The Art Of Automation: 3 Soft Skills You Need To Get The Most Out Of Your Automation Program

by Ann Handley

You’re here on this blog about marketing automation, reading about marketing automation. But let’s talk about something non-automated for a minute. Let’s talk about people.


Because successful marketing automation programs are steeped in technology, of course. But they also need marketing people — the sort with real blood pumping through actual hearts — to implement marketing automation within an organization and make the results worth the investment.

Certainly, marketing automation programs need people with hard skills. They need people who are excellent marketing strategists, content creators, email and analytics experts, and design/creatives, among others.

But what about the softer skills you need to get the most of your marketing automation program?

Such skills might be harder to quantify, but in my experience they are just as key to a successful automation program as someone who can build a killer landing page or write compelling copy or nurture the heck out of a warm prospect.

Here are three soft skills I value in a marketing automation team member:

Jargon-free communication skills

The ability to articulate key concepts across the organization is necessary for a successful automation program (or any program, period, come to think of it).

That also means understanding how an automation program supports broader business goals from a business point of view, not just a marketing point of view.

The value is not just about delivering a zillion sales-qualified leads, for example. The value is about the real business impact those leads deliver when they convert at an average rate of 75 percent. (I know! We wish!)

Being able to connect the dots in compelling, jargon-free communication (both written and spoken) is a valuable skill on a marketing automation team.

This isn’t just about speaking or writing well. It’s about conveying ideas in a way to lead, inspire, and instruct others—even if you are managing up. (Maybe especially then.)

Think as an educator, not a salesperson. You are educating others, not straight-up selling others on your ideas.

Why? Because when you do this right, you are more broadly interpreting to the rest of a team what Marketing brings to the table—and in doing so educating others on Marketing’s critical role in your organization.

An independent mind and curiosity

My favorite people to hire are those who ask questions. (And they invariably become my favorite people to work with, too.)

And the best question is Why? And the second best question is What if?

Sometimes Why isn’t the exact phrasing. It could masquerade as How does this work? Or maybe What’s our goal?

And sometimes What if isn’t the exact phrasing, either. Sometimes it presents as Wouldn’t it be cool if or Could we perhaps?

Why? is ultimately the question that sets up a small flare in a conversation, which functions as a plea to pause and figure out what we are doing before we go all in. Why, again, are we doing this? What’s the real value?

And What if? is the question that sparks imaginative thinking and creativity, both of which make your programs hum… right alongside the tech.

In tandem, the two questions of why and what if indicate independent thinking and a kind of curiosity that’s invaluable to a marketing automation program.


Pathological empathy

I saved the best for last, because I believe empathy is the thing that separates great marketing from mediocre marketing.

And not just any old run-of-the-mill empathy, but pathological empathy. As in: obsessive empathy for the audience you are trying to serve.

Pathologically empathic marketers don’t just create marketing personas and plug them into marketing programs and then deploy campaigns targeted to them.

Instead, pathologically empathic marketers try to fully grok the customer mindset. They try to understand their hopes, dreams, aspirations, frustrations, and annoyances.

They listen more than they talk.

They don’t just walk in their customers’ shoes; they put on their socks, and pants, and shirts, and hats and they move around in those, too, trying to get a feel for what it’s like in their world.

Why is that important? Because your prospects and customers don’t care about your products and services. They care about what those products or services can do for them. It’s a subtle, but important shift in mindset.

And to be able to articulate that well and create programs that resonate… you have to have answers beyond a superficial level.

* * * 

So those are the soft skills I’d hire on my marketing automation team, beyond the more obvious hard skills.

What about you? What’s critical to your our team? What do you look for, or what do you hope to nurture in yourself?

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