You’ve Got Marketing Automation. Now What?

by Mac McConnell

Managing Partner and Founder,
BlueBird Strategies

A lot has been written about marketing automation applications being just a technology tool. Much of this discussion wraps around the need for good process and alignment between sales and marketing in order to make the most of the investment. However, until the system is turned on, these conversations are theoretical and it is difficult for decisions to be made. If used properly, marketing automation becomes the backbone on which good process and alignment are built.

Having advised on and project managed many marketing automation implementations, BlueBird Strategies has identified three critical areas where companies become stuck – slowing the time to value of their new application.

  1. Sources of fresh inquiries
  2. Good content to offer leads
  3. A well thought out lead scoring model

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. The time to begin working on these items is once the signatures are on the contract, if not before. Below is a practical, and tactical, road map to avoiding frustrating choke points.

Feeding the Beast: Continually Add New Names to Your Lead Engine
Without a marketing automation system, tracking the success of a specific lead source (i.e. – tradeshow, content syndication, list rental) is more about gut instinct than hard evidence. This one piece, how to make smarter marketing investments, is driving a lot of new investments in this technology – especially for companies that can sync to a cloud based CRM system and gain 360 degree reporting.

You have bought marketing automation, now what? Throw out your comfortable marketing tactics and go back to the drawing board. Revisit tactics that may have been discounted because they were perceived to have a low return on investment. A perfect example is tradeshows. A BlueBird client that sells consulting services had given up on tradeshows, especially the mega-tradeshows where sponsorship opportunities can begin at $20k. With an average sale price of $200k per consulting engagement, it would not take long to recoup any investment, but since they did not have good visibility into each tactic they chose to go the low cost route. With a marketing automation platform in place, they took a three prong approach to demand generation, making equal investments in list rental, content syndication, and one tradeshow. After six months of lead nurturing, qualification, and sales activity, the company had 2.3x more pipeline coming from the tradeshow leads than other sources.

Now that you have your new application, cast a wide net and revitalize tactics that have fallen out of favor. It may take six months, maybe even a year depending on buying cycle length, to understand the results but at the end you will have your new demand generation plan pre-written for you.

A Well-Balanced Diet: Useful Content Offers a 5x Return
The biggest choke point in modern marketing is creating relevant content. Take your organization through a content audit and identify whether each piece serves you or your buyer. The easy money is on the majority of content being about your organization and its products and/or services. Content such as website copy, data sheets, and ebooks are often about getting the corporate message out. Forgotten is why would a buyer want to consume the message. The answer is simple, because it makes them look good to their boss and hopefully increases pay. “Look at me” corporate content does not help the buyer meet his or her goals.

To prove this point look at how these three pieces of content performed for a commercial real estate information provider. Offer 1 was a research report that local agents could use to serve their clients better. The other two were “look at me” content. The results are dramatic. The actionable content provided a 5x return to the client.

Offer 1 - Local market analysis
Offer 2 - Product brochure
Offer 3 - Customer success stories
Emails delivered
Click throughs
Total registrants
Conversion rate

You have bought marketing automation, now what? Start working on fresh content that actually helps your buyer meet their goals, not yours. Marketing automation opens up a whole new spectrum of content. No longer does every piece need to be 20 pages or an hour long. In fact, lead nurture programs are well served by shorter, more easily consumed pieces. Items such as check lists, executive briefs, industry overviews, even glossaries, are heavily consumed by potential buyers as they work their way through the buying cycle.

Leave a Tip: Lead Scoring is the Secret Sauce
Not using the lead scoring feature of your new marketing automation system means you have over paid for an email marketing service. A properly designed lead scoring model allows you to identify important attributes of a lead, ranging from demographic criteria to key qualification criteria for a product or service, mixed with behavioral signals that can identify buying behavior. When done correctly, a lead score tells a story of where a lead is in the buying cycle. Building lead levels (or lead bands) allows programs and messages to be targeted at specific segments of the lead generation funnel. For example, if there is a buildup of too many level 3 leads, a “Buddha-shaped” funnel will develop, constricting the flow of leads to the sales force. If you can identify where leads are getting stuck in the development process, then specific actions can be taken to rectify the problem.


You have bought marketing automation, now what? Begin the process of defining how a lead scoring model should work for your organization. Bring sales and marketing together to identify the target market and key buying signals. From here, look at how leads should progress for your organization and begin setting some values for different criteria and behavior. Don’t be fooled, this will take some time and needs to be an exercise in consensus. Defining how leads will be scored is an all-company event that will bring with it the politics and pitfalls that slow many new initiatives. This is why it is critical to start early.

While the ink is still drying on your new contract, it is important to shift gears and consider what you are going to do to make the investment in marketing automation successful. Get a jump start on the process by considering these three items. Experience has identified them as critical choke points that cause trouble for new users of marketing automation, but starting early will provide the time to put in place a new demand generation plan with fresh content and a scoring model that will identify the best leads.



Great article, Mac. I think you really touch on something marketers that run automation programs often overlook — “You have bought marketing automation, now what?”. Too often, organizations running automation programs fail to recognize the possibilities past simply implementing.

I totally agree that marketing automation opens up avenues marketers may otherwise overlook due to ROI and resource restrictions. From a channel marketing perspective, we see that a lot of IT resellers and solution providers don’t even have a marketing resource internally. Thus, they have no one to manage the automation program. The challenge to overcome here is to create a 100 percent, fully automated program that the resellers literally have to do nothing except gather leads.

And you’re right. Content is always the biggest challenge. Even though we have a content syndication platform that allows channel vendors to syndicate content to all their partner websites, we still see our clients stubble with “look at me” content. The problem is only exacerbated when the content is syndicated because it is ABOUT a vendor THROUGH a partner. Instead, the content should be BY the vendor AND the partner FOR the end customer.

Comment by Josh Gibbs

Josh, I am glad you enjoyed the article. I have a great appreciation for the additional challenges that a channel scenario brings. It is layer of complexity that very very few companies have mastered.

I would love to see a post from you on how vendors can empower their partners with lead gen programs.


Comment by Mac McConnell

Mac – I totally agree with you comment about the importance of creating compelling content that helps your buyer. Too often companies fall into trap of thinking a case study or product brochure will drive conversion or action.

One content choice that you did not mention is webinars. We have found these are a great way to educate as it allows the audience to give instant feedback or questions. Often times you can find industry thought leaders that will appear on a variety of topic. Short videos (less than 5 minutes) can also be effective as many folks don’t have time/energy to read large volume of copy.

Comment by Jason Kort

Jason, thanks for your comments. Agree completely on webinars. I find these work best as a demand generation or lead capture activity. The short video one is interesting. A year ago video did not perform well but that has been changing. Not sure of the reason, but as you point out, time may be the critical factor.


Comment by Mac McConnell

Thanks for this article Mac. I was and still partially am the intuition based marketer, but I’m making a real effort to track my marketing. This article just reaffirms what I need to do.

Thanks Mac.

Comment by Brandon Yanofsky

Thanks for elaborating on your three points, Mac. I enjoyed the read. Valuable content is the hingepoint to marketing automation. Building a strategy on top of poor content or poor content strategy undermines the power of marketing automation. I elaborate more on a post at our AscendWorks Blog here:

Thanks, Mac.

Comment by Don Dalrymple

With some great experience, Mac hits the nail on the head. I would like to point out his emphasis that these efforts take months from inception to routine execution; one of the important reasons to align sales with marketing in the first place is to drive home this fact.

Sales, which is driven by monthly or quarterly performance, can grow impatient with the discipline it takes to conduct what is effectively systems analysis and design of the lead management process, platform configuration, and the consistent, methodical execution of those processes.

This is a transformative opportunity for an organization, and sooner or later successful firms will have gone through it. Sales, the “customer” of Marketing’s MA efforts, needs to understand that this process will *have to* span several performance periods in order to result in with increasingly greater revenue.

Comment by Joe Zuccaro

Thanks for covering these points, Mac.

May I add Lead Nurturing to the mix?

For those that are implementing marketing automation for the first time, lead nurturing will likely also be new. But it can be a valuable thread which binds together lead scoring and content marketing.

Here’s how I’d approach it:

1) Of the content you already have, identify those assets which are most popular amongst prospects that have become customers
2) Map out where these pieces of content are normally looked at during the buying cycle, i.e. early, mid, or late stage
3) Plan out a cadence of emails with this content and set them to be distributed to new prospects over a given time frame. This acts as a pace-maker and will help guide prospects through the natural buying cycle.
4) Ensure lead scoring is set up to measure interaction with these assets, including the lead nurturing emails.

Hope this helps!

Comment by Andrew Spoeth

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