Marketing automation

Marketing automation dashboard

Quick definition

Marketing automation is the technology that allows companies to centrally orchestrate and manage their interactions with customers.

Key takeaways

A marketing automation solution integrates with other marketing software and customer relationship management (CRM) solutions to bring the marketing and sales teams together and streamline the customer journey.

Marketing automation software will allow you to take customer data and launch campaigns to deliver content to customers and lead them through the conversion funnel.

The best thing a company can do when they start using marketing automation technology is to have the marketing and sales teams work together to figure out a common goal and what success will look like.

Bob Conklin joined Adobe through the Marketo acquisition and is a leader within the Adobe Experience Cloud strategic marketing team. Prior to Marketo, he led global marketing for large, multibillion dollar businesses at other tech brands including Oracle and HP.

Why is marketing automation important?

How does marketing automation work?

Should all companies use a marketing automation solution?

How long does it take for a company to see a return on their investment in marketing automation software?

What are some marketing automation best practices?

Do companies need to hire a marketing automation specialist to be successful?

What are the most important features of marketing automation software?

What are the limitations of marketing automation?

What mistakes do companies make when using a marketing automation solution?

What is the business value of marketing automation?

How will marketing automation continue to evolve?

Q: Why is marketing automation important?

A: Marketing automation is sometimes used in the B2C world, but it’s more often used in B2B. In B2B, you have long complicated customer journeys that you need to keep track of. And you need to keep track of those journeys in a central place. Marketing automation is that central place.

Marketing processes are always evolving quickly. New channels to market through are constantly developing. There are always new types of data to use in marketing campaigns. While all that continues to evolve, you need a stable foundation that everything else is plugging into. That's what marketing automation has become.

Marketing automation is built to be extensible. A good marketing automation tool needs to be able to integrate with other marketing software. At last count there were over 7,000 marketing applications in the world, so it’s important to have a place that everything ties back to. That’s the role that marketing automation plays.

Q: How does marketing automation work?

A: A B2B company will generally already have CRM software for sales, but it really doesn't help the marketing team. They need to purchase marketing automation software to take care of the marketing side. Prior to investing in a marketing automation tool, the marketer has a tool for every channel and a spreadsheet where they’re trying to keep track of lead scoring and understand the totality of the engagements they're having with their prospects and their customers. They eventually come to a place where they realize that's not sustainable or scalable.

Then, when the marketer is looking at marketing automation, they're thinking about a couple of things. One is what kind of process do they want to have in place to manage their leads and manage their demand. Do they want to do more of an inbound marketing approach or more outbound? If it's B2B, do they want to do account-based marketing (ABM)? All those factors go into how you set up your marketing automation solution in the first place and how it ties to the lead nurturing process within marketing. And if you have a sales team, how it ties to the sales interface. They're thinking about that process. They're thinking about the software. They're thinking about the database.

Marketing automation software can pull in data from the CRM on the sales side. It has everything marketing knows and everything sales knows in one place. It provides a complete view of not just your customers, but your prospects as well. A CRM, however, will usually just have customer data, and not information on early leads that haven’t been qualified yet.

A CRM is good at managing information at the bottom of the funnel. Marketing automation is good at the top and middle of the funnel. To get the most out of using marketing automation software, marketers need to consider how they want to run things, what their process is going to be, how they want to set up their data so that they can measure the success of their marketing strategy, and how to direct traffic to their landing pages. Then, they can use marketing automation to understand what’s going on and report to stakeholders about the marketing impact and what is and isn’t working.

Q: Should all companies use a marketing automation solution?

A: There are some businesses that are extremely transactional that may not need to use marketing automation. These tend to be more on the B2C side. But most companies should be using something like marketing automation to keep track of all their engagements with customers and measure their marketing programs.

Q: How long does it take for a company to see a return on their investment in marketing automation software?

A: It very much depends on the customer. The answer will vary based on how large the company is, what type of marketing automation package they invested in, and what they are trying to achieve. A marketing automation product that has a lot of capabilities will require more time to get fully up and running than a more basic option. Generally speaking, it will take about six months for a small company to get where they need to be, while it could take more than a year before a large company that purchased a sophisticated system is truly using every capability available.

Q: What are some marketing automation best practices?

A: It’s important to plan in the beginning before you jump into things. When you're moving to marketing automation, you're implementing a process and putting in software at the same time. You’re automating something that used to be manual.

You need to spend enough time on the front end to make sure that you really have thought through how you want to use the software. For example, how will it work with your CRM software that’s already in place? What marketing tasks to you want it to take over? Make sure you have that planned out before you move into creating campaigns.

Another best practice is to take advantage of the expertise of the company providing you with the marketing automation solution. These companies have maturity frameworks where they can talk to a customer and understand how much they already know about marketing automation and where they’re lacking. A company like Marketo can figure out where their customers are and help them get better, grow, use more of the product, and use the product more successfully. Rely on those people and the tools they have because the tools are really good at figuring out where you are and then helping you on your next steps to take better advantage of the product.

When looking for a marketing automation solution, it’s a good idea to look for one that integrates with a variety of other marketing software products. You don’t want to be forced into choosing a product that works with your automation platform — you want options. Selecting an automation solution with a large partner ecosystem helps you get the most out of your investment.

Q: Do companies need to hire a marketing automation specialist to be successful?

A: A traditional marketing team can get on board pretty quickly, but whether you should hire a specialist depends on how sophisticated you want to be. A company that has no experience with marketing automation can still get value out of the product, but they're probably not using all the functionality available.

It’s become easier for business functions like marketing to get their own software in the cloud, which means they need to be able to manage it themselves without the help of IT. Marketing automation is very technical and it involves a lot of data. It involves a lot of things that used to require the help of IT, but it tries to simplify that complexity into an interface that someone with a marketing skill set can easily learn and get a lot out of.

Q: What are the most important features of marketing automation software?

A: The first component a marketing automation product needs is a database of leads and current customers. You can’t do anything else until you have a list of people that you can market to.

The second thing you need is closely related to data. Once you have your database full of people, you need to figure out what messages you’re going to send them, and which channels you’re going to use. Usually when you're thinking about marketing, you have to do some segmentation of this giant database of your audience and do some targeting. And marketing automation provides a lot of capabilities to do that. It can look at a user’s demographics as well as their behavior, like what content they’ve interacted with and what product they’ve shown interest in.

After you’ve segmented your audience and identified who you want to target, you need to create and deliver personalized content to the right channels. One of the great things about marketing automation is that it can enable the entire buyer lifecycle. It allows you to keep an eye on a lead, understand what they need, communicate with them using the channels that they like to use, and help them through the journey.

Marketing automation software allows you to set up a lead management campaign in the system that uses logic to automatically take the next step. If a prospective customer interacts with the company through search or a display ad, the next step might be that the software starts an email campaign. All that logic is set up in the system in a dynamic way that reacts to what the buyer is doing in real time.

That's really the core of what marketing automation is — the ability to automate that engagement and to do it at scale with thousands, tens of thousands, or millions of buyers at the same time. After the marketer gets the program set up, it runs by itself.

The words you often hear with marketing automation are “triggers” and “filters.” Triggers are the different types of activities or things that change that can lead to the next step in the process. Filters allow certain actions to be taken based on the labels used to define audiences. For example, a filter could be set up to deliver a specific piece of content to anyone with the job title CMO. And new AI-driven filters are much more complex. The ability to put together a really sophisticated sequence of logic that is automated and handles all this engagement is probably the most important thing in marketing automation.

The ability for marketing and sales to talk to each other throughout the customer journey is another important feature of marketing automation systems. When the next step is for a potential buyer to talk to a salesperson, the marketing automation platform can integrate with the CRM system to let sales know what’s going on. By using marketing automation software, the marketer can show sales all the engagement they’ve had with the customer and provide sales with prebuilt campaigns for them to reach out and communicate with buyers. Marketing now is still controlling the messaging and the content.

The last core thing is marketing analytics. A marketing automation solution needs to be able to measure which campaigns are working, what content is working, and if the company is managing the leads effectively. These could be standard reports that a marketer runs or dashboards that marketers monitor to make sure their demand funnel is healthy.

Q: What are the limitations of marketing automation?

A: With the diversity in marketing software because of all the different channels, data sources, and types of analytics, a marketing automation solution can’t be everything for everybody. But a marketing automation product isn’t created to stay on top of everything on its own, which is where the integrations come in. If a marketing automation solution is good about having open integrations, it can be prepared to work with newly evolving software.

Q: What mistakes do companies make when using a marketing automation solution?

A: Having alignment with sales is one of the biggest benefits of marketing automation, but only if you talk to them. Marketing and sales need to get together and figure out what the lead-to-revenue process looks like from end to end. And they each need to know what the other is doing.

You're going to get into trouble if you don't figure that out in advance. Before marketing automation, marketing didn’t have any software that could connect with the CRM and the sales team. So there wasn't as much opportunity for trouble. But once the software is linked together, you want to make sure you're following some process that makes sense and works for both teams.

Q: What is the business value of marketing automation?

A: When we talk about the value of marketing automation, there are two sides to it — the business value and the value to the marketer themselves. When marketing automation is being implemented, the marketer using it is going through a major transformation in what kind of marketing they're doing. It lets them go to a whole new level of creating demand and ultimately revenue for the company.

On the personal side of things, learning how to use marketing automation tools benefits the marketer as they gain a sought-after skill. Industries like technology were the first to implement marketing automation because they’re comfortable with new platforms. As the market matured and other industries came on board, marketers who knew how to use marketing automation gained an edge. And this is often the moment when marketing finally gets the respect they're due, because they're playing a larger part in more directly driving the revenue for the company.

On the business side, marketing automation drives revenue and growth. Marketing automation is more efficient, because without it you could never do all of this personalized and reactive engagement through all these channels. You also get a strong return on investment since marketing automation allows you to track everything, from lead generation to conversion. You can understand what is and isn’t working and use that information to more wisely direct your marketing investments.

Q: How will marketing automation continue to evolve?

A: We'll see AI doing more and more within the application. Logic is more basic for AI, as there's a lot more behind the scenes to create these insights and make decisions. It will continue to remove manual steps and continue to help the marketer make smarter decisions.

The other thing that continues to evolve is the sales and marketing interface where marketing automation is talking to a CRM. The capabilities there keep evolving to make that engagement with the end buyer more and more seamless. On the B2B side, some of that is related to account-based marketing, a form of marketing that tends to key in on large target accounts sales may have a relationship with. The interactions between sales and marketing are an important area where innovation is happening.

And then the other way marketing automation will improve surrounds the buyer experience. When a company is thinking about providing a great customer experience, they want to help the customer solve all kinds of problems, whether it's a question they're trying to answer in the purchase process or whether it's helping the customer try to get the most out of the product. And to do that you need to stitch together marketing software, sales software, and services software around the core view of the customer that everyone is sharing. There's a trend in the market where those types of applications — and the data they house — are becoming more integrated with each other.

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