If you've heard of marketing automation or are just now starting to uncover what makes it a "must-have" within the inbound marketing and sales community, this article will be a wonderful introduction for you.
I'd also add that it's fortunate you stopped by because your buyers' habits are changing...dramatically.
They seek out and find answers to their questions or problems instantly, on their terms and "where they live" online. This shift has put a serious dent in traditional sales and marketing operations, forcing companies to become more agile, adaptive and personal in their approach.
Thus, in an effort to efficiently and measurably align these efforts with the demands of today's buyer behavior, marketing automation was born.
Here's what we'll cover in this introductory article:
- What marketing automation is.
- Why it's critical to your lead generation and conversion rates.
- Who the primary vendors are.
- Resources to help you get started
Let's begin with what marketing automation is.
What is Marketing Automation?
Wikipedia, as in most cases, offers a solid definition of marketing automation:
"...software platforms and technologies designed for marketing departments and organizations to more effectively market on multiple channels online (such as email, social media, websites, etc.) and automate repetitive tasks."
Basically, marketing automation is a tool that allows its users to significantly improve the management of their online marketing strategies at scale.
The keyword here is "management," since marketing automation software is not a "set it and forget it" platform you can purchase impulsively off of the Home Shopping Network - it simply provides the tools (and in most cases, data) you need to more efficiently and effectively manage your marketing program.
In most cases, the automation platform will be integrated with other business software and managed by an in-house marketing professional or by a marketing agency specializing in the platform (much like we do with our HubSpot Services).
Otherwise, you'll end up with a software platform crowded with disorganized and often conflicting automated activities that only add more friction within the buyer's journey, as opposed to reducing it in order to drive increased revenue.
What are Common Marketing Automation Features?
Most vendors bundle their automation features together differently.
Some may offer a more comprehensive set of features and some may be less feature-rich, but almost all of them will provide the following base set of features:
- Email Templates and Automated Publishing
- Social Media Integration w/ Automated Publishing
- Content Management System (CMS - for simplified managing/editing of web pages)
- Contact Database Management
- Metrics and Reporting Features
- Customer Relationship Management Integration (CRM - like SalesForce, SugarCRM, etc)
These features are primarily packaged within a Software as a Service (SaaS), subscription based offering -- something more and more CMOs are becoming familiar with.
Why Use Marketing Automation?
While there are dozens of reasons companies might choose to adopt marketing automation solutions, here are the 3 most common motivations:
Marketing Automation Helps Companies Align Growth Goals with Buyer Goals
The music industry acts as a wonderful example of the changes in buyer behavior.
Most of us can recall a time when the only way you could listen to new music would be to hear it on the radio or purchase it in a record store. These limited channels of promotion and consumption meant demand generation and sales were tightly controlled by the major record labels.
Fans could only listen to what the major labels chose to expose them to, and thus, buy what they wanted them to buy.
Then the Internet arrived, and later, a massive industry disruptor known as Napster.
Now, music enthusiasts can find virtually anything they want at any time. From a young, budding superstar singing into a karaoke machine at the mall, to an unauthorized "leaked" album by their favorite pop artist, fans (buyers) now control the way in which they discover and consume music.
Most musicians were quick to adapt to this shift, survive, and even thrive. But the major labels, along with a few stubborn artists (see Metallica vs. Napster debacle), remained adamant they could maintain control over the uncontrolable, costing them dearly.
Just like music fans, your buyers have increasingly transparent access to what they want, when they want, in almost any medium they choose.
Perhaps there's something professional marketers could stand to learn from musicians after all.
Marketing Automation Adapts to Changes in Marketing Methodologies
Modern marketing has adapted to these new buying trends out of sheer necessity - seeking to become authorities, educators and facilitators rather than self-centered broadcasters or manipulators.
This newer form of marketing is often referred to as "inbound marketing" in which marketing automation software is frequently the driving force.
Automation platforms provide marketers and business owners the ability to reach, educate and interact with their buyers on a consistent, more personalized basis via social media, email, web content and integrated lead nurturing programs.
Marketing Automation Levels the Playing Field
With the advent of digital marketing, came the ability for Dave's Health Food Store to compete with Whole Foods for their shared buyer's attention.
While Whole Foods could clearly outspend Dave's, it doesn't negate the fact that they both have ample opportunity to connect with local buyers utilizing advanced marketing tools.
Interestingly enough, the agility marketing automation (and other technologies) presents can be a boon for businesses by leveling the competitive playing field, though, simultantously, it can also be bad for businesses by potentially commoditizing their services and goods due to competitor market saturation and eventual "price wars."
If there's anything Ross Ashby's 1st Law of Cybernetics has taught us about the world (see Law of Requisite Variety), it's that only those who remain more flexible than their environment can control or influence that environment.
In short, if you don't consistently observe and adapt...you lose.
What are the Most Popular Marketing Automation Tools?
With the marketing automation industry's growth is expected to top $5.5 Billion by 2019, the tools, features and overall market demand have been exploding.
There are dozens and dozens of providers now and choosing between them can often be a headache (see resources below).
A few of the most popular players in this industry are...
- HubSpot (currently the #1 solution in the world)
- Oracle Marketing Cloud (aka Eloqua)
- Pardot (a SalesForce product)
You'll want to do your research on what business needs you're looking to meet and what your actual capabilities are prior to purchasing any of these solutions.
The features, prices, integration capabilities and learning curves vary for all of them.
Further Research on Marketing Automation
If you want to dive in deeper, I recommend checking out these 3 resources to review and compare marketing automation software.
Once you're done reviewing them, be sure to weigh the solutions against your own budget, resources and objectives.
And remember, marketing automation implementation and management does require an investment in time and resources, but the payoffs can be (and often are) substantial. Use it to positively impact your buyer's journey, optimize your use of marketing (and sales) resources, and accurately measure your performance to acheive the leaner, smarter growth you're looking for.