What is Marketing Automation? Simply put, marketing automation is a system to help your business automate its marketing and sales processes.
Think of a marketing automation platform ("MAP") as the single "control center" for all your marketing-related functions—capturing and scoring leads, tracking website interactions, composing and sending marketing emails, building landing pages, A/B testing and dynamic content, maintaining your blog and social media content calendar, and providing all the related analytics for reporting.
The sophistication of marketing automation platforms varies considerably, but the ideal MAP should integrate with your other sales and marketing tools, such as CMS, CRM, social media accounts, ad platforms, and scheduling software.
In fact, you'll find many marketing automation features built-in to the most popular CRM platforms -- such as Hubspot, SharpSpring and Salesforce. Website platforms like Wordpress and Drupal have sophisticated plugins to handle marketing automation. Even many email service providers with CRM-like features (like Mailchimp) offer ways to automating your messaging.
Of course, "marketing automation" is a subject as broad as marketing itself, and no one platform has a "market" on marketing capabilities. The most powerful marketing automation platform is one that has no restrictions on executing whatever is most useful for your business -- and that may mean custom development work.
While marketing automation has become mainstream, surprisingly only 51% of businesses on average are currently using the technology.
In fact, UK-based consultant Kinetic Marketing found in a 2018 study that 25% of respondents weren't sure what marketing automation is.
We'll briefly touch on what marketing can do for you while revealing some challenges companies face in starting and managing an automation strategy. We'll also help you determine if you're ready to bring marketing automation into your organization.
According to a 2017 study by Adestra titled "State of Marketing Automation Benchmarks for Success", there are seven primary objectives of a marketing automation strategy:
While other studies reveal similar results, we see "Align Marketing and Sales" climbing in importance as MAPs become more integrated with sales systems.
From our perspective, alignment between Marketing and Sales efforts should be closer to the top of the list, as MAPs benefits both camps. As Marketers, our #1 objective with MAPs is: "Deliver more qualified leads to help Sales work better."
Most businesses have a "triangle" of demands:
When properly set-up, marketing automation can provide a win-win-win on all three sides:
If you're engaging in any form of inbound marketing, a marketing automation system can be a huge help in executing your strategy.
As you scale your marketing, there comes a point where using a robust marketing automation system will improve efficiency and give your sales efforts a big shot in the arm; in fact, without it you might find scaling your marketing to be far too costly, if not outright impossible.
Overall, a MAP will help both Marketing and Sales do their jobs better. SmartInsights took a deep dive into the benefits with a 2017 study titled "Managing B2B Marketing Automation" (much of this also applies to B2C uses of automation):
And according to a 2015 VB Insight report ("Marketing Automation, how to make the right buying decision"), 80% of MAP users saw the number of leads increase, and 77% saw the number of conversions increase.
Aside from improving lead generation and conversion rates, most significant for B2B and B2C businesses is how a marketing automation platform can improve the user experience for website visitors.
A robust MAP enables you to deliver more targeted, relevant experiences to your website visitors and customers, particularly if your MAP integrates with your CRM system (or has one built-in).
One common feature of a comprehensive MAP is the ability to track user interaction and then deliver more personalized, relevant content based on those interactions via email and on website pages.
For example, SharpSpring (among other CRM systems) provides a powerful "life of the lead" feature which shows each user's timeline of interactions with your business.
Over time, this tracking feature can be used to capture more information about a lead so your CRM database is kept up to date. For example, if a lead returns to your website and enters a new phone number into a form, you can automatically update that phone number in your CRM.
User tracking also allows MAPs to "score" leads based on their engagement. This helps inform your Sales team when a lead is more likely to transact.
In fact, some MAPs (like SharpSpring and Hubspot) allow you to alert the Sales team to the actions of a specific user action in real-time so they can reach out at the ideal moment.
Another big advantage of MAPs is the ability to automate quick follow-up with leads.
A Harvard Business Review study showed that you're 60x more likely to qualify a lead if you follow-up within one hour.
With marketing automation in place, you can automate that follow-up to occur as soon as the prospect submits their information into your web form—whether that's at 3am on a Saturday or during normal business hours.
There's so much more you can do with marketing automation. Download our Marketing Automation Playbook for a deeper dive.
Regardless of the clear benefits, getting started with marketing automation—and managing it going forward—can be challenging for some organizations. There is a level of strategy, commitment and buy-in your organization needs to have to get the most out of it.
According to a 2017 study from Liana Technologies ("The benefits and challenges of marketing automation"), the top 5 reasons why companies haven't started with marketing automation include:
For these reasons, it's helpful to engage with a marketing consultant who can provide the expertise and resources to get you up and going with a solid strategy.
Once your MAP system is in place, challenges to managing an automation strategy include the following:
Picking the right MAP can be overwhelming. Here are a few key points to consider during your evaluation:
Marketing automation is a powerful tool to empower your Marketing and Sales teams but putting it in place is a big decision. Are you ready for it? Here are some factors to consider:
Marketing automation is a huge step forward for most organizations. We hope this article sheds some light on its benefits. Reach out to us when you're ready to consider marketing automation or trade-up to a more powerful system—put our expertise to work for your business. Or download our free eBook, "The Marketing Automation Playbook" to learn more about what marketing automation can do for you.
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Last updated: May 1, 2022
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