- What is marketing automation?
- Functions of marketing automation
- Benefits of marketing automation
- How marketing automation works
- Can marketing automation augment the customer’s journey?
- Marketing automation best practices
- Some popular marketing automation companies
- A pitfall in marketing automation
What is marketing automation?
Marketing automation refers to the use of software to streamline and augment marketing processes like lead nurturing, message personalization, and social media posting.
The reason for automation in marketing is not only to nurture leads or share a post on several social networks in a single click. It is mainly to boost efficiency and reduce human error across the departments it touches.
Although originally centered on email marketing, marketing automation is now an essential component in the success of any inbound marketing strategy.
Inbound marketing, as you probably know, involves providing value to prospects before making the sales pitch. This requires generating leads through various means and giving those leads a magnificent customer experience as they move through each stage of the sales or conversion funnel.
Note: Leads are prospects who have revealed their contact information to your business for one reason or the other. Hence, you have a direct communication channel with them.
Functions of marketing automation
Marketing automation platforms exist for certain reasons. There are things they can do and can’t do. Below are six things marketing automation can do.
1. Social media management
With social media management function, automated marketing allows you to share content across your social media accounts at once, publish content to several social networks at once, schedule content for later, get suggestions for best posting time, monitor social mentions, etc.
2. Email marketing
The email marketing function in automation tools lets you send email broadcasts to subscribers. Its major benefits are that the tool will help you personalize the message for each person, the message won’t be CCed as email providers like Gmail and Yahoo do, and you have a higher chance of landing in the inbox rather than the spam box.
Marketing automation platforms may provide email design templates which you can easily customize. And they will often have the A/B testing feature.
3. Lead management
Marketing automation platforms will either come or integrate with lead management and tracking software, also known as a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platform.
This feature allows you to see the information provided by each lead upon interacting with your business, such as contact records, communication history, and their interaction with your emails.
Knowing who engages with your emails and who doesn’t helps you to focus your marketing activities on those with a higher chance of buying while you leave others to automated follow-up.
4. Email tracking
The email tracking function lets you know who opens your emails and who doesn’t. It tracks every email you send from the automation platform’s dashboard and notifies you once they click “open” or click on a link within the email.
This data can especially be helpful in scoring leads and can inform your resolution on what’s to follow; whether to make the sales pitch or to intensify nurturing efforts.
5. Marketing analytics
The marketing analytics tools in automation platforms report interaction data for each of the connected marketing channels.
Data reported on your dashboard may be more or less sophisticated, depending on your software vendor.
6. Email automation
Email automation is the founding feature of marketing automation. It lets you put prospects on autopilot by automating follow-ups with a condition-based email sequence. It follows a certain rule of “if this, then that”.
Despite sending out loads of emails automatically, the personalization tool helps to personalize every email you send to each prospect by adding their first names and other information you desire in the email.
Benefits of marketing automation
Marketing automation promises several benefits for large and small businesses alike. Below are some of its biggest advantages in no particular order:
1. Increases employee productivity
One of the major factors that speed up the growth of a company is employee productivity. When you turn over certain tasks in the marketing workflows to automation, such tasks are executed efficiently and without delay.
Besides, marketing and sales team members will have the time and vigor to focus more on higher-level responsibilities.
2. Saves valuable time
Tasks such as personalizing emails manually and posting on social media at certain specified times are often tedious. And sometimes, you might forget to execute them.
However, a marketing automation platform can easily personalize emails by using data provided by the prospects and send them out at a scheduled time and date. And it can automatically share new blog posts to social networks as soon as it goes live.
3. Ensures brand consistency
Automating marketing processes and workflows gives room for consistency. The pre-programmed welcome email ensures every new subscriber to your company’s mailing list gets a welcome email immediately.
Scheduling social sharing times also ensures that your contents roll out when they’re supposed to.
4. Helps with lead nurturing
Without automation, lead nurturing may be a very cumbersome task. Lead nurturing is the process of wowing a prospect by providing relevant data and information to them, especially regarding your products and services.
5. Helps manage several marketing channels
A standard marketing automation tool will allow you to connect several digital touchpoints, including the business website, mailing list, and social network account to a single dashboard.
The benefit is that you get to kill several birds with a stone. For instance, Hootsuite can automatically share blog posts to all connected social networks the moment you press publish.
6. Helps you score leads easily
Marketing automation platforms allow a business to monitor prospects’ engagement with their content. This helps the marketing team to decide whether a lead is marketing qualified or sales qualified.
The marketing team can then send the data on Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs) to the sales team to make the sales pitch. The result: increased conversion rate and a smooth customer experience.
7. Improved customer experience
Because a new prospect won’t receive purely marketing or sales content and an SQL (who is well familiar with the company) won’t receive content meant for new prospects but each person receives content from the company based on their location in the sales funnel, the customer experience is improved back-to-back.
How marketing automation works
Marketing automation does a host of things. However, some principles guide its proper functioning. Below is the simple process that surrounds all automated marketing activities:
- You collect names and contact information (email address, phone number, or mailing address) from prospects through various channels (website opt-in forms, app usage, emails, social media, product trials, demo requests, etc.).
- Depending on their point-of-interaction with your business, i.e. the type of content from which they gave their information, they are segmented into groups. POIs like free trial and demo requests may share a common group, while you may categorize prospects who requested templates and eBooks into a separate group.
- Based on the category they fall in, each person gets automated personalized emails designed to move them down the sales funnel. I.e. a user whose data you got from the free trial shouldn’t be getting purely the same emails as someone who opted-in for daily or weekly insights on your blog.
- Depending on their interaction and engagement with your emails, each person continues to receive automated emails which could be follow-ups, nudges further down the funnel, or emails meant to keep them engaged with your business after they’ve purchased.
- Data about how users interact with your content is reported on the platform’s dashboard. This helps in making informed marketing decisions.
- Through automation, each customer enjoys a personalized experience. Whether they are a hundred or a thousand.
Ad creation tools inside marketing automation platforms help to personalize ad campaigns based on the data in each prospect’s profile, i.e. data from step 1 above, and sometimes cookies saved in their browsers when they visited your website.
The only part of marketing automation that doesn’t involve collecting or using customer data is social sharing.
Can marketing automation augment the customer’s journey?
With marketing automation, you don’t need to fish out each prospect’s location in the sales funnel manually or make blind guesses while sending generic emails, hoping one would hit the bull’s eye.
It can help you segment leads into smaller groups of people who share something in common and then send them personalized messages that are right on point.
Lead nurturing based on segmentation can help you touch each prospect’s pain points and send the right information their way. This ultimately leads to higher open and conversion rates for you and a smooth journey for the customer as they go further down the sales funnel.
Marketing automation best practices
Want to get the best from automating your marketing processes? Below are four best practices of marketing automation.
1. Have a goal.
Goals serve as milestones to mark human accomplishments. Without goals, man is bound to wander endlessly.
Before you automate any aspect of your marketing, know the results you want from the automation. For many businesses, the end is sales. But it’s not enough to say simply: “we want more sales.” It’s better to have a specific number that guarantees you get a high enough return on your investment.
2. Get every team involved on board.
Marketing automation often impacts several departments, including marketing, sales, and customer service. Communicate with every team that’ll be interacting with the automation platform and get their inputs, buy-ins, and buy-outs.
3. Define your buyer’s persona and buyer’s journey.
The buyer’s persona will guide you in developing a content strategy, while the buyer’s journey will help you identify the points at which a lead is qualified for marketing and sales.
An ideal buyer’s persona, although fictional, should contain the following information: name, age, occupation, location, relationship status, problems and challenges, preferred social network, and preferred means of communication.
The part that matters to you most is their problems and challenges because that’s what you aim to solve.
Now develop a content marketing strategy around the buyer’s persona concerning that problem. This strategy includes which content you need to create and how to get it to your ideal customer.
4. Determine how to segment your audience.
Lead segmentation is important if you want the right content to reach the right prospects at the right time. Lead segmentation comes in different ways:
i. By your buyer’s persona or product
If your product applies to a diverse market, you must group people with common interests together. Example:
By generation: Boomers, millennials, and Gen Z.
By profession: Doctors, Lawyers, Chief Marketing Officers, Sales managers, Programmers, etc.
By industry: Healthcare, Blockchain, SaaS, E-commerce, Automotive, Construction, Finance, etc.
ii. By level of engagement
The user’s interaction with your content signals their level of engagement with your business. So create touchpoints that’ll help you in identifying a customer’s location in the sales funnel.
Keep augmenting the process. Study the data reported in the analytics window on your dashboard keenly and improve on what you find to be working best.
Some popular marketing automation companies
Marketing automation platforms have risen to become essential digital marketing tools over the past two decades. Below are 5 of the most popular ones.
A pitfall in marketing automation
In optimizing conversion rate, boosting productivity, and selling more while spending less, marketing automation is a real lifesaver. However, there’s a limit to it: lead generation.
Be mindful of the fact that marketing automation and the various tools it offers can take over some marketing activities from the moment a prospect gives you his or her contact information, but not before. This means automated marketing can help nurture new and old leads but cannot generate any.
While marketing automation can help immensely with the middle of the funnel (MOFU), it can do nothing for the top of the funnel (TOFU), which covers demand generation and lead generation.
Now, many businesses may succumb to pressure and resort to buying email addresses from 3rd party vendors. They then send out generic, unpersonalized emails. Most of those emails land in the recipient’s spam box, some are deleted as soon as they’re read, and some are never opened. Such unsolicited emails often enjoy little to no engagement and, in the long run, costs more than organic lead generation.
So focus on generating leads organically from your website or social media. Then nurture and convert them using marketing automation.
Have you had success or no success with marketing automation in the past? Share your experience in the comments.
Joseph Olu is an SEO copywriter for SaaS and Health and Wellness brands. He is a contributor to top publications like ThriveGlobal and Hackernoon. He has also written for natural health brands like Phd-organics.