Cut Back Automation Overkill with this Easy Formula

Trina Moitra
March 11, 2018 ·

Releasing at a Theatre Near You: Operation Over-Automate. Starring over enthusiasm, a plethora of enticing automation possibilities and dreams of a future where everything happens on auto-pilot.


If a company’s stance towards automating processes – especially marketing processes – was a movie, it would be an over the top 90s thrillers.

I will be back… and stuff.

I will be back

Because approaching automations with a level head and without getting polarized in terms of opinion or attitude is a difficult ask.

Either businesses believe that marketing and email automations can generate leads, turn idlers into buyers and present a genuine, human and personal front to prospects – without ANY supervision or intervention.

Or they think automations are out to take over their time tested processes and sink them in the chaos of a world where they don’t understand the how and why of half of what’s going on behind the scenes.

Over 200 Marketing Automations in One Year:

If going on an automation rampage is a crime, I’m guilty of multiple infractions.

Automating left, right and centre – check

Automating every request that came my way – check

Automating obscure processes that are rarely used – check

In fact I executed over 200 automations over the last year using Active Campaign, Zapier and the much loved tools of marketing trade.

The majority of them worked well. Some bombed – bad. And at the end of the day I stepped into 2018 bruised but wiser and with a more discerning take on automations.

How Can You Tell Your Automations are Running Wild?

When you can’t immediately trace an anomaly back to a specific automation, it’s time to spring clean your back-end and retire the ones that aren’t pulling their weight.

I completely understand that most automation mavericks have these little buggers in two layers:

(i) Automations for segmentation/identification

(ii) Automations that target these segments with follow-up content or nurturing

But if the first layer comprises of a relay of automations, the output of one feeding the other or acting as the trigger for the next, you are missing out on an easier way to get things done. Or at the very least need a constantly updated visual snapshot of your automation logic (Good luck with that!)

Back to the story though….

The mind boggling number of possibilities which came with upgrading from our legacy email marketing platform to the sleeker and more sophisticated Active Campaign kept me awake at night.

Oh what couldn’t I do…what couldn’t Convert do with the beautiful “If Else” conditions, the accommodating, benign presence of Zapier ever ready to import data from several platforms to our email stronghold and the ease with which tags could be created and applied?

(— Tags is a whole different rant. If automation overkill is indeed your problem, another great way to spot it is by the number of tags in your system. Anything over 100 is a sure sign of trouble! —)

As it turned out, I could do a LOT.

But the more mature question is, should I have been doing everything?

How Much Should You Automate in Your Marketing & Personalization Efforts?

Experts luh-ve to harp on about the maxim, “What you don’t document, you can’t automate,”

After 365 days of one innocuous “Collaborator” tag driving four separate occasions of wrong email delivered and messed up lead scores, I feel disagreeable.

I want to alter that timeless wisdom to “Document what is worth automating”

And that brings us back to the question, “How much do you automate?”

It is indeed a delicate science. But I have identified the three factors involved:

  • Complexity
  • Value
  • Authenticity


Fairly self-evident.

Some automations take minutes to set up. Some automations take hours but still can be tagged “simple” in terms of execution because you don’t have to bust your brain trying to come up with the chain of triggers and actions that achieve the desired result.

Some automations are evil.

They tantalize you with a vague possibility of success and prove to be notoriously difficult when the actual implementation rolls around. You may just find yourself discarding Excel sheet after Excel sheet trying to keep up with the “If, Then, Else” scenarios and the sheer technical complexity of the eventual (clumsy) solution.

Even though tackling a rogue automation may give you a momentary high and the satisfaction of beating the pest, does it offer commensurate value?


Automation value is gauged in a number of ways:

(i) Adoption. You don’t necessarily use an automation. You do use what it produces though —, a tag, a goal, data posted to a URL. Say your automation applies a tag which in turn creates a task asking your sales team to follow up with a particular SQL.

If your team isn’t likely to embrace the innovation and check the assigned tasks, the automation fails to do its job because it is not adopted.

(ii) Frequency. How often is an automation triggered? If it is called fairly frequently then it is automating a repetitive process that was eating time and resources which could have been better utilized elsewhere.

Under such circumstances, the work involved in setting up a seemingly complicated automation is justified.

(iii) Innovation. Is your automation changing the game? Is it delivering a never seen before solution that is not found anywhere else? Convert recently invested assets in creating it’s custom lead scoring automation – The Eagle Bot. Counts put the number of associated automations at more than 40 (Give or take a few). But the sweat was worth it. Because the Eagle Bot is not only a MVP we can further explore, it is also a game-changer that has automated the process of lead assignation.


Let’s talk about this for a bit.

Because authenticity and automations are kind of unrelated. Personalization is a big trend right now and isn’t likely to phase any time in the near future. Automations make personalization a breeze.

Is AE “X” handling a client? Set up an automation that receives this information from the CRM and then sign-off all future nurturing campaigns with the credentials of this individual.

Wow – it’s like prospects won’t be able to tell the manual emails from the automated ones. How cool is that?


It is not authentic.

Before you fly off that email marketing horse, hear me out. Yes, we do need to have free trial pipelines on auto-pilot. No one expects a harassed marketing manager to pen messages in real time.

But if your prospects receive manual messages from a high touch team member like an account executive, automating emails with their sign-off hurts the response rate on the really important sales close manual communications.

Hey, if you have no account executives and your sales cycle is about a minute long – by all means automate the living daylights out of your close sequence.

But this is not the case for most B2B businesses.

Too many automations trying to achieve an impression of personalization confuse prospects and subtly put them off.

You are wowed by the power of doing things without effort. Your future buyers don’t share your enthusiasm.

They are won over not by how many automations you have running back-end but by the authenticity of your interactions.

The GDPR Element:

I have to insert the warning.

With the General Data Protection Regulation all set to be enforced from the 25th of May, another dimension begs to be added to your automation evaluation lens.

The privacy legislation is strict about the idea of privacy design, or, as you may know it, data minimization.

You must be careful to pull only the data you have the explicit permission to process. Do not give in to the temptation to enrich your nurturing using information from complementary databases.

Yes, the information is there. But unless prospects have given you the nod to anticipate needs you have no business knowing, you can’t really automate content or offers on the basis of omni-channel actions taken.  

Wrap Up: A Nifty Little Formula for Automations  

Value is directly related to authenticity and both are inversely related to complexity.

Value ∝ Authenticity & Value ∝ 1/ Complexity

An automation is worth it when the value it offers to your organization and the authenticity it brings to interactions with prospects is more than the complexity it entails.

Now all automations will not conform to this paradigm. But it is a handy guide to follow.

So the next time you book a ticket for Automation Overkill, take your friends value and authenticity along.

They’ll keep you in check.

Talia Wolf
Talia Wolf
Originally published March 11, 2018 - Updated May 27, 2022
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Trina Moitra
Trina Moitra Trina Moitra is the head of marketing at Convert.

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