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What is Marketing Automation?

As with many things technology orientated, marketing automation has become something of a buzzword over the past couple of years. However, it’s a useful one, if not a little difficult to harness for some, usually because they are using the wrong tactics alongside it. Today, we’ll be looking at a definition of marketing automation and ways that it can be successfully utilised to ensure that you’re making the most of the vast amount of data that comes into your business.

Firstly it’s worth pointing out that the main reason that people fail with marketing automation is really down to laziness. Buying a huge list of email addresses and names is not the way forward with it, but appears to be common practice at the moment. It’s important to realise that this kind of data is not the most valuable, but the data that is generated from sources such as your own website and social media activities is – in other words, inbound leads.

What Exactly is Marketing Automation

Marketing automation describes a set of tools that can be used in conjunction with inbound data and various techniques to better market products to potential or existing customers. The best example of marketing automation software at work can be found by any Amazon customer. It helps companies to better manage the customer flow across online channels in order to give a better customer experience and increase the likelihood that they will make an initial purchase, then remain a loyal customer who spreads the word.

These days, customers research online before making a purchase, meaning that they might:

  • Open targeted email
  • Watch video
  • Ask around on social media
  • Attend virtual events
  • Click through on ads

All of this will at some point lead to someone making a purchasing decision and entering the sales funnel. It’s the job of the marketer to ensure that they find the best channels in which their buyers exist and optimise them in order to ensure that the customer experience is positive, consistent and engaging.

Further to this, once the buyer is in the funnel, then it’s necessary to utilise further tools in order to track purchases and cross-channel engagement in order to prompt them to make further purchases down the line.

This is where marketing automation comes in. The most popular marketing automation solution remains email, which despite the cries of it being dead and buried remains an extremely useful and high converting tool.

The majority of marketing automation software packages will include:

  • Email marketing functionality
  • Multichannel data collection and database storage
  • ROI analysing and reporting
  • Campaign management and development

Usually, they will also include CRM capabilities too and the idea is for marketers to have a central tool which allows them to build, track and manage digital campaigns and the flow of leads through the sales funnel.

However, functionality varies from vendor to vendor; some might just provide the basics: email, database and tracking, whilst others provide a large array of tools such as personalisation and so on.

Marketing Automation Challenges

With any software tools comes challenges, especially if staff have to be trained to use the software in the first place as this is where mistakes can occur. It’s worth bearing in mind that it can also be difficult and time-consuming to deploy the software in the first instance and configure it correctly. However, most of the big automation vendors do provide training.

Like most business processes, choosing a marketing automation platform should be carried out with care and involve a lot of planning in order to avoid issues early on.

Think about:

  • If training is provided – if not, how are staff expected to learn how to use the platform – do you have someone in house that can do this
  • If you really need a software solution given the amount of inbound leads that you generate
  • Your company’s current sales and marketing process, how can it be improved upon and where it would benefit from changing to marketing automation software
  • Cost: marketing automation solutions tend to vary quite wildly in price so it’s important that you choose one that fits your needs
  • What are the company goals? This is something that you need to think about well in advance to choosing a solution
  • Does the vendor offer a demo that will allow you to properly evaluate the product before implementation

Why use Marketing Automation?

Simply because your competitors are and that means that they have the edge on you if you don’t. Of course, this depends largely on the size of your business or the client that you’re carrying out the marketing for.

The marketing automation industry is a growing one. In 2013 revenue in the sector grew to $750m, a huge 50% increase on the previous year, according to the Digital Marketing Depot citing Raab Associates Inc., a marketing automation research and consulting firm.

marketing automation survey

This growth has been observed industry-wide, with many larger concerns taking over smaller marketing automation vendors and third party tools becoming increasingly integrated. So it’s not going anywhere and not only can it essentially make the lead generation process easier, but it’s wise to keep abreast of the tools your competitors are using if you want to retain an edge in your own marketing activities.

However, it’s also worth pointing out that whilst a lot of companies are adopting these tools, evidence suggests that the capabilities of the software is outstripping that of the people using it, in many cases.

The reasons for this include:

  • Poor quality of data
  • Under-utilisation of marketing automation software’s capabilities
  • Lack of alignment and cooperation between the sales and marketing departments

With this in mind, this is where you can really gain an edge on your competitors by ensuring that you choose the right platform and train staff sufficiently to use it. It’s also worth reiterating the point that purchased data rarely performs well as it’s not targeted data.

challenges to marketing automationBefore you rush out to purchase then, look at the table above and plan soundly. Remember when it comes to budgeting that many marketing automation solutions have hidden costs – you may have to purchase add-ons or additional licenses for various users, so take this into account.

Look carefully at the complexity of the solution and ensure that you have staff capable of using, or learning to use it and put training in place to ensure that marketers and sales people are aware that they have to align their goals.

Marketing automation can take the pain out of lead generation and customer management, but it is something that you should take time over before implementing, not least because there are lots of vendors out there. Make sure that you have a demo booked for all of those solutions that you’re interested in using and include staff in the planning phase so that any potential training issues can be picked up early on.

Plan well and it could lead to an increase in leads and essentially sales, plan badly and you’re likely to improve nothing.

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