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What It Takes to Get the Best Results With Marketing Automation

Editor’s note: Technology is essential to content marketing success. But the complexity around tech selection and use often leaves businesses struggling to keep pace with innovation. To bring clarity and understanding, we’re hosting a series of conversations with thought leaders in this space.

Marketing automation is often viewed as a panacea for all of a content marketer’s greatest challenges. After all, these solutions offer tremendous potential to scale your content creation and delivery, engage audiences at the precise moment of intent, continually track and optimize your content’s performance, and even integrate with artificial intelligence technology to provide added insights to shape your strategic decision-making.

However, even when working with the most sophisticated marketing automation systems, the amount of effort – in terms of team alignment, your brand’s unique vision and voice, and clarity around audience’s needs and purpose – will largely determine how much benefit you will get out of the investment.

To explore these requirements more deeply, I asked an analytics and marketing automation thought leader to share his views on key considerations like shifting B2B purchase processes, optimal tech implementation conditions, and the work humans need to do before they can fully realize the potential of these powerful tools.

Meet the expert

Nate Skinner, vice president of enterprise marketing, Salesforce Pardot

Background: Nate’s career includes positions in sales engineering, enterprise software engineering, B2B product marketing, and customer success.

Productivity playlist: A soundtrack Nate feels characterizes what it’s like to work with Salesforce Pardot would include Better Together (Jack Johnson), Work (Rihanna), and All I Do Is Win (DJ Kahlid).

On the prerequisite for successful marketing automation

Nate: Now more than ever, marketers are part of the revenue engine of any B2B company. That means they have to be in lockstep with their sales counterparts and continually think about the business outcome they want their marketing content to deliver. All marketing activities should be in service of delivering revenue.

All #marketing activities should be in service of delivering revenue, says @renniksn. #ContentTECH Click To Tweet

On a customer-centric view of technology

When it comes to marketing automation, we need to think about our customers first. More simply, we should be asking how we can best engage our customers so they turn into our advocates. Just like marketing and sales should be in lockstep, so should service. All of these strategies are impacted by each other when you’re selling to someone.

In general, think bigger – don’t think that marketing is just for the marketing ops or the demand-gen person. It’s important to step away from just focusing on lead routing, managerial, and administrative tasks. Think about how the ability to nurture a relationship with a customer can transform every aspect of your business, from service to sales to marketing.

On where human meets machine in marketing automation

Human involvement is crucial in the planning stage and campaign development side because you’re ultimately marketing to a human and need to reach them on their terms.

Marketing automation solutions don’t immediately have each brand’s unique message and vision; it’s a means to an end – nothing comes out of the box with your brand’s voice. The human part comes with what you want to say, when and where you want to say it, and how customers are compelled to engage with you. It’s about understanding personas and what motivates people. If you’re only looking at reach metrics, great numbers still don’t mean you’re hitting the right customer when and where they want to be reached.

Marketing automation can provide data, tools, and resources to make informed marketing decisions and campaigns at scale, but humans are needed to execute strategic planning and learn what motivates people to engage with the platform, so marketers understand how to tailor and differentiate their brand experiences for customers. A house isn’t your home until your own belongings are in it and you make it yours.

Marketing automation provides data & tools, but humans must execute strategic planning. @renniksn #ContentTECH Click To Tweet

One great example of this is Amazon for Business. It landed on a very clear message that resonates with everyone: “Everything you love about Amazon. For Business.”

We all know Amazon and how smart it is to recommend what you need in your personal life, and so that clear and concise message for your business needs as well is a very human message.

On delivering content value to the well-informed consumer

Today’s buyers have done so much research already. It’s like they’ve almost made their decision by the time they’ve met with a salesperson. This proliferation of information from social networks, to reviews, to word of mouth means there’s a lot of education happening before a buyer ever interacts with your sales team.

According to Salesforce’s 2019 State of Connected Customer Report, 75% of consumers say that technology keeps them more informed about product choices than ever before. Marketers need to get ahead of this and change tactics to open up more opportunities for buyers to engage with the brand before that sales call takes place.

75% of consumers say that #technology keeps them more informed about product choices than ever before. @salesforce Click To Tweet

Because consumers can learn so much on their own, brands need to move beyond onboarding and teaching customers about the product alone. They need to offer content and resources that teach people the skills and strategies they need for their jobs in a brand-agnostic way, too.

An example of Salesforce’s educational content initiatives, the company’s thriving Trailblazers community sits on its Trailhead learning platform. Not only do community members use the platform to evangelize Salesforce’s products, they organize local meetups, provide helpful user tips, and share honest feedback so others can benefit from their in-depth knowledge and hands-on experience with the brand.  

On the blueprint for a successful tech implementation

To have a successful marketing automation implementation, I always keep the following steps in mind:

  1. Align your sales and marketing teams. Sales and marketing teams must be in lockstep from day one. If you want to offer your customers a seamless customer experience, you must also be in sync internally.
  2. Ensure data cleanliness and hygiene. Having clean data that is updated, current, and in your CRM system gives you more options – like the potential to apply an AI layer to uncover deeper insights. It significantly streamlines productivity to have all your data in the same place and all your teams focused on accomplishing the same outcome.
  3. Adopt an accounts-based marketing philosophy. Adopting an ABM-first philosophy helps sellers prioritize account-based selling tactics to improve the customer experience.
Having clean data updated, current, & in your CRM system gives you more options, says @renniksn. #ContentTECH Click To Tweet
  1. Make your business CRM-centric. Ultimately, a CRM-centric ideology needs to be in place to successfully implement ABM. Sales and marketing need to prioritize customer-first thinking and work with an open data model, where data is not locked in a silo. Don’t assume that just because you have a CRM, you’re operating under an ABM model. Process and strategy must be in place to operate effectively.

On finding the meaning inside the metrics

Proliferation of data can be overwhelming – “analysis paralysis” is what I like to call it – and doesn’t necessarily guarantee the insight needed for marketers to drive their business forward. After all, most marketers aren’t trained as data scientists. Harnessing artificial intelligence to inform the most effective marketing decisions can help tackle the analysis paralysis issue.

AI can help scale access to predictive analytics and recommendations that can deliver the most business value and can also answer questions you didn’t know you should be asking. Along the same vein, AI and analytics used in a meaningful way on the same platform used by your sales team also augment their work and will help them deliver the more informed and tailored experience necessary to close deals. Ultimately, the goal is to make sure your AI is leading you towards actionable insights when analyzing data.

Additionally, before diving into slicing and dicing data to uncover insights, start with the end goal in mind to develop a strategic and focused approach. Get clarity on what the question is that your business would want to answer that will steer you towards the performance data insights that might be most impactful. AI can best help marketers capitalize on data; but having a thoughtful strategy of how your business would like to use AI will drive more actionable insights than just looking at data without an end goal.

Continue your tech-enhanced content journey

In our next TechTalk interview, we’ll explore the role enterprise content management solutions can play in successful content marketing. In the meantime, if you’re looking for guidance on selecting marketing technology, implementing it, applying it to your content marketing challenges, tweet your questions to @cmicontent using #ContentTECH. We might feature your question (and provide some answers) in a future TechTalk post.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute