Written by Jenna Puckett, Jr. Technology Analyst at TechnologyAdvice

If you’re confused by the concept of marketing automation, you’re not alone.

It’s still a relatively new concept, and outside of the technology industry, it’s estimated that marketing automation is used by just 3 percent of mid-market companies.

Marketing automation software is basically sales on a large scale. It’s a modern way to develop relationships with prospective clients, as well as convert them into customers. Though it sounds pretty straightforward, the process incorporates a lot of interrelated strategies and marketing practices, such as:

  • Online, social media, and email marketing
  • Demand and lead generation
  • Lead nurturing and scoring
  • Inbound and outbound marketing
  • Customer retention
  • Predictive analytics

Countless books have been written about each of the marketing concepts above. This overlap leads to a lot of confusion about what marketing automation can do, how it can benefit your business, and where it fits into your sales strategy. People can be intimidated by marketing automation software because it’s easy to get wrong, and it can sometimes take months to see ROI.

To help shed some light on what exactly marketing automation software is and why it’s so confusing, it’s helpful to first take a look at what marketing automation isn’t.

An Autoresponder

Autoresponders are often incorporated into newsletter or mailing list software, in order to confirm subscriptions, unsubscriptions, and other list activities. Though marketing automation vendors generally offer automated response functions, simply using autoresponders is not the same as running a marketing automation campaign.

An Email Marketing Platform

Every company should use an email marketing tool to simplify emailing prospects or customers. One major source of confusion about marketing automation software is the fact that the primary communication method is generally email. However, marketing automation software has much more functionality than a specialized email marketing tool.

Marketing automation offers everything that an email marketing tool does, while also eliminating the need to have multiple systems for email, website analytics, campaign management, lead nurturing, reporting, and more. Additionally, marketing automation software allows the creation of complex rules that tailor content based on prospects behavior.

A Single, Turnkey Solution

Marketing automation software is not a robot that replaces your marketing department. You can’t just pay for the service and call it a day. You’ll need to generate leads with inbound and outbound marketing, assemble nurture paths, segment content and prospects, and develop a scoring method for your leads. This is a difficult and involved process that requires a team.

Just as your qualified leads won’t skyrocket overnight, your marketing automation can’t standalone. For best results, you’ll need a way to sync your marketing automation software to your CRM, e-commerce site, or additional databases. Integration and customization is an important aspect of ensuring successful marketing automation and a shorter sales cycle.

A CRM

Building on the above distinction, one of the more confusing aspects of marketing automation is how it’s different from a customer relationship management (CRM) tool. Though the two are complementary, they each have a different purpose, and can help the other reach full potential.

CRMs are used by sales departments to collect data about customers, manage new customers, and evaluate sales opportunities. Marketing automation software is then powered by the information collected through your CRM. It can act on the information in a CRM database to nurture relationships and move prospects down the sales funnel. This allows your sales team to focus on only the most qualified, sales-ready leads, instead of dealing with customers who are in the very beginning stages of evaluating a solution.

A Way to Advertise

Marketing automation doesn’t mean pushing advertisements to your customers. It’s actually the opposite. Inbound marketing is focused on being found, not promoting yourself. This means you need to give value to your potential customers. They should come to you because you’ve provided targeted, relevant content that makes their lives easier. In other words, they need to trust you. This method doesn’t work if you’re blasting every prospect with the same message. For marketing automation to work, you first need high quality content.

The Benefits of Marketing Automation Software

As you can see, marketing automation software has a lot of moving parts. Most businesses are at least familiar with a few of the individual marketing practices. This can cause a lot of confusion since companies may be executing a few of the practices while not actually experiencing marketing automation. But marketing automation doesn’t have to be confusing. Simply by providing content that’s relevant to your customers’ interests, you build relationships in a meaningful, scalable way that helps your business grow and succeed.

About the Author

Jenna Puckett is a junior technology analyst at TechnologyAdvice. She covers topics related to gamification, employee performance, and other emerging tech trends. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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