7 Lessons Learned from Implementing Marketing Automation Platforms

As marketers, it’s hard not to be inspired by the potential of platforms like Salesforce Marketing Cloud (SFMC), Eloqua, the Adobe Cloud, and other marketing automation tools that help you deliver 1:1 customer experiences at scale. After all, they hold the promise of exponentially improving your marketing and sales results. That promise is why we do what we do for our clients.

However, as with any new, transformative technology, implementations are rarely simple, and it’s hard to anticipate roadblocks – or at least curves in the road – along the way.

In our experience helping clients stand up and get running with these technologies, we’ve learned some valuable lessons that every marketer should know before they get started.

1.     Think big but start small(ish)

You probably have ambitious goals for when you want to be communicating 1:1 with your customers – and for when you’re using all the channels available to you through powerful platforms like SFMC. Depending on the state of your data and the complexity of your existing programming, layering on multiple journeys and channels too soon could stretch the limits of your team and partners in the early months. Test and learn with simple campaigns, well-understood customer journeys, and channels you already know well. And build from there.

2.     Be wary of “lifting and shifting.”

At the same time, a shift to a new platform is a great opportunity to rethink your existing contact and journey strategy. Build into your roadmap the strategic work to document and prioritize marketing goals, segments, and customer journeys – before you start building. Journeys can involve complex technical work, and you might waste marketing dollars and time copying existing strategies that need to be revised when you learn more about the power of your new platform.

3.     Document, document, document.

Your data infrastructure and journey designs will become the bedrock of your marketing programs. Whether you are working with in-house developers and data scientists, or external partners, be sure their deliverables include documentation of their work. You’ll be surprised by the strength of the temptation to skip this step as you get caught up in the need to launch and deploy to meet timelines (your own, those of your executive team, or those of strategic partners).

4.     Understand the service you will get from your platform provider.

The major platform providers have some of the best technology minds on the planet working for them, and great service representatives. However, service is not necessarily their business priority – that’s why they partner with agencies. You should ask questions about how and whether you will get access to strategic and technical support, their mode of delivering service, turnaround/response times, and any additional costs. Then you can build your in-house or partner team accordingly to fill any gaps.

5.     Create a Project Charter to codify QC and workflow.

While it may be more exciting for marketers to spend time thinking about how the new platform will boost engagement and generate revenue, we highly recommend tapping into the talents of technical project managers who get jazzed about the process. They’ll create a touchstone document that captures schedules, technical requirements, escalation procedures, workflow, RACI, quality assurance and quality control details, and all the important project control measures that can get lost in a rush to meet deadlines.

6.     Prepare your data environment.

Before you get going, have an honest look at the state of your data. You’re about to invest in some expensive technology. If your data isn’t clean, accessible, or scrutable, you may find yourself limited to rather static, standard campaigning that doesn’t get you much further than you could get with a simple email platform. Sit down with your team and partners to talk through how you can prepare your data for this new era in your marketing journey. And tap platform and data experts for their understanding of how data will flow into the platform and any potential limitations, especially when you will have large volumes of real-time data.

7.     Keep your eye on the KPI.

Ultimately you’re investing in your new platform to drive sales of your products and services. But remember that the default platform reporting will focus on engagement/platform metrics such as opens, clickthroughs, journey completion, and so on. Engagement is important and typically a good indicator of marketing performance – but be sure you set meaningful goals within the platform – goals that can be linked to your ultimate marketing and sales objectives. That way you’ll be able to confidently report to your team that your investment in this amazing technology is working for the organization at large.