Going Further With Marketing Automation

by Carlos Hidalgo


Last week, an article by Mac McConnell of BlueBird Strategies posed an intriguing question – "You've Got Marketing Automation. Now What?" This question is often asked by marketing practitioners who buy into the idea of automation, yet do so without having a clear plan or strategy on how to make the most of their technology investment.

The article goes on to detail three "critical areas" that companies should address to speed their time to value: 1) Sources of fresh inquiries; 2) Good content to offer leads; 3) A well thought out lead scoring model. While on the surface these three areas are certainly important, I'm not sure they go deep enough. They are built on a faulty premise we've seen many of our clients buy into – one that will not ensure a solid ROI on an automation investment. Let me explain.

Commenting on the three critical areas outlined, Mr. McConnell states the following:

"If used properly, marketing automation becomes the backbone on which good process and alignment are built."

Additionally, he states:

"If organizations develop a plan for meeting these needs, they will see a faster return on their investment and the process and alignment will fall into place.">

I'll respond to both of these statements. First, making technology the backbone of process and alignment is what many companies do today. And many of them are falling short of expected results. Consider the following:

  • In his Propelling Brands Blog, Adam Needles stated, “Less than 25% of organizations that have implemented a [marketing automation platform] fully currently utilize its potential.”
  • A 2010 Frost & Sullivan and Bulldog Solutions study showed that 44% of marketing automation owners are not achieving their full value due to lack of process.
  • Sirius Decisions, in the release of their 2010 study Calculating the ROI of Marketing Automation Platforms, compares organizations that have automation but no process to organizations that own automation with “average” process. Compared to companies with automation alone, companies that have automation and process achieve… 
    • A 366% increase in sales accepted leads
    • A 416% increase in closed deals
    • An average of $570,000 more if revenue from 2,000 initial inquiries

This research and more indicates that process, not technology, is the surest way to alignment. The fact is that automation is simply going to do what it says it will do…automate. If there is no process in place, the automation will most likely automate chaos. Conversely, if there is sound process in place, automation will serve to streamline that process. Development of the process is THE first step in the automation journey. It’s process that will speed time to value. In other words, process, not technology, is the backbone on which good automation and alignment are built.

Secondly, despite what many automation “newbies” hope for, process will not just “fall into place.” Expecting that process and alignment will just happen as a result of automation implementation is like putting eggs, milk, flour and sugar into a bowl and expecting a cake to come out. Yes, inquiries, content and scoring are all important components. But they are only 3 of a larger set of components that make up the lead management process. It is in planning and implementing this process properly that alignment also becomes one of the outcomes.

A few things should be understood as you plan your process so you can get the most from your marketing automation solution:

  • Process planning is not a quick fix. The development of process takes time and collaboration between marketing, sales and any other team that is involved in the demand generation practice of your company. So be patient.
  • Process is more than just lead scoring and lead nurturing. Lead scoring and nurturing are certainly important parts of the lead management process, but to focus solely on these areas will only give you a piece of what you need to be successful.
  • If possible, resist the urge to develop your process within the constraints of a particular automation tool. Your process should be based on how marketing and sales work together, not on the functionality of a software platform.

The first step in developing the proper process is to determine the current state of process affairs. This should be accomplished by conducting an audit of your current processes. If at all possible, conduct the assessment of your current state prior to the purchase of automation. The results of the audit will help you determine your organization’s readiness for automation. If you already have automation, you should still conduct a process audit. The results will guide you in how to maximize the tool.

Once the gaps are identified, the development of the Lead Management Framework can begin.


The Framework should be developed in a collaborative approach (marketing, sales, IT, etc.). Together, develop and document the rules, content and procedures for each component. Doing so will help to assure that you have a solid process foundation, i.e. backbone on which your automation can operate.

There’s no argument that automation is a robust tool that can streamline the work of the marketer. However, it shouldn’t be viewed as the anchor by which a marketing organization will achieve success. Automation, as with most technology, is an enabler. It can only enable what is there. Adopting automation and expecting things to fall into place is not a strategy, it’s a wish…one that will not come true.


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