The future, as it turns out, is automated. Self-parking cars, TV programmes that recommend themselves and even fridges that tell you when you’re running out of milk. Automated technologies are revolutionising our personal and professional lives.

Sales and marketing are being completely reshaped by powerful automated solutions. Automated platforms are no longer exclusively available for the big names in business. But as it becomes increasingly viable for small and mid-sized businesses to use automated solutions for email and campaign roll-outs, leaders must be aware of the wider implications for their business and, indeed, their workforce.

The potential to make better use of customer intelligence is an exciting prospect for many marketers, but they shouldn’t run before they can walk. Switching to auto-pilot when it comes to marketing automation could result in a pretty bumpy ride for businesses and customers. Businesses need to fully understand and retain control over any technologies they implement. Without this control, businesses could risk executing a strategy that is not effective.

With this in mind, here are five strategies to ensure business leaders control and learn from their automated solutions, rather than be led by them. Ultimately this is what leads to real business gains:

Don’t rush

When implementing marketing automation software for the first time, pilot the technology with small campaigns where you can define realistic, measurable results from the outset. Start by mastering automation software on more tactical campaigns, such as event follow-ups, before moving on to larger business-critical campaigns. Learning as you go means you will feel the benefits in smaller, but more successful stages.

Test, test and test again

Just because a platform is automated doesn’t mean it will take care of itself. Like every other business process, human error can occur. Constantly testing and optimising the performance of a solution is crucial, and there are a wide spectrum of variables: subject lines, spellings, links, content, time of day to send messages, days between messages: the list goes on. The testing process will help to minimise human error and ensure you don’t lose customers at this first, crucial hurdle.

Fully integrate your data

The key aim of marketing is to drive sales, so any marketing function must be fully integrated with the business’ sales cycle, from lead generation through to closing a deal. By linking up marketing platforms with CRM, both departments can share and react to customer data, leading to better benchmarking, better customer experience and ultimately, more sales.

Eyes on the prize

A good automation platform helps engage customers over a long period of time, meaning that business leaders can think ahead to drive long-lead campaigns, not just quick sales wins. Using data to build accurate customer profiles helps you to understand exactly what customers do and don’t like, and ensures you build loyalty by delivering useful and targeted content to them. This also keeps businesses front-of-mind in longer B2B sales cycles.

Using automation as the backbone for your campaigns will help you to truly understand those you are targeting, thus making the sales process as streamlined as possible.

Make sure someone is in control

It’s important to have a resource dedicated to maintaining automated marketing technologies and maximising their potential. It’s vital that someone really understands these platforms: how they work, how they integrate with the existing CRM strategy and what delivers the best results for your marketing campaigns.

If businesses want to see real returns they must focus on perfecting how they use and maintain their software; not view technology as an easy solution to complex problems.