and yet it has already been a great and cost saving investment.

    I agree that you should have a lead management strategy and in smaller organizations gaining consensus on that might be possible but in a larger organization if you wait for consensus at the level you propose you may not get out of the gate for years, there are just too many stakeholders who are suspect of the technology. I would argue that you should gain consensus on as much of the process as you can and launch, because METRICS will validate a Process faster then debate and conjecture.

    I agree that the customer is central in this equation but fundamentally I don't think marketing automation is really a 1-1 dialogue, if you really want dialogue then social media is the forum. The very best you can ask for is that your MAT increases engagement across your customer touch points effectively leveraging your digital assets, widens the lead pipeline and helps you accurately identify Marketing Qualified Leads. From there, strong metrics allow you to evaluate and optimize on a path toward continuous improvement.

    Finally I'd say don't feel like you need to eat the elephant in one bit. You can succeed one medium size bite at a time.

  • by Chris Keller Fri Oct 1, 2010 via blog


    I couldn't agree more. After having implemented a marketing automation system, I learned your lessons rather quickly.

    You stated that marketers should figure out their processes before implementing automation. I agree and suggest that a marketing organization implement everything manually before they implement automation. For example, Salesforce provides lead scoring. One can also set up lead qualification processes, and use auto response emails. Additionally, using ExactTarget or another email tool, one can create auto email campaigns triggered based on time frames.

    The manual process required to do the above is burdensome, but it gives you evidence to change processes and evidence to substantiate your investment to executive management who must provide you solid support with the understanding that there will be bumps in the road to implement and report.

  • by Mike Volpe - HubSpot Thu Oct 7, 2010 via blog

    Great article.

    I'd add a 6th thing to know: "Marketing Automation will not generate more leads."

    There is usually no functionality in most major marketing automation systems that will help you attract more people to your website and capture more leads. When an estimated 20-30% of your database expires each year because of people moving jobs and changing contact info, you need to be growing your database at 20% or more per year just to maintain pace. If all you do is install marketing automation, you'll slowly be emailing a lower and lower quality database over time, leading to worse and worse results.

    The fundamental problem most companies have is not getting enough fresh leads at the top of their funnel, and marketing automation does not solve that. Companies should find a comprehensive marketing software system that includes things like blogging, SEO, social media and other tools to help them build a magnet to attract more fresh leads to their company in addition to marketing automation or lead management tools.

  • by Simon Shah Fri Nov 19, 2010 via blog

    I think your bullet item no. 5 could also be padded out and abstracted to talk about Content. Without relevant content with which you can engage constructively in dialogue with your prospective audience, the value of marketing automation is minimal. Its not something that marketing automation vendors talk about. Marketing automation is the engine but every engine needs fuel

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