Sorting out marketing automation truth from fiction

Profile picture for user Kirsten Kippen
By: Kirsten Kippen | 10.31.17

The other day when I was looking at the website of a prominent email provider, I was struck by the fact that they led with the term “marketing automation” front and center on their homepage, despite the fact that I don’t think of them as marketing automation at all. They do a great job with mass email, but don’t do any of the fancy automation and segmentation actions that I associate with tools like Pardot or Marketing Cloud.

To me, this signified that we have entered a new era and marketing automation is beginning to become mainstream, rather than being just the domain of the enterprise-level organizations with deep pocketbooks. I’m sure that advertising “marketing automation features” is helping small email providers with SEO rankings.

Moreover, it’s not just marketing automation. The entire concept of automation is becoming more and more integrated into our culture’s conversations.

In a national survey by Pew Research Center conducted in 2015, 65% of Americans expect that within 50 years robots and computers will “definitely” or “probably” do much of the work currently done by humans.

Given this statistic, it is no surprise that most consumers are still suspect of marketing automation’s benefits. I suspect they feel an intrinsic threat that they could be replaced (or sold to) by robots and this is just uncomfortable.

However, there’s another piece too, which is straight-up misinformation. “Marketing automation” is a broad enough term that people tend to load it up with their own hopes, dreams, and fears. So let’s take a deep breath and unpack some of these misconceptions. Knowledge is power, and the more you know about this emerging software the better prepared you will be to navigate your own career.


Misconception #1: Marketing Automation will replace your job.

This is only true if your job currently consists solely of predictable and repetitive tasks like setting follow-up tasks based on web engagement or sending emails at a certain cadence. Or manually pulling lists all day long. Marketing automation can do all these things, yes. But if this is all you do right now, chances are good that you’re thinking about remaking your career anyway. Wouldn’t you rather spend your 9-5 hours thinking about why and when you do these tasks rather than how?

I speak from personal experience here: at Idealist Consulting when I was hired four years ago, we had no marketing software or strategy. For over a year, I hobbled by using basic mass email, so that I could get a baseline of data and figure out our audiences. But a lot of my time was spent dealing with duplicate leads, CSV imports, and separate data sources.

When we began using marketing automation software, my whole career changed into being much more strategic. There are amazing professional growth opportunities through marketing automation. If this resonates for you, check out more about that story here.


Misconception #2: Marketing Automation will create its own strategy.

When you look at marketing automation software websites, they almost always sell the benefits rather than features– painting a vision of the type of marketer you will be once you use their tool. This is a smart marketing tactic but only part of the story. The tool is only as good as the brain behind it.

If you have bad data, you won’t be able to segment and thus you won’t be able to create smart personalized content that’s targeted in a way that will increase engagement. And if you have never thought strategically about audiences, customer journey, or goals, all the marketing automation software in the world won’t save you.

So if you’ve never put any thought into your brand, marketing strategy, or marketing philosophy, don’t assume that a tool like Pardot will deliver the benefits it promises. You need to help it along. You can do this either by developing a strategy yourself or hiring a consultant to help. What kind of strategy are we talking about? Here are some core components:

  • Audience personas highlighting demographic and psychographic data points of your ideal customer.
  • A customer journey map of where you want to take each of these personas and what tools you have to help you along the way (i.e. events, webinars, etc).
  • At least one specific company-wide goal that you are going to try to move the needle on through marketing automation (i.e. increase leads in X vertical).


Misconception #3: Marketing Automation is only for marketers.

Another misconception about marketing automation is similar to the name issues that plague Salesforce. Once you’ve heard about Salesforce for awhile, you forget “sales” is part of the name. However, whenever I’m in a roomful of non-Salesforce users I am reminded that initially it sounds like a tool exclusively for sales teams. Similarly, “marketing automation” sounds to many people like you need a marketer on staff. But that’s not necessarily accurate.

Here’s my take on this: instead of thinking about marketing automation as a tool exclusively for marketers, what about starting to think about how you could benefit from thinking more like a marketer, whether you’re a fundraiser, program officer, or HR manager. Using marketing automation encourages you to think about your key market segments, goals, and journey.

Marketing is becoming more and more mainstream. The more you can think like a marketer the better positioned you will be to do any job in the 21st century.


Misconception #4: Marketing Automation is too complicated for the average small business or nonprofit.

Yes, marketing automation is complicated, but context and your organizational culture are everything here. A tool like Pardot will likely be too complicated if you buy the tool without having felt any of the growing pains of having a smaller tool unable to do what you want. Or if you try to do all the things and make use of all the features immediately.

I have seen organizations of all sizes make great leaps ahead through marketing automation software. An NPR-affiliate made great strides through simply adding one sponsor form and automated email follow-up to their website, and a multinational foundation saw success through consolidating data sources so that they could be more effective with event management.

So how do you know where you stand in terms of readiness for marketing automation? Lucky for you, we put together this quiz.


Marketing Automation quiz.png


The single best indicator of success I have seen is that it is critical for one person to own it, be curious about it, and be an internal champion for using it better. If you’re reading this blog post, chances are you are that person for your organization!


Remember, knowledge is power

The bottom line for anyone considering marketing automation is that knowledge is power. If you think the price tag on a tool that advertises itself as marketing automation is too good to be true, it probably has limited functionality and may not be flexible enough to adapt to your nonprofit or B2B business processes.

We love Pardot and Marketing Cloud because they are built on the strength of the Salesforce platform, but that means they don’t have as friendly a user interface as more marketer-centered tools like HubSpot. Until Salesforce marketing tools get more user-friendly (which will probably comes along with a higher sticker price, at least at first), your best bet is to partner with a consultant who both knows the tool and can advise you on marketing automation strategy.

Looking at your marketing automation options? Did you take our quiz and ready to go for it? We’ve outlined your best options for marketing automation solutions that integrate with Salesforce. Check out the comparison report below.


Download the whitepaper



Add new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.