Marketing automation implementation - where to begin?

The c suite has signed off on your marketing automation business case and you’re raring to implement the shiny new software that will transform your marketing efforts. The problem is, implementing a new marketing automation tool successfully is not a quick task. It requires careful planning, integration, and onboarding, so where to start?

As a marketing automation consultant, a chunk of my time is spent reviewing and correcting the setup and account structure issues I see every day in automation platforms. 
More often than not, businesses are so eager to start using a new automation tool that they dive right in and start importing prospects or sending emails without giving the implementation the time and attention it requires to work in the long run.

I say the long run because the way an automation platform is implemented directly affects what you’ll be able to achieve with it in the months and years to come.

Following the correct steps to implement a marketing automation software in the beginning means you’ll be able to scale, effectively use new features and ensure that you don’t waste time fixing data syncs or analytics issues later down the track.

How to approach marketing automation implementation

Different marketing automation platforms will have slightly different requirements when it comes to implementation. Your setup can also be affected by your business structure, for example, whether the tool will be used by a single team or multiple teams in various departments.

That being said, ultimately there are a standard set of steps I recommend you follow in order to ensure a well-planned, accurate and error-free implementation.

1. Make a plan

Before you begin implementing your chosen marketing automation software, the first step is to write documented plan that outlines:

  • What is required from your development or IT team? Think domain configuration for emails, whitelisting IPs, adding tracking codes to the site etc.
  • Who are your users and what permissions should they have?
  • Which integrations are essential from the start e.g. CRM and third-party tools?
  • How should the data in your account be structured? Consider how you’ll use lists, tags and segmentation.
  • What is the best method for migrating your prospect data from an existing system to this new one?
  • How will your folder or campaign structure affect how you run and report on activity?
  • Will you need to migrate or update forms, landing pages or email templates?
  • Do you have a lead management system in place and if so, have all relevant team members been briefed on this?
  • What onboarding and training should be arranged for staff?

The best piece of advice I can give for the planning phase is to be led by your marketing strategy first and foremost. The tool is a means to execute an already well-thought-out marketing or lead nurture strategy. It is not a replacement for it! Start with your marketing plan and arrange your lists and segmentation in line with this.

2. Technical setup

Ensuring the correct domain configuration is vital for preventing your emails going to spam folders or causing issues with your individual business emails. 

You’ll want to add or update things like Sender Policy Framework (SPF) and DKIM records in your Domain Name Service (DNS) to ensure the best deliverability and to support your sender reputation. If those acronyms mean nothing to you, work with your IT team to implement.

It’s also important to consider using a separate email domain for campaigns because a sub-par sender reputation can impact your individual business emails too - and that is a real problem!

Lastly, in order to track email subscribers on your website you’ll need to add or update the tracking code, potentially install a plugin for your chosen automation software, and update your tracking preferences or Privacy Policy page to remain GDPR compliant.

Get these essential tasks completed as a priority so you can move forward confident that your marketing emails and activities will be received and tracked correctly.

3. Import data

With your documented plan in hand, you can now create the lists, custom fields, and tags you need before you import your database.

If you are importing manually from a spreadsheet, it’s worthwhile doing a quick data cleanse during the migration process to ensure that all prospects imported into the new system are as up to date and free from errors as possible. 

When you import, it should be a straightforward case of mapping your spreadsheet columns to the correct data fields. However, you might want to test importing a few records before importing a database of thousands.

4. Integrate with your CRM

It always amazes me how many businesses use their marketing automation software in silo from their sales CRM. The only way to really manage and track a customer from initial contact right through to sale is to integrate your CRM with your marketing software.

Depending on your automation and CRM platforms, this may be fairly easy to do. For example, businesses that use Pardot for marketing automation typically use Salesforce as their CRM and because the two products are owned by Salesforce, they easily integrate and sync to ensure Salesforce and Pardot users can see the full lifecycle of their leads.

In other cases, a CRM integration must be custom built. So, if this isn’t an option for cost or resource reasons, consider instead how you can best ensure the two platforms (and the teams using them) stay aligned. This may involve manual imports or a more manual lead management process for your users.

5. Set up folders/campaigns for assets

The way you group your marketing assets matters and how well you’re able to do this will vary depending on the automation software you use. 

For example, your tool of choice may use folders which contain all the assets associated with a particular campaign. This means that it’s much easier for teams to see all their campaign assets in a single place and also to evaluate asset and campaign performance efficiently.

Regardless of the software you’re working with, endeavour to group assets in any way that makes sense and keep your account organised from the start by setting naming conventions and processes for removing drafts or templates that are no longer needed.

6. Get the team on board

At this point, you have a basic marketing automation implementation with the correct technical setup, your data imported, CRM integration and a folder or campaign structure to follow. Now it’s time to onboard the team by:

  • Setting them up as users with the relevant permissions each will need.
  • Providing a library of training materials that introduce them to the software.
  • Sharing the process you have put in place around data imports, segmentation and management, naming conventions and associating assets with campaigns.
  • Running onboarding sessions with the team to ensure everyone understands their role, are familiar with the platform and to answer any questions.

Most premium marketing automation tools come with a raft of training materials and support communities. For example, HubSpot has the HubSpot Academy, whilst Pardot has the Trailhead training resources. Encourage teams to sign up and become knowledgeable in the software so you can get more out of your software faster.

Implementation complete… mostly

The steps above cover a basic but well-thought-out implementation of any marketing automation software. It goes without saying that different platforms will have their own nuances and requirements, so be sure to research these during the planning stage too. 

While these initial steps are enough to set you up correctly, they are just the starting point. From here you can begin looking at other aspects of the implementation that are a little more complex, such as:

  • Designing email campaign templates.
  • Setting up lead scoring or grading.
  • Planning and setting up your first automated journey.
  • Integrating with other third-party tools you may be using.
  • Further customising your account.

Hopefully reading this blog has given you some great starting points to follow as you implement your automation platform. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, there’s always the option of working with an experienced automation consultant or agency, or recruiting a marketing automation manager to lead the project in-house.