By Natalie Boyd

Sometimes, a pause is exactly what we need. But if you are going to put life on hold, it helps to have a plan of re-entry. Right now, big decisions are happening about when and how to re-open our economy. In a small way, marketers can relate.

In any marketing campaign, knowing when to wait and when to re-engage is key. At the strategic level, we have to decide when and how our audiences should hear from us. Then, down in the weeds, the ability to pause helps keep complex automation efforts running smoothly. 

In Marketo, wait steps allow you to build specific wait times into the flow of your campaigns. 

Marketo’s wait steps can be incredibly helpful, but they require a little forethought to get right. Here are three tips for using wait steps well. 

1. Understand Your Options

Wait steps are a precision tool—they are great when you need to wait until a specific day or time, or for a specific duration. But remember the saying, “When you have a hammer everything looks like a nail”? Before you get started, make sure you understand the two other ways to wait:

  • The pause feature in engagement programs: Engagement programs allow you to pause individuals when they meet specific criteria you define. For example, if you have someone in a lead nurture engagement program, you might decide you want to pause those emails when recipients are added to an opportunity by your sales team, and then start nurturing them again if the opportunity is lost. Read more about pausing in engagement programs.
  • The request campaign feature: Sometimes, your goal isn’t about time, but about order. You just need to wait until something else happens. If you know exactly when something else will happen and how long it will take, a wait step can work. All wait steps do is wait for a set amount of time—but as Justin Norris points out, they can’t confirm that something else actually happened. The request campaign feature, on the other hand, let’s you add people to a new campaign as part of a flow. You can also move people into different campaigns based on whether or not something happened—like a lead score change or sales touchpoint. For complex programs, dividing your content into separate campaigns can give you more control than keeping it all in one flow divided by wait steps.

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2. Know When Marketo Wait Steps Shine

When are wait steps the right tool for the job? Here are three excellent use cases:

  • Setting a simple campaign cadence: If you are using an engagement program, you set the cadence of your emails in the stream feature. But in other program types, wait steps are an easy way to manage a straightforward email cadence. As you build your flow, simply add a wait step between each email. You tell wait steps how long to wait with plain language: three days, one hour, five minutes, two months, and so on. 
  • Weekdays and days of the week: After the wait step completes the duration you specified, it can also wait a little longer for your ideal send time. Click the settings gear on the wait step duration to choose a specific day of the week and time for your next send (Tuesdays at 9 a.m., for example). If you only want to send on business days, there is a handy Monday-Friday option.
  • Event follow-up emails: In addition to sending based on a duration, you can also set up wait steps using any date token. This feature only works in trigger campaigns. In a trigger campaign that emails people once they register for a webinar, you could use a wait step to send on the webinar date or a day or two before or after. Want another date token use case? Marketer Geena Boyer has a great explainer about using the token for sending next-day emails at a specific time of day. 
  • Birthdays (and renewals!): For wait steps in triggered campaigns, there is also a handy “next anniversary of this date” feature. You can use this with any date field on a person’s record—and even send a certain number of days or weeks before or after that date. The obvious use case here is birthday promotions. But for B2B, this is also a great option for managing renewals. You can send renewal emails one, two, and three weeks before a date comes due. Or send reminders after a date passes if a renewal is not completed. For higher-touch sales, you can send renewal date alerts to your sales reps. 

3. Be Efficient

Now that you know when to use wait steps, make sure you use them well. 

First, measure twice and cut once. Once a campaign is live, your wait step duration is locked in for anyone who has already entered the campaign. If you need to change one mid-campaign. you’ll have to do so manually, as this marketer in the Marketo Nation forum learned. Note: Sometimes, you may not want to change the duration, but you’ll want to pull some people out instead of having them complete whatever flow step comes next. In that case, Marketo’s documentation recommends adding a Remove from Flow step after your wait step. You can use the “add choice” button to specify the campaign members that should be removed.

Second, don’t let wait steps slow you down. Sometimes, you need to make sure a record gets updated before the next rule fires. This is one place where wait steps can be efficient options for managing the order of operations. That said, it’s helpful to understand the limitations. Hat tip to Lisa Haley, who points out that any wait time of five minutes or longer will de-prioritize your campaign and cause a lag time in syncing to your CRM. On the flip side, here’s an explainer from Atlassian about when that sync lag might actually be a good thing

Now ... What Are You Waiting For? 

We hope this orientation gives you what you need to stop waiting and start using wait steps! But maybe you’d like a little more help. If you’re looking for expert support to create best-in-class Marketo campaigns—let’s talk


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Natalie Boyd

About the author

Natalie Boyd is a Marketing Specialist at SmartBug Media with 10 years of experience supporting in-house, freelance, and agency clients. She is passionate about using inbound marketing to help businesses succeed and make meaningful connections with their target audience. Read more articles by Natalie Boyd.

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