Marketing Automation. The term rolls off the tongue rather nicely, but what is it? What actual problems does it solve? What limitations does it have? How is it being deployed in the wild? And how can it work for you?
In this article, we take the glitz off the word and dive into the nuts and bolts of what is marketing automation, how marketing automation is put together, and how you too can take advantage of a versatile and useful toolbox.
What is Marketing Automation?
Successful marketing casts a wide net. Marketers know that a client will go through several stages before purchasing a product. And as good specialists will know, what happens after the purchase may be even more crucial than the sale itself. During the entire buyer’s journey, from awareness all the way to loyalty and advocacy, there will be many touch points clients will interact with. And these may be spread out across a diverse range of channels.
An effective marketing strategy has to take a proactive approach to this. It has to encompass as many different channels as possible to capture the bulk of this interaction. The strategy has to have well-planned responses and actions in place for each interaction, providing the client with the feedback and information they need, when they need it.
Marketing automation takes on some of these tasks so that marketers can do what they do best. Innovate. It introduces the power of software to take care of repetitive tasks, and perform operations that don’t necessarily require human intervention. This could mean things as simple as sending messages, to more advanced tasks like A/B testing.
What Problems Does Marketing Automation Software Solve?
If we think what is marketing automation, the most simple definition is would be to reduce inefficiencies in a company’s marketing strategy and operations. By using marketing automation software to streamline repetitive tasks, companies eliminate human error. There is none of the hand-wringing, for example, that follows a campaign message sent to the wrong mailing list. This jump in efficiency translates to better customer satisfaction, and in the long term, loyalty.
Another vital task marketing software performs is the personalization of marketing messages. This isn’t always just inserting the appropriate name into an email salutation, or sending automated birthday messages. The software can reach out to past clients who have gone quiet after a defined period, or provide additional information to prospects who may be considering a purchase.
One important advantage of automation is that it saves marketing teams from fatigue and burnout. Performing lead management manually is grueling, painstaking work involving complex spreadsheets, hours of data entry, and other instruments of torture. So handing these tasks off to technology frees up time and resources, and companies can repurpose the skilled labor that would perform such tasks manually. These time savings give marketers the bandwidth to pay attention to high-value activities that computers cannot manage independently.
Marketing automation software generates reports that can be used to analyze and further improve the overall strategy. Marketers can analyze leads, diagnose problems and inefficiencies, make adjustments to improve conversion and tweak their entire strategy to make it more efficient. It also becomes much easier to set periodic targets and track performance over time.
How Marketing Automation Works
Marketing automation pools data from various marketing channels into a database. This pool of data is what the automation software will use as a basis to carry out the tasks that you set up.
Algorithms can categorize your data into segments based on demographics, channels, past interactions, or a combination of these and other parameters. Different operations can then be performed on these groups. This might be automated messaging, testing different strategies or different messages on similar groups, or simply collating reports during and after campaigns.
You can set certain conditions to trigger certain actions. For example, customers might qualify for discounts, or unlock higher tiers of products based on parameters you set. The software will automatically perform the appropriate set of actions once a client fulfills the prerequisites.
Advantages of Marketing Automation
Marketing automation reduces the workload on a marketing department and affords marketers the freedom to focus on analyzing their strategy, identifying weaknesses, and improving efficiency.
Reducing the workload is not an end in itself. Marketers typically have a countless number of minute details to pay attention to and adjust as they implement their strategy. It is easy to get lost in the details and lose sight of the bigger picture. Marketing automation takes charge of the smaller tasks so marketers can take a step back and strategize with the benefit of a holistic view.
The use of technology also opens up the possibility of scaling up marketing efforts. As the business grows, it becomes harder and harder to stay on top of customer interactions. But if a company uses automated solutions, the number of clients becomes less of a problem, leading to healthier bottom lines and more impressive returns.
As historical data begins to accumulate, marketing teams are able to better analyze past performance, recognize trends and patterns, and thus make more accurate predictions and models for future campaigns. This enhances their ability to apply a proactive approach to their decision-making.
Marketing Automation Challenges
Simply purchasing a marketing automation solution is not a guaranteed silver bullet for your problems. There are some potential pitfalls worth noting.
Most platforms provide solutions for the most common challenges faced by marketers. However, these solutions might not always be compatible with the specific setup of a particular business strategy. This makes implementation challenging, and even when achieved, might not address all of the marketer’s requirements. It is therefore important to first ensure all your needs are covered before attempting the automation of your process.
Some automation systems are limited in their features. They may help you automate one aspect of your marketing toolset, for example, email marketing, but will not cover other channels like some social media platforms you specifically want to target, or might not integrate with some advertising tools.
Difference Between Marketing Automation and CRM
Although both seem to perform similar tasks, and there is some overlap in their functions, the fundamental difference between these two systems is who they are targeted at.
Customer Relationship Management systems do precisely what it says on the tin. They manage relationships. This means they help you stay on top of interactions with your clients. Like marketing automation systems, they also categorize your client base, show you relevant insights, and automate and personalize messaging. However, this is typically for existing clients. So these might be people who are repeat customers or are prospects who have shown they are likely to make a purchase. CRM software, therefore, operates further down the sales funnel.
Marketing Automation software helps you attract and nurture leads. It helps you create triggered events that make more people aware of your offering and entice them to perform some action that will begin the buyer’s journey. Automated processes should then nurture them along this path until you eventually achieve your goal. Marketing automation software will therefore do some of what CRM software does but will encompass processes that are further up the sales funnel.
How to Choose Marketing Automation Software
At the end of the day, your choice of software will depend on your particular needs. In any case, you want to first make sure that you have set the right expectations. You need to have an effective marketing strategy that will benefit from automation. In short, you have to have clear aims, quality data, and effective processes in place to get the best out of whatever software you choose.
When choosing a platform, ensure that it is compatible with your existing setup. A good idea is to look for success stories that demonstrate use cases that are similar to yours. If the software provider offers demos, you could make specific requests to show how the solution would work for you.
You also want to know how adaptable the automation processes are. You may find that you need to make subtle tweaks to your automation to improve your results. Make sure the software enables you to do that.
Check out 366 Degrees — a Salesforce marketing automation software created by OMI for small and mid-sized businesses that will help you accelerate your sales pipeline with automated social, email, and web campaigns.