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Marketing automation: Avoiding the manual traps.

Read Time: 6 Mins

Marketing automation is neat. It can make one’s job easier. It’s math! It’s logic! It’s science! BUT, it cannot simplify complex improvisational alchemy. When a new marketing automation tool comes into a manual environment without the right planning or logistical insight, it often ends up being used manually.

Marketing automation is full of exciting ways to make tedious tasks efficient and give time back to work on the next level while giving visibility to inform what that “next level” is. But there is a continuum from 100% manual to automated utopia.

  • Manual: Everyone is scrambling and hustling just to keep the ball in the air, and keep their brand in the minds of their contacts. Manual marketing means constantly updating, adjusting, and cleaning data, filling the time with repetitive tasks.
  • Automated Utopia: This is the perfected realm of data science and fluid movement. Standardized, compliant, and timely data flows into humming marketing platforms. Contacts are routed into nurtures, follow up email responses with personalized content help potential clients take that next step, sales meetings are scheduled, and qualified leads flow smoothly. Automation means that repetitive and known processes are automated. This does not just save on repetitive tasks, it also takes away the possibilities for manual error.

For most, we float in limbo between the past and the promise. We want to embrace “automation,” but we fear the unknown. What is scalable? What is manual? We have to reflect on ourselves as we are. For every process, build, and criteria segment: What will need to be manually edited every week, month, quarter, and what can be set up and left alone? This can mean the difference between hundreds of hours of work, so some due diligence is required in designing automation and being realistic about needs.

There are several areas of consideration to define. Each comes with a number of questions worth asking to begin to assess exactly what kind of design is needed.

1) How sophisticated is the company?

Enterprise-level corporations often require complex, sturdy automation to define everything from data hygiene and compliance to routing for marketing qualified leads. Smaller companies might build with an understanding that things are in motion and that their requirements will change and adjust as they grow.

Smaller marketing teams may feel rapidly building out automation drives efficiency (in fact it may even be a necessity to grow when the opportunity is hot), but it can easily make things static long before the right choices have been learned through A/B testing, good reporting, and understanding the audience through engagement. If the sales process is chaotic or changes a lot, be aware, and build with that in mind or start with the parts that have more stability. To define the design, think through these questions:

  • Audience Scale. Is there communication with multiple customer audiences across many product lines?
  • Sales Team Size. Are there multiple or massive sales and marketing teams with clear and known processes?
  • Sales Team Process. Is there an agile and improvisational sales team that may be changing processes often to discover best internal practices?
  • CRM. Are there uses of several CRM instances and a large customer database of contacts roaming all over media and content, or is there one CRM instance?
  • Audience Volume. Is there an audience being targeted and communication built for them, or is there an abundance of engagement being refined?
  • Scalability. What is the scale of business needs?


2) Can the company build scalability with marketing automation in mind?

Automation means little if the normal process of content creation doesn’t generate assets that are ready to work within that automation. Look at production as it is. Gauge the process. Think about how automated criteria triggers built today will actually work with the assets that are dropping next week.

Part of the design has to include the naming conventions, folder placement, and subject tagging that allows completed assets to flow right into automation and be used without bottlenecking content by manual filing and tagging production work.

Review the automation from start to finish, including every aspect of content and asset production. Establish and lock down a naming convention that can be used to segment the subject, lifecycle stage, geographical location, product, and anything that needs to be known for triggers.

  • Naming Convention Triggers. If criteria is built based on emails sent from one team, will these have to be added continuously in new email names as they are built?
  • Criteria Limitations. Can wild cards and a naming convention be used?
  • Folder Criteria Options. Can these be put in a folder that determines action?
  • Scalability. Will there be a need to constantly change or edit the logic to admit newly created content?


3) What is the scale of the audience?

Automation can only make things more efficient if there is a plan that can be automated. Define the pieces of automated marketing as an ecosystem; don’t invent one piece at a time in a silo. When new pieces are needed, think about how they will work with what’s already there. Should they replace other pieces? How do new elements create changes or opportunities in the current process?

It’s great that we can send contacts different emails at different times based on actions, engagements, and interest. What needs to be figured out is what engagement and contact info will determine what is sent and where it’s routed. The more these different pieces are built separately, the more work it will take to patch things together. Define the needed process by answering questions such as:

  • Personas. Have personas that really describe the audiences been developed?
  • Lifecycle. Do contacts move through a lifecycle, and how is that movement defined?
  • Nurturing. How many nurtures are needed to support and educate the audience and products?
  • Lead Scoring. What is the threshold of qualification?
  • Dynamic Content. Is it known what criteria will determine what content is put in front of which contacts?


4) What is the state of the process?

Describe the current “pre-marketing automation” sales and marketing processes. Is this tool integrated into a polished and efficient process, or is this tool the beginning of a more efficient way? In other words, are marketing and sales processes currently “the wild west” or “Swiss watch?”

Scalability in marketing automation begins with defining data flow and clearly specifying inputs and outputs. The answer is quite simple. Whatever is designed, must reflect the needs of an efficient process, or bring efficiency into a chaotic process. Some questions to consider:

  • Content Refreshment. Is the content already tagged and given an expiration date so it can be put in front of the right contacts and can be automatically retired when it’s obsolete?
  • Compliance. Do all the contacts come within a solid privacy and compliance policy?
  • Data Hygiene. Does the department run silently like a well-oiled machine? Or, are there paper lists, contacts coming in without data standardization, and content created on the fly and edited within hours of launch?
  • Sales Feedback. Is there clarity in the criteria defining why contacts are routed to sales or fed to nurture? Is there accountability when contacts are rejected?

Remember that the build itself is only half the battle. Automation that relies on top of the funnel teams using data standardization, data hygiene, or other standards that they aren’t already practicing is going to require documentation, training, and buy-in from the top. If sales do not provide clear and consistent reasoning for rejection, then nothing can be learned and used to improve your qualification process or hold sales accountable when quality leads have been given to them. It is not going to be enough to build an amazing mechanism if the pieces before and after it aren’t delivering. It will be easy to blame the new build on the inefficiency of the old ways.

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