Marketing Automation Mistake 5: Overcomplicating Things

Adam Smartschan

Partner & Chief Strategy Officer

A shiny new marketing automation platform is a heck of a toy … and marketing folk love playing with toys. But be cautious; if you take things too far, too fast and overcomplicate matters, your marketing automation initiative is as good as dead.

The old adage of “walk before you run” couldn’t be more applicable. It’s easy to deploy HubSpot or Marketo, start an AdWords account, rack up a few certifications and try to conquer the world. Dynamic lists, progressive profiling, smart CTAs, endless workflows, granular segmentation, dozens of CRM campaigns – it’s all just so cool. Why not use it all? ROI! Accolades!


Whether you’re in a marketing department or an agency, it’s critical that you roll your marketing automation and digital marketing efforts out deliberately. You don’t need to sandbag or slow things down on purpose. You do need to be careful.

The why is obvious: If you create an overly confusing plan that takes months to implement, complete with workflows and segmentation held together by duct tape and hope, you’re probably not accomplishing your goals. That doesn’t mean you can’t do any of the fun stuff, but only when the time is right.

Remember, “simple” doesn’t have to mean “simplistic.” To wit, let’s examine a tried-and-true, proven automation/nurturing workflow:

  1. User clicks pay-per-click ad
  2. User visits website, then leaves
  3. User clicks on remarketing ad
  4. User fills out form to download premium asset
  5. User receives nurturing emails and targeted remarketing ads
  6. User returns and takes a high-commitment, low-funnel action
  7. User goes to sales as a marketing-qualified lead, or MQL

Seems basic, right? Sure. That’s the point. It can also be darn effective. Let’s dive a little deeper into each step.


I’ve been guilty of calling traditional PPC dead, at least in the world of B2B marketing. That’s a bit of an exaggeration. While it’s become wildly expensive in many cases, there are times when search advertising can still be effective. In this case, we’ll assume a “long-tail” keyword – one that’s very specific – was used. They’re often quite affordable, but they also require quite a bit of attention. Ad creative needs to be tested assiduously, negative keywords need to be added and budget and Quality Score need to be optimized.

Still, at the end of the day, it’s just pay-per-click – you bid on a term, your ad appears, it gets clicked or not. It’s a stable, proven platform, with a shallow learning curve to get campaigns running.

Initial Website Visit

We’d love for the user to convert immediately, but depending on the desired final action, you can expect that 75-98 percent of users will not be giving you their information the first time they hit your site. That’s why we’re using retargeting – placing a cookie on the user’s browser to facilitate the later display of targeted ads around the web. They can leave, but we’ll be following. The results can be quite impressive, and again, it’s easily deployed and rock-solid.

Remarketing Advertising

With remarketing enabled, users will see ads (depending on your pre-set frequency limits and budget) as they browse the web. It’s great for two reasons: You can get extremely targeted with your ads (since you already know something about the visitor), and you can get placements you’d never be able to afford direct. It’s relatively simple, and different sets of creative can be tested automatically.

Premium Asset Download: “Selling” premium assets – guides, white papers, infographics, webinar recordings, etc. – for the cost of some contact information is a tale as old as time. Landing pages can be spun up extremely quickly (particularly if you’re using an enterprise marketing automation platform or a tool like Unbounce), and forms are easily integrated with workflow triggers.

Nurturing & Conversion

Now that you have a user’s email address (at least), this is the part where you trigger a pre-defined series of emails enticing them to engage further down the lead funnel. Simultaneously, they should see new remarketing advertisements with the same aim. Simple workflows are trivial to set up in any proper marketing automation system, and they run automatically, with no need for human intervention. (It’s “automation,” after all.) If your emails and ads are effective – something you can increase over time with testing and trial and error – prospects will be led down closer toward a final conversion automatically. At that point, your marketing automation solution can automatically hand them over to sales.

Nothing in the flow we’ve just outlined is the least bit difficult for anyone with even rudimentary technical chops. Depending on your content creation bandwidth, you could stand up a halfway decent campaign using that blueprint in a week or so. It won’t be perfect, it won’t win innovation awards, it’s not sexy … but if you do a decent job, you’ll get results. Tune and tweak the campaign to get out of it everything you can, and reap the leads while you work on more complex flows.

So remember, when it comes to marketing automation, keep it simple – especially at first. Complexity is cool, but it also takes time and tends to break. By standing up simple pieces first, you’ll ensure at least some level of quick and sustainable results – and save yourself a lot of headaches.

Adam Smartschan

Adam Smartschan heads Altitude's strategic marketing and branding efforts. An award-winning writer and editor by trade in a former life, he now specializes in data analytics, search engine optimization, digital advertising strategy, conversion rate optimization and technical integrations. He holds numerous industry certifications and is a frequent speaker on topics around B2B marketing strategy and SEO.