I’ve been helping marketing teams use technology for 10 years — since before “marketing automation” was on the tip of every CMO’s tongue. The first Eloqua conference I went to was tiny, with maybe 300 people in the room. I thought that marketing automation was a trend, and that it might fade away at some point. But a decade later, the buzz around marketing automation is louder than ever.

I’ve learned that smart teams use marketing tech to help their creative work shine — something we can all get behind.

Here’s what you should know if you’re considering adopting a marketing automation platform but aren’t sure where to start.

Start with a Strategy, not Tech

Marketing automation platforms are powerful systems. But too many marketers use them like they’re email blast tools. They think about the email they have to send next Tuesday, not their big-picture strategic plan for the year. I hear requests like, “We need to send eight marketing emails next week!” But my first question is, “Why?”

If you invest in planning and strategy up front, you’ll save a lot of time down the road when you’re managing specific campaigns and tactics.

Here’s an ideal scenario that’s surprisingly rare among marketing teams: One of my clients runs an immersive strategy retreat every year before they start thinking about tactics. The entire marketing department goes on an off-site retreat to plan their strategy for the year. Instead of starting with the execution, they build themes, styles, branding and their main messages. Once they develop the strategy and the content, they figure out how to build it in their marketing automation system.

Marketing teams that start with strategy have more fun, create initiatives that work better and have more time to develop creative content and analyze their results, instead of putting out fires.

Build Repeatable Processes

What are the biggest headaches in your day? That’s one of the first questions I ask marketing teams.

I usually hear that people are starting from scratch every time they have a new campaign. That’s where automation can free up an insane amount of time.

If you want marketing automation to make your life easier, it’s all about building templates and workflows you can use over and over. I love a good checklist. For every activity on your plate, think about what’s repeatable: What are the steps you need to take every time? Boil that process down into the fewest possible steps to achieve your goal.

The prize for thinking about checklists and processes? If you streamline your process, you’ll have extra time to develop awesome creative and analyze what’s working.

Think Bigger Than Marketing

Marketers can’t stand alone. I’ve seen that marketers who work closely with their sales teams get the most out of marketing automation. Tools like Eloqua and Marketo are meant to be connected to your full ecosystem. What happens after someone clicks a link in an email? Can you follow them through the customer journey, even once they make the jump from marketing’s territory to sales?

Think about how your marketing tools could give you better data and help you build better relationships with others in your organization.

Be Open to Bad News

Nobody wants to hear that their content is the problem. But when you’re using a powerful marketing automation tool, you get a lot of data about what’s resonating with your audience — and what isn’t. Be open to the insights your marketing tech uncovers. Yes, you might learn that you have issues with your content. But that’s actually good news, because you can shift your strategy and stop wondering why your campaigns aren’t delivering results. Marketing automation lets you quickly tweak and experiment with your creative.

The bottom line: As a marketing team, your creative work is what matters the most. Using marketing automation frees up your time so you can actually think creatively and shine a light on your best work.