10 Ways to Explain Salesforce Marketing Automation To Anyone

Do you find it hard explaining your job to those who don’t know what Salesforce is? Many ‘outsiders’ aren’t aware of the complexities that are involved in the actions we (including ourselves) have taken for granted – ordering an item for next day delivery online, having a discounts delivered as we’re browsing a new website, and (with the most innovative of Salesforce’s customer brands) entering a retail store and the associate knowing who you are.

Sure, marketing technology has normalized these experiences – even for our parents, for the most part. But how do you convey the wonder of what goes on behind the scenes, the things that you make happen, and as a result, contextualize what you do day to day? All in a way that they will understand the prowess that’s involved – it’s challenging.

Let’s face it – the words “marketing” and “cloud” could be interpreted in a number of ways, and not necessarily related to technology! I don’t want to ‘muddy the waters’, but what does ‘Account Engagement’ mean? And ‘Pardot’ could easily be mistaken for ‘Pardon’ (I can absolutely see the correlation).

Of course, it’s not only family and friends – it’s our colleagues, too. This led me to wonder, how can we improve the way we communicate our roles and the technology that we empower others to use?

Here are some ways to clearly explain what marketing automation is, in a Salesforce context, that I’ve compiled over the years.

1. What Salesforce Is (In a Real-Life Context)

At Salesforce Ben, we launched a free career course that starts with a layman’s description of what Salesforce is. Here’s a snippet from the course:

“Salesforce is one of the world’s largest technology companies. Unless you use their software or work with the platform, you probably wouldn’t have heard of them; however, I can assure you that behind the scenes of your favorite companies such as Apple, Facebook, and Uber, Salesforce is powering all of them.

CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management. All businesses in the entire world will have some form of CRM. The software simply records who your customers are, what interactions you’ve had with them, and what products they have bought. If you run a hairdressing salon, you might have a spreadsheet or a notebook of your regular customers – if you run a catering company, you will have the same, or if you run a 10,000 employee international conglomerate, you will have CRM software.”

Ultimate Salesforce Career Course

2. Database Cleaning: The KonMari Way

I love Marie Kondo, the Japanese minimalism consultant/declutterer, now an influencer. Following her book “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up”, Kondo made her way on to our TVs with “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo”, and other series. 

What’s special about the ‘KonMari’ method? Tidy to avoid ‘rebound’; it needs to be one big effort, and not partially sorting and storing things. Asking does this “spark joy”? And if not, show gratitude to the item, for all that it has done for you, before throwing it out.

As a marketing admin, you ‘KonMari’ your database. You gather all data, and clear out what’s no longer required. You can permanently delete some historical data, while other data you can acknowledge that it was once valuable then choose to either opt-out prospects, or archive this data.

You evaluate all assets, renaming them in a standardized way, and organize into a structure that’s easy for everyone to find. 

That’s an important part of the marketing admin role – distill down to what’s important, and then declutter. 

3. Hook, Line, and Sinker

Fishing is a sport that requires observation, patience, and optimization. Cast the line, wait for a sign that a fish has been “hooked”, then act on this interaction by reeling the line in.

Take this analogy with a pinch of salt. I’m not suggesting that prospects have the slow characteristics of fish, nor that marketers are devious. I use this analogy because it’s a nice three-part progression to distinguish the stages of prospects “converting” from one stage to the next:

  1. Cast the line: Send out marketing communication, publish a blog article, put up an advert, etc.
  2. Wait for a “hook” indication: This could be as subtle as a click in an email (if the prospect is already in your database), or a significant action (someone filling out a website form).
  3. Reel them in: No one likes to be ignored. If you’re a prospect that has indicated your interest, you will expect to receive a response. This could be receiving a PDF with information that’s interesting to you, being linked to buy a product online, or talking directly to a salesperson.

That’s why some marketing automation professionals love what they do. It’s deciphering someone’s digital body language, and building routes to direct the individual to the right place.

4. Giving Directions

Strangers asking for directions has become increasingly uncommon, with the advent of Google Maps, etc. You want to find the station? Turn left, go straight ahead for 200m, and you will see it on the right.

Marketers use CTAs (call to actions) that point browsers/subscribers in the right direction. As you know, CTAs take the form of buttons, links, etc. and so, can be compared to signposts. CTAs are positioned to guide the prospect to the desired location, to help them get to where they want to be (even if they don’t know it yet!).

5. Finding Nemo: The Ideal Customer Journey

In the film Finding Nemo, Marvin the fish (Nemo’s father) makes discoveries that transform the way he thinks. He learns the errors of his ways, through experiencing the disappearance of his son and encountering different characters along the way, rather than being explicitly told he’s been wrong in the past.

When it comes to creating customer journeys, the marketer is the scriptwriter and the prospect is Marvin. Marketers show, rather than tell. Marketers show prospects the way to their product/service, and then allow the prospect to discover how it’s going to help them. The prospect ‘owns’ the discovery – that’s a powerful motivator for them to explore further.

From the book: “Your Marketing Automation Journey and Tales From The Real World”, Brian Coles.

6. The Multi-Touch Octopus

The phrase “multi-touch attribution” can scare newcomers away. Imagine your marketing team is an octopus – one tentacle is an email campaign you’ve sent, another is a trade show that you’ve sponsored, or an advert on a third-party website (not your own site). 

Although we’re using the image of an octopus, the number of tentacles isn’t always eight; some prospects may have been “touched” by less than eight tentacles, whereas others could go far beyond eight:

  • To decide whether I want to purchase a personalized pet bauble, I would only need to receive one email. 
  • To decide, on behalf of my company, whether we should invest in an expensive piece of software to manage projects, I would need more convincing. Ideally, I would have met people who work at the software company (say, at a trade show). I would have learned more about the software’s benefits through materials like a feature comparison (which shows me what it can offer vs other options), and use cases (how other satisfied customers have benefitted). I could easily forget about the software, until I see an advert online, reminding me that this is something my company does need.  

As you can see, how many ‘tentacles’ are required depends on how big the decision to purchase is, and the number of marketing channels you are leveraging (i.e. the email campaign, trade shows, advertising mentioned above). 

From the marketer’s point of view, the octopus hovering above every prospect is useful in informing them which touchpoints the prospect has received and/or interacted with.   

Once the prospect becomes a customer, you can credit the specific tentacles for being effective. Email campaign A was really effective (a tentacle) vs. email campaign B which failed to interest anyone.

The tentacles make up the whole octopus; the marketing touchpoints make the prospect a customer.  

A marketing automation platform is the glue bringing all marketing together. The octopus builds the complete ‘picture’ of what’s effective. Each of the tentacles that gained a positive reaction, should be acknowledged for their success (while some, ineffective tentacles, shouldn’t be included in the glory). 

To bring this story back into the marketing context, “multi-touch attribution” means reporting on what’s been effective, and ensuring that marketing is acknowledged for the resulting revenue – all in proportion! 

From the book: “Your Marketing Automation Journey and Tales From The Real World”, Brian Coles.

7. The Estranged Aunties

Have you ever attended a wedding (maybe, even your own) where estranged aunties are on the guest list? Whether they are aunties of the groom/s’ or brides/s’, neither of the couple know how to have a conversation with them – have they met them infrequently through their lives, they simply don’t have anything in common, or just find these aunties defensive and judgemental? 

The marketing team identifies people that may be interested in purchasing your company’s product/service (having ‘cast the line’, often ‘casting the net wide’). Marketing then passes the best of the bunch to the sales team, who can concentrate on a smaller number of prospects. 

Understanding what should be passed over from marketing to sales, is different from what marketing think should be passed to sales. This all starts from a place where marketing doesn’t  ask the sales team what they need, and/or sales isn’t willing to open up a conversation. 

In the context of data, it becomes a very bad wedding. Everyone awkwardly tip-toes around conversations without seeing the common joy (i.e. goal, of winning prospects’ business).

From the book: “Your Marketing Automation Journey and Tales From The Real World”, Brian Coles.

8. Pavlov’s Dog

If your buyers see you as only a machine ‘shouting’ (i.e. shooting out messages when it suits you), then you’d be confused, and likely put off from doing business with the company.  

With no understanding of needs/timing, they probably – like Pavlov’s dog – will automatically respond in a certain way, triggered when they see messages from you/your company in the future. 

This instinctive ‘nope’ reaction will damage your company’s reputation. First impressions go a long way, but repeated, irrelevant, questionable communication will spell ‘negative’ in the eyes of the prospect, who can’t help but decide that, impulsively.

From the book: “Your Marketing Automation Journey and Tales From The Real World”, Brian Coles.

9. The ‘Inbox’ Nightclub

Turning up at a nightclub is only part of the story. Whether you get into the nightclub, is another matter entirely. 

Likewise, sending an email is only part of the story. Whether the email gets into the inbox, is another matter entirely. 

Marketers need to ‘play it cool’ to increase their chances of getting their email campaign into the inboxes of recipients, where they will see it, and hopefully, open and interact with it. This is known as deliverability. Sending too many emails to recipients who aren’t interested will damage your reputation. 

Deliverability can become mixed up with another measure: mailability. While both concepts aim to explain why an email can or can’t make it into the recipient’s inbox, the terms differ in a number of ways. The ‘inbox nightclub’ explains how these two measures work together.

Deliverability vs. Mailability – Nightclub Guide for Salesforce and Pardot

10. Cooking a Potent Witches’ Broth

A witches’ broth contains nasty ingredients that, if tasted, will cause illness. 

A large part of a marketer’s responsibility is to ensure that data (the ‘ingredients’ of marketing automation) are kept in sync between different tools. If the ingredients go wrong, you will have unhealthy systems on your hands.

10 Spooky Things Creeping Around Pardot (Account Engagement)


If you find it hard explaining your job to those who don’t know what Salesforce is, I hope one of these analogies may help you. Many ‘outsiders’ aren’t aware of the complexities that are involved in the actions we (including ourselves) have taken for granted, and as such, we need to find a different way to explain in order for it to resonate.

Forget explaining the sprawling suite of Salesforce Marketing Cloud Studios and Builders (which now includes “Account Engagement”, formerly Pardot). Contextualize what your role entails day-to-day using these relatable stories. 

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