If you’re wondering how your software subscription renewal reminder lands in your inbox without fail, look no further than marketing automation. As soon as your records are in their database, processes begin to whirr away without requiring human intervention. For the customer, it’s consistent. For the business, it can be a shortcut to rapid growth. No wonder marketing automation technology is expected to grow by 14% over the next five years.
Most businesses tend to have one of two types of marketing department. The one that doesn’t exist, because there’s no budget or personnel to spare, or the one that’s overstretched and under pressure. Marketing automation offers a fast-acting, affordable solution for both. By automating your campaigns supported by reliable data, it’s possible to take the guesswork out of your marketing.
What is marketing automation?
The simplest definition of marketing automation is using digital platforms to streamline your processes. You’re taking the repetitive tasks and setting them to run according to pre-defined triggers and conditions. In turn, that frees up your human resources to focus on strategy.
The emphasis in marketing automation is typically on lead generation and nurturing, with the goal of turning a disjointed landscape into a streamlined funnel. From a single platform, marketing teams can track and engage customers across the following:
Email. Today’s email marketing platforms offer the essential automation tools out of the box. You don’t have to be an expert to set up new customers, abandoned carts or order tracking flows, and it’s simple to segment your customers so you can deliver more targeted content.
Social media advertising. Instead of hopping between platforms to create your campaigns, you can create your Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media posts from a unified dashboard, and pull the data from each into a single analytics feed for a more coherent picture.
Mobile (SMS). One of the most effective channels for retargeting customers, with a click-through rate around 19%. That’s five times the typical online ad engagement.
Landing pages. Not only can you build a landing page within your marketing automation platform with ease, but you can A/B test and optimise at speed to boost conversion rates.
Content. You can use what you learn about your customer at the beginning of the journey to serve them the most relevant content as they go. It feels like self-service to the customer, but there’s some finely tuned automation behind the scenes.
Analytics. Whether you track behaviour through the platform alone, or integrate with tools such as Google Analytics, you can collect the data that makes the most sense to your decision makers. Above all, you can show clear evidence of return on investment (ROI) for each type of campaign activity.
The benefits of marketing automation
If you’re not investing in marketing automation as a priority for the year ahead, you’re almost certainly missing out on these compelling benefits, both for your marketing team and the business as a whole. Research by McKinsey shows that 30% of all sales tasks can be automated, and there’s no reason why marketing can’t aspire to become just as lean and agile.
Visibility. Instead of siloed ownership of data across departments, campaign progress and ROI can be tracked by any authorised team member from a central database.
Better lead nurturing. From sending prospects more relevant content early in the funnel, to delivering better qualified leads to sales teams, you can expect to generate 50% more leads at 33% lower cost with improvements to your lead nurturing. Customers in the early stages need education, not a pitch. Automation makes it easier to get them the right answers to their questions.
Revenue. Marketing automation ensures that you’re not missing out on cross-sell and upsell opportunities. It’s more efficient too. Studies show that marketing automation can reduce overheads by at least 12%. Recent research by Keap found that 22% of their small business customers were still collecting customer contact information using the doomed “pen and phone” combo.
Segmentation. Learn more about your customers, customise interactions, and deliver more targeted messaging. Marketing automation enables a consistent customer-centric approach that supports long-term retention. Remember, it’s your existing customers who account for 65% of your revenue, on average.
What are the best platforms for marketing automation?
Around 28% of top companies are already using marketing automation and artificial intelligence (AI) tools. The chances are that they’re using one of the following to customise their workflows from a central database.
HubSpot CRM launched in 2014 and the company now has more than 158,000 customers in 120 countries. With its free online tools and HubSpot Academy resources, HubSpot has established itself as one of the most visible marketing automation platforms. It’s a user-friendly, end-to-end solution that incorporates CRM, email marketing, and marketing automation. The CRM platform is free for up to 1 million contacts, but more advanced features come with the paid premium versions.
Another respected name in the MA space, ActiveCampaign is available in Lite, Plus, Professional and Enterprise packages (depending on user numbers), and it offers everything a small business should need. Run your SMS, email marketing, social media ads, and more from a single dashboard. Set-up costs on the professional plan are free (unlike HubSpot) and ActiveCampaign offers customer tagging for advanced segmentation, which HubSpot doesn’t.
You might know Klaviyo as an email marketing platform, but it’s become a huge hit with ecommerce store owners, and now counts more than 75,000 customers worldwide. The platform integrates with a wide variety of platforms, from Shopify to Facebook, and allows you to scale steadily as you grow.
Mailchimp is another platform that has evolved from email marketing (in this case, with 72% of market share) to full marketing platform. Mailchimp counts its customers in millions, but it’s particularly popular with startups and businesses with smaller teams.
Pardot is the marketing automation platform by Salesforce specifically catering for B2B customers, so it’s pitched at enterprise-level users. If you’re dealing with complex workflows that have to be shared across several departments, you might find that Pardot is the most appropriate solution.
What’s the difference between MA and CRM?
Marketing automation (MA) and customer relationship management (CRM) are often used interchangeably, but marketing automation tends to attack the top of the funnel, whereas CRM targets sales. Ultimately, the two are integrated, collecting a wealth of data that can support personalised campaigns based on customer activity.
Marketing automation enhances customer engagement, although the tracking is more likely to be behaviour-based rather than identity-based. Customer relationship management, on the other hand, is for converting sales. The aim is to build a fuller profile of each customer contact to enable better relationship building.
B2B vs B2C
Both B2B and B2C use marketing automation platforms. Whereas platforms were initially geared towards enterprise level departments (with a price tag to match), today’s marketing automation providers are accessible and affordable for small businesses too.
The main distinction between the two is that B2B has a longer sales cycle, with a greater need for product education. The typical B2B prospect may already have done the bulk of the research themselves, so campaigns need to engage beyond the awareness stage. Collecting quality data is a recurring challenge for B2B marketers, with 45% in one recent survey saying that it’s an urgent priority.
How to get started
Today’s platforms allow your business to start simple and scale affordably. But it’s not a case of subscribing to a service and flicking the switch on marketing automation. There has to be a strategy.
Make a plan and set SMART goals. There should be a clear challenge that you’re hoping to solve in your business with marketing automation.
Pick a platform. Whichever one you choose, make sure that all staff have sufficient training so that you’re using the full range of features to their potential.
Measure. Automation saves your team time, but it’s the analytics that grow your business. Have a clearly defined list of KPIs to track and define clear benchmarks for success.
Optimise. Use the data insights to adjust campaigns, divert budgets to best-performing content, and accumulate a more rounded picture of your customers.
Avoid these common automation errors
Even though marketing automation showcases data and processes, the spotlight should always be on the customer. It’s a tool to learn more about their triggers and pain points, not a cheat code for uninspired campaigns. Marketing automation squeezes out the guesswork in forecasting, leaving plenty of room for creativity. With that in mind…
Focus solely on new leads
You’ll have seen the statistic that it’s five times more expensive to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one, but still businesses pump their budget into lead generation. To deliver tangible value to your sales teams, leads have to be qualified. Use your marketing automation software to build a more nuanced picture.
Invest without a plan
There’s no need to rush to marketing automation if your business is small and organised enough to manually track campaigns via shared spreadsheets. Then again, is that really the ambition for your business? Most platforms offer free versions that you can at least put to the test before committing budget.
Go all-in on automation
It’s worth repeating that automation is a tool, not a strategy. It complements, not replaces, traditional lead generation tactics, such as SEO, content marketing, and in-person events. If a cornerstone of your business is the ‘About us’ story, and the personal connection your leadership team has with customers, automation might not be the solution.
Set and forget
Marketing automation isn't something that can be left humming away in the background like a server. The expiry dates in digital marketing are notoriously short, so you’ll have to clean the database regularly and optimise content to extract the full value.
This information is correct as of December 2022. This information is not to be relied on in making a decision with regard to an investment. We strongly recommend that you obtain independent financial advice before making any form of investment or significant financial transaction. This article is purely for general information purposes. Photo by Hal Gatewood on Unsplash.
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