Maturity of B2B digital marketing: the implementation of marketing automation (3/7)

Our advice

15mn   Beginner Level

After preparing the base camp to start your digital marketing climb, and the launch of your content strategy, discover today the configuration of camp No. 2: the startup and deployment of your marketing automation project.

Table of contents of the series
  1. Preparing for the change
  2. The first 3 months and the content strategy
  3. Starting your marketing automation (here you go)
  4. Moving towards “demand generation”
  5. Conversational marketing (in progress)
  6. Conversational marketing (in progress)
  7. Revenue performance management (in progress)


After reading the previous article, you’ve decided to launch your content strategy. If you followed my recommendations, you have :

  • set up a robust and sustainable content production team and/or chosen an agency
  • defined some buyer personas
  • modeled a customer journey
  • created a first content matrix
  • launched the content production mechanism
  • aligned your website with your content strategy
  • selected a robust marketing automation solution,

This is a great start! Let’s move on!

It’s best to read the article in order, but here’s a quick summary so you know what to expect:

The choice of the marketing automation solution
When I reread the second article, I thought that the best practices for choosing the marketing automation solution were missing, especially the tender stage for large accounts.
Indeed, 80% of the errors and the extra cost of a project are determined during the first 5% of this project.
And the bidding process is certainly a critical passage, which can put you on the right track, or lead you directly into the wall.
It certainly deserves an article, I promise, I’ll get to it as soon as I finish this series.

For those of you who haven’t read the first article, I’m unfolding the thread of the mountain: read it again to know how to prepare the base camp before you start climbing the marketing automation mountain.

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Choosing the altitude of camp 2: defining the objective

You’ve chosen your marketing automation solution, and you’re ready to get started. Let me stop you. What is your goal for this project? Strangely enough, the most obvious objective is never put forward (or is drowned out by 57 other objectives!).

The goal of a marketing automation project is to make you autonomous in your operational marketing.

At least that’s how we approach it at Merlin/Leonard. And to achieve this goal, the project must focus on the training of your marketing teams. The intermediate objective of launching the first real campaign, after three weeks, will be a real highlight of your project.

Save the main resource: time

Of course, you want to do multichannel marketing, align your marketing and sales, create digital conversations… But what you certainly lack the most today and will lack more tomorrow is time. Your first objective should therefore be to feel “comfortable” with your new solution, which will allow you to gain productivity on your usual campaigns.

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Obstacles to the marketing transformation project

I have encountered many times the situations below, where the marketing team ends up complaining:

1. The solution is too complicated to use and you have a team of specialists on the IT side to whom you delegate the execution of the campaigns.

At this point, your “Go to Market” speed is going to take a hit because it’s impossible to launch a webinar on the hot topic of the moment for next week. You will create a ticket, write specifications, explain what you want to the specialists, take part in the tests, make a first feedback, correct the campaign again, retest… and 2 months will have passed! Generally, a feeling of helplessness and fatality invades you: “That’s how it is, there’s nothing you can do about it”… FALSE, you must choose a solution that you can control, the marketing automation solution must be ENTIRELY under your control.
digital marketing maturity 2/3

2. The solution is manageable, but you don’t have enough time:

You combine operational marketing, strategic marketing, product marketing, inside sales, data quality and you only have 2 or 3 days to devote to operational marketing. You will quickly forget what you have learned and what seemed simple will become complicated, and you will start to make mistakes, until the fatal error: the “email blast” that sprays the entire base, with an email that theoretically concerns only 5% of it; all followed by the apology email with the cat making eyes to make amends.

maturity of digital marketing cute cat

The problem of team sizing
It’s a shame to have invested in a solution but not to put the resources behind it to exploit it fully. My advice: have an operational marketing person working at least half-time on the solution… for an SME. For a large account, I talk about it below.

3. Many pilots… But only one goal to keep in mind!

The project is managed by the IT department, and you start to carry out impact studies on the synchronization of CRM and marketing automation, you have endless meetings with the security manager, the chief data officer is waiting for your action plan to comply with the RGPD, you have difficulties in setting up the “SSO” (single-sign-on)… All this is important, but it’s not the most important thing: we’re there to do marketing! Contrary to “classic” CRM projects – where 85% of the time is spent on the IT side developing the solution and where the businesses only participate at the beginning for the workshops, and at the end for the tests and training (I’m caricaturing a bit) -, you have to spend 15% of the time on implementation and configuration and 85% on creating campaigns, emails, landing pages, adaptive forms, sending test campaigns to your fellow trainees, looking at the KPIs, cloning the campaign, changing the parameters, re-running it, rinsing & repeating… .

Nota bene: I have nothing against IT, I spent my first ten years of my career there, and that’s why I can talk relatively calmly about integration, databases … Thank you IT!

But in a marketing automation context, the IT department must intervene at the beginning – and on the interfaces of course – and leave the hand to the business, otherwise it will slow down the reactivity of the marketing teams, who, let’s face it, can change their mind 15 times in a minute… ????

At some point, you must have that magical moment when you say to yourself “this is it, I’ve got it, it’s actually simple”. From there, you’ll be comfortable with the rest!

success maturity of digital marketing


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How to size your team: which team for the operational marketing of a major account?

The complexities of the large account organization

What may seem trivial at Merlin/Leonard – sending a newsletter – can be a real headache for a large account because of the sometimes complex organization:

  • Targeting is complicated because of the CRM: you have to take the people who have subscribed to such and such a newsletter of this business unit following the visits of the sales people, and the information is stored on visit reports in the CRM in a text field. But you will have to exclude this list of VIP customers who have a dedicated newsletter – and you will be given a paper list of company names -, while remembering to exclude unsubscribers who are stored in an emailing tool to be decommissioned, and include people who have signed up via a temporary preference center managed by an external service provider
  • The choice of subjects will be a battle, everyone wants to give their opinion and the risk is to make the newsletter completely incoherent
    The images must be requested from the communication department which does not necessarily have your newsletter as a priority
  • Who sends the newsletter? At Merlin/Leonard, it’s me or Josélito who sends the newsletters, and we are happy to receive responses, to start conversations. On the contrary, here, the reaction is often “But you mustn’t put my name, otherwise people will write to me! We’ll put something like or
  • The legal system requires us to put a footer of 40 lines in order to be able to tuck in all the way.

You think I’m exaggerating? I’ve been in each of these situations, maybe not all of them together.


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What organization should be put in place?

In the same way that you have built a serious team for content production, you need the same level of requirement for operational marketing.

Your team will gradually gain skills and confidence in the solution and its capabilities. You will then be able to make better and better targeted campaigns, more and more relevant, using the collected data better and better.

The biggest mistake I encounter is to put a junior or even an intern to take care of everything. Even if the person has the best will in the world, he or she will quickly be overwhelmed.

Because the major risk of an operational marketing team is turnover.

In all functions, you may say. People trained on advanced marketing automation solutions are rare and therefore easily poached. If you only have one person on your operational marketing team, you can easily lose everything and put your marketing strategy on hold for a year, while you hire again and the person gets more skilled. Can you waste a year?

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So, the ideal team according to me for a large account, consists of :

  • A full time project manager / operational marketing manager, who will have as role:
    • Coordinate with all stakeholders: marketing, legal, IT, communication, web team, and protect his team from all these disruptions
    • Define the campaigns to be carried out, and model them in the form of flowcharts, define the targeting in business terms, the brief of the texts
    • There can be one operational marketing manager per business unit (BU)
  • Marketing users, who will produce and execute the campaigns:
    • A champion of the marketing automation solution who knows it inside out and will produce the workflows (this can be the project manager at first).
    • Another person, more versed in writing, who will write all the texts of the emails and landing pages
    • A targeting specialist who knows the company’s data model perfectly and knows where to look for information in the CRM or any other database. Later on, he or she will take on the title of “data steward” – that’s great! – and will take care of all data quality.
    • A data specialist who analyzes campaigns and correlates data to the CRM, Google Analytics and produces reports. He will also be the email deliverability specialist. Initially, this position can be combined with the one above for targeting.
    • It is better to have HTML skills in the team for the fine adjustments, always necessary on the site or in the landing pages / emails

It is complicated to gather all these people at the beginning, and you will surely start with less. But eventually your team should look like this!

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Milestones of the first ascent:

The project tasks

Once we agree with these postulates, the project is relatively simple (if I exclude the interfaces part which is managed like a classic IT project, in V or in agile depending on your preferences):

  • Choose the champions, those who are now in operational marketing and who will use the solution on a daily basis;
  • Build a training plan of two to three weeks, where you will make them work on their current campaigns. For this, you will have chosen a few representative campaigns (emailing, events, webinars) that the teams will apply to replicate in the new solution. And that’s it!
  • Collect the data to be migrated and import it into the solution (including unsubscribed, black-listed, opt-in, etc.).
  • Set up trackers on the sites and blogs that will allow you to automatically listen to the digital paths.

The implementation of the solution is not complicated in itself and does not require “computer” skills. However, there are a certain number of choices to be made, which will be crucial for the future in terms of efficiency and correct reporting. I therefore advise you to get help in defining :

  • The storage and naming plan for your campaigns (and resources) so that you can easily find your way around tomorrow when you’re on your 487th email send – especially if you’re working with several people on the solution!
  • The tagging of campaigns, which is crucial for reporting;
  • Synchronization with the CRM and harmonization of information exchanges between marketing and sales;
  • The definition of clean and efficient campaign templates, which correctly track the origin of your leads (always with a view to relevant reporting);
  • Replacing the forms on your sites and blogs, to collect leads automatically.

As you can see, the first 6 months of the deployment of your marketing automation solution will mainly allow you to gain confidence in the solution. It will allow you to do the same campaigns as before, but much faster and, above all, with more security: the exchanges of Excel or .csv files will have disappeared. In short, you should not rush into behavioral nurturing: you are probably not ready and do not have enough data yet.

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Butterflies in the stomach as the first mini-summit approaches!

The first campaigns you will integrate will be accompanied by the following actions:

  • replace your contact forms with those of the marketing automation solution to integrate new people directly into the solution, and send alerts internally
  • create your content download campaigns to be able to collect the names of those who request to download your white papers
  • prepare outbound emailing templates and refine targeting: push offers, greetings…
  • industrialize the newsletter to save time
  • set up a preference center to manage consents
  • set up an event or webinar program template to be ready for the next one.

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Beware of the crevasse: the CRM connection

If you’re a major corporation, you’ve got a complicated CRM. Why? Because your business model itself is complicated and over the years you have put more and more of your value chain into CRM.

A bit of history…

I started CRM projects in the early 1990s. At that time, no SaaS, no Cloud, we were leaving the “mainframe” world (remember, terminals written in green on a black background). And the headlines in the trade press were “Revolution! Huge productivity gains! A business solution in the hands of the business!”

The leader at the time was Siebel Systems. The solution was incredibly ergonomic for its time, salespeople could take their data with them on their laptops and work on the move, the data was integrated more easily with the back office and it was possible to make decisions in real time!

Sales people no longer had an excuse to sell more and better! It was easy to enter a contact and an account, to record calls and opportunities and to have a view of their daily to-do.

Sound familiar?

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And so the CRM projects followed one another with the following biases:

  • Business teams unable to define the key account and contact data to be exposed in the CRM, so “we just put it all in” > long screens
  • Sales people, seeing an opportunity to simplify their job, thought “what if we asked sales to go one step further than the opportunity and create the proposal? It’s simple, it’s the same system, we already have the data, we just need to add a few screens. (Of course helped by the software company who had an interest in selling their solution).
    • Sometimes, it was necessary to develop a rather complex quotation sub-solution
  • The support people also asked for an ergonomic solution, connected to the phone system, so we added screens and integrations
  • Marketing, having no solution, jumped into the breach, and asked for the addition of a lot of fields to qualify accounts and opportunities, thinking “anyway, it’s sales that enters the data”.
  • Sometimes sales people would “steal” accounts from each other, so complex visibility rules were put in place to compartmentalize portfolios and assignment engines by territory
  • The editor started to develop “verticals” specialized on business sectors, with advanced functionalities for that sector. Unluckily, most of the time, the consultants on the project were not trained in this specific area and redeveloped these native features
  • And so on…

After 15 years of frantic development, what was the result?

  • Sales teams on the verge of a nervous breakdown as soon as the word “CRM” was mentioned

  • IT teams on their knees, where each version delivered looks like a trench war, with its dead and blood on the walls
  • Marketing teams fed up with salespeople not doing a better job with CRM…

But, miraculously, Salesforce arrived in the 2000s. No more servers to set up, we’re in the Cloud! No more heavy assets on the balance sheet, we’re in SaaS! No more complexity of the old CRM, we’re in the simple: it was easy to enter a contact and an account, to record his calls and opportunities and to have a vision of his daily to-do 😉

And bis repetita

I’m not going to rehash the last 15 years with Siebel, but it’s basically the same thing, with the same conclusion at the end .So do you think the problem is the technology?

I’ve never met a sales team that was happy with their CRM.

What to put in a CRM?

A CRM is a solution that should help sales. So I’m going to put the same sentence back for the third time “It was easy to enter a contact and an account, record his calls and opportunities, and get a view of his daily to-do.”

Sales administration should not impact sales, nor should customer support; sales does not need to see the completeness of the contractual complexity between the company and that customer; sales is not the data collector for marketing.

CRM and marketing automation integration

As you can see, the difficulty lies in the complexity of the business model, which has been integrated into the CRM. In the same way that we give up making choices on the CRM side in the data to be exposed, we often give up choosing the data that will really be relevant for our targeting. So it is easier to send everything to marketing automation, instead of sending aggregates or high value-added data.

For example: it is sometimes complicated to know if a company is a customer or not. You have to look if there is an active contract, and with an end date in the future, because the data is of poor quality and the status of the contract is not always up-to-date. On the marketing side, we just need to know if it’s a customer or not.

Furthermore, solutions often have native connectors between them. These connectors are based on a “standard” use of the CRM and the business model around the customer. If you have “twisted” your CRM solution too much, you won’t be able to use the native connector and will be forced to develop a more expensive and less efficient custom integration.

Finally, there is a natural bias in CRMs, which focus on customers rather than prospects. Sometimes, the complexity built in to give the “360° view” of the customer creates side effects that are very detrimental to the prospect part. Example:

  • To create an account, you need a SIREN
  • To create a contact, you need an email, a name and a surname
  • To create a sales lead, you need a go-to-market, an amount, a product…

So much information that we do not have at the beginning of the cycle. For these reasons, the introduction of a marketing automation solution naturally leads to a review of the CRM and to its simplification.

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Getting the rope to walk as one: starting the marketing and sales alignment

At the same time as you are learning about the solution, it is a good idea to set up workshops with your sales friends to start “aligning sales and marketing“. I say “start” because this is usually a long-term process that will take place over the next two years!

Unpacking the old files

The idea is to explain to our friends in sales what will change in the medium term in the relationship with marketing. The problem is that they usually don’t believe us when we tell them that they will receive fewer but better qualified leads. So I start by digging up the old contentious issues between sales and marketing with a good coaching/brainstorming session:

  • Sales friends, what do you like about marketing? What don’t you like? What do you want from marketing?
  • Friends of marketing, what do you like about sales? What don’t you like? What do you want from sales?

And then it’s usually off to a half-day of unpacking!

Build the model together with marketing and sales

Once everyone realizes that they have a wide area of overlap with their expectations (it works every time), we can begin to :

  • Introduce the concepts of inbound marketing, content, scoring, lead cycle, personal branding…
  • Think about a common sales-marketing cycle for lead generation and renewal, by defining a common terminology: lead, opportunity, SQL, SAL… each company has its own “dictionary”: it is essential to have the same definition on the sales and marketing side,
  • Think about the criteria for moving from one stage to the next that can be shared between teams,
  • Start thinking about the scoring model: what, in the interactions that we will capture from prospects and customers, is important for sales? for marketing?
  • Choose the key indicators to share.
To infinity… and beyond
Let’s be crazy, let’s define a monthly meeting where we share what worked in the previous month, what will happen on the marketing side in the next few weeks, how sales converted the leads pushed by marketing, in how long? To gradually move towards co-construction of marketing campaigns – but that comes after a year or two.

Working on the critical phase: the marketing > sales transition

One of the most crucial decisions to be made very quickly is the transition of leads from marketing to sales and its criteria: this is the “qualification” phase.

  • What are the factual criteria for which marketing will consider that it has done its job of “nurturing”? Is it reaching a certain score? Is it obtaining crucial information such as “BANT” (Budget, Authority, Need, Time)? Is it both?
  • What happens between the time marketing feels it has done its job and the time sales can actually accept the leads?

The false positives

It is important not to push “hot” leads directly to sales. In fact, several factors can generate false hot leads.

Example taken from a true story
A lead comes to my old site on a Saturday, downloads a white paper, an offer, two offers, visits a dozen pages… At that moment, Marketo lights up like a Christmas tree, sends me an alert telling me that a lead is hot, and that I should “qualify” it. I look at the lead’s name, gleaned from forms on Linkedin, and it doesn’t give me any additional information, his Linkedin page being almost empty. And finally, the lead fills out a contact form with the following message (I’m transcribing roughly) “Hey, that looks great your company, I’m collecting keychains, could you send me one with your logo?”

A fake hot lead can also be :

  • a competitor “testing” your content and landing pages,
  • a person looking to be recruited,
  • a partnership request,
  • a curious collaborator…

In short, even if you can try to automatically detect the “undesirables” for sales, nothing beats the eye of a human for qualification!

Especially since this person (or group) has several other missions:

  • Enrich the lead with information that you can glean from other external databases, Linkedin, Twitter…
  • Deduplicate: before you can afford a team of “Data Stewards” who will spend their days deduplicating your database, you generally don’t have anyone who does this work on the fly (which is, it must be said, relatively repetitive). The right time to do it, in my opinion, is when the lead gets hot. Personally, I deduplicate as soon as a lead reaches the “To be qualified” status: I look to see if it does not already exist in the database, and if so, I merge it. I will also look at leads and contacts from the same company. Sometimes you can have several lukewarm leads and one hot lead, which is a sign that something is going on. In which case, I’ll convert them all and enrich the account (you get it, the underlying data model I’m talking about is the Enterprise CRM (e.g. Salesforce) and not the SMB CRM (e.g. HubSpot).
  • Assigning the lead: assignment models for large accounts can quickly become complicated, especially if you manage a direct sales force and an indirect sales force, such as a network of partners or resellers that you need to “feed” with leads. This is a far cry from the classic model of territorial or expertise-based assignment, which can be managed relatively automatically with the right tools. Sensitivities come into play, and it is sometimes necessary to have the finesse of a human being to clear situations that can be explosive.
  • Converting the lead into a contact/account: once again, this is very much linked to the “Key Account” CRM model. This topic is a real debate within companies. When to convert the lead? Personally, I have opted for the solution where I concentrate the “data” tasks (qualification/enrichment/conversion/assignment) in expert hands and lighten the administrative work of my sales people as much as possible. This prevents me from being disappointed ???? ! Indeed, I have never met a sales person who was a fan of filling out a CRM and respecting the naming standards, the cleaning processes, the mandatory fields…

One last message: “if nothing happens, it’s normal

What is complicated afterwards is that sales will go back to their daily job… and won’t hear much from you. Indeed, the implementation of scoring will lead to an immediate scarcity of what you will push to them. And before the pipeline fills up and matures enough for you to deem them worthy of being qualified and then pushed to sales, it may take 3 or 6 months. So warn them right away, “This is normal.

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One last effort before camp #2: email deliverability

During the first six months of deployment of your new solution, you will generally continue to do the same campaigns as before, just better, faster, and therefore perhaps in greater numbers. These campaigns are statistically mostly outbound campaigns, based on emails (sending offers, invitations to events, webinars, content downloads). So it is quite interesting to spend some time on the deliverability of your emails because it is, at least at the beginning, the heart of the reactor.

The technical part

For this, a technical component is necessary (but not sufficient): implement SPF and DKIM type deliverability standards in order to certify that the emails sent by your marketing automation provider have your authorization, and are not SPAM. Be careful, this does not guarantee that your emails will end up in the email box of your recipients, but if you do not do it, you will fail for sure.

Good practices

Get help to know the best practices of email marketing:

  • What to put in the subject line? in the pre-header?
  • Who should send the email? At what time and on what day?
  • Who to write to? What targeting?
  • Should we prefer text emails or rather a nice HTML with images?
  • What tone to adopt?
  • What information to put in the footer?
  • How to manage the opt-in / opt-out / unsubscription? How to be compliant with the GDPR? How to design a communication preference center?

My goal is not to give you all the best practices here, I’m already on page 8 of my article ;-), just to say “Get help!”

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Arrival at camp #2

And there you have it! Victory! It’s now been 6 months since you started. The observations at this point should be:

“Wow, how much time we have saved compared to before in the creation and execution of our campaigns… On the other hand, having seen this gain in productivity, we have been asked to do twice as much ???? ”

“We accumulate data (digital journeys, scores, automated statuses…), but we don’t do much with it”

“At least we make “responsive” emails and landing pages easily… But it’s still a bit expensive to just send emails, right?”

Yep, it’s time to start the climb to camp #3 to start creating the digital “conversations”. This is when you thank me for advising you to start your content strategy 3 months ago. You’re going to put it all to music and create demand in the next issue….

Posted By Sylvain

For the past 20 years, Sylvain has been choosing and assembling the best technologies for his key account clients, to help them create a successful end-to-end customer experience. Surely the Leonard of the team, he is a fan - and expert - of Marketo! He sits next to his clients, drives them forward and makes Marketing Automation projects succeed with his team.