Remember the old infomercial with the tagline “Set it and forget it?” You get bonus points if you can recall what the product was or who invented it! It was a rotisserie cooker. The whole spiel was that you could set the timer and forget about your turkey until it was a nice golden brown. What if you could “set it and forget it” when it came to your engagement with consumers? It’d be a Christmas miracle! Those of us in marketing would be ecstatic. Well, we hate to burst your bubble and say we’re not quite there yet. But that isn’t stopping some savvy communicators from leveraging the next best thing: marketing automation, or MA for short.

In today’s digital world, there’s some truth to the notion of “set it and forget it” when it comes to marketing automation. We’re not saying that establishing a robust MA program won’t take work. Sure, it will. Just like prepping a turkey takes work. But what we are saying is that with the right tools and rock-solid planning, you can build a well-oiled marketing automation machine that will do a lot of the heavy lifting for you.

Marketing automation defined

So, what is marketing automation? While it seems to be the buzzword-of-the-day, it certainly isn’t a new concept. In fact, marketers first coined it as far back as 1980. Reports show it gained traction in the late 90s and peaked in 2004. And although its popularity has waned a bit in recent years, it seems to be getting its second wind.

At its core, MA is the software, or platform, that companies use to organize, send and analyze marketing-related activities. This software serves two primary purposes. The first is to automate common, everyday activities so companies can streamline workflows and make better use of their resources. The second, and more important, is to gently move people from a point of indecision to one of decision. In other words, move them through the sales funnel. Often, the first touch point a person has with a business isn’t his or her last. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. This first interaction is often the trigger that drops the person into the funnel. And this is where the marketing automation engine picks up steam.

In a nutshell, marketing automation provides a modern, insights-based approach to consumer outreach. And it doesn’t matter if you work in the B2B or B2C sector. It can help you improve relationships in both. It can also help you see what’s working or not working within specific campaigns. In addition, marketing automation enables:

  • Lead generation and segmentation
  • Lead nurturing and scoring
  • Cross-selling and up-selling opportunities
  • Customer retention

Essential ingredients of marketing automation

For any marketing automation program to work, you must have some essential ingredients. First, you need the MA software itself. Then, you need a centralized customer database from which you can extract info. And don’t forget you need someone who can analyze the raw data.

In addition to these basic elements, you need a marketing strategy that clearly defines the customer journey and desired touch points. Remember that the purpose of MA is to generate, nurture and convert leads into customers. So, what’s your goal at each touch point? To have people take a specific action that pushes them further down your funnel. Because if they don’t take the desired action, they’ll continue down the path until they reach the next touch point, where you’ll have another opportunity to convert them. This, of course, takes more time and money, so the sooner you can convert, the better.

Other important elements of marketing automation

Before you can develop the marketing strategy, you have other important work to do. You’ll first want to determine what your customers value. You’ll need to find out what features or benefits are most important to them. And how they wish to receive information about your product or service. This all starts with research. Over the years, we’ve helped many clients do research that helps them get into the minds of their customers.

Once research is complete, you’ll want to develop key messages that help inform not just the strategy itself, but also the customer journeys maps and associated workflows. These key messages also help set the stage for your employees. This is important because they’re the ones who will interact with your customers. You may have a sales person who meets face-to-face with a customer. Or you might have a live chat agent who engages with someone online. You may also have a staff member who answers questions via phone. Regardless of the type of interaction, the message should always be the same.

When combined and executed well, these ingredients can make for a great customer experience! We talked a lot about this recently in our Building a better customer experience and Great training, internal comms drive a memorable CX blogposts.

Marketing automation myths

There are a lot of myths out there that do nothing more than scare people into thinking that marketing automation is more complicated than it really is. Or worse, that it’s not relevant. We said it takes work. That’s a fact. But it shouldn’t be any harder than any other strategy you’re using now or plan to use in the future. The difference is that once your MA program is up-and-running, it should make for a lighter load for you and your team. And it should make proving ROI easier.

Myth #1: A customer relationship management (CRM) database is the same as a MA program. You don’t need both.

Myth #2: MA is just email marketing on steroids. You can accomplish the same thing by sticking with traditional eblasts.

Myth #3: MA just leads to more “spam” in our customers’ inboxes. Alienating our customers in this way can’t possibly be good for business.

Myth #4: MA is too expensive. It’s not worth the investment, both in time and money.

Marketing automation realities

Who hasn’t heard all the misconceptions noted above? Heck, there’s probably 10 others we could list as well. So, what’s the reality? When used correctly, marketing automation can deliver timely, relevant content that builds relationships and moves people to action. Now, there’s a lot to this statement. Let’s break it down and explain how MA fits into each step and dispel some of the myths noted above.

First, there’s timeliness.

Marketing automation allow you to set triggers for specific actions. One trigger might be set to display a pop-up note when they visit your site. Another could be set for when someone fills out a form on the site. A third might be for when a salesperson logs a phone conversation. And a fourth for when someone purchases an item. You get the idea. Each “event” triggers an automated message that gets delivered in a timely manner.

An integrated MA platform ties every action (or inaction) together to give you a more complete picture of what’s going on with your marketing efforts. So, it gives you insights into more than just eblast delivery stats, open rates and contact management. You know, all the basic things traditional CRM databases offer. Instead MA tracks behaviors, and allows you to score the quality of leads, customize segments and identify cross-selling opportunities, among other things.

Next up is relevancy.

Marketing automation uses real-time data to deliver personalized messages that are more likely to resonate with the person on the other end. A message that hits the mark at precisely the right time can build trust, which will eventually lead to deeper, more meaningful relationships with customers.

This is quite different than traditional email marketing. Most email marketing is one-way and generic. This “mass blast” method casts a wide net, yet often falls on deaf ears. That’s because it’s not relevant to most of the people who receive it. It also provides little insight on the actions being taken. And it eliminates the chance to engage in dialogue with your customers. We’d argue that this “one-size-fits-all” approach is more apt to alienate your customer base than anything you might generate as part of a MA program.

Then there’s conversion.

Conversion is important, given that HubSpot found that nearly three-fourths of marketers say converting leads is their top priority. Remember the goal is to move people toward a desired action. And to get them there as quick as possible. Yet, less than a fourth of people are ready to make a decision the first time they interact with you. You must nurture them as they learn more about your product or service and ultimately reach a decision point. This can take hours, days, weeks or even months. Sometimes even years.

Marketing automation allows you to slowly “drip” relevant content that nudges them toward the desired action. Keep in mind that conversions can vary widely, depending on the industry. For one company, it might be a product purchase. For another organization, it might be an event registration. A third business might want you to complete a form for a free download. These timely, relevant messages keep your name in front of people in a non-threatening way, allowing them to decide if and when they want to engage with you. Sometimes, it’s more important to meet them where they are with content they want to read than it is to push your products or services.

One final thought on cost.

Many marketers might find themselves saying “How can we possible afford to implement a full-scale marketing automation program?” We’d challenge that by saying “How can you afford not to?” This is an important question given the expectations of consumers today.

The game has changed, folks. People no longer sit idly by waiting for a traveling salesman to knock on their door, or a pamphlet to show up in their mailbox. They’re actively seeking information in mass quantities online, and often seamlessly transition from one mobile device to another. The expectation that you’ll give them exactly what they want, when they want it, is real. And the only way to wrap your arms around this is to become a master at managing programs like the one we’ve discussed in this article.

Through our research, we’ve found that many big players in the marketing automation world offer subscription-based services. Why does this matter? Because marketers often have large, flexible operating budgets that allow them to take advantage of key opportunities throughout the year. This helps reduce the need for huge capital expenditures that have often kept marketing departments from being able to leverage programs such as marketing automation in the past. Want to know who the leaders are in MA? Check out this G2 Crowd article for some real-time, unbiased user reviews.


While marketing automation isn’t a panacea, it can certainly give a boost to businesses who take the time to learn how to best maximize the tools. Those who have used MA know its inherent power. And those who have experienced it on the consumer side probably understand the value it brings to the table as well. Not surprisingly, 2016 research by Gartner shows marketing technology such as this now represents a third of the average marketing budget. And it’s higher than the average advertising spend for companies. The takeaway: Marketing automation isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. If anything, we expect it to grow in popularity.

We’d love to hear how you’re using marketing automation to build relationships with your customers. We recognize we’ve scratched only the surface of this topic in this article. If you who want to delve deeper into this topic, check out this great in-depth guide to marketing automation. It’s from a few years ago, but has some interesting insights! We also loved the helpful information and resources in this post from New York Times best selling author Neil Patel.

If you’d like help with developing a strategy, including research and key messaging, contact us today. We’re happy to help!