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What marketing automation software won't automate

To get the most from marketing automation tools, there's some not-so-automated work to do before, during and after deployment.

So, you think that once you've deployed a marketing automation system, your work will be fully automated, right? Not exactly. To get the most out of these tools, you need to invest time before, during and after your deployment.

Marketing automation platforms are designed to automate the interactions between you and your audience: marketing campaigns, landing pages, lead flow and more, among the multiple communication channels your company now uses to reach your constituencies. These channels include the Web, email, social media, mobile devices and more. Marketing automation software helps you to expand, measure and optimize your digital marketing efforts in new ways.

While these platforms provide tools to help, they do not fully automate strategy and preparation, sales and funnel alignment, data cleanliness, or content. That's the not-so-automated work that you need to do before, during and after deployment to get the most out of marketing automation. The time you invest upfront will save time later -- while improving program effectiveness.

Here is the kind of manual work you need to put in to ensure the success of your marketing automation project:

Marketing automation platforms are designed to automate the interactions between you and your audience.
  • Strategy first. As with any IT project, determine and prioritize the goals you want to accomplish at the outset, and design your marketing automation implementation around those goals. "Do not even think about deploying marketing automation to solve a problem unless you have a strategy in place that the technology is facilitating" said Kim Ann King, chief marketing officer at SiteSpect, a Web and mobile optimization solutions provider. "For example, we wanted to have an easier way to score as well as nurture leads, and because we knew what we needed to do and the steps to get there, technology made that easy," King said. "But if you don't know how to score leads or how to structure a tiered communication program, marketing automation will only make things worse."
  • Sales and funnel alignment. Work with your sales team upfront to ensure that yourmarketing automation deployment fully aligns with your sales funnel -- your prospects -- and your sales process. Define marketing-qualified leads, or MQLs, so you know when to pass on to sales the prospects that are closer to a purchase. Agree on mutually acceptable lead scoring criteria. And to harness the power of closed-loop reporting, ensure that you can track the funnel seamlessly from start (new lead) to finish (closed deal) with clear, agreed-upon definitions for each.
  • Content, content, content. Among other things, marketing automation helps you to deliver the right message to the right audience. But first, you need to do some homework. "Scope out personas and the buyer journey, create great content to nurture leads, and know what makes landing pages and campaigns compelling enough to attract traffic,” King recommended. "If you don't have these basics in place, you're not ready." And don't forget: You're going to create a lot of content, and that content can grow out of control. Keep track of it by developing -- and sticking to -- predetermined folder organization and naming conventions, for example.
  • Data cleanliness. To ensure a single view and enable closed-loop reporting, your existing suspect/lead/prospect database needs to be migrated and/or integrated to your new marketing automation platform. Avoid problems down the road by cleaning duplicates, errors, outdated information and inconsistencies before you begin integrating and migrating. Enhance internal data with third-party databases. And while you're at it, ensure that your contact database includes the right data. For example, if you want to easily segment by title level, function or industry, build and populate those fields into your database -- in advance. Think strategically upfront so you can execute flawlessly later.
  • Preparation and integration: Know who does what. The offerings of marketing automation platform vendors and professional services firms vary widely. Understand what vendors expect they will do and what they expect you to do during the deployment process, as well as what type of time investment they require of your team. Most of the major vendors provide "quick starts" that build integrations and create initial landing pages and email templates, while others may require you to do more of the work on your own. Especially if you have a smaller marketing team, invest in a quick start.

This is not a comprehensive list but one thing is clear: The more time you invest in up-front "manual" strategy, planning and cleanup, the more successful your marketing automation efforts will be.

About the author:
Steve Robins is the principal at Solution Marketing Strategies, a strategic marketing consultancy that advises companies on marketing and demand generation strategies, segmentation and messaging. Robins has held senior marketing roles at FirstBest Systems, EMC Documentum and KANA Software. He also launched a top-rated marketing blog, has co-chaired the ProductCamp Boston unconference, and was a senior analyst at The Yankee Group.

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So what you're saying is, there's no such thing as 'set it and forget it'. Too many organizations conveniently forget this.
I love using cruise control, but I still have to drive to the highway. And I still have to know where I'm going.

I look on "marketing automation" as a giant to-do list. More ground-breaking than deal-making. Of course, it's a great time saver to have all my tasks, all my contacts on an automatic list. It's also pretty useless I follow up with lots of face time and non-automatic marketing.

Automatic marketing gives me the big picture. Great for planning. Once that's done, I need to get those plans down to a more granular level.
Coming from my own blog posts and how people respond, I have an automatic post that goes out when the actual post goes out (all boilerplate), I later do a personalized post and update my sites pointing people to the article. As should come as no surprise to anyone, the personal touch typically nets me double the follow-ups, clicks and responses. I take that as a pretty good indication that people want to know the person, and that the person is making the effort.