Marketing Automation: Losing the Personal Touch?

Building meaningful customer relationships in a digital world

The SMA/ITAC Think Tank in December put the spotlight on marketing automation systems and digital marketing. Participants shared their experiences and insights, on everything from the value of the data that digital marketing provides, to the challenges of managing digital marketing programs. These are some of the key tips and takeaways from this Think Tank session:

  1. Focus on learning everything you can about millennials
    • They’re your customers, your influencers, and decision makers
    • You need to understand their buying behavior, and their attitudes toward sharing online data
  2. Tracking cookies may be in peril
    • Users are starting to prefer to browse ‘incognito’ – without cookies
    • Without cookies, there’s no data – this might be a big problem for marketers
  3. Make the most of the analytics provided by your marketing automation system
    • These metrics offer a crystal clear view into how your prospects and customers react and behave
    • Use this information to tweak your campaigns as you go, and plan new campaigns


This SMA/ITAC Marketing & Sales Executive Think Tank was hosted at Cisco Systems Canada in Toronto, Ontario by Michael Turney, Vice President Marketing. The discussion was moderated by Bob Becker, Principal, SMA.


  • Wendy Serra, Partner Marketing Manager, Cisco Systems Canada
  • Michael Turney, Vice President Marketing, Cisco Systems Canada
  • Claude Couillard, Canadian Field Marketing Manager, HP Enterprise
  • Azhar Khan, Marketing Account Manager, Cisco, Ingram Micro
  • Faye Caldwell, Enterprise and Channels Marketing Manager, Canada, IBM Canada Ltd.
  • Caterina Didio-Duggan, Canadian Regional Marketing Manager, Information Builders
  • Andrew Bowden, Field Marketing Manager, Public Sector, SAS Canada
  • Selda Uzunmehmetoglu, Field Marketing Manager, SAS Canada
  • Vanessa Brown, Director, Thinkwise
  • Paul McDevitt, Director, Marketing, Unity Connected Solutions
  • Dave Dewitt, Marketing Brand and Pricing Manager, Wainbee Limited

Comments from our Discussion

Below are participant comments from our Think Tank. Each event is unique, and the needs of each technology company represented at the event are equally unique. As you will see, there are different opinions and approaches, but also some clear themes. We think you’ll find these comments from our participants very interesting. 

What we learned

  • Focus on millennials – understand them. They are your new customer; they are now in the position of buying and are now decision makers.
  • Bring the perspectives of millennials into your organization – at the very least for insight into how they want to be communicated with. Also important: to think about digital automation in terms of millennials’ communication preferences.
  • Cookie manipulation (blocking the tracking of visitor info) may lead to greater emphasis on creating online communities, in Facebook, LinkedIn, more opportunities for members to ‘know’ each other.
  • Understand data reporting and analytics for more effective campaigns.
  • Pay attention to the scalability of marketing automation. Tweaking automation can give a sense of ‘we can get there.’
  • Accessibility of data can help. Journey pathways can be improved by understanding the data to mine new customers, upsell and cross sell.
  • Focus on the right customer at the right time with the data available to you.
  • Look into persona marketing – review email campaign data and build from call to action.
  • Make content relevant and timely, ready to absorb.
  • Leverage Sales; tie their enablement to campaigns so that it has more relevancy and they are better engaged to hopefully obtain better traction.

What drove you to automated marketing activities? What are best practices with regard to what to automate and what not to automate?



Need to have presence online. If you do not have a presence online, you will not reach your audiences. Measuring digital marketing is easier than measuring face-to-face marketing.
There are too many individual tools. There is a need for one tool to automate it all in order to see it all at a glance. Email campaign can demonstrate real-time results early into a campaign – as soon as there is a website hit, nurturing process begins. Easier to see what works. Difficult to measure a postcard campaign.
Most prospects conduct online research before reaching out to company. Sales and Marketing integration to follow up & follow through is very much needed. Ensure a strong call to action with a sequential approach. With so much data available, digital campaign is easier to transition into and measure.
Easier to create awareness to prospects and take them through awareness phase. Test: where to get best hits; how leads are being passed on; click-throughs. Use the data to build stronger campaigns. Great way to get messaging out to prospects.
Need help to target the right message to the right people. Identify how to bring prospects back to website/call to action.
Have to use marketing automation to address small- to mid-size businesses, too many/too diverse to simply scale down your enterprise marketing approach. Develop each persona journey via a workflow, before digitizing.
Resource constraint to increase ‘noise,’ planning quality leads are challenging. Ask Sales to pick up marketing role using Sales Navigator, HubSpot.
Strong lead scoring is needed. Implement waterfall/Pardot, balance Marketing and Sales to obtain high quality leads at the right time.
How to get right message in front of prospects. How do you know? Educate team first before going digital – finetune nurturing journey. Include other lines of business to get everyone to buy in.

 Do we need to be worried about losing the personal touch with digital marketing?

  • Other than going to face-to-face events, was marketing really personal? Continue inside sales, go to chat rooms, and conduct ‘demo’ webinars. It’s never 100% one thing or 0% another.
  • Make the digital tool accessible to Sales so that they can personalize and track on their own.
  • Ensure your email has a strong call to action, even multiple calls to action. Give prospects the option to choose what to follow up on, what to click on. Note that this is a personal journey.
  • A strong subject heading on your email campaigns directed to the right target market can be considered personalization.
  • The personal touch is different now – it can mean ‘get in get out’ to one person, but to another it could mean ‘is the topic relevant?’ And anything in between.
  • Ensure a consistent experience between call centre versus website. Analyze your data to ensure consistency throughout.
  • Ensure prospect contact information is consistent so personalization is correct every time.
  • Send message at the right time in their journey.
  • Consider reading about Marketo on how they are doing a good job in the area of personalization with their prospects; very creative with timeline topics.
  • Becoming too personal can be risky. Could be perceived as intrusive and a turn-off.
  • Marketing automation should not be used as a standalone tool. Personal phone calls as an alert or indicators can be personal. Consider mixing traditional marketing with digital marketing (i.e. email or website visit).

How are your Marketing and Sales teams involved with marketing automation? Lead scoring, at what point/what variables to pass to the reps?

  • Ask Sales to present in a ‘sell’ format during team meetings to continuously learn what their prospects have as top of mind.
  • Lead scoring/point system should be continuously changing, using sales alerts. Marketing should test to see if Sales accepts lead scoring. If not acceptable, Marketing should amend point scoring system until Sales agrees. Build in the ability to divert quickly.
  • Ensure that the team managing the lead scoring tool is expert.
  • Post-event follow up is also KEY for Sales to take on. Closing the gap between prospect touches continues to be a challenge.
  • Marketing continues to be challenged with the definition of what Sales considers a lead. Sales doesn’t want a lead; they want a purchase order.
  • The Engage tool, part of Eloqua, can add to the digital footprint with lead scoring and offers email suggestions on what Sales should be sending, and how.

Many users are now blocking cookies on their browsers. How to deal with this newest challenge?

  • This will be a definite impact on marketing in any organization. Google ad displays and email campaigns may increase.
  • This may become a government regulation due to a possible privacy infringement. This is yet to be determined; if so, this is a new challenge yet to be addressed.
  • In Europe, there is consent asking users to accept/decline cookies in browsers.
  • Regulations such as CASL are leaving organizations asking, ‘Now what?’
  • Ask millennials for their opinions – many are now using Google incognito mode.

Will Marketing and Sales become redundant in the future with marketing automation?

  • Roles are changing – how you do your job will change – it may become a different job. Marketing may look different than today.
  • Strategic individuals will always be needed; perhaps fewer due to all the automation.
  • Data savvy marketers will be needed, fully understanding the data, thus increasing their responsibility.
  • Perhaps a ‘Data Physicist’ will be needed. Need to fully understand what and why the prospect is doing what they are doing; i.e. an open email does not necessarily mean they are interested. Does an open email mean a read email? Does it mean interest?
  • It will be necessary to understand behavioral science with the increased data created.

The next SMA/ITAC Think Tank will occur mid-February. Read the next update here.

Posted By: SMA

One response to “Marketing Automation: Losing the Personal Touch?”

  1. Roger Abbott says:

    Regarding blocking cookies, there are ways to detect your “browser fingerprint”, which can often identify you WITHOUT using cookies.

    A web browser sends information about the browser’s environment and capabilities to each web server. This information is used by the web server to send appropriate content. The COMBINATION of all these attributes forms a “browser fingerprint”, which can identify the browser, even without using cookies.

    The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF is a privacy advocacy group) lets you see just how unique you are:
    Test your browser:
    Good backgrounder:

    Another test sites is at:

    The above test site identifies the following attributes that can be discovered and used to (often uniquely) identify a browser:
    Country, Region, City, ISP Name, Operating System, Platform, Internet Browser, Beta Version, Connection Speed, Restrictive Firewall, Local Date/Time, Language, System Language, User Language, Popups Blocked, SSL Support, SSL Enabled, Style Sheet Support, Supports Tables, Table Cell BG Colors, Table Cell BG Images, CDF Support, Color Depth, Supports GZip, Supports Cookies, Cookies Enabled, Supports JavaScript, JavaScript Enabled, JavaScript Version, JavaScript Build, Supports VBScript, Supports ActiveX, ActiveX Enabled, Supports Java, Java Enabled, Java Vendor, Java Version, MS JVM Build, Supports DHTML, Supports Uploads, Supports Frames, Gecko Engine, Screen Dimensions, Browser Dimensions, Supports IFrames, Images Enabled, PNG Support, XML Support, MS XML Parser, Background Sounds, Supports MouseOver, Windows Installer, .NET CLR Installed, MS Media Player, Apple QuickTime, RealPlayer, Adobe Acrobat, Adobe SVG Viewer, Macromedia Flash, Macromedia Director, Macromedia Authorware, Citrix, iPIX Image Viewer, Crystal Reports, Viewpoint, Autodesk MapGuide, NetMeeting Build, Using PDA, WAP Support, Proxy Connection, Font Smoothing, Font Sizing, IE Text Size, and Fonts Installed.

    Because there are so MANY attributes, the combination often results in a unique “fingerprint” to identify a user. This makes it more difficult than cookies, and it is not a guarantee of uniqueness, but it can be done.

    There ARE ways to block a lot of this information from being sent, but very few people do that and it makes the user experience worse to do so. See the backgrounder in the EFF link above for more info.