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15 May 2019

8 elements of comparison between setting up a Marketing Automation tool and running a marathon

While I was taking part in the Great Breweries Marathon in May, I realized that there are a lot of comparisons between running a marathon and setting up a Marketing Automation tool. That's why I listed the 8 comparisons I saw (yes, during a marathon you have quite some time to think…).

1. You don’t decide the night before - you prepare

When you decide to run a marathon, you don’t do it on the day of the marathon itself or the night before. You can run 5 or 10 kilometres “unprepared”, but don’t try that with a marathon or you may end up in hospital… A marathon preparation scheme is a minimum of 12 weeks, or even a couple of months, so that you can prepare step by step and let your body adapt to the efforts needed.

The same goes for Marketing Automation: you don’t order a marketing automation tool on a sunny Monday without any prior thinking about how the tool will fit within your marketing approach, without defining the automated flows in advance, without looking to see if you have the right data and content, or without looking at your team’s skills and the impact on them. All these steps are part of the “preparation scheme” leading to the implementation of your Marketing Automation tool.

2. Set yourself an ambitious but realistic goal

For me, the target was to run the marathon within 4 hours. If I were to finish in 3:45, I would be thrilled! So this gave me a goal range of 3:45 – 4:00. However, based on the pace I ran during the training, I knew that 3:45 would be very unlikely, rather somewhere between 3:50 and 3:55. I therefore created my running tactics accordingly: run the first 21 kilometres more comfortably, aiming for the 4-hour finish time, increasing the speed after the 21 kilometres to aim for the more ambitious goal. I ended in a time of 3:55.

In a business context it’s also important to be both ambitious and realistic with your goals. We saw companies that said they wanted to be live in 3 months and the project took them 9 months. Yet, if they had set 6 months as an objective, they would probably have achieved it within 6 or 7 months. Also, goals need to be very well aligned with management, so that they don’t have false expectations.

3. It’s a long endeavor

It’s impossible to say that the 42,195 kilometers of a marathon are effortless. Some even say it’s a real attack on your body. And for an average runner like me, it takes about 4 hours to complete – quite some time.

The same applies to setting up Marketing Automation. It’s not something that you set up in one or two weeks, it’s a journey that lasts a couple of weeks or even months. And yes, it’s also an “attack on your organization”: you will need a project team that runs the project alongside the day-to-day work that still needs to continue. But even when all is up and running there is a lasting impact, as doing marketing with a Marketing Automation tool is very different from “classical marketing”. The marketers will need to adopt a new way of working.

4. Supporters are key

Along the course of the Great Breweries Marathon, there were funny beer-related quotes like “To beer or not to beer, that is the question – William Shakesbeer.” It makes you smile and gives you energy. The same happens when you see supporters cheering on the route and calling your name. First you think “How does that person know me?”, then you realize (s)he doesn’t but saw your name on your running bib.

The same goes for your Marketing Automation project: you need a strong supporting team and supporting materials. Projects tend to be more successful if there is a supportive management team that actively intervenes with supportive messages and that acts supportively. There are even success cases where there’s a full internal communication plan around the project, to help the team to be motivated and remain so.

5. You will have pain… and fun

When running a marathon, certainly as of the 30 kilometres point, you may encounter the “Man with the Hammer”, that will knock you down in the blink of an eye. Your energy reserves are running down, your feet and/or legs start to hurt and mentally you know there’s still about a quarter of the race to go. Fatigue is taking over.

In my most recent marathon I saw many runners continue at walking pace around this 30 to 35 kilometres point. But running a marathon isn’t all about pain, you also can find fun in it. Physically, you develop endorphins, which make you feel happy. Your song list, the sounds of nature, the new landscapes, the presence of the other runners and the we-are-all-in-the-same-boat feeling – all help to cheer you up on a mental level.

Back to the Marketing Automation context. There will also be a lot of pain that you encounter along the journey. There may be disputes between departments, things you have overlooked and need to get ready in a rush, technical problems that arise, the risk of delaying the project and so on, but if you can solve these problems (as a team), you will have a positive feeling afterwards. Yet, there are also a lot of fun opportunities on the journey itself: you may work with new people, you will certainly enjoy the benefits of working as a project team, which leads to fun for sure, and you will learn and develop new skills.

6. Spreading your efforts

Like mentioned in point 5, I saw people starting to walk as we approached the 30 kilometres mark and I could overtake other runners. Slowing down is often caused by having started too fast (besides the fatigue that everyone has). During your preparation you need to get to know your capabilities, your ideal heart rate zones and ideal speed. Yet, at the start and for the first few kilometres you can get pulled on by the crowd and run faster than you should and burn your energy too quickly. The solution that running event organizers give are “pacers”: they run at a fixed pace, towards a target end time.

At the start of a Marketing Automation project, the team is also very excited about the new tool to come and wants to go for it in full force. The same goes in a business project as in a marathon, there is a risk of “running too fast” and burning the energy and motivation of the team. You thus need pacers as well, who ensure that the team spreads their effort (you know them, they’re “project managers”).

7. A strong organization thinks about the needs of the participants

The biggest type of complaint by marathon runners is that “it wasn’t well organized”. Organizing a marathon is not child’s play. There are a lot of things to take into account. And if, as an organizer, you do it based on the (most common) needs of the runners, you will be seen as a great organization. The needs of a runner are (just as examples) enough food and drink along the way, fast medical help if needed, good accessibility to the event location, a cheering crowd or music along the way.

The project and steering team managing a Marketing Automation project need to play their role as strong organizers too. Besides creating a realistic schedule, they should also be there to tackle the individual needs of the project members, ideally already anticipating them. Doing something extra like project team lunches or drinks helps to keep the team motivated.

8. A big reward at the end

Besides the “Yes, I did it” feeling when you cross the finishing line, which causes tears to even some of the toughest men, you get your medal at the finish. It may look like a dumb piece of metal, but it gives you a lasting memory and sign of recognition. By the way, when you take part in the New York Marathon, and then the day after you walk around the city with your medal showing, you get a continuous flow of “respect” messages from New York citizens. At the Great Breweries Marathon, there was an extra reward: you got a box of some of the finest Belgian beers.

In a business context where there’s a change happening or where there are project teams active, you should also celebrate officially. The project team has put a lot of effort into the project; it was fun at times, but hard at others, so they also deserve their “medal” and an extra reward (e.g. a project-closing party).

Take these tips into account if you go for a Marketing Automation project, or basically any larger Marketing Technology project (like CRM, a new website, etc.), and you will be more successful in getting results. We apply these in our project: check out our step-by-step approach