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What Is Marketing Automation? What You Need to Know…

Marketing automation is a buzzword that seems to be applied to everything nowadays. If a software platform can trigger a message to a recipient via its API, it’s promoted as a marketing automation solution. In my opinion, this isn’t very ethical. While this may be an automated activity corresponding to their marketing strategy, it’s hardly a marketing automation solution. I believe the majority of marketing automation solutions available – even the largest – have severe limitations that limit the marketer’s ability to realize the full benefits of authentic marketing automation.

What is Marketing Automation?

Marketing automation is a strategy and technology that businesses use to streamline and automate their marketing efforts. It involves using software and tools to perform repetitive marketing tasks more efficiently. Here’s an overview of marketing automation:

  • Marketing automation helps in lead generation, lead nurturing, and customer engagement by automating email campaigns, social media posting, and other marketing activities.
  • It allows businesses to segment their audience based on behavior and demographics, ensuring that the right message is sent to the right people at the right time.
  • Marketing automation can include features like lead scoring, which helps identify the most promising leads, and customer relationship management (CRM) integration, which better tracks and manages customer interactions.
  • By automating routine tasks, marketing teams can save time and focus on more strategic activities, leading to increased productivity and potentially higher revenue.

It’s an essential tool in modern sales and marketing, helping businesses to be more effective and efficient in reaching their target audience.

I think it’s time that someone in the industry stood up and did a better job of defining the core features and flexibility necessary to identify your platform as a Marketing Automation platform. We’ve written a lot of content on Marketing Automation. Not just how to leverage marketing automation but changes in the industry. Unfortunately, companies investing in a marketing automation solution are still seeing challenges.

Boston Interactive developed this infographic to overview the key strategies leveraging marketing automation.

What is Marketing Automation

What are the Benefits of Marketing Automation?

According to the InTouch CRM:

  • 63% of companies that are outperforming their competitors use marketing automation
  • Businesses that use marketing automation to nurture prospects experience a 451% increase in qualified leads
  • 75% of companies using marketing automation see ROI within a year

Why Marketing Automation Implementations Fail

  • Terrible Resource Expectations – The entire marketing automation industry is doing an terrible job at setting expectations with the sale of their platforms. They share successful use case after use case, but their customer churn is horrible. Thus, customers spend excessive time and money on a platform they never used. Here’s my analogy: Selling marketing automation is like selling a refrigerator to someone starving. The fridge won’t do much good unless you fill it with food!
  • Acquisition Isn’t Everything – Virtually every well-known marketing automation platform deals only with acquisition. It’s more impactful to have a balanced marketing strategy that works on acquisition and retention while increasing the value of engagements with customers. Incredibly, some of the most sophisticated platforms out there disregard your customer profile and activity – they’re only working to throw prospects into lead funnels to push them through to a conversion.
  • Companies Aren’t Sophisticated Enough – Time after time, we watch as companies shift from an email service provider over to a marketing automation provider with grandiose visions of increased return on investment and sophistication. Unfortunately, they’re not ready to transform their strategies internally, so they keep using the system to batch and blast. What a waste of budget!
  • Your Sales Process Doesn’t Match – Another key issue with the gambit of marketing automation platforms is that they have developed a one-size-fits-all solution. Get a license for any one of the largest providers, and they instantly tell you to abandon your process of driving and nurturing leads and, instead, switch over to their process. They do this without knowing what is successful or unsuccessful with the customers’ sales and marketing process.
  • Multiple Steps to Conversion – Most platforms utilize a defined, multi-step process from awareness through conversion. That’s great if it matches the path your prospects take to convert, but for most businesses, the events between awareness and conversion are significantly different. You need a marketing automation solution that can match the steps or events your customers take…it could be 3 or 30!
  • Multiple Paths to Conversion – With the one-size-fits-all solution, there’s the one-path-fits-all problem. Suppose you serve different industries, different size customers, different-sized deals, and different products. In that case, you require the flexibility to develop multiple paths to conversions with events, nurturing, emails, landing pages, calls-to-actions (CTAs), and scoring strategies. Sticking to a single path severely handicaps your marketing automation strategy and could waste your incredible investment.
  • Transition Costs – Most of the marketers we know are working with fewer resources than they ever have in the past. Adopting a marketing automation platform requires a marketing department to continue working on the strategy already driving business results while simultaneously implementing a new methodology. Often, this requires integration resources, analysis of sales and retention, and content resources to develop the landing pages, whitepapers, webinars, downloads, and emails necessary to populate the new marketing automation campaigns. We see virtually every customer struggle with this…signing up with the platform and not implementing it for months due to a lack of a transition plan.

I’m often surprised to see companies that are struggling with the basics of an inbound strategy to suddenly jump on the marketing automation bandwagon. They may not have an email program up and running…or they don’t have a customer relationship management (CRM) integration, or a mobile optimized site, or a site that’s optimized for search, social, and conversions…but now they’re looking to implement a marketing automation solution. On what?!

What Makes a Marketing Automation Solution?

There are a number of features that a marketing automation platform should have be fully leveraged and expandable as you become more sophisticated and the demand grows. Let’s discuss them here:

  • Data Imports – The ability to automatically extract data from billing, support, and other customer-related systems is a must. It also needs to be able to augment, segment, and filter your marketing automation campaigns. Working all day to extract, massage, and import data over and over is not automation.
  • Data Exports – You have other systems, like a CRM, helpdesk, billing department, etc. that need to know when a customer event occurs within your marketing automation campaign. Examples might include setting a follow-up reminder in Salesforce or sending a proposal upon request.
  • API – Along with the ability to send and receive data, an API must externally trigger events and update information in your marketing automation campaigns.
  • Triggered Campaigns – The ability to initiate a campaign from a custom action is essential. For example, if someone downloads a whitepaper—you need to be able to execute a campaign that nurtures this lead to a close.
  • Drip campaigns – Aligning a series of communications across mediums can keep your customers engaged and educate them through conversion.
  • Lead Scoring – If you can customize scoring schemes based on user activity, you can effectively communicate to those people and understand where they are in the buying, renewal, or upgrade cycle.
  • Segmentation and Filtering – The ability to push subscribers in and out of campaigns, filter the recipients, and segment the offers and opportunities provides a high level of customization that will increase click-throughs and conversions.
  • Social Media Integration – Listening and communicating with your target audience on your company’s social media is essential. Social media behavior can accelerate cycles because it helps you connect faster and close deals sooner.
  • Visitor Tracking – Identifying unique visitors via IP address, customer data, form activity, logins, email clicks, etc. can assist your company in properly scoring, segmenting, filtering, and executing relevant campaigns.
  • Forms and Landing Pages – Capturing data and building detailed profiles with metadata can provide you with all the information you need to create a personalized campaign that communicates the right message at the right time.
  • Email Marketing – Because it’s in the foundation of every marketing automation system, this is a must…but it’s important that you can design and execute responsive campaigns for mobile readers. Incorporating text messaging and phone calls is a plus!
  • Remarketing, Retargeting, Abandonment – Activity across channels with your brands enables you to push customized messaging based on the user’s intent.
  • Content Management – A fantastic feature of your content management system is the ability to add scripts, forms, and even integrate dynamic content. When a customer visits your site, why promote a new offer when you can give them a customized message instead?
  • Unlimited, Cross-channel Campaigns – One path isn’t enough. Every company requires at least three basic interactions for capturing leads, renewing customers, and upselling current customers.

There is some research out there on how marketers are selecting a marketing automation solution, but it would be great if one of the research giants like Forrester or Gartner spoke more to the churn, sophistication costs, implementation costs, and resources necessary to implement and produce the incredible savings marketing automation has to offer. I believe most companies are not only unprepared for the effort required, they also don’t realize they’re not sophisticated enough to get these programs off the ground. Aggressive sales strategies are driving marketing automation closes – but lack of resources and features are limiting their ability to be fully leveraged.

There’s no doubt that companies paying a lot for their email marketing service providers should look to marketing automation systems to increase their effectiveness. They may even save a little bit of money executing identical campaigns while gathering priceless data for future campaigns. But it’s absolutely essential that businesses recognize what a marketing automation platform should do for them as well as the resources necessary to fully leverage them to increase their marketing return on investment.

Douglas Karr

Douglas Karr is CMO of OpenINSIGHTS and the founder of the Martech Zone. Douglas has helped dozens of successful MarTech startups, has assisted in the due diligence of over $5 bil in Martech acquisitions and investments, and continues to assist companies in implementing and automating their sales and marketing strategies. Douglas is an internationally recognized digital transformation and MarTech expert and speaker. Douglas is also a published author of a Dummie's guide and a business leadership book.

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