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3 questions to help you use marketing automation

By: Melissa Foley

This year at Dreamforce there was a lot of conversation about marketing automation (partially due to the marketing automation platform Pardot bringing in puppies #pawdotpuppies). While it’s a hot topic, actually figuring out how to automate or use marketing automation can be complex.

To help sort through the massive amount of information and tutorials on all things marketing automation, I’ve outlined three questions you and your team need to address before jumping into the tool. Additionally, you’ll learn about the common automation tools that you should consider with each question. 


Question #1: What is your goal?

This should be your jumping off point. You’ll use this goal to inform your content and plan. A few examples may be increasing gift amounts, increasing event sign-ups, or sharing new programs or initiatives with your prospects, the people you are targeting within your database.

As you plan your strategy, you can use certain automation tools to support your goal. To determine which automation tool will work best for your goal, you’ll want to consider a few things. 

What is the goal based on?

If the goal is based on an action your prospects are taking, such as adding someone to a list after they complete a form or download a resource, you should use a completion action. Completion actions happen every time the criteria, such as completing a specific form, are met.

Does the action only happen once?

If your action happens only once, such as sending an email to invite all prospects in a specific geographic area to an event, you can use a segmentation rule. Segmentation rules create lists and apply actions that match only prospects with a specific set of criteria that you have outlined, such as a specific location, and only run once.

Does the action repeat?

If you need a list to be continuously updated or actions to happen more than once, such as an ongoing renewal series, you should consider using an automation rule. Similar to segmentation rules, automation rules find matching prospects and apply actions to them, but they can occur more than once.


Question #2: Who do you want to talk to?

One helpful way to determine who you should talk to is to create a persona. Personas can be defined many ways but I like to think of personas as a composite sketch of your audience that allows you to better understand who they are and how they like to be communicated to. Your organization may already have personas created but if you’re starting from scratch focus on your highest value constituents and the data points that overlap amongst them.

You can target your personas through segmentation with your marketing automation tool. Segmentation is when you filter your prospects by certain criteria from their profile, such as their industry or state. Segmentation also helps you with your personalization efforts. Personalization is dynamically tailoring your communications, website, or social channels based on the preferences of your prospect.

Why is personalization so important? For one, your prospects expect it! 

Second, there is also a lot of value for your organization by using personalization.’s recent report on the State of the Connected Nonprofit found that 65% of prospects would donate more funds annually if they received personalized communications from the nonprofits they donate to. 

Particularly take a look at the generational breakdown around personalization importance, depending on the prospects you’re talking to it could add even more value to your organization.'s report on generational preferences and personalization


Question #3: What’s your data starting point?

Identifying your data starting point is crucial to successfully utilizing marketing automation. You must ensure you have the correct data to support the actions you’d like to take, so making sure that the data point you choose is something you already have compiled correctly. This data point can range from last gift or purchase amount to a new email address in your CRM.

Once you know your data starting point you can use tools to use your data and automation. Below are two options for putting your data to work:

Dynamic Content

Dynamic content is simply HTML included in your digital communications that display certain content based on information you have about your prospects. You’re probably using this in some way, like including a prospect’s name in the salutation of an email. Take this a step further by displaying even more relevant information like programs a prospect might be interested in based on their past preferences or share information about events coming up based on the prospect’s location.

Dynamic Lists

Dynamic lists are based on criteria rules you’ve set. They automatically add a new prospect to the list when a prospect meets the criteria. This can be a really simple and efficient win for your team because it allows your team to no longer manually update lists.


Not sure your team is ready for marketing automation?

Take our quiz "Is your organization ready for marketing automation?"


If you want to learn more about marketing automation and how your nonprofit can leverage it to help your donor cultivation, we invite you to join us Wednesday, December 6th at 11 am PST/ 2 pm EST to focus on how you can leverage your data to cultivate your prospect base to effectively use marketing automation.


Register for the webinar


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