A Beginners Guide to Marketing Automation

Kristin Crabb
By Kristin Crabb

Chances are you have heard of the concept of marketing automation, but the term makes a complicated concept appear much simpler than it is. In reality, marketing automation is a proposed solution to a common obstacle… growth. It is typical for a company to start with a group of employees who build the product and another group who sells the product. When you are starting out, those sellers are usually foraging one-on-one relationships with their prospects and spending a lot of time helping them understand the value your product or service can give them.

However, as you grow, maintaining those individual relationships becomes more and more difficult which is when many companies decide to hire a marketer who can implement performance-driven, conversion-centric programs at scale. This works for a while, but if you continue to grow (and hopefully you do), your marketer will not be able to manage everything manually anymore. At this point you are left with two options: hire a team of marketers or introduce marketing automation. At first, a team of marketers might sound like the better option, but you could actually end up wasting money on redundant tasks. Instead, marketing automation allows you to keep a lean marketing team while still accomplishing vital tasks.

What is Marketing Automation? 

There are many definitions of marketing automation available, probably due to the complex nature of the concept. However, after surveying the landscape of available definitions, we have identified common theme amongst them and developed the following definition:

Marketing automation is the use of software to replace laborious and manual marketing processes with automated ones which increase operational efficiency of marketing teams.

That’s still a relatively vague definition though and in order to understand the definition of marketing automation, it might actually be easier to first explain what it does.

 What Does Marketing Automation Do? 

A lot of misinformation is available on marketing automation because of the complexity of the concept. One of the most common myths is that automation equates to spamming people’s inboxes… this is absolutely false and if you are doing this, do not fool yourself into believing spam is a productive marketing technique. Instead, let’s look at the facts about what marketing automation does and can help you accomplish:

  1. It connects multiple touch points and marketing channels including social media, email marketing, and content marketing with the goal of nurturing prospects for the long-term and allows focus on goals beyond direct sales.
  2. It makes your marketing communications stronger. By automating the administration of your marketing, you will have more time to focus on the quality of your campaigns and messaging making it easier to send personalized, 1:1 targeted messages to your prospects.
  3. It empowers your marketing organization to do things differently. Suddenly, they will have the time and resources to…
    • Add dynamic content to messaging based on an individual’s specific user profile;
    • Categorize customers and prospects by common behaviors, interests, and demographic details;
    • Develop optimal marketing patterns; and
    • Integrate marketing channels to deliver a comprehensive, cross-platform user experience.

When done right, marketing automation is one of the most user-friendly marketing channels currently available because it focuses on personalized user experiences.

Rather than blasting audiences with a stagnant advertising message, you are nurturing leads and guiding prospects through the sales conversion funnel which provides a much better experience overall.

How to Use Marketing Automation 

Convinced of what it is and what it does, you are now probably wondering how you can implement marketing automation in your own organization. Fortunately, you can get started in just a few simple steps.

  • Define Your Goals  It may seem obvious, but knowing exactly what you are trying to accomplish is the first big step to implementing a marketing automation strategy. This will help you determine how your automation should be set up in order to most effectively help you reach those goals.
  • Identify Your Targets  Similarly, you will need to select which customers are your main priority. Of course, you should understand and market to all of your leads at varying points in their buyer’s journey, but your time and energy may be better spent focusing on people who are at a specific point of the process.
  • Map Your User Flows  The ultimate goal of marketing automation is to get people to take a specific action. Mapping your user flows is a way to visualize the steps prospects need to go through in order to take that action. This focuses on the idea that depending on how a person arrives at your site, they might need more information than others before they’re willing to take the desired action.
  • Segment & Rate Your Leads  Remember, not all leads are necessarily equal in terms of quality and by rating your leads you can determine exactly who needs further nurturing and who is ready to be handed over to a sales team. You should also segment your database of contacts to a very high degree so you can deliver messages to very specific types of people.

By doing all of these things, you will be able to set up your marketing automation strategy in the most effective way possible which will yield better results for you down the road.

Marketing Automation Best Practices 

Now that you have a high-quality lead yielding marketing automation strategy developed and in place, it is time to refine it before pushing it out to your audiences. There are a few best practices that can elevate your automation and increase its effectiveness.

  • Say “no” to purchased lists.  As tempting as it can be to purchase mass contact lists, this will ruin all the work you have done to develop a targeted marketing automation strategy. In fact, purchasing a list is a direct contradiction to the goal of personalized messaging that is so vital to marketing automation. Just don’t do it.
  • Hone your list.  Similarly, bigger lists aren’t always better. Closely analyze your relevant metrics so you know who your most qualified leads are and get rid of the ones who aren’t responding anymore. You are much better off with a smaller list of highly qualified leads than with a large list of contacts who don’t care what you have to say.
  • Keep messaging concise and active.  Make your point quickly and clearly in all of your messaging. Modern consumers are used to being bombarded with countless marketing messages every day and will tune you out if you don’t cut straight to the point and tell them what’s in it for them. Additionally, you want to keep them engaged by writing in an active tone and encouraging recipients to take some kind of action.
  • Remember where they are in the process.  Always keep in mind that certain types of content are more appealing than others based on where a person is in the conversion funnel. Hitting a new prospect with the hard sell would probably be irritating, but that same piece of highly promotional content might help nudge a late-stage prospect over the purchasing line.
  • Avoid looking spammy.   We’ve already discussed how marketing automation is not spam, but you’ll need to take steps to ensure your outreach is not mistaken as such.  Certain things will always give the appearance of spam, such as typing in all capital letters, overusing the color red, and using too many links in the body of the message.

Helpful Tools 

A quick Google search can show you that there are a number of marketing automation tools available in the marketplace. But, depending on how advanced your marketing automation strategy is you might not need some of the more robust tools available.

Before selecting a tool, or tools, it is crucial that you do some research and make the best decision for your team.

No tool is one-size-fits-all, but here is a list of popular options to help you get started.

  • Marketo
  • Eloqua
  • Customer.io
  • Constant Contact
  • HubSpot
  • ExactTarget
  • Userfox

Each of these tools has their own unique set of advantages and disadvantages, but what it will ultimately come down to is how big your database is and the robustness of your strategy. Smaller business will likely be better served using Constant Contact or HubSpot while large, enterprise companies will find value in the complexity of platforms like Marketo, Eloqua, and ExactTarget.

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Kristin is a Content Coordinator at Power Digital. She was born and raised in San Diego but headed down south to attend the University of Alabama. With a degree in Communications and Advertising, she enjoys creating valuable and engaging SEO focused content to drive traffic and boost rankings for her clients. Roll Tide!