By concentrating on creating personalized relationships with individual prospects and focusing your marketing automation tactics directly on that goal, you can be confident that you're on the path to success.

By Tim Kurz

The power of successful marketing automation lies in a few simple principles: Talk to prospects like they're real people (because they are); share valuable information that helps them solve their problems (not yours); and build relationships (don't just call when you're selling something). Properly leveraged, I consider marketing automation personalized marketing at its best.

When you concentrate on creating personalized relationships with individual prospects and focus all of your marketing automation tactics directly on that goal, you can be confident that you're on the path to success.

Before you begin, take the time to segment your audience so your messages better resonate with them. Resist the urge to jump right into tactics before you develop a sound strategy. And make sure to include key stakeholders throughout the planning and strategy-setting process.You'll need their support to evolve the marketing and sales cultures.

Planning and implementing marketing automation programs can be complicated-sometimes overwhelming. It's easy to question if what you are doing, you're doing right. It's not uncommon to end up with more questions than answers. With that in mind, here are seven marketing automation best practicesto use as a guide when helping clients get started.

Marketing Automation Best Practices

Start with a small pilot program to establish the program's valueand systematically grow as you build momentum.

Develop strong content that can be reusedin many places with minor revisions. Don't forget to assign weighted values to each content piece based on its importance in the buying cycle.

Keep the product features close to the vest (sorta).While there's certainly a role for product information, it should be in support of your broader thought-leadership efforts.

Don't overdesign email templates.Messages that look and sound like they came from a sophisticated marketing team don't feel natural and won't connect with the recipient. And, please, send them from a person-not a company.

Employ both inbound and outbound campaigns to attract new prospects that fill the top of your funnel and nurture your existing contacts so you're maximizing your marketing automation investment.

Use automation technology more for behavior analysis than content distribution.Dig into the numbers; you'll find actionable information to impact your business.

Integrate related marketing and communications strategies and tactics, such as geo-fencing, mobile, native advertising and social media, to enhance your customers' brand experience and get the most value from your marketing technology investment.

Marketing automation, when implemented correctly, is an amazing tool. Finally, small and medium sized businesses with limited staff can manage multifaceted campaigns effectively and efficiently.And larger businesses can connect with individual customers in a highly personalized way at a scale that would otherwise impossible using traditional manual tactics.

Tim Kurz is digital automation strategist at Fahlgren Mortine. He has managed Web content for brands such as Nationwide Insurance, America Online, Hewlett-Packard, Netscape and CompuServe, and has executed content strategy for clients such as Lenovo, Dick's Sporting Goods, Scott's Miracle Gro, Liberty Medical and Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Stores.