What Is Marketing Automation? A Beginner's Guide

Marketing automation

Imagine if you had to individually email every person who put something in their cart and then abandoned it. How many people would you have to hire just to get this essential task done? 

Marketing automation software was created to automate repetitive tasks that are time-consuming and rote so that the people on your team can focus on strategic work. 

What is marketing automation? 

In the most general sense, marketing automation is software that automates marketing processes. These processes can include anything from email marketing to social media campaigns to targeted ads.

How marketing automation works

The idea behind marketing automation is to make marketing more efficient so that businesses can save time and resources. Marketing automation can be used for a wide variety of marketing tactics, including lead generation, customer segmentation, customer lifecycle management, and much more.

Marketing automation is software that automates various aspects of a business’s marketing work. Capabilities differ from among different software, but most offer the ability to:

  • Create and maintain a single database of customer data
  • Automate repetitive tasks such as welcome emails and tagging shoppers
  • Create audience segments
  • Send custom messaging to different audience segments
  • Test different messaging
  • Generate analytics reports

In essence, small businesses can streamline repetitive tasks associated with executing a digital marketing strategy. Think: personalized messaging that’s automatically sent to customers when they take certain actions, like signing up for a newsletter or putting something in their shopping cart. 

These messages are sent based on workflows, or sets of instructions, allowing businesses to deliver specific messages to customers when they do specific things. Workflows can be templates or built from scratch, and can be changed mid-campaign to optimize your results.

For example, say a prospective customer visits your website and signs up to receive a promo code to their email. That action might trigger a series of emails that starts with a welcome note and a discount code but continues on for several weeks with content that educates them about your product. 

Benefits of marketing automation

Businesses get all sorts of benefits from using marketing automation—from better use of your marketing professionals to more effective marketing messaging.

Freedom to focus on the big tasks

By removing manual and repetitive tasks, your marketing team will have more time to focus on the aspects of their work that only a human can do. 

Deliver targeted messaging

Marketing automation tools allow you to segment your audience to personalize and create more relevant customer experiences. 

Imagine: A shampoo brand has a line of products specifically for frizzy hair. As soon as sweltering summer temperatures arrive in New York City, the company can automatically email existing customers with NYC shipping addresses to promote those products that tame summer frizz. 

Better manage leads

By having data collected and stored in a centralized location, everyone in the company can offer better customer service and improve the bottom line. For instance, when a customer writes in, anyone on your customer service team can pull up data such as their last interaction with the company and their product preferences to give them more personalized service. 

Types of marketing automation

Email marketing automation

Email marketing automation is one of the first types of automation you’ll encounter. There are many marketing tools out there to help you get up and running.

Such emails can be promotional, transactional, or conversational (like a greeting). As beneficial as email marketing is to a company, sending and answering email campaign responses manually doesn’t scale well as your business grows. 

Marketing automation software helps stop a 10-minute daily email task from turning into a day-long series of repetitive tasks as your database grows

CRM automation

CRM (customer relationship management) automation is similar to (but not the same as) email marketing. Marketing automation specialist tools deliver content to customers, while CRM automation helps sales teams and customer service roles effectively engage in lead management and customer retention. 

CRM automation helps you keep track of customers who interact with your brand on different channels, and can also add value to three important marketing strategies by:

  1. Narrowing down your target audience to one that will receive a particular message (enabling you to deliver relevant content)
  2. Predicting future customer behavior based on previous interactions
  3. Increasing retargeting, upsell, and cross-sell opportunities

Successful CRM automation can help improve your sales effectiveness and build stronger relationships with your customers by providing better service.

Facebook advertising automation

When paired with CRM integration, email and SMS marketing are terrific options for nurturing existing leads, but where can you acquire new leads? Facebook, of course.

Facebook offers varied ad types you can use to automate your lead generation, such as single image or video ads. You can also run ads on Instagram from Facebook’s Business Manager. 

One neat functionality of Facebook ads is how they allow you to integrate your CRM software of choice to automatically capture new leads acquired from your ad campaign. Some other key benefits of Facebook advertising include:

  1. Leverage Facebook’s mobile optimization to reach more people
  2. The ability to do A/B testing to increase your chances of generating qualified leads
  3. The option to track your KPI metrics using the Facebook pixel in your existing website/app management tools 

How to create a marketing automation strategy 

The best way to implement marketing automation is by being clear on your business goals and then finding the right type of technology to implement your strategy. 

Doing so allows your business to create highly relevant content, nurture prospects, and create brand loyalty. Here are some best practices to consider implementing in your small business:

Set specific and measurable goals

You need to be clear on exactly what you’re looking for and hoping to achieve with your marketing campaigns. For instance, a shoe designer might want to sell a minimum of 1,000 shoes per month through Instagram and Facebook campaigns.

Segment your audience

Different messages will land with different buyer personas. Having clearly defined audience segments will help you reach different types of customers with messaging or product selections tailored to them. That shoe designer might want to email customers who have previously bought running shoes to let them know about the debut of their new trail running shoe.

Map the customer journey

Visualize exactly how you want your marketing campaign to work—how will customers move through your funnel toward a purchase? 

For example, you might envision them seeing your ad on Instagram, then visiting a landing page for a product, then signing up for a 10%-off promo code via email before finally buying. What do you want to learn at each stage? 

Determine how you want your audience to enter your workflow—like signing up for a free sample—then determine how and when to move them forward. 

Test and refine 

Knowing what isn’t working can empower you to fix it. You can keep track of how campaigns are doing by using A/B testing—trying different messaging, platforms, even email subject lines to see what will land best for your audience. The idea is to continually test and refine until you find a sweet spot in your marketing efforts.

Marketing automation best practices

Keep lead scoring simple

Lead scoring is assigning a numerical value, or score, to each lead to prioritize and determine the best leads to pursue. The idea is that leads with a higher score are more likely to convert into customers than leads with a lower score.

You can keep lead scoring simple by: 

  • Focusing on a few key characteristics or demographics
  • Limiting the number of criteria you use to score a lead
  • Using a 1–10 scale instead of a 100-point scale
  • Creating a lead scoring rubric that’s easy to understand and use

Don’t over-complicate lead scoring by adding too many criteria or making the scoring system too confusing. Keep it simple to easily prioritize your leads and know which ones to pursue.

Create workflows for your most important marketing goals

Workflows are sets of instructions that define what actions should be taken and when they should be taken in order to complete a task or achieve a goal.

Workflows can be used for a variety of marketing tasks, such as

  • Welcome emails
  • Abandoned cart messages
  • Lead nurturing
  • Customer segmentation

To create a workflow, start by identifying your goal. Then, create a list of the steps that need to be taken to achieve that goal. Finally, determine when each step should be taken.

For example, if your goal is to increase website visitors who become leads, your workflow look like this:

  • Step 1: Send a targeted message to website visitors
  • Step 2: Place a webinar registration form
  • Step 3: Send a reminder email to registrants
  • Step 4: Follow up with registrants who don’t attend the webinar

You can use marketing automation software to automate each of these steps. Then, you can track your progress to see how effective your workflow is in achieving your goal.

Use lead nurturing to move leads down the funnel

Lead nurturing is the process of developing relationships with leads who are not yet ready to buy. The goal of lead nurturing is to move leads down the funnel to become customers eventually.

Lead nurturing involves sending targeted content to leads at different stages of the buying process. 

For example, you send a lead who’s in the awareness stage educational content about your product. Then, you send a lead who’s in the consideration stage a case study about how your product helped solve a similar problem. The idea is to provide leads with the information they need to make an informed decision about your product.

You can nurture leads manually, but it’s often more effective to use marketing automation software. This way, you can create targeted content and send it to leads automatically based on their stage in the buying process.

Monitor your results and adjust your strategy

After you’ve implemented your marketing automation strategy, it’s important to monitor your results. This will help you determine whether your strategy is effective and whether you need to make any adjustments.

There are a few key metrics you should track, including:

  • Lead conversion rate: the percentage of leads who convert into customers
  • Cost per lead: the amount of money you spend to generate each lead
  • Lead quality: the number of leads who convert into customers divided by the total number of leads

Monitoring these metrics will give you a good idea of how effective your marketing automation strategy is. If you’re not seeing the results you want, make adjustments to your strategy until you find a combination that works.

Best marketing automation software 

Hubspot

hubspot marketing automation

Hubspot is a “full stack” marketing software that includes a CRM, marketing hub, sales hub, and services hub. It has a simple interface, and users can set up automation workflows to work between products. While Hubspot offers bundles for the “all in one” approach, you can also opt for individual products if you want to upgrade to use select services. 

Automation features:

  • Automatically score leads and rotate them around your team in the Sales hub
  • Automate email campaigns to help move customers further down the sales funnel
  • Create an automated help desk to make tickets and manage help requests

Pricing: Start for free with access to basic features (like setting up an instant reply chatbot), but to be able to set up omnichannel automation workflows you’ll need to subscribe to Marketing Hub Professional (which starts at $800 per month).

Platform.ly

marketing automation tool

Platform.ly offers an impressive suite of marketing automation solutions, which at first glance, seem comparable to many others. However, Platform.ly’s tracking/link attribution is what genuinely sets it apart from the competition. Its link tracking allows you to attribute the amount of income you’ve generated from each channel, helping you make more informed marketing decisions. 

Automation features:

  • Drag-and-drop campaign builder
  • Lead scoring system and advanced reporting
  • Automated email sequence and audience segmentation capabilities

Pricing: Start for free, but premium packages begin at $19 (paid annually). It also as a handy pricing calculator.

Salesforce Pardot

salesforce pardot

Pardot is Salesforce’s B2B marketing automation software. It’s packed full of automation features, but what makes Pardot stand out is its ability to track every user interaction on your website, and its artificial intelligence component (Pardot Einstein), which offers recommendations. 

Automation features:

  • A/B testing to optimize campaign results
  • Spam filter check-ups
  • Automated engagements with autoresponders for forms and landing pages
  • Lead nurturing and qualification abilities along with email triggers, retargeting, and a lead scoring system

Pricing: No free version (but you can request a demo); pricing starts at $1,250 per month for automation features that you can use for up to 10,000 contacts.

ActiveCampaign

activecampaign

ActiveCampaign is both a CRM and a marketing automation solution. It offers an omnichannel experience that integrates with popular apps like WordPress, Salesforce, and Zapier. ActiveCampaign also provides a bird’s-eye view of all of your automations to make sure everything is running smoothly.

Automation features:

  • Goal Tracking to tracks micro-conversions that add “points” to lead scores
  • Automation Map helps you see connections (and their statuses) between automations 
  • Site tracking shows you in which products, services, or information your website visitors are most (and least) interested 

Pricing: Free trial available. Plans start at $9 per month (paid annually) for 500 contacts. It also offers a pricing calculator.

Use marketing automation to sell more

Marketing automation is an imperative part of every smart ecommerce business’s inbound marketing strategy

Fully embrace it by exploring the different integrations available with your chosen marketing automation tool, creating different workflows using SMS and email, and engaging with your audience. You may surprise yourself with how quickly you achieve better results from your marketing efforts.


Marketing automation FAQ

What is an example of marketing automation?

A good example of marketing automation is when a user signs up for a newsletter on a website and then receives a series of automated emails with content tailored to their interests.

What is meant by marketing automation?

Marketing automation is the use of software and technology to automate marketing tasks and processes. It can include marketing activities such as email marketing, social media campaigns, and targeted ads.

What is the top marketing automation platform?

There are many marketing automation platforms available and the best one for your company will depend on your specific needs and budget. Some popular marketing automation platforms include HubSpot, Marketo, Oracle Eloqua, Mailchimp, and Pardot.

Is marketing automation the same as a CRM?

No, marketing automation and CRM (customer relationship management) are not the same. Marketing automation focuses on automating marketing tasks and processes, while CRM is a platform that helps companies manage their customer relationships.
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