Marketing automation is the process of using software to complete repetitive marketing tasks designed to nurture sales leads, personalize marketing messages and content and in the process, save marketers’ time and effort. By automating many of these tasks, users can more effectively send the right message, to the right user at the right time, according to Chris Davis, director of education at ActiveCampaign, which provides marketing automation software. “Marketing automation is all about understanding your audience so you can adapt the way you communicate to them based on their unique buying journey,” said Karra Hendrix, product marketing manager at Act-On, a provider of marketing automation software.
Marketers can scale their processes and campaigns so they can reach more people, with less effort, Hendrix said, “Because it allows you to track every interaction and score engagement, you can be more personalized and targeted with your messaging, while still maintaining efficiencies.”
How Marketing Automation Works
Marketers deploy marketing automation strategy through their marketing automation systems in a number of ways many of which are outlined below.
Marketers who use a marketing automation system specify criteria and outcomes for tasks and processes. That criteria gets interpreted, stored and executed by the marketing automation software while scoring the quality of leads and ultimately delivering data to sales teams often through customer relationship management (CRM) software.
Marketers who use marketing automation also leverage cookies installed in a website visitor’s web browser. Marketers can track their visitors through the website pages, build scores for the prospect and trigger more profile data based on web actions.
Using Forms for Contact Information
For marketers, the name of the game in marketing automation is building qualified leads for sales teams based on lead nurturing and lead scoring (more on that later). “Marketing automation is an easy way to help you qualify leads,” Davis said.
Marketers use forms to collect contact information that allows them to qualify leads. Based on the information submitted, you can have automation set up to place leads in respective buckets depending on the initial data collected, Davis added. At that point, you are put in a position to identify your “best” leads and determine the best means of communicating with your new lead to ensure a higher closing rate.
Allowing a Mix of Inbound and Outbound Strategies
Marketing automation systems promote a strong mix of inbound and outbound strategies, and the ability to properly score leads. This helps marketers understand which leads are qualified and ready for sales, and which ones need more time to learn and understand the challenges that you can help them solve, Hendrix noted.
Marketing Automation Components
Marketers use marketing automation software in order to build quality leads for sales. According to marketing automation provider Marketo, the software can be divided into a few key marketing parts:
- Central marketing database:Marketing data with prospect and customer interactions and behaviors are stored and nurtured to allow marketers to segment and target the right message to each customer.
- Engagement marketing engine: Marketing automation allows marketers to conduct marketing processes and conversations across online and offline channels.
- Analytics engine: Marketers can test, measure and optimize marketing ROI and impact on revenue.
Marketing automation is also designed, according to Quick Sprout, to:
- Target content specifically tailored to an individual’s specific user profile
- Group customers and prospects by what they like: common behaviors, interests and demographic details
- Test different variables like email send times and subject headings
- Integrate marketing channels like customer relationship management databases or CRMs.
Marketing Automation Features
Email marketing is the most common place where businesses start using marketing automation, and there are many powerful features available, according to ActiveCampaign’s Davis:
- Tags and custom fields give users a way to group or segment their contacts, enabling them to communicate with different segments in a more effective, personal way
- Emails, forms, site tracking and attribution enable users to communicate with and understand their customers’ behavior
- Visual automation builders give users an easy way to create a complex flow to guide customers through a unique customer journey
- Reporting brings in all of the data and allows users to measure the effectiveness of their marketing
- Pipelines effectively manage the sales process as it allows marketing teams to efficiently “hand off” leads to sales to close a deal.
Act-On’s Hendrix said marketing automation needs to be able to manage the entire lead lifecycle. This calls for features that include the following.
- Inbound marketing tools such as social publishing, landing pages and forms
- Outbound marketing tools such as email marketing and A/B testing
- Automation with lead scoring
- Lead nurture workflows
- Analytics for reporting on the effectiveness of your campaigns, tying them back to revenue won.
According to Salesforce, which offers marketing automation through its Pardot product, marketing automation features also include:
- Visitor tracking: Track website visitors and which pages they went to, for how long, what their web visit pattern looked like
- Hosted and tracked marketing files: Automatically generated tracking URLs allow for content tracking
- Real-time sales alerts: Sales reps can set parameters on when to follow-up with leads
- Lead scoring and grading: This can help improve the sales and marketing relationship dynamic by aligning scoring and grading on all prospects and customers. This allows scoring based on activity level and grades to see how likely they’ll be to buy a product or service
- Lead nurturing: Marketing automation software helps deliver the right messaging to prospects automatically, leading them to helpful content and ultimately to a conversion and sale
- Forms and landing pages: Build custom landing pages without having to know HTML and link marketing assets stored in automation systems to use as downloadable content. Progressive profiling helps marketers shorten forms to ensure prospects aren’t turned off by long forms. They can be shown additional fields in future forms allowing marketers to build up a detailed prospect profile over time.
- Closed-loop reporting: Marketers can calculate individual campaign costs at any time and automatically have opportunity data sync between CRM and marketing automation systems.