Marketing Automation

Marketing Automation Best Practices

July 3, 2018 , 10 minutes
marketing automation best practices

Marketing automation converts inbound leads to paying customers and builds customer loyalty and retention over time. Here are the marketing automation best practices that are essential for implementing successful campaigns. 

Broadly speaking, marketing successful marketing automation requires the following high-level stages.

  • Understanding the Market – a clear understanding of your target markets, buyers and their journey is the basis for any successful marketing strategy, including marketing automation campaigns.
  • Filling the Funnel – without traffic, there is very limited marketing automation. It’s crucial to develop clear content-centric marketing strategies to fill the funnel with quality web traffic.
  • Conversion Optimisation – web traffic is great but leads are better. You need to encourage visitors to engage with your brand and take action so they become leads.
  • Nurturing – Once you have captured leads at the top of the funnel, you need to nurture them so they engage with your brand and eventually convert to paying customers.

Understand The Market

The first step in any marketing activity is to understand your target market.

Understand the Customer Journey

Marketing automation is all about automating the processes that take a person from one stage (e.g. lead) to another (e.g. prospect). You can’t automate processes that don’t exist or that you don’t understand!

At the beginning of any marketing automation project, we advise our clients to conduct a high-level customer journey mapping exercise.

This process helps you understand all of the critical touch points and paths that leads must go through in order to become customers.

Here is an example of a customer journey map we recently created for a customer. This set the scene for implementing various marketing automation workflows using Drip, Intercom, WordPress and Salesforce.

Customer Journey Mapping for Marketing Automation Best Practices

Understand the Purchase Cycle

You need to understand your prospects’ purchase cycle so you can deliver targeted, relevant content when it counts.

The typical stages of a purchase cycle are:

  • Awareness
  • Consideration
  • Buying.

You should do this exercise separately for all market segments that you target. This is because different markets often have very different processes and timeframes.

For example, small startups are typically able to make decisions much faster, and with fewer stakeholders than large multinational companies.

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Define Your Personas

Once you understand the purchase cycle for your target markets you should define your personas and where they fit into the process.

Personas are a way to organise what you know about your prospects. The more you understand about them, the better you can communicate with them.

Here is an example of a user persona for a book reader.
user persona example for marketing automation

Image courtesy of Venngage.

The right content at the right time in the buyer’s journey encourages customer engagement across all channels, including social, digital advertising and email campaigns.

If you don’t know what you’re saying and to who, based on their activities and role in the purchasing process, it doesn’t matter how many touches are included in your campaigns.

Nobody responds to the wrong content.

Content has to be created according to personas and their needs.

Fill The Funnel

Marketing automation isn’t very useful without web traffic.

You need to generate traffic to your website, and then get visitors to express interest in order to become a lead.

Offer Great Value to Attract Traffic

Content should provide real value to the end user. It cannot be just a sales plug or consist of product overviews.

You have to help the reader realise that they have a problem, and how to fix it

Some example of valuable content include:

  • eBooks that educate or help users learn new things
  • Research reports that are product agnostic
  • Worksheets, checklists or process documents
  • eCourses
  • Webinars with interesting content that educate people (e.g thought leaders).

The content must appeal to the target’s persona.

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Amplify Your Content

With the huge amount of content in existence, it’s getting harder and harder to attract people to your website, let alone encourage them to take action (e.g. download content).

You can no longer write great content and expect people will find it. It’s increasingly important to amplify your content and make sure it is seen.

Examples of content amplification include:

  • Outbrain and syndicated articles – this is a great way to get useful content in front of lots of people. It is not cheap but is an excellent means of generating lots of traffic to your site very quickly.
  • Social Media – social media remains one of the most effective ways to distribute your content. However, Facebook and LinkedIn organic reach are declining, especially brands which have limited engagement. Increasingly, you need to consider sponsored content or creating groups (e.g. Facebook or LinkedIn) where you leads and prospects can interact with customers.
  • Google Ads and PPC – Google’s Ad network targeting is one of the most effective ways of driving traffic to your website for new content. You can target people by industry and ‘buying phase’ for many campaigns. Remarketing on the Display network is an excellent way to stay top of mind.
  • Search Engine Optimisation – This is often overlooked or even neglected, particularly with larger sites. SEO should be taken into consideration for ALL content. Small changes to on-page SEO can have a huge impact on rankings and traffic: 93% of online experiences begin with search, 70% of the links search users click on are organic, 85% of marketers say search marketing is the most effective customer acquisition tactic

Conversion Optimisation

Web traffic is a vanity metric. Leads are vastly more important.

Typically, leads are regarded as people who express interest in your brand or content, for example by downloading content.

You need to ensure your website is optimised for conversion.

Short Forms Convert Better than Long Forms

Research consistently demonstrates an inverse clear relationship between the number of form fields people are forced to complete and conversion rates. The more fields, the lower the conversion rate.

The single most important piece of information to capture is an email address.

On their first interaction with your brand, ask for the minimum amount of information you absolutely need. Email address and perhaps one or two other fields.

You can always get more information later, especially using progressive forms.

Landing Pages

All cornerstone content should have a dedicated landing page.

Landing pages should be free from distraction (e.g no menus) and encourage users to take a particular action. You should avoid completing CTAs. Good CTAs are clear, to the point and provide a sense of urgency, where possible:

  • Sign Up Now
  • Watch the Webinar

Landing pages should be search engine optimised, well designed, concise and easy to navigate.

Funnel Traffic to Forms

All website pages should include a call to action (CTA) that is relevant to the page content.

Examples of high converting CTAs include:

  • Pop up forms displayed on exit intent
  • Banners announcing upcoming events (e.g Hellobar)
  • Inline forms or buttons that direct visitors to cornerstone content.

Remember, the most important thing is to get as many email address as possible.


As soon as someone engages with your website by downloading content, or subscribing to a newsletter, they should enter a nurturing campaign.

Segment Your Audience

Tailor your communication and don’t treat everyone the same. Tailored emails have a much higher engagement that broadcasts.

Ideally, nurturing campaigns should be segmented based on the subscriber’s persona and stage in the purchase cycle. We call them ‘buckets’.

Respond Promptly

You should respond to every new subscriber promptly, preferably immediately but definitely within 24 hours.

If you leave it any later, they probably won’t remember who you are.

This is easily achieved in Pardot and most other marketing automation tools by triggering a short autoresponder.

Personalise Communication

Marketing automation is great but really good automation is personal. Use prospects’ names, companies in industries, and email from a real user when it is appropriate.

The Sender Should be a Person But Identify Your Brand

No-one likes receiving generic emails from [email protected] or [email protected], so don’t send them.

Emails sent from a real person typically receive higher open rates.

However, subscribers typically don’t know who the sender is, but they usually know the brand they have just engaged with.

This is why you should include the brand name in the outgoing email name field, for example:

  • Matthew Clarkson |
  • Matthew Clarkson from

Keep It Short

People are time poor (and lazy) so don’t expect them to read long emails.

People read online content very differently to how they read printed content.

To improve email engagement and click-through rates:

  • Keep content concise
  • Use bullet points
  • Use grade 8 language for all emails.

Consider Your Subject Lines

Subject lines are more important than the body of the email in many respects.

However, they rarely get the same level of consideration.

You need to ensure they are:

  • Formatted like a real person would eg. most personal email subject lines are Not All Title Case Like Corporate Emails, they are more often ‘Sentence case’
  • Realistic – if you think it sounds too much like a marketing email, then it probably does
  • Genuine – it should reflect the actual content
  • Interesting / Intriguing – boring doesn’t convert.

Add Personality

Add personality to content and your communications. ? IBM owns boring. You don’t need to try!

People like to engage with brands that, well, have a ‘brand’.  

What is your company’s tone and how do you use this to make people like engaging with you?

Intercom is a good example. They are big advocates of including a fun element in their comms through the use of emojis and animated gifs.

Nurturing Is Not Linear

Build lead nurture programs to be as dynamic as possible.

Lead nurturing isn’t a straight path. Programs need to be responsive to the needs of your subscribers.

Is someone in the early stages of nurture looking at pricing information on your website? Route them to an ‘interested’ bucket.

Did a lead recently attend an event you heald? Include a personalised message in the next nurture email as a follow-up.

Lead Scoring

Not all leads are equal. Some are more important than others for your current sales goals.

This is why lead scoring is so valuable for building successful automated marketing campaigns.

Lead scoring is simple. Basically, you assign a numerical score to each lead based on what they seem to be worth to you and their buying indicators.

For example:

  • Visits pricing page 1 time – +10 pts
  • Visits pricing page 3 times – +50 pts
  • Downloads a PDF – +10 pts

You can also apply negative scores to visitors when they exhibit behaviour that isn’t aligned with a normal purchasing process, such as visiting a careers page (e.g. -100pts)

You can then prioritise personal follow up based on each lead’s score.


In summary, marketing automation should be regarded holistically. 

Understanding the customer journey is the foundation of marketing automation. Once you know this, you should be able to and produce useful content targeting each persona at each stage of the purchase cycle, and convert traffic to leads, prospects and finally customers.

Remember, marketing aut0mation is not a “one-off” tactic. It should be baked into your systems, and at the heart of your sales and marketing process.

Make sure you follow these marketing automation best practices next time you consider a new campaign!