Introduction to Marketo

17 Jan 2021 » Opinion

In the last 3 months I have been working on a project where the star is Marketo. It has been a great experience for me, as I have had the opportunity to learn a lot about this tool. So I thought I would share with you my newly acquired knowledge.

I know this is not the first time I have written about it. In my post The Other Adobe Experience Cloud, I briefly touched upon Marketo, but it was a very short introduction. Today I am going to be more detailed.

Marketing Automation

Together with Adobe Campaign, Marketo is a marketing automation tool. Although it may sound like Captain Obvious, it does what it says on the tin. It is a tool that helps the marketing department automate some of its activities. I like the Wikipedia’s explanation:

Marketing Automation is a [technology] that focuses on the definition, segmentation, scheduling and tracking of marketing campaigns. The use of marketing automation makes processes that would otherwise have been performed manually much more efficient and makes new processes possible. Marketing Automation can be defined as a process where technology is used to automate several repetitive tasks that are undertaken on a regular basis in a marketing campaign.

Probably the best example of one such case is the cart abandonment use case. If the visitor is known, the marketer would like to send her a reminder email, luring her to come back to the website and finalise the purchase. If we had to do it manually, it would be impossible. But there is more than just that to Marketo.

B2C vs B2B


Most of the Adobe Experience Cloud focuses on B2C (business to consumer). In other words, tools like Adobe Analytics and Adobe Campaign are usually licensed to large enterprises, which sell services or goods directly to the end consumer. These companies sell to a lot of people, with a small margin. This usually means that the sales team does not know or care who the customers are, individually.

From a technology perspective, this means that these tools should easily cope with millions of users. I remember a customer who wanted to stress-test Adobe Analytics collection servers. We had to persuade him that it made no sense, that our collection servers had been designed to deal with huge traffic (and that it would cost them a lot of money in server calls). I do not remember what happened in the end. As another example, Adobe Campaign can send millions of emails per hour.

From a relationship perspective, B2C companies have a very loose relationship with their customers. Airlines, supermarkets, banks, newspapers… do not really know who they are selling to. Each of us is just a record in a huge database.


On the other hand, in B2B (business to business), businesses sell to other business, not to end consumers. There tends to be a closer relationship between the buyer and the seller. If you are going to sell a license or a product that costs millions of dollars, you need to know very well your customer. Another feature of B2B is that the sales cycle is much longer. Buying a new mobile phone requires days or weeks between the day you decide it to the day you buy it. However, when a solar sunscreen manufacturer needs to buy a new UV filter, it can easily take many months.

One consequence of these points is that the marketing department and the sales department play very differentiated roles. The marketing team will attract new potential buyers and show them how good their offering is. However, and this is a key difference with B2C, when a potential buyer or lead is “ripe”, the marketing team hands it over to the sales team, who will take care of him from then onwards. It can still take a long time before the final purchase, but the marketing department is off the account.

You will hear the expression marketing qualified lead (MQL) a lot in B2B. It means that the lead has shown enough interest in the products or services and is likely to become a customer. An MQL is the output of the marketing team and the input of the sales team. This is what I meant by ripe earlier.

And here is where Marketo shows up. This is a tool to help the marketing department team in its marketing campaigns in the B2B world. And, if this was not clear enough, Marketo is a tool for the marketing team, not the sales team.

What is special about Marketo?

I may write in the future a more detailed explanation of all Marketo features. You can see them in the official website, under the “Capabilities” menu. I will just highlight some features I found particularly important to understand the key Marketo differentiators.

Lead scoring

To me, this is the single most important feature of the tool. When I introduced the concept of MQL, I did not explain how you get there. Well, the answer is by using maths and rules. You start by listing all the actions, which can be considered as “showing interest”. Some examples:

  • Signing up for a newsletter
  • Visiting X amount of times the products/services section of the website
  • Attending a webinar sponsored by the supplier
  • Requesting a free trial or a free sample
  • Visiting your booth in a roadshow/fair

Then, for each of this actions, you assign a score, a number. This is a subjective value, indicating how much you consider that this action is correlated with a final conversion. Finally, you define a threshold, which is the value that indicates that a lead has become an MQL.

With this information Marketo will automatically keep track of the score for each of the profiles. If the user has self-identified and performs any of the previous actions, Marketo will add its associated score to the profile. Then, when the score reaches the threshold, Marketo will is consider it an MQL and will send the profile automatically to the sales team.

Data sources

As you can imagine, to calculate scores, Marketo needs to have data coming from various sources:

  • Website. This was to me a surprise initially, however it later made sense. Actions like filling up a form to contact the sales team or downloading a whitepaper is a clear signal of great interest in your products or services. This is achieved through a JavaScript tag called Munchkin, which is independent of your Adobe Analytics implementation.
  • Email. Email interactions are also important and, as any email tool, Marketo tracks these interactions. Nothing new here.
  • Advertising. Marketo can also be used for online advertising and track visitor coming from these marketing actions.
  • External sources. To me, these additional data sources are as key as the website interactions. In the examples I gave above, you can see that, in order to track some of those interaction, Marketo needs to integrate with external tools. Marketo has many out of the box integrations with the typical data sources that our clients use. Typical examples would be LinkedIn and webinar providers, but there are more. In the case of LinkedIn, I was not aware of that, but you can create LinkedIn forms to capture data from leads. Finally, if the data source has no native integration with Marketo, you can use flat files or an API.

Account Based Marketing

In most tools, we tend to consider each profile individually. The most you usually get is to link profiles that are part of a household. However, in the B2B world, it can be important to group profiles into account. Let me use an example.

Imagine that Adobe is looking for a new project management tool. There are many out there and various Adobe employees start evaluating the different options. Since there will be people from different departments, the research is not structured. On the other hand, you are working for the marketing department of an online project management tool. All of a sudden, you notice that you have in your marketing database multiple profiles with an email address. Would you like to treat them individually or would you like to treat all of them as part of the Adobe account?

If you would like the latter, then you are into account based marketing (ABM). With ABM, you could create rules to create a global lead score for the Adobe account. However, at the same time, you will still want to treat each profile individually. For example, if you know that a profile is from a project manager, you will want to send him the great features of your tools. However, if the profile belongs to an engineer manager or to someone in procurement, you will send him information about prices and how solid your company is.

In general, ABM means that there needs to be a very close relationship with the sales team. It is this latter team who will define the important accounts to target. Again, Marketo is very well integrated with some CRM systems to achieve this capability.


I hope that you now have a basic understanding of Marketo.


Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán from Pexels

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