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The Downside of Marketing Automation

You visit a website.

You register for a white paper download.

You get an email.

Open it, and you get another one in 2 days.

Ignore it and three days later, you get another one.

And so it goes.

Welcome to the wonderful world of IF/THEN marketing automation statements – probably the most overused feature of marketing automation software. And, arguably…

•the best way to alienate your prospects
•the least efficient way to generate positive ROI from your marketing automation investment.

In fact, relying on single click automation events may do more harm than good because a single click doesn’t come close to defining the motivations and intent of a given lead. Further, this approach doesn’t move you any closer to understanding visitor behavior or leveraging the power of marketing automation software as a lead intelligence gathering machine.

Building a Lead Intelligence Gathering Machine

Taking marketing automation to the next level means graduating from email-centric campaigns to multi-touch campaigns across phone, postal mail, SMS, social and more.

In B2B inbound marketing, a lead makes itself known by completing an inquiry form or other opt-in. This starts the process of understanding that lead’s motivation and fitting that lead into a persona then walking the lead through a progressive experience designed to convert them into a customer.  

A person’s industry or title do not define their interests or their role in the buying process. That information, while useful, does not tell you what content they need to complete their journey.  

Forming a clear picture of visitor intent takes some time. A persona encapsulates who a person is (e.g., a CMO/decision maker at a midsize manufacturing company) and their goals (e.g., seeking materials on marketing automation measurement).  Over time, you can also learn what keeps them up at night and other important facts that round out the persona. The more time you have, the better your customer intelligence and the better your persona experience.

For smaller companies that don’t have the luxury of time or teams of data scientists, there are a number of free or inexpensive tools that can help accelerate customer intelligence gathering:

  • Analytics: Google Analytics is free and it helps you understand how traffic behaves on your website – which categories are performing best, how is content being discovered, and more.
  • Optimize: Another free product from Google, Optimize helps you set up simple or more complex variations of your website to determine what works best for your customers.
  • Concurra: New, incredibly powerful and cost-effective platforms like Concurra provide traffic analysis, goal tracking, heat maps, live maps, scroll maps, A/B and multivariate testing all in one platform, fully integrated. This is useful for a few reasons: only having to use one tool instead of 3 or 3-4 separate tools, and as a result, only having to install one pixel on your website instead of 3-4 pixels.

With the right tools in place, it is possible to triangulate multiple data sources and quickly reveal insights about which content or behavior signals real buying intent.  For example, if someone is in the “awareness” phase of a marketing agency selection, the keywords they use will broadcast less intent – maybe something like “do I need a marketing automation agency?” This query can be fulfilled with a content piece such as a checklist.  

However, if someone definitely needs a marketing agency, they might use a high intent keyword like “marketing automation agency chicago.” This search is more likely to be a hot lead that converts quickly.


When analyzing content and building your editorial calendar for the coming months, it helps to have broad buckets of content that define different levels of intent.

As your customer intelligence gathering machine starts working, your personas will evolve. As leads explore different, more advanced content, their behavior will help you understand when they have moved into a different stage of the decision process.

Concurra’s heat mapping applications and specialized traffic analytics packages allow you to learn on the fly and adjust your approach as you go.  Don’t be afraid to adapt quickly as you learn what works.  


Instead of conditional IF/THEN statements, campaigns that leverage personas at each buying stage are more important than triggers from individual actions. Triggering actions from individual actions (such as opening an email) minimize the big picture and seldom consider where that prospect sits in the buying process.   

Intelligence gathering can take place with progressive profiling – dynamic forms that that enable you to designate which questions appear based on what you already know about a particular lead.

With progressive profiling, every time a lead completes a form, you are collecting non-repetitive information about them without causing additional friction in the conversion process.  Instead of asking return visitors to repeat the original form fill questions, you can ask new questions every time a lead converts – which allows you to capture more lead intelligence over time!

Use progressive forms to gate content. Want access to a certain page? Simply answer one question (e.g. What is your industry) from a dropdown. Or, embed a form on your blog and ask readers iterative questions such as the types of content they’re interested in.


For leads, using mediums other than email can also provide a more personalized experience. For example, workflows can dynamically change images or call to action buttons on the website, personas can trigger personalized offers, sales notifications can help when a lead’s actions change or their new cadence indicates a new level of interest. Even SMS and direct mail can add a new multi-channel twist to tired email marketing campaigns.

Remember, a lead may not open your emails but they might be interacting with your social media or simply delegating the purchase process to someone else. The B2B buyer is no longer a single person with the right job title, it is usually a committee that is constantly balancing shifting priorities and needs.

Without understanding the big picture, and incorporating it into your execution, you are missing out on meaningful ways to interact with prospects. Remember, marketing automation should make your life easier. But even more important, marketing automation should make your potential customers’ lives better and easier. Instead of filling the inbox with clutter, they should provide useful information at the time and place it is most needed.

With a framework in place, you clear the runway for effective, data-driven content marketing. It’s important to know from the start that this process will require constant tinkering and learning. But with the right tools and creative thinkers, you’re well on your way to delivering smarter content to your audience. Remember, data can’t tell a story without a storyteller.