Want to Do Marketing Automation? Do These 6 Things First

Got plans for 2017? Do they include launching a marketing automation program? If the answer is “yes” – congratulations. But be aware you’ve got a lot of work to do before you buy marketing automation software, much less schedule your first campaign.

You see, if you want marketing automation to work, you’ll need to set up a few things first. You’re not going to get good results if you just buy the software and jump right in. Here’s a checklist to complete before you make the leap:

1. Clean up that database.

Marketing automation runs on data. Some is behavioral data, for sure, but the starting point is the data in your existing database. If that’s a mess ― or outdated, or incomplete, or inaccurate ― your efforts will be crippled from the start. Nobody wants to get an email personalized for someone else.

Of course, this is hardly breaking news. Data quality has always been the bedrock of marketing. Here’s some recent research from Experian that quantifies the importance of strong data foundations:

An excerpt from an infographic by Experian, published on eConsultancy.

An excerpt from an infographic by Experian, published on eConsultancy.

2. Define your buyer’s journey.

How do people go from never hearing of your company to becoming customers? That process is called the “buyer’s journey.” Depending on your business, you may have more than one type of customer and more than one method of acquiring them.

All this needs to be defined and mapped with buyer’s journeys. Don’t get too specific and granular-level here (aim for outlining 2-5 processes, not 25), but if you often need to address a group subset differently, that’s a sign you need a separate buyer’s journey for that persona.

So how long could and should this take? If you’ve got a simple sales funnel, or you’ve done this exercise within the last year or so, it might take only an hour. If you’ve never mapped how your prospects become buyers, it might take 2-3 days’ worth of analysis.

And don’t forget: Check with your sales team before you make your buyer’s journey maps official. They know an awful lot about how people become customers … their income depends on it.

Not sure how to get started on this step? See our blog post, “Don’t Let Prospects Get Lost: Create a Customer Journey Map” for more information. Or watch our video, “Marketing Automation for the New Buyer’s Journey in 15 Minutes.”

I know it sounds like a lot of work, but don’t skip this. “Lack of an effective strategy” was the #1 barrier to success for marketing automation in Ascend2’s 2016 “Marketing Automation Trends Survey.”


3. Get the content in place for each step of each buyer’s journey.

This is no small task. If you believe you’ve got your content in place for this buyer’s journey thing, we assume the following:

  • You’re aware of all the content that exists in your company.

Hopefully you’ve got a “content hub” or content vault where everything is corralled, tagged, and trackable. If you don’t, please make your life easier and round all that up now. Otherwise it’s very likely you’ll recreate content you’ve already got. And that just wastes your budget and your time.

Want more information on how to do this? Read our blog post, “Get Started with a Content Marketing Library.”

  • All that content is up to date.

This means everything has been reviewed and revised as necessary within the last year. Any content more than a year old needs an update. But don’t worry – this process can help your SEO. See our blog post, “How to Breathe New Life into Old Content.”

  • All that content is appropriate to the buyer persona you’re showing it to.

For example, if you’ve got an eBook called “Advertising for B2B Companies” that is ideal for your B2B buyers but will turn your B2C buyers off, you need to make a new version of that content asset specifically for the B2C crowd.

  • The content branding – both visual and editorial – is consistent across the board.

This stylistic polish is less mission critical, but is one of the marks of a coordinated marketing automation program. For example: Your eBooks should have a consistent look and a consistent structure. Same for your videos, datasheets, white papers … you get the idea.

For more information on how to get the right message to the right person at the right time, see our workbook, “4 Steps to Creating a Content Marketing Plan: Right Person, Right Message, Right Time.”

This image shows the Persona worksheet out of Act-On's workbook, 4 Steps to Creating a Content Marketing Plan

4. You know which KPIs (key performance indicators) to track.

If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it, right? And you want to show the C-suite exactly what results you got from all your work, right? So, define what you’re going to track and at which touch points you’re going to track it … Then bring that plan to the sales team, so they can remind you about how plans on paper don’t always match reality. Prepare for some edits while you and they get this ironed out.

How long does it take to complete this step of the process? I would say about a week.

Here’s why: You need to get the blessing of your C-suite about which KPIs to track. You may be able to figure this out in an hour, but getting in front of an executive – much less getting the official approval of the executive – could take some time. And then there are the back-and-forth discussions with the sales people to figure in.

Actually … maybe it’s more realistic to schedule two weeks for this step.

Corollary to this: If you do lead scoring, you’ll need to have that spelled out too. And don’t even think about finalizing that until you’ve let your sales department contribute.

Not sure where to start? Consider the graph below. It shows the metrics your peers are most likely to track:


5. Write your CTAs (calls to action).

In a sense, all your work comes down to getting people to respond to your CTAs. So think about them carefully. Consider setting up a couple of tests. Then when it’s time to hook up your marketing automation system, you’ll be ready to go with effective CTAs – and not just quickly typing something in to fill the space.

This is best done while you’re verifying that all your content is up to date and easily found. Just add another checklist for your content check up. Something like, “Got CTA?”

This image shows how Act-On uses CTA's at the bottom of all of their blog posts.

Every piece of content should have a call to action to prompt readers to either see the next piece of content or to contact sales.

6. Manage expectations.

Marketing automation is effective, but it’s not magic. Expect to put in several months of work before you see results. Make sure all contributing parties in your company understand this, too.

So, how long before your automation efforts pay off? Here’s how long it took your peers:



Marketing automation is, in many ways, just marketing systematized. It improves efficiency and gets better results, but you’ve got to have all the pieces in place to make it work.

Another way to say this? Marketing automation is greater than the sum of its parts. But you need all the parts to make it work.

Back to you

Have we missed anything? Is anything else required before you start a marketing automation program? If so, please leave a comment and tell us what it is.