The Art of Automation: 5 Tips to Get You Started

Don't be fooled by the word 'automation'. Successfully setting up a program does not come without challenges, however necessary it may be. Learn the top 5 things you need to know before you dive in.

By Guest Writer

Nailing marketing automation isn’t an automated process: it takes a significant amount of up-front strategy and planning. Rachel Schneidmill from The Advisory Board Company, a consulting firm specializing in health care and higher education, shares with us what she’s learned in their own implementation process.


For many companies, marketing automation (MA) has become a strategic tool for demand and lead generation, but some are just getting started. Whether you’re strictly focused on email marketing, or creating a more integrated approach with mobile and social, here are some tips to prepare you for the transition to the ‘automatic’ world.

There is no ‘set it and forget it’

We’ll try not to judge if you’re still sending to the same old static email lists with no regard for user behavior – we’ll let your click rate speak for itself. But even with our prodding to try a different approach, we have to warn you that transitioning to trigger-based emails is not as hands-off as it can sound.

At my company, our digital team is actively marketing 30+ programs at a time. In our old batch-and-blast days, we staggered the email outreach, which was determined by firm priorities. Now, with a marketing automation strategy and software in place, we send almost triple the amount of emails we did three years ago, with user behavior guiding our communication strategy. This may sound like a frequency problem, but truth be told, we carefully select both the audience and the messaging, ensuring recipients are getting emails they truly find valuable. The results are substantially higher click rates and more effective lead generation programs for all products.

Landing Pages, Graphics & Salesforce Campaigns, Oh My!

If the increase in email volume didn’t sound scary enough, it was actually all of the other new assets that put my team in danger mode. We were so excited for our fancy new conversion landing pages, we didn’t think about the fact that they required imagery and actual words. We found ourselves scrambling to put this new process into place with little warning to the design and content teams. (Sorry, guys!)

Take this for what it’s worth: complete a project scope of all new assets needed including parties responsible, and time for execution. This one effort could save you the headache of weeks and months of unfortunate surprises.

There’s More than Just Email

I’ll admit, we’ve been all-email-all-the time at Advisory Board, as that’s been the top warm-lead generator for our sales team for many years. But almost all MA programs now have mobile and social components, content management tools, and a tight integration with paid marketing channels. In short, there are a plethora of options available on top of the out-of-the-box solutions, many of which are worth exploring.

When considering options, spend time understanding how all of these pieces work together. Here are some questions to ask before you dive in to another solution:

• Do the various marketing tools work together seamlessly, like via an API, or does custom work need to be done? Do you have internal resources or expertise to devote to this? If not, there are plenty of marketing automation consultants who specialize in both the platforms and accompanying tools.

• Are these tools actually with external vendors with whom you need a contract – separate from your MA software? What are the extra costs involved?

• What are other clients using, and are there benchmarks you can compare against?

• What information is necessary from your customer relationship management (CRM) software in order for these additional apps to be effective? How difficult will it be to capture its data?

Speaking of CRM

Perhaps the most testing of my patience as a human was when I learned our CRM, Salesforce, and our marketing automation program at the same time, and had to integrate them through endless rounds of live testing. If you have a CRM in place, which I’m sure you do, please make sure you have an IT person (or team) that specializes in your platform to partner with you on integration and long-term maintenance. Because the moment you come up with something cool and neat to try, it will inevitably need their magic touch.

Other MA Users Are Now Your Best Friends

We recently put out an RFP to compare our current automation system with others in the marketplace. The most valuable part of this entire process was the information I received from people I connected with via LinkedIn: one who previously worked for an MA tool, and the other who had worked with two of the competing systems.

Not only did these people provide me with great insights, they pointed me in the direction of specialized consultant agencies that I’m working with now to enhance our marketing reach and effectiveness.

In sum: Prepare a project plan, notify all involved, go beyond email, include IT in everything, and leverage the marketing automation community. And say goodbye to 1% click rates forever.


Rachel Schneidmill Advisory BoardRachel is the director of digital marketing at The Advisory Board Company, a serious food lover, and a health coach. Connect with her on LinkedIn, or follow her on Twitter.

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