If you've heard of marketing automation or are just now starting to uncover what makes it "all the rave" within the sales & marketing community, this article will be a wonderful introduction for you.
And it's fortunate that you stopped by because your buyers' habits are changing...dramatically. They seek out and find answers to their problems instantly, on their terms and "where they live" online. This shift has put a serious dent in traditional sales and marketing operations, forcing sellers to become more agile, adaptive and personal in their approach. And thus, marketing automation was born.
Here's what we'll cover in the article below:
- 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, it's a tool that allows its users to significantly improve the management of their online marketing. The keyword is "management," because marketing automation is not a "set it and forget it" type of tool. It simply provides you all the resources you need to become much more effective at marketing your company online.
Most importantly, it needs to be integrated and managed by an in-house resource or by an agency. Otherwise, you'll end up with a mix-match of messy automated activities that deliver zero value to your buyers and negative value to your bottom line.
What are Common Marketing Automation Features?
Most vendors bundle their automation features together differently. Some may offer more (such as HubSpot Services), some less.
Most 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:
1. Changes in buyer behavior.
The music industry acts as a wonderful example of the changes in buyer behavior.
Believe it or not, there was once 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? We could only listen to what labels wanted us to listen to and buy what they wanted us to buy. The process of buying new music was incredibly linear and ultimately controlled by the major music labels.
...then the Internet arrived on the scene.
Now, listeners can find virtually everything from a young girl singing into a karaoke machine at the mall to the latest "secret" release of major pop artists. We, as buyers, now control the way in which we consume music -- no longer subjected to limited options, interruptive marketing techniques or even regulations in pricing.
And guess what? Your buyers are no different.
They can access what they want, when they want, and in almost any medium they choose to access it in.
2. Changes in marketing methodology.
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 referred to as "inbound marketing" or even "content marketing," and marketing automation is frequently the driving force behind them.
Marketing automation tools provide marketers and business owners the ability to reach, educate and interact with their buyers on a consistent (and more personalized) basis via social media, email, personalized web content and lead nurturing programs.
3. Changes within the market, itself.
With the advent of digital marketing, came the ability for Dave's Health Food Store to compete with Whole Foods in regards to access to their buyer's attention. While Whole Foods could clearly outspend Dave's, it doesn't negate the fact that they both have access to the marketing arena and nearly the same access to advanced marketing tools.
This has the simultaneous affects of being good for businesses by leveling the playing field, and bad for businesses by increasing competition...even perhaps commoditizing certain markets.
What are the Most Popular Marketing Automation Tools?
At $1.9 Billion with a estimated growth to $5.5 Billion by 2019, the marketing automation industry has 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 real capabilities are prior to purchasing any of these solutions as the features, prices, integration capabilities and learning curves vary for all of them.
Marketing automation is a substantial investment in time and resources but the payoffs can be huge.
It's an excellent tool to positively impact your buyer's journey, optimize your use of marketing (and sales) resources and accurately measure your results so that you can develop actionable strategies with the data.
If you want to dive in deeper, I recommend checking out these 3 websites for objective marketing automation comparison.
Once you're done reviewing them, be sure to weigh the solutions against your own budget, resources and objectives.