Marketing is changing rapidly: just a few years ago it was only the brave pioneers who were running marketing automation systems, yet today the majority of B2B tech companies see automation as one of the pillars of their activities. Despite the widespread adoption of marketing automation, however, I often hear client’s express disappointment at the results they achieve. Why do people pay good money for a tool that often disappoints?

In his excellent book, Disrupted, that describes his time at HubSpot, Dan Lyons meets a salesperson who explains that:

“Some customers buy the software but don’t use it because they are too busy to write a blog. They’re like people who sign up for a gym membership but never go to the gym… And then there are about 10 percent of the customers where it’s absolutely magic”

How do you make sure that you’re one of the companies that is blessed with the “magic”? My experience suggests that it’s not as difficult as it sounds.

Firstly, you need to be in a suitable industry. Marketing automation, and Inbound marketing work best in industries that have high-involvement decisions. In particular it’s decisions where people actively research to seek out information that will help them either choose the best product or (and this is probably the most common case) avoid a career-limiting wrong choice. Most B2B tech markets meet this requirement, and so we’re already half-way there. A bigger challenge, however, is understanding the two ingredients of marketing automation.

The Two Magic Ingredients of Marketing Automation

Like a wizard making a spell, marketing automation magic relies on a potion to be created. This potion needs two vital ingredients.

The first is high-quality publishing. To be successful with your marketing automation campaign, the content you create must be valuable to your target audience. You need to be creating materials that match, or preferably exceed the quality of the information in the trade press.

Of course, this means providing technical information and advice. But publishing isn’t just about the quality of the writing: it’s about making sure you are delivering what the audience wants. Too often we see companies producing expensive content that takes hours to create but doesn’t address the concerns of customers and potential customers. What might be an issue for you, may not be a problem for your customers.

Once you start thinking like a publisher, you’ll be able to forget about the internal pressures and view things from your audience’s point of view. This will help you create great content that resonates with potential customers.

The second magical ingredient is effective nurturing. It’s about guiding customers along a journey at their speed, not yours. It would be great if simply saying “buy X” worked, but for high-involvement decisions, that simply is not the way customers choose.

Great guides move you from one stage of the journey to the next in a way that is so subtle and smooth you barely notice it. Just getting to the next landmark is something that feels easy and realistic, whereas talking about the entire journey can feel terrifying. When you are struggling in a marathon, the best approach is to simply get to the next lamppost, and then the next, rather than thinking “there are only eight miles to go”.

It’s hard to nurture customers effectively. They don’t follow the journey you want them to take. They can stop and go back a stage. They rarely move to being ready to purchase as quickly as you like. Great marketing automation campaigns are rarely the result of a stunningly effective email (magic bullets rarely exist) but are generally a beautiful path created from many small steps forward. This can be very different to thinking like a publisher, where an “Pulitzer-Quality” piece of content might have potential customers flocking to the site.

How to Mix the Two Ingredients to Make Magic

Some magic is created by individuals who have been trained well, whereas others prefer to work in groups. In reality, most great marketing automation magic is created by groups. It’s extremely difficult to generate all the content and rules required for great campaigns without a team, and as I’ve pointed out in this post, publishers and guides think very differently.

It’s definitely hard work to create marketing automation magic, but if you mix the two ingredients correctly, it’s extremely likely that you’ll be in the group that finds magic.