So you're thinking about implementing marketing automation?

Don't do it... yet.

Marketing automation (MA) software can add to your workload, alienate important prospects, and cause you to add hundreds of dollars to the swear jar.

Or... it can deliver real, positive ROI.

The difference is planning.

So don't buy into a marketing automation solution until you've created a plan for implementing it. I know that's sounds obvious—like "don't build a house without a blueprint." But it's true—and too often ignored.

At Surprise Highway, when we've helped companies implement MA solutions, we've noticed that clients can easily get carried away by all the benefits that good MA software offers.

The glowing sales copy makes it seem the road to marketing automation is as simple as this:

Buy MA software subscription > PROFIT

But, really, it's more like this:

Plan for MA software > Buy MA subscription > Integration work > PROFIT

This article will help you create that high-level plan you need to implement a marketing automation solution such as those of HubSpot, ExactTarget, Marketo, Eloqua, Pardot, and Infusionsoft without overflowing your swear jar.

Set expectations

In the old, pre-MA world, Marketing and Sales often had very distinct roles. MA, however, has blurred the line between the two divisions.

With MA in the picture, Marketing is no longer just maintaining the website, acquiring leads, and handing those leads off to Sales.

Instead, Marketing is nurturing leads, perhaps in a very thorough, long-term way, using MA software. As a result, some workload is moving from Sales to Marketing. That's potentially a big win for the company, but one that can be jeopardized if Sales and Marketing don't come to agreement on how to manage this new relationship.

So the first part of planning a successful MA implementation involves talking to Sales to learn how you can help.

Start small

MA software gives you a lot of very big levers to pull. It can be tempting to equate success with pulling all the levers and turning all the dials.

But trying to implement every feature of your MA software out of the gate is more likely to result in a setback than a big win. You will be much further ahead a year from now if you start small. To do that...

  • Choose a single, specific audience and build your first campaign around that audience.
  • Let your choice of audience drive your choice of lead magnet.

After you've chosen an audience and built a lead magnet, you can build your landing page and traffic drivers to match.

Think of your first campaign as an experiment—a way to test-drive your new MA software. What you learn from your first campaign will improve subsequent campaigns.


Bill Gates famously said: "The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency."

That's true of MA software as well. In other words, ask yourself, "What are we automating?"

Are you automating an ad-hoc content plan that just kind of happens on the fly? Or do you have more of a system for creating, distributing, and re-using content? If you don't, creating even a very simple system will cause your MA software to magnify inefficiency rather than magnifying efficiency.

Here's an example of a simple but effective system for content creation and reuse:

  1. Every month, you conduct a customer survey.
  2. You build a significant piece of content around what you learn from your customer survey.
  3. You distribute that content according to a lifecycle plan that includes email, blog post, social media promotion, and re-purposing as SlideShare decks, etc.
  4. You extend the lifecycle of that content with scheduled social media content, spin-off content, etc.

Of course, you can get more elaborate. But the point is to have a standard, repeatable system for your content. Then you can use your new MA software to amplify the effect of that system.

The leads are... strong

Your planning should also include being prepared for what happens after the leads start rolling in. This is, again, an important time to talk with Sales about how to work together to support the company's priorities.

Marketing automation helps manage new leads, providing continuous engagement as well as nurturing casual visitors into marketing leads, sales leads and, hopefully, paying customers.

If you have a sales team, chances are you don't need to tell them what to do with a fresh leads. They'll take them and run. They know whom to watch and whom to target.

If you don't have a dedicated sales team, it is absolutely critical that there be a clear and dependable process for the caretaking of your leads. A coordinated, knowledgeable staff can answer the following questions on a dime. Can yours?

  • Who is checking the inbox? How frequently?
  • Do they have templates to help them handle common questions or requests?
  • Can they identify a marketing lead who needs to get cozy with your content and products before pulling the trigger? (Giving them attention through email campaigns, social media, and retargeting ads will gently reel them in, but chasing them for a sale will probably backfire.)
  • Do they recognize when a prospect is a sales lead who is ready to move? (After several visits and a few views of your pricing and service pages, they're probably ready for a sales follow-up.)

If this is the first time you're considering these questions, you're probably not ready for marketing automation. You're just going to accelerate lost opportunity.

If the previous list of questions seemed like Marketing 101, however, chances are that your processes are dialed in. Marketing automation can take over much of the workload and bring a significant uptick in revenue.

Partner with an implementer

The process of automating your marketing begins with buying into an MA solution, but it certainly doesn't end there. Even with the best plan, it can be helpful to have a skilled partner available to help you through the numerous sticky points that are part of implementing.

The best time to choose an implementation partner is not two weeks after you've purchased MA software and things are starting to get stressful (and the swear jar is starting to fill up). At that point, you'll be tempted to go with the first company with a pulse and marketing automation on its resume.

If you make choosing an implementation partner part of your pre-implementation planning, you'll be able to...

  • Properly evaluate potential partners, which will lead to a better choice
  • Include your partner in your planning process, which will result in a smoother, more effective implementation
  • Avoid time-wasting and expensive mistakes in your implementation

Although your IT department might not be the ideal candidate for implementation partner, you'll certainly want to make sure it's on board with your choice.

Remember, it can be overwhelming

The final pattern we've noticed with our MA integration projects is that our phone rings right after what we call "the freak-out."

The freak-out happens when you believe that the road to marketing automation is "Buy MA software subscription > PROFIT."

But even if you know that there's more to it than that, it can still be a bit overwhelming to log in the first couple of times and see all those knobs and dials!

So... just be prepared. Integrating MA is a major undertaking that can produce significant ROI. Just remember that the investment isn't all in the monthly subscription to your MA software. If you invest some time in preparing your MA implementation, the return on that investment will be more substantial.

Get started

Here are some links to help you get started planning your MA implementation.

1. More articles on MarketingProfs that cover marketing automation

2. Top 5 resources for getting started with marketing automation

  1. The Definitive Guide to Marketing Automation (QuickSprout)
  2. The Definitive Guide to Marketing Automation (Marketo)
  3. Getting Started With Marketing Automation (ZIP file from HubSpot)
  4. The Path to Marketing Automation Success (pages 1-10 are a useful getting-started guide, the remainder is software-specific)
  5. 10 Steps to Pass Marketing Automation 101 (a great, quick intro; Mastering the Art of Marketing Automation delves into more detail)

3. Some marketing automation providers

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image of Jason Siffring

Jason Siffring was raised on a Nebraska farm and spent eleven years consulting Procter & Gamble, Loudcloud, and VMware before starting Surprise Highway in 2007.

Twitter: @siffring

LinkedIn: Jason Siffring