Leadership and Management Marketing Technology

How I Became a Marketing Automation Convert

I consider myself a laggard when it comes to Marketing Automation (MA). In the beginning, I saw MA tools as nothing more than a fancy way to do emails. I remained unconvinced for a long time. It wasn’t until someone on my team sat down and explained personalized marketing journeys to me that the proverbial lightbulb went off. I was a convert from that point onwards.

Before my enlightenment, I was doing what many other marketing leaders were doing at the time – leveraging events like conferences and webinars. The company I was with at the time, had generated most of their awareness and leads by exhibiting at conferences. When I took over, I enhanced that strategy – going from 10 conferences a year to over 35.

At the same time, we introduced a monthly webinar series that featured industry experts alongside our clients. Together with our conference appearances, we increased lead generation by over 10x.

What I didn’t realize was that I had fallen into a success trap.

When you market events like conferences and webinars, you typically use a batch-and-blast program strategy. A few months before the in-person event or a few weeks ahead of the webinar, you gather up as many emails address as you can into a single batch. You then send blast carefully crafted emails to the entire batch at regular intervals leading up to the event.

Because of the number of events during the year, we had little bandwidth for other marketing programs but with the number of leads we generated, no one was complaining.

It was late in my tenure at that company that I remember taking notice of these new Marketing Automation platforms that had started to pop-up. I recall watching a few demos and talking to many sales reps but never being impressed with what they had to offer. Content marketing hadn’t sunk into my consciousness yet so I saw these platforms as glorified email systems with slightly better tracking. I didn’t buy in, but one of my team members did.

Unlike me, this team member was open minded enough to see how a MA tool could be used for more than our current event-centric strategy. They realized that MA had the power to personalize a prospect’s entire marketing journey. I had only seen the veneer of personalization – the ability of these tools to plug in the first name, title, company and other variables into email messages.

At first, this team member tried the direct route with me. I remember a lot of one-on-one meetings that involved PowerPoints and whiteboard diagrams. I remained unconvinced but he was determined. Eventually he tried a tactic that worked – he put me into a nurture campaign with the help a MA platform provider.

Over the span of 3 months, I received emails with interesting marketing articles. Some were about MA, but most were about other aspects of marketing. Most of these emails came from my team member and others from the sales rep at the MA solution provider. Because the articles were so interesting, I actually clicked the links to read them vs my standard practice of deleting “junk email”.

What I didn’t realize was that that behind the scenes my clicks and other actions were helping the MA solution provider build a better profile of me as a potential buyer. Looking back, I am fairly certain that my team member collaborated with the sales rep to manually determine which article would be best to send next. Regardless, it worked.

After three months of reading this steady stream of articles, I agreed to an extended internal meeting on MA tools. It was at this meeting that my team member revealed the sequence of content that they had sent me and how my email interactions (or lack of interaction) sent me down different branches of the MA workflow. Even more powerful, he showed me how different members of our team were at different point in the workflow. This was my lightbulb moment.

When I saw that different members of the team were just starting to get the emails I had received weeks ago and others were receiving emails that were further ahead of my own “spot” in the mapped buying journey, I finally realized the power of MA.

What it showed me was that MA could help a company meet prospects where they are in their buying journey. In a batch-and-blast world, each email is like sifting sand to find a few grains of gold. You send out thousands of emails hoping to get the few people who are in the right stage of their buying journey to respond. Send enough emails frequently enough and you’re bound to find a few. With MA, however, we could build programs that spoke to prospects at different stages in their journey – early when they are researching options and late when they are comparing vendors.

Here is a simplified version of what I remember seeing:


What I had failed to grasp months ago, was that personalization in a MA tool goes beyond just customizing the subject line and salutation on the emails you send. It went a lot deeper. Personalization meant sending the right message with the right call to action at the right time that matched where a prospect was in their marketing journey.

It meant that prospects at the top of the funnel would get more educational materials and thought-leadership content that introduced key concepts. In contrast, later stage prospects, would get invitations to download vendor comparison guides and RFP templates.

From that meeting on, I was a MA champion in the company. I worked with my team to try and convince the executives to invest in adopting an MA platform and begin to shift towards a content-centric strategy. Unfortunately, I was not successful in convincing the company to adopt MA before I moved on. But since then, I have been an MA convert – willing to champion the use of MA platforms to improve marketing & sales success.

If you are working to convince executives that MA is a good idea, I hope that my story can help.

Photo by Stephen Phillips – Hostreviews.co.uk on Unsplash


About the author


Colin Hung

Colin Hung is an award-winning Marketing Executive with more than 15yrs of healthcare and HealthIT experience. He co-founded one of the most popular healthcare chats on Twitter, #hcldr and he has been recognized as one of the “Top 50 Healthcare IT Influencers”. Colin’s work has been published in the Journal of the American College of Radiology, American Society for Healthcare Risk Managers, and Infection Control Today. He writes regularly for Healthcare Scene and here at HITMC.com. Colin is a member of #pinksock #TheWalkingGallery and is proudly HITMC. His Twitter handle is: @Colin_Hung.

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