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Marketing Automation: Batteries Not Included


The sales pitch for investing in marketing-automation software is hard to resist. It goes something like this: “Our software will help you generate leads and then automatically nurture them along their journeys until they become your customers.” It sounds wonderful – a happy prospect skipping along a path paved by magical software.

Every business is looking for more effective ways to acquire new customers, and the promise of marketing automation presents a compelling solution. As a result, marketing automation is exploding as the tool of choice for marketers. As of this writing, the 10 most popular marketing-automation platforms are Infusionsoft, HubSpot, Eloqua, iContact, IBM Marketing Cloud, Marketo, Pardot, Teradata, ActOn, and SimplyCast. Over 83,000 companies are using these platforms alone.

Marketing automation is exploding as the tool of choice for marketers, says @scottseverson. Share on X

Marketers need to remember, though, that all marketing-automation solutions – no matter how popular or compelling – present challenges. Challenges related to data quality and integration. Challenges related to creating enough content at a reasonable cost. Challenges related to poor marketing processes, lack of skilled staff, selecting metrics, and so on.

The research-based demand-generation company Ascend2 recently surveyed over 50,000 professionals to find the top challenges they face when it comes to marketing automation. Its results reveal lots of barriers to marketing-automation success, including those shown in this chart:


This data reveals two truths that marketing-automation software sales reps will not bring up when they paint a picture of your idealized marketing future:

  • Marketing automation is complex and requires an investment from your teams to translate existing processes into an established sales and marketing process before implementing.
  • Marketing automation requires a fire hose of content.

Yes, marketing automation can accelerate your sales pipeline – as long as you understand that it’s not a plug-and-play solution. It’s more of a batteries-not-included, assembly-required solution.

Marketing automation can accelerate your pipeline – if you rise to the challenges, says @scottseverson. Share on X

Companies that focus on the promise of marketing automation without thinking through the investment to develop content and what is needed to configure the software will set themselves up for failure.

What can you do to protect your investment and realize the true potential of marketing automation? Here’s what I recommend:

  1. Hire a pro.
  2. Assemble a team.
  3. Map your buyer’s journey.
  4. Plan for developing content.

1. Hire a pro

Unless you have a staff member with experience in configuring your specific marketing-automation software, self-implementation is usually a recipe for disaster. I learned this lesson the hard way. This is complex stuff that requires a deep knowledge of the marketing-automation software you chose, your sales process, the intricacies of your CRM (most commonly Salesforce), and your marketing strategy.

Eric Lehnen, Salesforce consultant at Redpath Consulting Group, put it this way in an email to me:

Most organizations will try the self-implementation route and quickly realize they are in over their heads. This is either from passing the task to a staff person who has limited knowledge, lack of marketing and sales alignment, or simply not enough resources to complete an implementation. This creates a half-baked result.

Lehnen suggests hiring a partner or agency to save money in the long run. For example, he says, trying to implement your own software could take you six months, whereas a partner might reduce that time to eight weeks. “This greatly accelerates your time to value, and helps you generate ROI faster,” he says.

Each of the major platforms has approved implementation partners that are experts in helping businesses implement and customize the tool. In my experience, hiring an implementation partner is money well spent to quickly get your marketing and sales teams up and running on the platform.

2. Assemble a team

Even for small and mid-sized businesses, marketing automation takes a team to establish and run on an ongoing basis. Five core roles are required for successfully implementing and operating marketing automation. Depending on the size of your organization and complexity of your needs, the same person may own more than one of these roles.

  • CRM software admin – You need an expert at configuring and using your CRM software. This person is heavily involved in configuring the interplay between your CRM and your marketing-automation software.
  • Marketing-automation specialist – At first, this role may be shared by your implementation partner and your internal marketing-automation specialist who will manage your use and optimization of the marketing-automation software daily. The engagement with the implementation partner typically concludes after you’re comfortably up and running, leaving your internal specialist in full control.
  • Sales leader – Sales leaders have several responsibilities. They establish protocols for sales teams to help to ensure database quality. They establish lead-scoring criteria and qualified-lead thresholds. They train sellers on how to use the data from the marketing-automation software to better inform their selling strategies. Finally, they provide an important feedback loop to the marketing-automation specialist for optimization.
  • Marketing leader – Marketing automation is all about results. The marketing leader drives the establishment of success metrics. This person also leads the translation of current marketing strategies and the development of new strategies into the platform. He or she also leads the creation of buyer’s journeys that will guide your marketing-automation strategy. The marketing-automation specialist typically reports to this position.
  • Content developer – Marketing automation requires a variety of content assets for use at various stages along the buyer’s journey. You’ll need to either hire internal resources to produce this content or hire a content agency that specializes in developing content for marketing automation.

3. Map your buyer’s journey

In essence, marketing automation creates a framework for and automates aspects of the way a prospect becomes your customer. Before you can begin to implement marketing automation, you need to understand what your buyer’s journey looks like. A buyer’s journey map is a story that describes the paths your prospects may follow to become your customer. By understanding what these paths look like, you can find appropriate places to insert marketing automation to nurture people along their path through content.

4. Plan for content development

According to the Ascend2 data, creating enough content is a major challenge in implementing marketing automation. Marketing automation is about providing the right content at the right time across the right channels to the right audiences in a customized, segmented, personalized way.

That all sounds great, but where do you start?

You might start by thinking of the buyer’s journey as a funnel through which different types of content move your prospects along. At the top, three types – blogs, gated content, and automated emails with supporting content – are most effective at enticing prospects to move down the funnel, which they might do by showing interest in a particular product, for example. As prospects move down the buyer funnel, marketing-automation engagements present them with additional content types with more-focused messaging like brand-filter offers or automated emails with selling content.

Here’s a chart that my company, Brandpoint, created to help marketers get managerial buy-in to their content marketing plans. It outlines the types of content that may serve the changing needs of your audience at each stage of the funnel. Each type of content plays a role in moving potential customers through the buyer’s journey. Each type of content contributes to your marketing-automation success.


After progressing through further engagements, your prospect will cross the threshold of a marketing-qualified lead (MQL). At that point, it’s time for marketing to hand off the lead to a seller to start the sales process.

As you look at the above content, you can see where it can quickly scale to a significant content effort as one thinks of the permutations and combinations of customer engagements and the content required to support all possible buyer’s journeys. The good news is that just as there are implementation partners, there are agencies that can work with you to understand both your customer and your brand voice to assist you in developing the content you need.

Is it worth it?

This article is a high-level look at what it will take to implement marketing automation in your organization. You’re probably thinking that it sounds expensive and looks like a ton of work. Your assessment is correct. It is.

The question becomes “Is marketing automation worth it?” The answer is “It depends.” If you’re going to dabble, don’t waste your time or money.

To receive benefit and realize the potential of marketing automation, you need both organizational commitment and investment. If you’re willing to invest the time and money to properly execute, then go for it. Marketing automation coupled with content marketing has the potential to be your biggest lever for radically growing your sales and scaling your business.

If you are serious about putting content to work in your business, you won’t want to miss the Intelligent Content Conference March 28-30 in Las Vegas. Register today and use promo code BLOG100 to save $100.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute