B2B email marketing automation: getting it right

Every marketer knows that email marketing automation is something they should be doing, but how can you make it really deliver? We’ve worked with clients in the past that have set up their marketing automation, left it to tick over, and then wondered why it hasn’t filled up their pipeline as expected. The truth is, when it’s done right, it will improve conversions and drive increased sales, but it’s going to take time and effort.

There’s two ways of looking at it:

  1. It’s like a garden. If you show it love and attention, you’ll reap rich rewards.
  2. It’s like a pet shark. If you don’t keep an eye on it, it’ll turn around and bite you on the arse.

So, with the theme from ‘Jaws’ echoing in your mind, here are the key steps to getting it right.


First of all, what are you using it for? Lead nurturing, lead gen, remarketing, relationship marketing, up selling, cross selling, customer retention? All of the above? If you’re just getting started, pick a single goal and focus on that. Once you have the first instance in place and you’ll see what works and what doesn’t you can take that knowledge and apply it to future campaigns.


This is, hands down, where you should spend the majority of your time and effort. Put pencil to paper, or work that whiteboard. Set KPIs and work backwards from there.

For example, let’s say we’re working with the following scenario:

  • Average sale value: £100k
  • Yearly target from email marketing automation activity: £5 million
  • Conversion from Sales Accepted Lead (SQL) to a sale: 30%
  • Conversion from Marketing Qualified Lead to (MQL) to SQL: 20%
  • Conversion from Lead to MQL: 15%
  • Conversion from Contact to Lead: 15%

Assuming all of the above, and working backwards, we know that we need:

  • Number of sales delivered by email MA: 50
  • Number of SQL delivered: 167
  • Number of MQL delivered: 833
  • Number of Leads delivered: 5,556
  • Number of contacts: 37,037

So you’ll need to be working approximately 40,000 contacts in order to deliver the amount of revenue you need from email marketing automation. Now we’ve got some benchmarks to measure against when the campaign goes live.

With these numbers in mind, start to map a visitor’s email marketing automation journey. What information, content and offers will turn a contact into a lead? What will effectively convert a lead to an MQL? What slam dunk can you deliver to convert an MQL to an SQL? (Of course you’ll need rock solid MQL and SQL criteria for this process to be really effective.)

Mapping this out will be, and should be, messy. Your paper or whiteboard will be covered with circles, arrows, actions, timings, messaging ideas, entrances and exits. When you’re at this stage, say ‘yes’ to every idea and get everything in writing. Then, once you have every possible path and action, sit down and refine the journey into the simplest, most effective paths that will drive the conversions you need.

Once you’ve done all this glorious, wonderful thinking and planning up front (can you tell I love this part?), the rest is going to be a lot more straightforward.


In some ways, this is the easy part. You’re a smart marketer and you’ve done this many times before, so work your magic. Build your campaign strategy, write your messaging, design your visuals, set up your workflows and determine your reporting and measurement processes.

Get it built and test, test, test. Every possible scenario should be tested before your campaign goes live. Trial every path from desktop, tablet and mobile to make sure your visitors are going to have a smooth experience.


Any marketing automation, when left unattended, will misbehave. Remember that pet shark I mentioned earlier? Your existing campaigns can be effected by rolling out additional email campaigns, updating your ongoing nurture activity, adding new data to your database or updating your segmentation rules.

Classic things to look out for include:

  • Contacts becoming enrolled in multiple campaigns meaning they’re inundated with emails (or ‘B2B harassment’ as we call it in the Modern office)
  • Contacts becoming enrolled in the same campaign more than once
  • Contacts getting served links to content they’ve already downloaded or experienced
  • Contacts dropping out of all email activity (hint: there should always be an ongoing nurture campaign to keep leads engaged, no matter what)

The bottom line is that your marketing automation needs to be regularly monitored and tested to make sure it’s in good working order. Ignore this process at your peril because it could make your brand look very bad in the long run.

Analyse and refine

Once your workflows are really working, measure the performance and refine the process on a regular basis. How is marketing automation supporting and converting your contacts to MQL and SQL? What content is converting the most leads? What messaging is falling flat? Are you on target to deliver that £5 million? If not, where are the issues and how can you fix it?

We’ve done a lot of work with regards to reporting on marketing automation activity because most platforms don’t deliver the numbers you really need to continually improve. Open rates and CTR are fine, but I’ve yet to see a marketing automation system that easily let’s me report on conversions between Lead, MQL and SQL. But I can dream, right?

To get the insight you need, export to Excel and get your hands dirty.

What are your top tips for email marketing automation?

So what are your top tips for getting email marketing automation right? Let us know in the comments, or send me a tweet at @modernb2b, we’re looking forward to hearing from you.

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