The 3 Rules of Marketing Automation

Several years ago I bought a house from an older couple who hadn’t installed an automated timer for the sprinkler system.

I didn’t realize it, but it was now my job to make sure the lawn got watered and didn’t die. What was previously a highlight of the house, instantly became a chore and point of stress for me.

After a year of turning the sprinklers on and off myself, I finally made the time to call a professional landscaper to install the automated timer system. It was the most satisfying $400 I ever spent.

It meant that I wouldn’t have to worry about watering the lawn several times a week. (Once, I even forgot they were on and left them running for several hours). I could leave on vacation and know the lawn was taken care of. I knew that the sprinklers would be on for the perfect amount of time each morning before they shut off.

In other words, automation completely changed how I felt about my backyard and it gave me a little freedom knowing that I didn't have to do a thing to make sure it worked properly. For me, a little investment up front paid large dividends in saved time and avoided headaches.

After years of helping businesses automate their marketing and other areas of their business, I’ve come to realize that there are 3 rules you must follow to successfully implement a marketing automation strategy in your business.

Rule # 1: Keep it simple

There’s a common misconception in the digital marketing space - that funnels and technology need to be complex to get results. I was also guilty of this in the past. I thought the more complex something was, the better it would perform. In most cases I was wrong.

Today I live by a different mantra: keep it simple. There's a great saying that goes, “simple scales, complex fails.”

Can tools like Infusionsoft and ActiveCampaign do some really cool automated stuff? Definitely. But in my work with hundreds of small businesses implementing these tools, I've found that complex implementations get in the way of simply launching.

And there's nothing more powerful than actual results from a live campaign to tell you what works and what doesn't.

On top of that I've found that implementing automation in a business is alway subject to the law of diminishing returns. Basically, that means there's a point at which the benefits gained from robust automation is less than the amount of time and energy invested to build it.

Sometimes 'keeping it simple’ means don't automate it at all (or at least, not yet). In other words, make sure you've run your process manually a few times to understand the bottlenecks. Once you have a clear understanding of how automation will benefit you, then you can get to work automating. This will also help you recognize the benefits of automation when it's fully implemented.

When it comes to deciding which marketing campaigns and processes you should automate first, I recommend the following as a start for most businesses:

  • Lead welcome campaign. Many call this an indoctrination campaign. It's meant to introduce you and your brand to new leads.
  • Long term nurture campaign to make sure all your leads are getting followed up with over time. This is especially important if you have a longer sales cycle.
  • Customer welcome and onboarding campaign to create a great first experience with your brand.

These 3 are critical. And if you have an automation tool, you should begin working on these now if you don't have them already.

There's power in simplicity, don't underestimate it.

Rule # 2: Build with the end in mind

The second rule comes from our good friend, Dr. Stephen R. Covey who coined the phrase,"Begin with the end in mind." It’s based on the principle that things are created twice. The first creation is in your mind and the second is in physical reality.

Before you automate anything, you should have a clear vision of the desired outcome. I know this is really generic business speak, but I can’t tell you how many times people begin building something without really thinking about the end result.

It’s human nature. We read and scan left-to-right, top-to-bottom and every automation tool is built in exactly this way. They encourage users to jump in and start building from the beginning (not the end).

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the problem with this approach is that if you don’t know where you’re going from the beginning, you’ll certainly over-complicate things and create a poor user experience for your prospects and clients.

The right way to do it is to first identify the desired outcome a prospect will take. Once you know what they need to do, you can work backwards, identifying the milestones that will get them there.

For example, I might identify “purchase a consulting package” as my desired outcome. From here, I can work backwards to identify the milestones the prospect will take to get there, like this:

Purchase consulting package → Attend a strategy session → Register for a strategy session → Watch webinar → Register for Webinar → Click on ad or email

As you can tell, we’re just building a funnel from the bottom-up instead of top-down.

When you follow this method and properly plan your campaigns and automation before you build, you’re acting more like an architect instead of a bricklayer. When you get into the software and start connecting piece to piece without a clear plan, you’re acting like a bricklayer without an understanding of the outcome (see image below).

Rule # 3: Automation amplifies your efforts (so be careful)

A guitar amplifier is a wonderful thing for an Eric Clapton concert, but it’s obnoxious for your neighbor's garage band.

Implementing automation is very much the same. Just because you add automation in your business does not mean your marketing will magically become better. It simply amplifies your message and multiplies your efforts, whether they’re good or bad.

What I’m getting at is that you must spend time dialing in your own marketing. If you don’t take the time to learn what messaging works for your business, then you’ll be disappointed to find out automation won’t produce the results you’re looking for. The better you understand your audience and their problems, the clearer you’ll be able to speak to them in your marketing efforts in all parts of the business.

Simply sending more emails on a consistent, automated schedule doesn’t mean your audience will engage with those emails. Yes, there is a benefit to being ‘top of mind’, but clarity in your message will always trump consistency. I’ve seen it over and over. Good, clear messaging can compensate for a poor implementation of marketing automation; but even the most robust automation campaign will fall flat with the wrong messaging.

If this is something you struggle with, then I recommend checking out Storybrand, a book that guides you with a formula to create and clarify your message.


If you’re struggling with seeing results with marketing automation, it’s likely because you haven’t followed these rules. You may be tempted to break one of these rules, but I’ve found that if you do, you’ll always be disappointed in the results.

I know this article is a little more “theory” than my usual stuff, but I still feel like these are important principles to understand. Either way, I hope you learned something.

I’m interested in your thoughts, are there any rules that I’ve missed?

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