I found myself being asked the question – “When is the right time to implement a B2B marketing automation solution?” more than once just this week, which means, according to the hallowed rules of content marketing, that it should make for a great blog post topic.

So I sat down in attempt to answer it.  I’ll be making two basic assumptions in my response. The first is that the B2B business asking the question is a technology product or services business, as this represents the vast majority of my background and experience. Having said that, non-tech B2Bs should also find this information valuable. The second is that when I talk about marketing automation in the context of this post, I’m referring to any one of the vendors that bills its system as a fit for medium and large businesses. Such a list would include the likes of Marketo, Pardot and even AutoPilot (just on the basis of their pricing), but exclude brands like InfusionSoft, Ontraport, and maybe even Act-On. BTW, I’m sort of on the fence about Hubspot, it certainly has its aspirations towards larger businesses.

With the exposition now taken care of, let’s get down to the heart of the matter. In this post, I’ll be looking at several criteria that can be used, ideally in combination, to assess whether it’s time for your business to seriously consider a marketing automation system implementation. Those criteria are:

  • Company stage
  • Database or contact list size
  • Monthly database growth rate
  • Proportion of new lead volumes and (inside) sales team size
  • Revenues

Let’s jump right into it.

Company Stage

Are you in stealth mode? just grabbed your seed funding and in initial scaling mode? are your ‘customers’ really just beta users who are using your product for free? if you already have paying customers, are you still below or barely at break even point? do you have a fully budgeted acquisition strategy, or are you using guerilla marketing tactics to acquire users and customers?

If the answer to any of the questions above is yes, then you’re probably too early in your business lifecycle to require anything as sophisticated as a full fledged marketing automation solution, and should consider other types of solutions that would still allow you to deploy smart marketing campaigns to your database. For example, pick one of the many solid email marketing suites out there and spend time creating and maintaining good audience segments.

If you’re already beyond these stages, i.e. have paying customers, have a fully budgeted acquisition program in place, or have just gotten a large funding round that’s intended to scale your marketing operations – then you should probably look at more sophisticated solutions in the marketing automation space.

Database / List size

This criterion is even easier to evaluate, however the following guidelines are strictly based on my own 20+ marketing automation system implementations track record, and are not scientific in any way. Roughly speaking, these are the database or list sizes (including leads/prospects and contacts) and their matching recommendation:

500 – 10,000 names: you don’t need a marketing automation system yet. Combination of well maintained Excels, Google Analytics and an email marketing tool like MailChimp, GetResponse or Vero should be enough for you. Keep growing.
10,000 – 50,000: you might need something more sophisticated. Check the other criteria to make a decision, especially your growth rate as per the next section.
more than 50,000: non-automated processes are no longer efficient and you probably need a proper marketing automation system for the business, the sooner the better.

Database monthly growth rate

This criterion should be coupled with the previous one and used as a modifier for it. It basically takes your list growth rate as an indication of how fast your business is expected to reach database sizes that are a better fit for marketing automation, and tells you whether to make a purchase decision earlier.

Monthly growth rate is 1-10% : no modification required.
Monthly GR is 10-20%: not a clear cut call, check other criteria.
Monthly GR >20% : congrats, you’re in excellent acquisition health! a marketing automation system is probably a good idea to help you deal with the massive amounts of leads you’re bringing in each month.

Proportion of lead volume to (inside) sales team size

This criterion should also be considered in tandem with the two previous ones. The rationale for it is that the core functions of a marketing automation system such as lead management automation and lead nurturing, are designed to ‘plug holes’ in sales funnels often associated with either lead volumes that are disproportionate to the size of the sales team, or with overall high lead volumes that result in high “leaking” or waste probability, regardless of sales team size.

To calculate it, first check with your sales team how many leads can an inside sales rep (or lead developer, or sales coordinator, or whatever you call the function that handles new leads) handle per month. Then take your actual lead volume and monthly growth rate, and if there’s a discrepancy of above 20% between the two values in favor of the lead volume, you probably should consider implementing some automation.

Let’s say that in your kind of business and sales model, an inside sales rep can efficiently handle 50 new leads each month, and you have 10 such reps. So if you’re generating anything around 400-600 new leads per month, you’re probably good and the team can handle the load with minimal automation, the kind that can be achieved even without a marketing automation system. But if you’re generating 750 new leads per month, then marketing automation is probably in order.

I must emphasize again: these are not numbers I’m willing or able to scientifically back. They are based on common sense, experience, and subjective observations. The point is that if you apply this calculation method and the resulting numbers feel wrong, you’ll know it.


This criterion is sort of a crude ROI exercise. It’s crude because it doesn’t actually take any returns, i.e. opportunities won and revenue generated in direct attribution to a given marketing automation activity, into consideration. Instead it considers the cost part of the ROI as a ‘cost of doing business’. A cost center, if you will. Now, most vendors will give you proper ROI calculators, but they’ll be mostly biased and cause you to rapidly buy into the idea of, well, buying something from said vendor.

First, we need to make a few basic assumptions. Let’s assume that marketing budget at your business is about 10% of revenues. Let’s also set 5% as the share of marketing automation in the annual marketing budget (hopefully the rest of the 95% go into quality staffing and well thought out acquisition and retention programs.) Next, let’s take as a baseline a license rate of $15,000 annually for a proper marketing automation systems. We’ll also assume that the annual staffing or outsourcing costs of operating it are about the same as the license costs (feel free to modify this multiplier if you have a different opinion about it).

Applying some simple math, we reach the conclusion that a minimum annual revenue stream of 6M USD is required to keep the license and operation costs, under the above set of assumptions, within the allocated budget frame. Add in some inefficiencies or a few unforeseen costs, and this can easily be doubled. Under these parameters, I’d say that unless your organization turns in 10-12M USD or more per annum, then purchasing and implementing a marketing automation system represents a risk that can be easily mitigated through the use of alternative solutions.

As a rule of thumb, if any combination of at least three of the above criteria result in a positive indication, then you’re probably in need of a solid marketing automation system. Otherwise, you may want to consider holding off the decision and revisiting it later on.




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About Idan Carmeli

A B2B marketing veteran with a penchant for the written word and a geeky fascination with technology. Through Converto, a marketing services agency he's founded, Idan combines his professional passions to deliver the benefits of marketing automation to B2B organizations large and small, especially through intelligent, well crafted lead nurturing programs.




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