Marketing automation is the hottest topic in B2B marketing circles these days. Everyone’s talking about it – agencies and individual companies alike. And many are investing big bucks in solutions like HubSpot, Pardot, Marketo and Net-Results.

But here’s the thing about marketing automation: It’s not exactly what it’s described as. That is to say, it’s not truly “automated” in the classic sense of the term. Without human intelligence and intervention, even the best marketing automation software won’t drive any tangible results – and will, at worst, actually create negative results by hijacking valuable time and effort for non-value-add tasks.

So what are you to do? Everyone’s read the marketing automation case studies. Everyone’s been added to a conversion funnel (or 10) and been impressed by a company’s seemingly prescient outreach efforts. Everyone wants that for themselves. How do you get it while avoiding the pitfalls that come with a sub-par marketing automation deployment?

You’re reading the first post in an exclusive blog series highlighting ways to eliminate the negatives and accentuate the positives of marketing automation software. Over the coming months, we’ll be looking at five classic mistakes companies make when rolling out a marketing automation platform, and presenting common-sense ways to protect yourself.

This month’s topic is a biggie: The fact that, as noted above, marketing automation is not, in fact, truly automated.

Think of a marketing automation solution like a car. You know from the commercials that it performs great, and that it can get you from point A to point B. Thing is, there’s a driver in a car. Without him, that new Fiat just sort of … sits there, looking cute. It doesn’t go anywhere or do anything. It exists for the sake of existing, not for the sake of transportation.

Your shiny new Marketo account acts the same way. It’s not going to do anything on its own. It needs someone to gas it up, point it in the right direction, hit the accelerator and navigate the curves the road will inevitably bring. That’s a person (or a group of people) who does that, not a piece of software.

The upshot of our tortured metaphor is this: Don’t buy a marketing automation solution with the expectation that it’s going to cut your workload dramatically. It won’t. Period. What it will do is refocus your work on new, more valuable tasks – freeing you up for strategy, rather than tactical drudgery. Lead scoring, for instance, will likely save you and your sales team some worthless calls and time spent spelunking on LinkedIn. Dynamic lists will keep you out of Excel a bit. Automatic lead capture will cut down on your copying and pasting. But you won’t spend the time you save golfing – it just doesn’t work that way.

Instead, you (either alone or with a consulting partner) need to reinvest the time savings generated by the “automated” parts of marketing automation in your overall marketing efforts. Think big. What prospect information could help your sales folks? How can you engage potential clients in a logical fashion? Is there a way to better leverage that big tradeshow? Create a strategy that drives toward your goal, and spend your newfound time on high-value tasks like strategizing campaign logic, creating hard-hitting content and designing A/B testing experiments.

No machine is going to do any of that for you. The marketing automation solution can handle many tasks, but it’s only going to do what you tell it to do, using the fuel you give it. Do it right, and that Fiat in the driveway will turn into a Porsche on the highway real quick. Just don’t forget to drive.