Win with Pardot: Understanding Marketing Automation Tools

By April 20, 2018 Blog No Comments

Get the most out of your Pardot marketing automation platform, and prepare for the Pardot Consultant Certification and Specialist Exam by understanding the four basic automation tools: Automation Rules, Segmentation Rules, Dynamic Lists and Completion Actions.

Prepare for the Exam

I recently renewed my Pardot Consultant certification by taking the Salesforce Certified Pardot Consultant and Specialist – Spring ’17 Release Exam. Salesforce recently changed the requirements for Pardot certifications, so most everyone currently certified on the platform must take the new full exam to maintain their credentials.

I’ve been implementing and consulting clients in the Pardot marketing automation platform for several years. And though I’ve spent quite a lot of time over the past month studying, the test was still extremely challenging. Having taken previous versions of the exam, I was surprised at how little time you have to complete the new version. You have 45 minutes to answer 33 multiple choice questions. This seems doable, until you realize that most of the questions are several paragraphs long, with highly complex (and deceptively similar) answers to choose from.

Full disclosure: I’m a pretty huge nerd and a bit of a masochist. I actually enjoyed trying to speed-think my way through this test. With 15 minutes remaining, I had only completed 14 questions—not even half way finished with only a third of the time remaining! At that point, I killed another 30 seconds or so having a short panic attack and trying to calculate how quickly I needed to answer the remadining 19 questions. (Answer: 47 seconds per question.) This required me to shift from Light Speed to Ridiculous Speed, then from Ridiculous Speed to Ludicrous Speed. Fortunately, I didn’t have to resort to Plaid.

I regrouped, plowed through the rest of the test, and then submitted my answers with 57 seconds remaining on the clock. Boom!

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Now, I don’t claim to be the most knowledgeable Pardot user on Earth, but I’m vain enough to believe that I’m somewhere toward the top of the bell curve. That being the case, I’m making a wild assumption that more than a few other people out there might need help preparing for their Pardot exams. While Salesforce provides an amazing array of resources for Pardot users, I find it helpful to hear directly from people who actually use the system, have taken the exam, survived, and most importantly, PASSED!

So, I thought I’d devote a little time to develop some content for those of you who need some additional assistance with your Pardot consultant certification exam prep and utilization.

Know the Tools

Let’s start by reviewing the four primary automation tools in Pardot—Automation Rules, Segmentation Rules, Dynamic Lists and Completion Actions. These four tools can be used to perform a dizzying array of critical and complex marketing tasks. By understanding and mastering them, you can sit back and watch Pardot perform automated magic, achieve your greatest goals and desires, and reap astounding ROI for your organization.

In my opinion, the trick to fully utilizing Pardot’s automation tools is more in understanding what they can’t do than what they can do. Knowing the limitations of each provides added clarity around which tool is the best option for certain use cases. And it will also improve your process of elimination on your Pardot consultant certification exam questions.

So, let’s take a look at the tools!

Automation Rules

Automation Rules are repeatable, criteria-based rules that find matching prospects and apply actions to them. As you’re setting up an Automation Rule in Pardot, you need to determine two important variables:

  • Rules: The criteria that you want Pardot to look for.
  • Actions: What you want to happen when a prospect matches a rule.

I love Automation Rules, and I have them running against a number of different tasks within our Pardot instance. Among the clients that I work with, two of the most frequent uses for Automation Rules are assigning profiles and powering grading.

Pardot’s profiles and grading do require some time and energy to set up. They’re also one of the most common components of the system that we get recruited to enable and support. That topic is an article within itself, so I’ll tackle that another time. For now, it should suffice to say that with a little creativity and a clear understanding of how to use Automation Rules, you’ll be mastering profiles and grading in no time.

Common uses for Automation Rules:

  • Assigning Profiles
  • Grading
  • Assigning Prospects
  • List Building
  • Applying Tags

It’s important to remember that Automation Rules are retroactive, so they will affect all prospects who meet your criteria regardless of when the criteria were met. Meaning, when you initially activate your Automation Rule, it’s going to catch everyone in your system who is a match.

If you’re preparing for a Pardot consultant certification exam, I recommend having a very clear understanding of Automation Rules and how to use them. Find helpful examples in this article from Pardot.

HINT, HINT:  Remember that Automation Rules can’t un-match prospects. They do run continuously in the background, but they will never un-match a prospect. And, they’ll only match a prospect once unless the “Repeat Rule” checkbox is selected during setup.

Image of repeat rule on Pardot marketing automation tool.

Segmentation Rules

The core functionality of Segmentation Rules is essentially the same as Automation Rules. To create one, you simply specify rules that serve as your criteria and actions that tell Pardot what needs to happen when a prospect matches the rule.

But there are a couple of key differences that help to determine which rule you should use to solve a given challenge.

As the name suggests, Segmentation Rues are primarily used for list-building and other related activities. You have a limited list of actions that can be executed by a Segmentation Rule, which allow you to affect lists, tags and Salesforce campaigns. Here are the Actions that you can choose from:


Image of list of Actions for Pardot Consultant Certification exam.

The other main difference between Segmentation and Automation Rules is that Segmentation Rules only fire one time, while Automation Rules run continuously until they are paused or deleted. If I’m compiling a simple, one-time list of prospects from a variety of criteria, I’ll use a Segmentation Rule. If I need Pardot to continually be checking for the criteria and adding prospects to a list for an extended period of time, Automation Rules or Dynamic Lists are better options.

Common uses for Segmentation Rules:   

  • List Building:
  • Applying tags

HINT, HINT:  The main thing to remember about Segmentation Rules is that they execute one time and then game over. A Pardot consultant certification exam question leading toward an answer about Segmentation Rules will likely contain something about this one-time use limitation. That’s one of the main differentiators between Automation and Segmentation Rules.

Dynamic Lists

Dynamic Lists are rules-based lists that automatically update when a prospect’s data changes.

Again, we’re using rules to tell Pardot which prospects match the intended criteria. However, Dynamic Lists don’t fire actions! All they do is look for criteria and add or remove people from the list as a result. If you’re using process of elimination to determine which tool to use for a given challenge, this is an important distinction. If you need the automation to make something happen after Pardot finds a match, then Dynamic Lists are not the tool to use.

That can help to determine whether to use Dynamic Lists or Automation/Segmentation Rules. If actions other than simply adding and removing from lists are required, then Dynamic Lists are not the best solution.

I find the best use case for Dynamic Lists lies in Engagement Studio programs. The ability to add and remove prospects in real time can be extremely powerful within drip programs. For example, let’s say that we want to warm up prospects within a cold lead engagement program until their score reaches 100 points, then we want them to move over to a different program for warm leads. Use two Dynamic Lists to segment these prospects without our ever having to do any manual work. The cold lead program will use a Dynamic List that matches prospects with a score of under 100, while the warm leads program will look for prospects with a score over 100. When a prospect reaches that 100-point threshold in score, they’ll automatically bump over from the cold to the warm program.

Here’ what it would look like:

Cold Lead Engagement

Cold lead example for Pardot Consultant Certification exam.

Warm Lead Engagement

Warm lead example on for Pardot consultant certification exam.

Common uses for Dynamic Lists:

  • Engagement Programs

HINT, HINT:  The ability to un-match prospects is unique to Dynamic Lists, so corresponding exam questions will likely focus on the need for this functionality. Generally speaking, you can add prospects to a criteria-based list with an Automation Rule, but only a Dynamic List can ADD AND REMOVE prospects via automation. Look for language about “matching and un-matching prospects in real time” as your clue to know which tool to use. 

Completion Actions

Completion Actions are a great way to automate some actions from a marketing element. In simplest terms, Pardot waits for prospects to engage with a marketing asset (such as submissions, downloads, visits, etc.), then fires a Completion Action as a follow-up to the engagement activity. Use Completion Actions to execute a variety of different tasks. In my world, here are a few of the most common uses:

  • Notifying specific users and assigned users
  • Adding and removing prospects from lists
  • Adding and removing tags
  • Sending autoresponder emails
  • Changing field values and score

Completion Actions are available on the following assets within Pardot:

  • Forms
  • Form Handlers
  • Files
  • Custom Redirects
  • Emails
  • Page actions

While Completion Actions are a powerful way to automate activities across the platform, there are a few things that need to be taken into consideration as you’re using them. With an understanding of these basic parameters, you’ll be able to get the most out of your Completion Actions.

  1. Completion Actions are not retroactive; they only execute on actions that happen AFTER the Completion Action is created. For example, if you’re notifying a user of a form completion, the Completion Action will not go backward and retroactively fire for everyone who has every submitted a form. It will start notifying the user for the next form submission that happens, and thereafter.
  2. Completion Actions only execute for prospects and not visitors. If you think about it, this makes sense. Since we haven’t yet identified a visitor, there generally isn’t any valuable information to be transferred via the Completion Action. And in the case of sending an autoresponder email via Completion Action, you don’t have an email address for visitors, so there’s no way to deploy an autoresponder to them.
  3. Completion Actions can fire on some file downloads, but they do not fire on image file downloads. Which also makes sense. While I’m interested to know when someone downloads a white paper from my site, I don’t really care if they download and view a random .jpg image from my email.
  4. Link click Completion Actions don’t trigger on unsubscribe links or email preference page clicks. This is a safeguard against sending additional communication toward prospects who are trying to remove themselves from your lists.

Get more information on Completion Actions, with this Pardot article within the Trailblazer Community.

HINT, HINT:  Be careful when you’re setting notification Completion Actions. In some cases, you can end up receiving multiple notifications for what is essentially one prospect engagement. If you notify a user when someone clicks on a custom redirect to take them to a landing page, then on the landing page submission, then on the download of a file after the landing page conversion, you’ll end up with three notifications in your inbox. I love sending notifications from Pardot, but occasionally it can become a bit obnoxious if your salespeople are receiving multiple notifications from a single user session. Use them sparingly and effectively!

Whether you’re getting your Pardot consultant certification or simply using this powerful automation tools, you’ll find that they can provide virtually limitless opportunities to achieve sophisticated, powerful, impactful marketing strategy and tactics without ever having to lift a finger. I hope these hints have helped you along your journey with Pardot and Salesforce. If you need additional support, feel free to reach out to me any time. I’d love to connect with you and collaborate to ensure that you’re getting the most out of marketing automation. Good luck!

Jeremy Sterling is the Marketing Director for Spry Ideas, an Ann Arbor-based marketing agency. He is a certified Pardot consultant, strategic mastermind, and our all-around idea guy. Get in touch with him at or 734-546-5434.