marketing automationYou’ve likely heard the information technology gurus. They have a mantra — people, processes and systems. For technology to be effective in decreasing costs or increasing revenues, people and processes have to be in place first.

It makes sense. You cannot automate a process that does not exist.

In a nutshell, marketing automation often comes to a grinding halt because of the lack of people and processes to support it. It’s the good old cart before the horse problem.

If you choose and implement your marketing automation before defining your processes and the roles of individuals, you cannot move forward. And, by the way, you may find you’ve invested in the wrong marketing automation solution.

Lack of planning for marketing automation is widespread. Again and again, prospects and clients tell us they have invested in marketing automation systems that they want to put to work. But they have no plan, no content. The result? While they were betting on marketing automation to save the day, their systems lay idle.

No new leads. No new customers.

It’s like having a factory with machinery in the wrong places, and no raw materials to process or people to run the equipment. Such a plant cannot produce saleable widgets. Similarly, a marketing automation system with no process or content does not create leads and convert sales.

Upfront Steps to Maximizing Marketing Automation ROI

So, let’s flip this thing around. Before you spend a penny on marketing automation, go through the following steps.

1. Start with the Customer

First, you have to understand your buyers and develop buyer personas. That means doing research and talking with them in-depth.

Okay. I can already hear the resistance. “We need results. We don’t have time for research,” you’re saying. Or, perhaps you’re in the school of, “We don’t need research. We already know our customers. We talk to them all the time.”

If you haven’t done your research, you don’t know how the buyer moves through their buying journey. And if you don’t know that, how can you guide them? As the saying goes, “it’s like the blind leading the blind.”

And here’s why you probably don’t know enough about your buyers even if you chat with them all the time. By definition, you only converse with them once you’re in touch with them.

I know that seems simplistic. But here’s the problem. 57% of a buyer’s journey occurs before he or she contacts a vendor.


How can you possibly know what’s going on in the front end of the buying cycle when you’re not involved?

Find out:

  • What triggers buyers to look for a solution to their problem, prioritizing it over all the other pressing issues at the office?
  • How do prospects build their awareness about possible products and services that could help them?
  • How do they decide who to contact?
  • What resources do they consult in these early buying phases?

You need to know the answers to these questions.

The other problem is that even once your sales people are in touch with potential buyers, they don’t know everything prospects weigh in their decision making, the obstacles they confront or all the other influencers involved in the decision.

Customers don’t reveal all their cards. And salespeople are more focused on closing the sale than asking questions.

If you don’t know all the answers, however, you need to do research. Otherwise you risk being guided by internal thoughts that are repeated so often you believe they are true (a.k.a. making stuff up). That’s for your competition. Not for you.

Find out about the buying process and the questions your customers ask as they move through it. Once you know, you can create actionable buyer personas that describe the decision-making process.

2. Create Your Content Strategy and Process

Now you know the questions buyers ask during their buying journey. That makes it easy to map out the content you need to create. Simply list the buying phases — awareness, consideration, decision and loyalty — the questions your audience asks, and how you plan to answer them with content.

Include content designed to attract your audience to your website, such as blog posts and videos, as well as premium content created to capture leads, such as e-books, research reports and webinars. In exchange for this content, readers will provide contact information.

For each piece of premium content, a.k.a. “lead bait,” map out a series of emails. Each one answers some of your audience’s questions.

These emails are designed to nurture relationships and build trust with people who are not ready to buy now, but may be in the future.

On average companies that excel at lead nurturing generate 50% more sales-ready leads at 33% lower cost. (Forrester Research).

Also, nurtured leads make purchases that are 47% larger than non-nurtured leads (The Annuitas Group).

Start simply with email nurturing, but as you capture more data about your audience, you can become more sophisticated, segmenting your emails. You can segment by demographics or behavior to increase the relevance of the emails you send. After all, the more relevant, the more your emails work like a salesperson working one-on-one.

For example, you might send different emails to technical experts than you do to CEOs. Alternatively, you can base segmentation on how your leads interact with your emails, website and social media conversations. From their behavior, you can predict their interests and respond accordingly.

You can use the same actions to score leads. For example, how many emails does someone open? Has this person attended a webinar? How often has he or she visited your website? Assign points for each interaction to determine how hot a lead is and whether he or she is ready to be contacted by a sales person.

3. Get the People in Place

Even though the term is “marketing automation,” you still need people. Who is going to create the content that keeps your marketing machine running? Who will promote that content through, for example, social media, online advertising and content syndication? Who will build and optimize your landing pages? And, of course, who’s going to tweak your process, winching it up a notch at a time until you’re producing more leads and sales than you ever dreamed possible.

If you have everyone you need in-house, great. Assign the tasks. If not, outsource some of the tasks to fill in the gaps and get results quickly.

Ready to learn more? Get your free e-book: An Introduction to Marketing Automation: The Process, The Content, The Benefits.