At HubSpot's annual INBOUND event this September, I sat down with fifteen CMOs. My "ah-ha" moment from all those meetings? All fifteen individuals had done a great job with one thing in particular: shifting from straight email marketing to fully automated email marketing. Each had successfully transitioned from a one-list system of impersonal emailing to a system -- with many micro-segments that yielded highly relevant personalized emails -- all sent automatically through workflows. Many of the CMOs had increased click-through rate dramatically, too. One told me she even increased from a 2% click-through to 20% click-through. Impressive.

The CMOs spent a lot of their time with me talking about their automation efforts and how to further optimize their email sends. My reaction: STOP. You've got the marketing automation email game in great shape, so every additional calorie you spend on it will give you diminishing returns. Instead, I told them that they were at the end of the first quarter of the marketing game, and that they still had three more quarters ahead of them during which they could get similarly big returns on their calories spent.

In order to do marketing automation right, you need to do the hard job of defining your personas and segmenting your database. My CMO friends had done that very well, and they were reaping the benefits of hard work via big improvements on the email side. The second, third, and fourth quarters for them will be much, much, much easier because they all build on the hard work they had already done for email segmentation. So what does the rest of the game look like?

The second quarter: website. The effective change for the CMOs in the first quarter happened when they switched from a single-segment system wherein everyone received the same messages to a multiple-segment system wherein each segment got highly contextualized messages -- this level of personalization is what drove such dramatic improvement in click-through rates. This exact same thing needs to happen to their website. Today, everyone who visits your website gets the same website. You need to move to the next phase, where the same micro-segments you built for your email can power your website as well. When you do that, you are going to see similarly dramatic improvements in site conversion rates as you saw on your email conversion rates.

The third quarter: social. Right now you are monitoring social, but can't tell who is in what segment. When you let the segments you build for email power your social listening, you will be able to engage with the right folks on social, and thereby dramatically improve your conversion rates.

The fourth quarter: advertising. Right now, everyone sees the same thing when they see your advertisements on a given site. If you use those same exact segments you worked so hard to build in your advertising as well, you are going to see way higher click-through rates and a much better yield on your dollars spent.

Those, my friends, are the four quarters of marketing automation. The first quarter, getting your segments set up for email, is almost done. Now, it's time to work on the second, third, and fourth quarters, where your return on calories is going to be dramatically higher.