I am a big fan of marketing automation.  It has a lot of great uses to streamline your marketing efforts, get you a wealth of insight and help you tailor the right messages at the right time to the right people.  But as with everything, there are exceptions.  One big exception is using marketing automation tools when you are trying to reach a C-level audience.  The typical CEO or other C-level person is extremely busy trying to run their business day-to-day.  The last thing they are going to do is read marketing emails or surf the web in search of information about a particular solution set.  And if they do, they certainly don’t want a vendor calling them up and trying to sell them the latest widget to solve their problem.

C-level people are best reached through live interactions or interruptive marketing techniques such as a slick direct mail package.  These are not the type of techniques that you can automate or score on.  I am hard-pressed to tell you how you can use marketing automation at all when reaching this audience.  The only way I can think to take advantage is to use marketing automation to reach the people that will sell you internally to their C-level.

The bottom line is that every technology has a time and place.  It is probably best to back away from the technology when you are trying to sell into most C-level audiences.  There is no shortcut to reach that target audience.


After a successful first half of her day and a good break, Janet is ready to tackle the tasks ahead of her.  At 1 pm, Janet reviews the latest campaign metrics.  She notices that one of her campaigns is not getting good response rates.  She calls the campaign manager into her office to brainstorm getting this campaign back on track.  It is determined that the messaging and offers should be tweaked.  The campaign manager goes off to make the changes and they agree to discuss the results in a few days.

Next she takes a look at the lead scoring results.  She notices many leads in “hot” status.  A quick look in the CRM shows that many of these leads have not been followed-up on by the lead qualification team.  She heads over to talk to the lead of that team.  The conversation is easy because the teams are in close alignment on strategy and incentives.  Everyone is working towards the same goals.  She determines that the issue is around having too many leads in hot status, but when the lead qual team follows up, not many are converting.  She discusses with her Marketing Automation administrator some changes she wants to make to the lead scoring criteria.  The changes will be made by the end of the day and they can review the results in a few days again to see if it helps.

At 3 pm, Janet interviews a couple of candidates for her team.  She is looking for a business analyst who can help with reporting and data quality.  This will be a key role to keep her team supplied with the right information and prospect data to be effective in their campaign efforts.  She is looking for someone who can not only crunch the numbers but also analyze the results and bring suggestions to the table.  She also wants someone who is familiar with data best practices that can keep their database clean and complete.

At the end of the day, Janet looks back at her dashboard to find some campaigns that are working well.  She shoots off some meeting invitations to business leaders to discuss how she might be able to replicate these campaigns with their content.  She updates the campaign calendar based on her earlier strategy discussions and shuts down her computer for the night.  She’s now off to watch her son’s soccer game secure in the knowledge that her marketing department is an effective and efficient piece of the company’s revenue engine.

Janet gets to the office around 7 am because she likes to work early to avoid interruptions and be done with work at a reasonable time so she can spend more time with her family.  However, her CFO feels the same way, so this morning she is accosted with questions as soon as she walks in about the effectiveness of her marketing spend.  Fortunately, Janet has this information readily on hand because she has a marketing dashboard that gives her real-time information about closed-loop marketing ROI.  She can tell the CFO exactly how much she has spent and what she has in both closed won and anticipated revenue for the month, quarter and year.

At 9 am, Janet has a meeting scheduled with her CMO to talk about the marketing strategy for the next quarter.  She walks in with information about what has been working for them and what hasn’t.  She also has some ideas about what they could try because she has been quietly testing out new strategies for the past few months and has information about what might work.  The meeting concludes promptly at 9:30 with a clear vision of the strategy for the next quarter and buy-in from the CMO.

At 10 am, Janet chairs a staff meeting where the Revenue Marketing team reports out on the status of current campaign projects.  With simple workflow tools and project dashboards, Janet can clearly see where everything stands and get tasks at risk of slipping back on track.  Everyone on her team has clear roles and understands how they are evaluating campaigns against revenue.

At 11 am, Janet sits down to review the latest content pieces the team has developed.  She has clearly defined personas and buy cycles for her prospects, so she knows what content will be effective in each stage of the decision process for each type of prospect.  That makes her job in editing the content easy.

At noon, she finally gets a break before gearing up for the second half of her day…

As someone who has been on both the consulting and client side of marketing for many years, I know how quickly you can become overwhelmed with everything you should be doing.  Marketing tactics are constantly evolving, technology is moving at the speed of light, keeping up with social media is a full time job and since you know that next marketing department re-org is right around the corner, you are also constantly fighting to make yourself relevant, knowledgeable and valuable to your employer.  And that doesn’t even count doing your day job.  How do you balance all of this and still get some sleep at night?

First, I would recommend that you choose your battles.  You can’t do everything, so you need to decide what is most important.  There are two dimensions to this.  First, what is most important for your employer?  What will help you meet your company’s goals as well as your marketing department’s goals?  What is going to get you the best return, get your company or product’s brand recognized, or sell more?  What are your customers concerned about?  What will make your boss happy?  Second, you also need to think about what is important for you and your career.  Pick an area you love and nurture that.  Maybe it’s social media or technology or data.  Dig into that a bit and you will quickly find new skills that will help you advance your own career as well as give you personal satisfaction.

Second, I would recommend you prioritize your efforts.  It’s kind of the same as choosing your battles, but really it’s more about figuring out how to do one thing well then moving onto the next.  When you know how to do something well, it takes a lot less time and effort than those things you don’t know how to do.  So prioritizing your efforts will help you tackle that list in no time, whereas fragmenting your efforts across too many things at the same time can just lead to frustration and failure for the whole list.

Finally, don’t be afraid to enlist some help.  No one can do all of this alone.  Maybe you need to work together with your marketing team to share the load better.  Maybe you need to hire a person or agency with the skills you are looking for to learn from.  Maybe you need to join a group or go to a conference to learn more.  In any case, take the time to do it and ask for help.  Going it alone will not lead to more fame or fortune for you or your marketing department.  The world is changing quickly and you just can’t keep up with everything on your own.  No matter how much experience or education you think you have, there is always something else to learn.

If you’ve been following the News Corp media ethics inquiry, you may feel just as frustrated as I do about Rupert Murdoch’s continued stance that he is not really responsible for the actions of his company.  Nobody wants to hear excuses.  If you are at the top of the chain of command, you are expected to take responsibility for the whole chain.  We don’t really care whose fault it is – that’s your problem.  There are some good examples that I can think of in B2C products where the company took responsibility even though it wasn’t their fault – the 1982 Tylenol incident and the more recent Enfamil issues come to my mind.  I’m sure there are a thousand examples.  The ones who take responsibility see the issues go away quickly and those who don’t (like Mr. Murdoch) just see it grow into a bigger and bigger issue.  It’s Public Relations 101.

There is a lesson for marketers in there, too.   If you use a marketing automation tool of any kind, you probably know how easy it is to screw up your marketing campaign.  If you don’t, I’m sure you’ll soon learn.  You might mix up names on personalized emails, send the wrong emails to the wrong list or at the wrong time, or have a link pointing to a wrong or dead location.  It happens to the best of us.  When I did my very first marketing automation campaign, I had set up the automated workflow wrong.  My list (thankfully it was a small one) got the first email requesting them to download something.  They immediately got a second email saying “We noticed you didn’t download that yet – you really should do that.”  I didn’t setup the timing right so it waited a week and then checked the responses before sending out the reminder.  Doh!

So how do you respond when you screw up?  In my case above, we decided not to do anything because it was a small list and chances are no one would notice.  They would take more notice if we drew attention to it.  In other cases, it’s best to just take the blame (no matter whose fault it is) and send out a correction.  If you don’t, you may leave your prospects with the impression that you can’t even get a simple email right.  But if you do correct it, they are usually very forgiving and you haven’t done any harm to the campaign.  Make sure your correction is simple and straightforward.  No one cares what happened or why.  Just simply state that there was an error and give them the corrected version.  Or if you sent the wrong campaign or to the wrong list, just simply state an apology for the error and ask them to ignore the previous email.  You’ll be amazed at how quickly the issue will go away!

I read a blog post the other day talking about how Cloud Computing is no longer the next big thing – because it is now a reality and part of our daily life.  It is an accepted and understood way of doing business.  IT managers no longer need an explanation of what cloud computing is.  Now the conversations are around what should be run in the cloud, how to standardize, and how to ensure security of applications run in the cloud.

Marketing automation, on the other hand, has been much slower in getting into the mainstream.  I think one of the reasons is because it requires such a change in the way we do business.  It requires new processes, new skillsets, and a new way of doing marketing.  If you treated implementing a marketing automation tool like implementing any other software, you are likely still using your MA system like a fancy email broadcast tool and not seeing the real value in it.  Companies that have really implemented marketing automation well have gone through a long journey that required a lot of change and a lot of reality checks along the way.

Additionally, the MA industry itself is struggling to figure out the right feature set and the right way to talk about itself (excellent blog post on MASG about that here).  No one has clearly defined the space and the competition is still pretty fierce.  So to some extent it feels like companies are sitting back trying to figure out whether VHS or Beta is going to shake out as the standard before they buy.  And many are still trying to figure out if they need  a VCR anyway since they’ve been getting along just fine for so long without one.

All of that doesn’t change the fact that marketing automation is still, in fact, the next big thing.  It isn’t going away anytime soon and it will become the standard way of doing business, just like cloud computing.  You do need to take the time to figure it out and figure out how it fits with your business.  Just don’t expect that to be an easy plug-and-play process.  Be prepared for a lot of change and be ready to re-tool the entire way you market when you jump into this journey.  But don’t let that stop you from jumping in with both feet!

In a 24×7 world of marketing automation, it is easy to push marketing information anytime to your clients, monitor their interaction with your marketing around the clock and react in real-time.  It’s also really easy to screw up.

I remember the first time I setup an automated campaign using a marketing automation system.  Fortunately we had a very small sample test list since we were just learning the system.  The campaign was supposed to send an email offering a whitepaper, wait some period of time, then send another email to people who didn’t download the whitepaper offering it again.  What the program did (due to incorrect setup) was send out the first email and then immediately send out the second email noting that they hadn’t downloaded the whitepaper yet.  My boss was very forgiving about this, and assured me that most people probably thought it was an error and they just got the same email twice rather than us being very impatient.  So we decided to do nothing and just fix our error for the next round.

I’m sure you all have examples of emails sent to you addressing you by the wrong name (I was once called Bill in a marketing email) or with spelling errors or no content at all.  Despite our best attempts at testing everything before it goes out, there is always a chance that you can screw it up for the world to see.  Here are a few suggestions I have for fixing and avoiding those errors:

  • If it is a small error (like the one I described above) it is sometimes best not to address it at all.  That might call attention to an error that no one noticed in the first place.
  • If it is a big glaring error, you should own up to it.  First rule in PR is to be up-front – people are pretty forgiving and it will blow over quickly if you just fess up.  A cover-up is way more interesting and will stay in people’s minds for years to come.  I’ve seen emails sent out that say please disregard the previous email as it was sent in error.  Short, sweet, and you probably put it out of your mind immediately after it happens.
  • When you are automating things, start simple and make sure small parts of the program work before you add complexity to it – that way you will avoid some big fat hairy mistake just because you were unable to test out every possible scenario.
  • Build in plenty of time for testing.  Just because you could create and send that email in the next 5 minutes doesn’t mean you should.  Be realistic and give yourself a day or two in your timeline to test and make sure it all works.  Get someone that’s not involved at all in your project to help with
  • Be really vigilant about data quality.  Put some system into place, whether it is internal or through a third party, to do data cleansing and auditing on a regular basis to avoid embarrassing errors that could cost you a lead. I certainly didn’t respond to that email that called me Bill 🙂