Get to grips with the basics of marketing automation, how it evolved from CRM and email marketing into a must-have technology. Discover the benefits of MA for large and small organisations, an in-depth look at how it works plus the best platforms compared and ranked for 2022.

Long Read : 1 hour +

Speak to an expert
Justin Hall, Protocol Global

by Justin Hall

Marketing Automation Campaign Architect - Protocol

Updated Spring 2022

Part 1 - Background and Basics | Part 2 - The Benefits | Part 3 - How it Works | Part 4 - Compare the best Platforms

TL;DR - To cut a very long story short, it's basically all about personalisation - and for that, we need marketing automation.

Truth be told marketing automation (MA) as a phrase sounds at best dull, at worst scary and technical. Over the years I've found many marketers and agencies talk a good talk but few have truly unleashed the potential that it could hold for businesses to capture, acquire and grow their businesses. Many still give it a cursory glance, paying lip-service to it or end up using it to bang out the odd email as part of a campaign - without really unravelling the sophisticated features and benefits it can truly bring.

My name is Justin and I work for Protocol, a MA Agency in London that helps global brands leverage the power of marketing technologies. I've worked with CRM for over 25 years and MA for over 14 years now, also running database and web teams around the world. I've written this guide with the help of some colleagues to answer the burning questions we hear everyday from marketers:

  • What is marketing automation? (for complete beginners)
  • Will my organisation benefit from it?
  • How does it work, and what does it actually do?
  • What are the best marketing automation platforms?
  • How can my business improve its implementation of MA beyond basic email?

So grab a tea or coffee and maybe add this page to your favourites - it's a lengthy read taking you from the basics to the advanced features, comparisons, screenshots, videos and more. I've written the guide that I would have wanted to read when I first started on this journey - hopefully written in an easy to understand and accessible way for everyone from complete beginners to advanced users (a refresher is always useful right?). First off, let's figure out how we got here because 20 years ago, MA wasn't even 'a thing'.


50s-90s Advertisers were the masters of concise, clever messaging (we need to re-discover this lost art)

So where did this all start? Well, Marketing Automation really evolved out of the direct mail database marketing era of the 70's and 80's - those heady exciting days of advertising and marketing which hadn't really changed much since the 50's and 60's. Marketing channels were pretty basic - TV and radio, printed ads in newspapers and magazines, out-of-home type display ads, point of sale and print advertising. Database marketing was becoming a thing (especially in the USA and UK) with telephone and direct mail.

As we entered the last decade of the century this evolved into the 90's ambition and vision of Customer Relationship Management "CRM" databases. The database was becoming more accessible to businesses who started to streamline their sales strategies (albeit with massive air conditioned server rooms - you probably have 20x more processing power on the device you're reading this from right now). Marketing also evolved, we stopped being the guys who managed the brochure cupboard and started to step up in sophistication and entering the sales process earlier. Sales and marketing were beginning to merge, blur and align.

This coincided with the internet. Advances in email, SMS and web platform technologies - specifically the ability to track, monitor and automate targeted, personalised messages. Moving into the noughties and the two thousand teens, social media and mobile messaging entered the mix and despite the constant addition and evolution of messaging channels (see the chart below), the central vision and ambition has remained the same:

The Definition or Mission Statement could be described as:

CRM and Marketing Automation enables us to create a single customer view of our customers - all of their engagements, interests, purchases and touch points throughout their own unique customer journey. The ultimate goal to enable sales and marketing teams to prioritise leads, deliver awesome, personalised, relevant messages and timely customer experiences and ultimately driving sales.
How marketing channels evolved from the 70's through to now

Marketing channels have increased drastically over the last 20 years with the explosion of technology, the internet, mobile devices and social media.

Personalisation is key

Personalised is the key word in our mission statement above - and will be the running thread throughout this guide. When we say personalisation we're talking in terms of two main concepts - TIME and CONTENT. Content in terms of crafting a message, offer or call-to-action that is some way targeted to a user - maybe based on known interests, behaviours, job role, industry, country using profiling and segmentation. Sending a follow up email to people who clicked on the link about sweaters for example.

Time is the other vector - when you communicate with someone, and this is trickier than it sounds. The customer journey below demonstrates how one individual is on their own journey, at their own point in time. Whilst I might be only beginning to research a problem I have with my mobile phone, you might be in the late decision stages looking for evidence and proof points. My messaging would need to be very different from yours in this scenario and our data shows us that being able to track your stage in the journey and then respond with targeted customer journey messaging drastically increases engagement and ultimately sales. Gone are the days of brands sending out universal messaging on their terms, today is all about customer centric messaging.

The Protocol Customer Journey shows us the importance of personalised messaging across two concepts - content (relevancy) and timing.

The Protocol Customer Journey shows us the importance of personalised messaging across two concepts - content (relevancy) and timing.

Customer marketing is even more time specific - sending complimentary messaging for new customers, welcome emails, upgrade or renewal offers - which are all very user specific in terms of timing. Many of our clients see this as their 'low-hanging fruit' being able to retain and grow existing customers with clever messaging.

This level of Hyper-Personalisation however needs three crucial things to work, three essential ingredients to be successful:

  1. Data
    Structured, healthy, segmentable data to drive targeting and personalisation
  2. Messaging
    Content, Experiences, Offers and Calls to Action
  3. MarTech Platforms
    The tools - the Marketing Technology platforms such as CRM, CMS (Content Management Systems) and Marketing Automation to manage and process all of this data, content, messaging and also sales leads

We'll explore Marketing Automation specifically in this guide, the role it plays in organisations (large and small), we'll learn how to assess if its right for you to explore further - and your organisation to implement, the additional roles of marketing automation in capturing and managing data, sorting and scoring leads as well as tagging and tracking behaviour. We'll be exploring in detail the working features of "MA" with an in-depth look at how each function works (with screenshots and animations) helping you unpick the inner workings and start to improve your knowledge and confidence on the technology.

Who is this guide really for?

A modern marketers daily job has become increasingly more stressful in the last twenty years. Gone are the gloriously happy and simple days of just worrying about brand, events and brochures - now we have an infinite number of channels, databases, search rankings, social platforms and digital advertising to manage. It can be tempting to stick your head in the sand and focus on your own particular comfort zone, past experience or skillset. For a modern marketer this is a fail and guaranteed career ender, if you're not sharpening your Swiss Army knife of skills around marketing technologies you'll soon (make yourself) irrelevant.

Increasingly we're seeing shifts in marketing roles and organisations. In the 90's and noughties there was an explosion of 'digital agencies' and 'integrated agencies'. We then saw PR morph into social agencies. Then we had demand gen and inbound agencies, SEO agencies. What is clear is that marketing has become increasingly a) more important, and b) more difficult and technical.

Today we're seeing traditional integrated agencies struggle with their own identity, knowing what integrated services they're selling, or what the bits they integrate are. Those that are growing and succeeding are taking the 'master of something' approach rather than 'trying to do a bit of everything' - but not one thing particularly well. Each modern marketing discipline is complex and sophisticated in its own right, takes a great deal of effort, time and commitment to understand and apply successfully - and the companies (and by definition the individuals) being successful are focusing on specific practice areas, for example:

  • Brand and Identity - the companies looking at logo's, tone, palettes, mission statements and values
  • Design Agencies - that focus on visual creative design, illustration, often tactically-led for specific campaign touches
  • MarTech Agencies - that focus on either:
    • CMS/Web Dev - e.g. Wordpress
    • App development for Android/iOS
    • Database Development and integration
    • CRM e.g. SalesForce integration
    • Marketing Automation e.g. Eloqua, HubSpot, Marketo, MailChimp
    • Analytics and Reporting - e.g. Data scientists and analysts, funnel reporting and dashboards
  • Search Engine Optimisation - focusing on keywords, organic search rankings and backlinks
  • Paid Media - focussing on paid advertising channels online and offline
  • Social, Reputation & PR Agencies - that focus on community messaging
  • Content development - that focus on researching and developing stories, facts and viewpoints for marketing
  • Audience research  - market research, interviews, surveys and building personas
  • Copywriting - wordsmithing copy, narratives and storylines
  • Video/audio/photography - production of moving and still imagery and sound
My personal belief is that both individuals and companies need to pick a discipline and learn it inside out - trying to be a 'Jack of all trades' with the above level of complexity means you probably lose credibility and also the ability to carve yourself a niche and offering in the market - marketing automation is no different. But like many of these disciplines there's two levels
  1. Being aware - Knowing enough about it, what it can do and the role it plays (so you can be a competent marketer), which this guide should help you with
  2. Being a specialist - knowing the detail and becoming a Subject Matter Expert, a sought-after person with rare and valuable skills which means this is a first step on a longer journey

There are a few groups of people that probably need to be aware of MA, if you're in this list then keep reading:

  • Marketing Automation Team RACIResponsible: Doing The Task Accountable: Owning The Task Consulted: Assisting Informed: Keeping Aware Sales and Marketer Leaders Marketing Operations Teams Sales Operations Teams Content Creators IT Team Information Officers and Lawyers Evaluating & Selecting MA Vendor A R C I C C Implementation C R I I C C Programme Design R C I C I C Programme Build I R I I I I Reporting I R C I C I Copyright Protocol Global Ltd 2014-2019. All Rights Reserved. ps will be kept up to date on the task or deliverable. This could be on progress, or when the task or deliverable is completed. They won’t be asked to feedback or review, but they can be affected by the outcome of the task or deliverable. There should be one-way communication to these roles or groups.

    Marketing Automation Roles & Responsibilities RACI

    Marketing Leaders
    Marketing Managers, Chief Marketing Officers, VP's, Heads of all need to understand the basic premise  of what the technology is, how it works, how it can benefit (or not) your organisation and whether to invest in the software, people and partners to make it work.

  • Marketing Operations Teams
    Including developers, web managers and project managers. Some may have a hand's on involvement in building out digital assets, web pages, emails and automated workflows. Marketing Ops therefore needs an in-depth understanding of the technical detail on how it all fits together and works. Demand Centre leaders and managers need more than a cursory knowledge of this tech.
  • Sales Leaders
    Sales teams, often the golden key-holders of CRM databases, telemarketing teams, field sales and more need an understanding on how this mystical marketing automation software will impact there daily lives (and it will)
  • Content Creators
    Word smiths, content producers, copy-writers and designers also need to have a firm grasp on what and how MA will impact the way they use their craft on a daily basis - how to write copy for personalisation, how to use messaging frameworks and information architecture to influence behavioural tracking
  • The IT Team
    They will need to know what this tool is, and how it will need to talk to other systems, be accessed and monitored and how it affects data. They also need to know that this is a business critical system - like ERP and CRM and other letters of the alphabet.
  • Information Officers and Lawyers
    In our post-GDPR world privacy and consent is critical, especially if you operate across borders. These folks will probably want to know (and sanction) exactly what you're planning to do with capturing people's data and using it.
  • Marketing Agencies (of all flavours), Consultants and Students
    Most flavours of agency listed above need a working knowledge of MA, whether they're SEM focused, content, social etc. The same with consultants and students. MA is a critical platform which needs fundamental consideration.

Now this bit is important:

Marketing Automation is a platform. It should be treated as a marketing project - not an IT project. It should be strategically-led by senior marketing professionals and not handed off to IT to manage or relegated to the intern. This needs senior marketing leaders involved and bought in.


What is marketing automation?

So what actually is it. Ask twenty marketers what marketing automation is and you'll get various responses. Many will say something something email marketing, others may mention leads, some may use words like personalisation and triggers and yet others will mistakenly start talking about adverts that follow you around the web (they're thinking display marketing and remarketing). Even seasoned users can often have differing views on what it is, how it works and what the benefits actually are.

My definition is this:

Marketing Automation is web browser based software that enables marketers to develop highly personalised and targeted customer messaging, develop automated customer journey workflows with indiviualised triggers based based on personas, behaviours and interests. Marketing automation also helps to build marketing databases, manage lead scoring, prioritise the best lead opportunities for sales team follow ups. - Protocol

Essentially it's software that helps us deliver better, more relevant and timely messages. simply put:

Deliver the right message, at the right time, in the right way

Marketing automation platforms allow us marketers to automate, trigger and personalise messages that would otherwise be impossible. I say impossible, but probably impossible without huge amounts of person-power and time, consider these examples:

  • Send triggered emails on peoples birthdays
  • Follow up on webinars based on responses or attendance
  • Follow up on web downloads or requests with phone calls or emails

These tasks would take a huge amount of co-ordination, effort and time without some kind of computer programme managing automated workflows and messages.

An easy example might be sending hamburger promotions to people that have previously bought pizza - let the software do it for you.

Some other definitions (from around the web) are listed below, we find some useful and some not. Read them for yourself and take your pick - it might however be more useful to first consider why it has becomes so important and why you may need it.

What's the difference between Marketing Automation and CRM and CMS? How do the systems work together?

Acronym spaghetti. Let's unpick it. Before it exploded into mainstream marketing the two main types of software used by marketers (ignoring your everyday content creation tools) were CMS and CRM. Your (CMS) Content Management System handles, and still does handle most of your owned marketing communications including your corporate web site using platforms such as Wordpress. Often the backbone of your online presence.

Your sales team (and sometimes marketing too) would use a sales database or CRM platform. Often the CMS would feature forms like Contact Us, Downloads, Subscriptions, Requests and other stuff often saved into the CMS and sometimes chucked into the CRM system for a sales follow up. Life was good, life was simple. The web site generated 'leads' and sent them to sales.

Simple Martech Stack (pre-marketing automation)

MarTech Today

How gloriously simple those days were. Move on a few years and large companies often have a much more complex Marketing Technology stack, a typical one might look something like this:

So what's changed? Lots. The explosion of Big Data and database systems has flooded our diagram. There are lots of new database platforms (often Software-as-a-Service Cloud Platforms) running things like Customer Data, Search Engine Management and often dedicated platforms for managing user data, opt-ins, unsubscribes, preferences (which are essential in our modern post-GDPR consent based world). We've also got a big data warehouse (or data lake/repository), a huge platform designed to aggregate all of this information, synchronise it, share it and make it usable by other systems - created that '360 view' of the customer (everyone they've done, purchased, shown an interest in, events they've been to, products renewed, customer support conversations and more).

Most importantly we now have a Marketing Automation Platform bridged between the web site and the sales database. But why? To answer that we have to briefly think about the way you and I buy things:

  1. We search for questions and engage with brands that provide answers
  2. We expect to self-educate ourselves using our mobile phone and tablet across (often) the whole customer journey
  3. We tend to only engage with a brands sales teams to close the deal (not to get educated)

Sales versus Non-Sales Ready is a critical concept




Why is it so important and why do you need it?

The section above talked a lot about what it is (and possibly isn't) and some of the definitions make references to things like 'repetitive' tasks. Why it is important and why you (might) need it may also come down to levels of messaging sophistication.

In a nutshell the importance of marketing automation comes down to its ability to personalise messaging. If there's one take-away from this long-read guide, it is that - personalisation matters. In the same way that inbound hyper-personalised and targeted digital ads are 20x more effective - the same with outbound marketing too. Our research tells us that personalised outbound messages (whether they're direct mail, email, text or phone call) drastically improve the levels of customer engagement and subsequently qualified leads and sales.

This is the impact different levels of personalisation has on outbound emails (based on our research). Unsegmented and un-targeted emails (basically batch and blast/spray and pray emails) get traditionally low cut through. Adding some basic segmentation and targeted messaging improves click-thru rates by double. Creating customer journey touchpoint based messages (a message triggered on a specific stage of the buyer's journey) improves CTR by 8x. The Holy Grail of engagement is the hyper-personalised, individualised 1-2-1 messaging which gets a whopping 50x engagement rate. In terms of conversions to a sale? Our data shows that there is almost double the chance a prospect will convert to a buying customer if they received personalised communications.

The question is, can your organisation benefit from it? A simple test is to look at the commonalities between those organisations that benefit from MA. An easy way to know if you're a good fit is to look at the types of products and services you sell, if you meet one or more of these criteria then it might be a good fit:

  1. Are you products and services high ticket cost?
    • Higher value items typically require additional time and research in the buying process and often benefit from automated workflows and customer journey touchpoint messaging.

    • Key MA Benefits:
      • Auto-responses to engagement
      • Scoring high value leads
      • Monitoring buying signals
      • Capturing and profiling interests

  2. Are you products and services new or complex to understand/communicate?
    • New paradigm products often require additional touch points of education and complex products benefit from being broken down into smaller touches which marketing automation can deliver.

    • Key MA Benefits:
      • Deliver hyper-personalised and targeted messages to help the buyer’s journey process
      • Monitor engagement and behaviour and automate the next touch
      • Monitoring buying signals
      • Capturing and profiling interests
      • Score high value leads for follow up

  3. Do you have high volumes of customers? Say over 5,000?

    • Your product may be simple to understand or below £100 ticket price but you have a very high number of potential prospects and customers to message to. Marketing automation can deliver economies of scale with lead scoring and routing.

    • Key MA Benefits:

      • Manage multiple streams of content and messaging for different personas
      • Auto-respond to engagement and behaviour
      • Score and route leads
      • Flag HiPo (high potential) leads for inside sales, email follow up
      • Focus on the best prospects and leads

  4. Do you have long buying cycles and timelines?

    • For example over 6-12 months? Your product might be on a fixed term renewal basis or bought after an extended period of research on your specific timelines which might benefit from automated messaging.

    • Key MA Benefits:

      • Ability to create evergreen ‘always on’ automated workflows around customer dates and timelines
      • Work on their timescales not yours
      • Messaging can be personalised and triggered

  5. Are you looking to scale/repeat/adapt campaigns across multiple countries, regions and languages?

    • If you’re operating at a Global or European Level it might be beneficial to develop re-usable and repeatable campaigns that can be centrally managed and deployed – with useful insights for revenue pipeline and leads.

    • Key MA Benefits:

      • Create copy and paste re-usable campaigns
      • Reduced time to deploy
      • Reduced cost and less duplication of effort
      • Manage and enforce brand guidelines
      • Improved reporting and insights




Marketing Automation systems usually perform a bunch of different functions (to varying degrees of sophistication). This section looks to unpack those core feature sets to understand the purpose and role they serve - remember other software platforms may occasionally over lap with functions and features so you might have some of this covered already.

THE Marketing Database

The marketing database is one of the fundamental features of any marketing automation software . Without one, your marketing activities will be communicating with, and tracking, nobody. It’ll probably end up being a combination of customers, prospects, employees and partners. For many companies their MA platform is deemed the 'database of record' meaning it is the main database taking priority over other databases (some companies use a data lake/mart/warehouse or CRM platform as their database of record).

‘Leads’ can be added to the marketing database in four ways: 

  1. List upload: An Excel (or similar) file containing records can be mass-imported 

  2. CRM integration: If your marketing automation platform (MAP) is integrated with a 
customer relationship management tool (CRM), sharing rules can be set up to sync 
records between the two systems 

  3. Form submission: You may have a web page containing a form, such as a contact form, 
which pushes straight into the marketing database 

  4. Manual creation: You can create a one-off lead with only a few clicks 

People in the marketing database are treated as individuals, so email campaigns can be sent and web activity measured on an individual-level, and a full view of their activity is built up. It is possible, however, to link a record to an account in a CRM. 

Many setups are designed so that new prospects are created in the MAP database and then held there to be nurtured to the point at which they are sales-ready (see the section on ‘Lead Scoring’), and only at that point are they synced to be created in the CRM, with a notification to the sales team for follow-up. 

The unique identifier of a record in the marketing database is the email address, so if a lead fills in a form and that email address already exists in the database, the activity will be merged onto that existing record rather than creating a new contact. 



There are various use cases in which you might want to host a web form on a landing page as part of your ​marketing activities​. It could simply be to get in touch with the ​sales team​ via the ‘contact us’ page on the company website, responding to an event invitation, or gating a piece of content to identify those who are engaging with your ‘bottom of the funnel’ content for your inbound marketing​ strategy. It is also a great way to collect an opt-in or fulfill a request for specific content in the form of a Preference Centre.

A simple form will likely be limited only to fields such as ‘First Name’, ‘Last Name’, ‘Email Address’, ‘Company Name’ and ‘Country’. The general rule with forms is that the more fields you have, the more effort it is to fill out and therefore the less likely it is that someone will complete it.

It’s therefore important to consider the necessity of each field added. ‘Job Title’ is commonly added but offers very little value in terms of usability. By instead replacing this with ‘Job Profile’ and having limited dropdown option responses (e.g. “Sales”, “Marketing”), that will likely offer more value if there is lead nurture content streams built based on the list of ‘Job Profiles’.

Another useful feature is progressive profiling, whereby only a few fields appear in the form, but the next time that visitor fills out a form, because of cookie tracking, any of the form fields you’ve already collected can be replaced with new form fields. As a result, more and more information can be built up about a lead without them ever being faced with an extensive form.

Similarly, the ease of filling these forms out is enhanced by the option to prepopulate entries based on previous submissions on that web cookie, and social sign-on via Facebook, LinkedIn etc, whereby a quick login to ​social media​ platforms will then auto-populate suggested responses to each field based on what’s held in that platform.


There are two ways in which data can be enriched with ​marketing automation technology​ -

organic enrichment and third party plugins.

Often it’s overlooked how much data can be cleaned within automation software. Simple automatic flows that cleanup fields such as an empty ‘Country’ or ‘Company Name’ information based on other cues, such as inferred information from the web cookie or email domain self-manage themselves once setup and do a lot of the dog-work, without ​repetitive tasks​ for the user. Job titles can often be converted to pick list standardised Job Functions by searching for ket words such as 'engineer' or 'customer service'.


User input is crucial also, particularly through web forms. Make sure to prioritise the inclusion of these fields where up-to-date information is most important, such as the ‘Country’ if routing to sales teams​ is based on region.

There are hundreds of different plugins when it comes to data cleaning via a third party. If you Google your problem, I almost guarantee there’ll be some sort of solution popup.

As an example, the Salesforce-owned is a great tool for account-based marketing, as it enables the identification of individuals in roles of interest at specified companies. MailChimp also offers a social lookup whereby the email addresses of selected contacts can be looked up across various ​social media​ platforms to pull in extra information about those individuals.

Tools like Leadspace even go a step further and combine data enrichment with predictive analytics to help you predict which customers are most likely to purchase based on previous customer actions and your picture of the ideal customer.

And I’ve barely touched the surface here...



When it comes to ​lead nurturing​ through ​marketing automation software​, there’s quickly going to become a need to host content at some point to support ​email marketing​, be it a landing page containing a piece of content to download, an event registration page or even just a link to your corporate ​social media​ pages.

Platforms like Eloqua or Marketo come with basic HTML editors, enabling you to build up a basic page containing text, photos, videos or even slightly more complicated features like forms or social links, with no coding skills whatsoever. Each platform has its advantages and disadvantages in terms of features, mobile responsiveness and so on.

Rather than build from scratch, you can also import branded templates built in HTML and edit these user the basic editor for quick turnaround of landing pages that adhere to brand guidelines. Alternatively, a full HTML code built in a HTML editor like Notepad++, can be imported and pushed live.

Mailchimp has a great, easy to use landing page and email designer

In many companies, there’s corporate policy determining whether landing pages are even allowed to be used, as it involves a subdomain (something like http://​content​​landingpageURL​), rather than driving all links to the corporate domain (​landingpageURL​). It doesn’t really matter in terms of your automated marketing​ activities because web activity can be tracked regardless, as long as the tracking code is embedded on the domain.



Tracking in marketing automation is vert different to standard web tracking. Tools like Google Analytics help aggregate and summarise anonymous activity on your site - giving you helpful insights into the most popular pages and content.

Marketing automation is all about tracking a specific individuals behaviour - then being able to respond and act on it. For example, if I visit the red sweater page 8 times, we could email me a promotion for red sweaters.

Eloqua and Marketo Tagging


So a key benefit of marketing automation software is the holistic view it gives of an individual or account across multiple touch points, specifically in terms of tracking behaviours defined as:

  • Engagement with email marketing (opens, clicks)
  • Visiting and navigating around the company website (e.g. pages tagged with Sweaters or "SMB")
  • Downloading gated and ungated content
  • Requesting to get in touch with the sales team
  • Registering for and attending physical events and webinars

There's a big difference between tracking and tagging. Tracking is simply placing a cookie on a user's device. Tagging is the strategic process of creating groupings of content by application, persona, task or interest that can be baked into nurture programmes.

A salesperson will be more receptive to getting in touch with a lead that marketing puts forward in having a view of these behaviours, which we will see when we introduce lead scoring, and it better prepares the salesperson for that call in knowing their tangible interests based on the previous activity.

Organisations further along their automation journey will also develop sophisticated lead nurturing flows based on behavioural activity. For example, click activity on a generic monthly email Newsletter may move that individual into a specific nurture campaign related to their subject of interest.

Tracking is simple software 'cookies' placed on users devices that help us store visits and interactions with web content. Tagging is the process of creating useful groupings and categories which can be used to drive personalisation, triggers and content. e.g. Tagging the six web pages related to SMB solutions.

The power lies in how the behavioural data is used. Knowing the specific string of activities an individual (or individuals from an account) have done over what period of time is one thing, but how are you actually going to use that information to enhance your lead nurturing ?


If you’ve got a database of, say, 10,000 ​leads and customers​, but only a handful of available salespeople available to follow-up on leads from marketing, how do you prioritise them? The answer is lead scoring.

Lead scoring is the measure of sales-readiness implemented in order to pass a lead to the ​sales team​ at the point at which they are ready for conversation. Traditionally, lead scoring is measured on the individual level and is the total of two sub-scores:

  • Demographic scoring: Think of this as the starting score based on who that person is. How much does your company want to talk to them because of who they are? If they are the CEO of one of your target accounts, you want to give them a big head start!
  • Behavioural scoring: Once a lead has entered the database and been given their starting score based on who they are, the only way in which they will actually ever be passed onto a salesperson is based on their behavioural activity. The more significant the activity, the higher the score it should be given e.g. attending a company event is far more engagement than a single email click.

Scoring achieves nothing without implementing a threshold score, which is the point at which the lead is passed over to sales as a ‘Marketing Qualified Lead’ (MQL). Make the threshold too low and you’ll suffer with a poor MQL > SQL conversion rate and lose face, impacting the joint sales and marketing effort​.

In the next section, we will see how an integration with a CRM is an effective way of routing MQLs once they reach the threshold score.

Scoring should also be routinely reviewed, such as quarterly or at least annually, and identify commonalities among converted SQLs to ensure those behaviours are highly scored.

Furthermore, more and more companies are moving to account-based scoring from person scoring, on the basis that less engagement from a higher number of decision makers is more significant than one person being highly engaged. It’s an interesting approach that will only continue to grow...



It goes without saying that ‘automated workflows’ are pretty darned important for ​automated marketing​, but how do they actually work in practice? Whenever you want anything to happen inside the platform, you need to setup a workflow, which involves asking yourself a series of questions:

Marketo Automated Campaign Workflow Builder

1. Should the action happen at a specific point in time, or should it trigger based on somebody’s activity? An email Newsletter will probably blast at a point in time i.e. the marketing team may want their monthly edition to send at 10am on the first Tuesday of the month. In contrast, a gated piece of content should be triggered to send a minute or two after somebody fills out a form on the website requesting it, so it’s essentially always-on and waiting to be called for.

2. Who should qualify? That’s pretty simple for the gated content example since it’s whoever actually requests to receive it by filling out the form, although you may still want to add a caveat that blocks competitor or personal email domains from receiving it. As for the Newsletter example, you may want to build up a series of data criteria that needs to be adhered to, to qualify to be sent it. Say, you have an English and German version of a customer Newsletter, to determine which ones should receive the German version, you may say the following: ‘Lead Status’ is “Customer” AND (‘Country’ is “Germany;Austria” OR ‘Language’ is “German”).

3. What needs to happen? These examples are both simple ones - we want to send them an email; either the selected language Newsletter or the gated piece of content. There are all sorts of possibilities with workflows however, extending to initiating lead scoring, routing them to the ​sales team​, grouping them onto a designated list or adding them into a ​lead nurturing​ campaign.

4. Any further ‘if’ statements? One final consideration is if the action of point 3 is the end of the workflow, or whether instead there needs to be any more actions. Back to our gated content marketing​ example, it may be that following the flow step of sending the gated content piece to those who fill out the form, for everyone who then clicks the email to download the content, only if they are opted-in, they then also enter a wait step of two days before receiving a copy of the most recent Newsletter.

The Eloqua Campaign Canvas with drag and drop workflow builder.


Finally... Don’t forget to turn it on or schedule your workflow when it’s ready! It seems simple, but very easily forgotten!



One size very rarely fits all when it comes to marketing any product or solution, which is why we have seen such a growth in segmentation.

Marketing automation tools utilise two types of lists, which are fundamental to launching most email campaigns:

  • Static lists: Leads included here have to be physically added and removed, such as running a search of everybody today based in France and adding them to one list. Even if their country changes, if they’re not automatically taken off the list.
  • Dynamic lists: These re-run each time they are loaded or used in a campaign, so if the lead’s country changed from France to another tomorrow, today they would be on the list but tomorrow not. This is most useful to ensure localised content is always sent where possible.

Eloqua Segmentation

You never actually need to physically add anyone to a dynamic list, since it constantly scans the database using the data filters you request (i.e. ‘Country’ = “France”), at each point in time. On the other hand, you can use a workflow to add people to static lists, manually add them one-by-one, or import an Excel file.

Marketo Segmentation


A series of data filters can be combined to create different segments of data. Going beyond our simple Newsletter example, we may want to invite all UK prospects in the Financial Services industry to a tailored webinar. In this scenario, we would create a dynamic list like this:

As we will see very soon, generic emails can also be built dynamically to exploit these segmentations and display different copy or images to best suit the audience segment viewing it. When thinking about segmentation strategy, it’s important to consider multiple factors, such as ‘Industry’ in the example above, ‘Job Profile’, ‘Country’ and ‘Language’, and levels of engagement based on ‘Lead Score’ (top of the funnel vs bottom of the funnel content).




Leading nicely on from the topic of segmentation, “personalisation” is one of those terms that’s thrown around a lot by marketing agencies , but is often more of a tick-box than a consideration of the level of value it adds for the recipient. 

There are four levels of personalisation, ranging from the most basic to highly individualised: 

Dear John,

  1. Email token: You can pretty easily start every email with “Hi {{First Name}}” or reference 
each person’s company name in the subject line, using the token feature that looks up 
the contact record. It’s a nice to-have, but is dependent on you holding clean data. 

  2. Dynamic content: As we heavily touched upon when talking about segmentation, the messaging of an email may want to be tailored for a campaign, depending on factors 
such as the ‘Industry’ or ‘Job Profile’ of the recipient. Marketing automation tools are sophisticated enough to display versioned text, images or subject lines within emails, based on segmentations that you’ve built. Similarly, web plugins allow for different landing page versions to display based on these same factors. 

  3. Reacting to lead lifecycle stage: An account that closes today probably wouldn’t have been a closed deal a year ago, because it wasn’t the right point in time. Maybe the key decision makers weren’t well educated about the product being sold, or there wasn’t enough buy-in across the organisation? The point here is different accounts and individual leads need different content at any point in time, depending on their sales-readiness, so lead scoring should influence what content is triggered and what marketing campaigns each individual is apart of, to effectively personalise. When somebody eventually becomes an MQL, Protocol’s ‘Time vs Opportunity Decay’ research found that the chance of conversion falls from 32% to 9% when the lag time of the sales team reaching out goes from 1 hour to 2 weeks. 

  4. Full personalisation: To go one final step further, if you’re operating in the realms of a sufficiently clean database, why not top these engagements off by making them one-to-one between the recipient and a named representative? This is particularly powerful for customer email marketing , whereby you can contact them as an alias of their account manager using their real email signature. Sometimes a simple plain-text email from (seemingly) a real person has a much greater impact than a fancy templated marketing email. Test it for yourselves and see the impact on response rates. 

Dear [Fname],

We noticed you recently purchased a [RecentProd]. We've got some great accessories for companies like [Org-name] that work in the [Industry] sector who recently bought from our [ProdFam] family of servers.

It would be great if I could just spend 5 minutes of your time understanding your needs around [Areas of Interest].

Kind regards

[Acct Mgr], 
[Acct Mgr - Tel], 

[Acct Mgr - Email], 



Emails are often seen as the back-bone of ​marketing automation software​. Although generally considered spam in practice, they’re a crucial tool as part of a ​lead nurturing​ strategy to drive traffic to high-value content, like a whitepaper, event registration page, or simply as a channel to deliver requested gated content. Done right, they're still an important weapon in your arsenal.

As outlined when we introduced the concept of hosting and publishing content, platforms like Eloqua and Marketo come with their own editor tools to create landing pages, and this is also available for building emails.

You either have the option to import a whole email HTML that’s been created by a ​marketing agency​ or within another tool, or to create a series of templates that can then be easily edited (text, images and links) whenever a new email campaign is needed to be built. As long as the template is correctly built up to contain multiple ‘div’ elements, it allows for the ability to display different content by segment.

In recent product updates to the key players, there’s been a focus on ensuring emails and landing pages created within the editor are responsive, and offering a preview view of each asset on desktop, tablet and mobile devices.

Through the integration with a CRM like Salesforce, you also have the ability to create email templates and share them with salespeople to create ​personalised emails​ and send to their contacts from directly within their CRM platform, therefore encouraging more one-to-one campaigns.

For all this talk of building fancy emails and templates, don’t ever forget that option of a powerful, simple plain-text email, which no-doubt can be built even more easily! That’s why running A/B tests should be routine practice given its easy implementation through marketing automation platforms, adjusting one variable per send; be it the same content in templates vs. plain-text, a different subject line, sending on different days or at different times, and so forth.




Finally, when it comes to reporting and ​marketing automation technology​, the scope of what’s required is very wide. Depending on who you’re talking to, they’re looking to know something completely different.

The full analytics view can be grouped into four main categories:

1. Campaign Level: Say you are running an event. Ultimately, you want to know how many people are registering for it (landing page conversions), but you’ll also want to know how the emails are performing. Are they getting delivered? Are people opening them? Are they clicking through to the landing page but not registering? Which emails drove most registrations? All of this information can be told through the basic reports available from MAPs.

2. Business Impact: Those famous three words that no marketer can ever get away from... “What’s the ROI?”. Funnel reporting is critical for any ​lead nurturing​ campaign to understand if any it is delivering the return in terms of good quality leads to the ​sales team​ and, ultimately, closed pipeline. If there’s not a well-managed MAP to CRM integration, you’ll most certainly be left scratching your head on this one, but if there is you’ll be able to show, for each campaign, the flow of leads along each funnel stage, plus a value of open opportunities and closed deals.

3. Demand Centre Operations: Just because you’re running say, 20 different ​marketing campaigns​ for five different internal business groups, doesn’t mean they’re all delivering equal returns and your time and efforts wouldn’t be better focused on some more than others. The out-of-the-box reporting provided by the market leaders has failed so far to really get a grip of this, but it’s possible to create bespoke solutions that combine the outputs of the ‘Business Impact’ reports mentioned above with the man-hours invested to each campaign, delivering a holistic overview of Demand Centre Operations and its return.

4. Data Health: Spend thousands developing the most-perfectly crafted campaign in the world and the results will still be terrible if you’re targeting bad data. While important enough alone, this goes beyond checking email addresses for validity, which can be done through tracking email hard and soft bounce codes. If you are personalising campaigns based on ‘Job Profile’ and that data’s not up-to-date, it’s probably doing more damage than good segmenting data at all. As demonstrated in the Protocol ‘Data Matrix’, your efforts should be targeted on the records that are most segmentable and contactable.





The power of ​marketing automation technology​ is substantial, but the likelihood is that it will need to be integrated with other tools at some point in order to maximise the value of it to your organisation. You’ll see why when you realise there’s an integration option for just about anything!

The most common integration is with a CRM tool, like Salesforce, for two main reasons. Firstly, it enables the hand-off of leads to the ​sales team​ as MQLs (at the threshold ‘Lead Score’) to be as seamless as possible, through the actual hand-off taking place within their day-to-day portal and using any routing rules already defined by the business, such as country- or product-specific routing rules. Secondly, by syncing your CRM database with the marketing database, it ensures new leads created by a salesperson are available for marketing and upsell and cross-sell campaigns specific to existing customers.

Similarly, if your company has a partner sales channel, there are solutions for routing leads directly to partners through an integration, such as Zift.

When it comes to events, ​marketing automation software​ alone can be sufficient to manage the registration process, but for actually hosting an online webinar, a dedicated provider such as GoToWebinar or WebEx is required for the hosting technology, but integrating it to your MAP enables the seamless syncing of registration and attendee information between the platforms.

Mentioned previously when discussing the problems with enriching data, there are all sorts of solutions to better populate records in the database wherever possible via web integrations, such as Zoominfo. In the new age of GDPR, there’s also been a spurt of integrated tools that focus on retargeting web visitors with ads to encourage them to submit a web form with the desired opt-in, focusing on ​inbound marketing.​

There’s so much more I could cover here, having failed to mention ​content marketing​ engines, mobile marketing, advanced analytics, ​social media​ or video marketing. As I said, the possibilities are endless!

What’s more, each marketing automation platform provider, like Eloqua or Marketo, will have an ever-growing list of integration ‘partners’, where there’s essentially an out-of-the-box model setup to integration. However, with the API code you can just about sync up your platform to whatever you require.




What is the best marketing automation software in 2019?

It depends. Most of our clients are large international organisations so for the sakes of this brief review that's what we'll focus on. Ultimately it's a trade-off between functionality, learning curve and usability and cost - both in  times of actual licence fee's and the people time and investment needed.

Five years ago the field was much more disparate but in 2019 many of the big players have been snapped up by global tech giants (Adobe buying Marketo and Oracle with Eloqua) and there has been huge strides and progress. It would be fair to say that functionality has reached relative parity between many of the big players with other factors and considerations coming into play such as personal preferences on interfaces, available skillsets, integrations and more.

There are literally dozens of platforms out there including great tools from Force24, Act, Sharpspring and IBM - but we've focused on the platforms we see used mostly by our clients: Marketo, Eloqua, DotMailer, Pardot and Hubspot.


Looking at this another way there is a clear trade off between functionality and cost - you gets whats you pays for.

On the criteria of pure functionality, Eloqua wins as King of the Jungle (and often the developers favourite) with Marketo just slightly behind. Of course this could all change within a few months as new features and updates get released.


Copyright Protocol Global Ltd 2015-2022. All Rights Reserved.
Phone London +44 (0) 203 755 3511 / Email

Legal & Privacy | About Us Protection Status