Marketing automation: a comprehensive guide

Marketing has been a practice for decades. Irrespective of the kind of good or service you are trying to sell, everybody needs marketing. The term ‘marketing’ was added to dictionaries in 1897, and today, over a century later, it’s still as strong as ever. 

As the world has evolved, so has marketing. With technological advancement and an abundance of data, repetitive manual efforts can be eliminated, and you can learn a lot more about your audience. 75% of marketers already use marketing automation tools of one kind or the other, and the number continues to thrive. 

Here's an extensive guide to learn all about marketing automation. Let's start with the definition.

What is marketing automation?

Many tasks fall under the scope of marketing - communicating with prospects, developing relationships, understanding their behavior, and pushing them through the sales funnel to convert as a customer. Marketing automation is, simply put, software that simplifies those hundreds of tasks and makes the life of a marketer easy. 

Marketing automation software is designed to automate marketing processes and campaigns across channels and streamline the most time-consuming tasks. It makes it possible for you to deliver a personalized experience to your audience and keep customers for life.

Different types (components) of marketing automation

 

Marketing automation automates all your marketing tasks. Under the ambit of this term are a wide array of capabilities. It can combine the power of multiple tools into one centralized dashboard and ranges from simple features to advanced features that manage your entire marketing funnel end-to-end. Here are some of the different marketing automation features:

Email marketing

Most marketing automation tools include email marketing. It is essentially sending and setting email campaigns and analyzing their performance.

Workflow automation

An essential component, workflow automation allows you to automate all your business processes and minimize human tasks across the customer journey.

Lead management

This feature allows marketers to automate the process of acquiring leads, nurturing them, and qualifying them through the sales funnel.

Content management

Content management tools allow you to manage, create, and modify digital content, to help out with inbound activities like SEO and website creation.

Project management

Typically used in conjunction with other marketing automation capabilities, this lets you see every project throughout every stage, seamlessly.

Customer relationship management

CRM starts where marketing leaves off. It helps automate sales processes and works best when integrated with a marketing automation tool.

Analytics and visualization

All that data we collect as marketers is put together to identify patterns and get a clearer understanding of your funnels and audience.

Social media automation

For all social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, advertisements, and more, this lets you schedule posts and provide context to the interactions on social media

Business intelligence

A business intelligence tool consolidates all the data across a plethora of tools to get deeper insights into your customers and brand. Basically, a centralized data platform (CDP).

What does marketing automation do exactly?

 

Marketing automation is a combination of tools or capabilities designed to streamline some of the repetitive and thus time-consuming responsibilities of marketers and salespeople. It is created to simplify the growing complexities of marketing in a scaling company. 

The ideal marketing automation tool for you would be one that has all the required features, but there are a few fundamental concepts that form the bedrock of marketing automation:

Running marketing campaigns

All marketers know that a cohesive and well-thought-out communication strategy is central to all your efforts to increase revenue. Whether the campaign is one via email, SMS, Facebook, Instagram, or the likes, what is critical is that you communicate with your audience at the right time and the right place. Marketing automation makes it easy for you to set up all the messaging in place with marketing campaigns.

Organizing and storing data

The precursor to every marketing automation system is the data you have collected. Wildly successful results achieved through the implementation of marketing automation owe their success to the clever use of this customer data. Data is often stored in different systems within your company. The power of combining these disparate databases is tremendous. Marketing, sales, and even customer support team databanks can generate 360-degree profiles of customers, allowing a marketing automation tool to create highly personalized and relevant campaigns.

Setting up workflows 

A workflow can be defined as a list of automated tasks or processes that are to be done to convert a lead into a customer-for-life. These tasks and processes are generally trigger-based and thus lead to a contextual, relevant, and timely response to customer actions. Rather than having manual one-on-one discussions with all of your subscribers, workflows send personalized communication based on customer actions or behavior.

Mapping the customer journey and touchpoints

A purchase may be the pinnacle of achievement, but it rarely ever exists in isolation. There are many interactions with your brand that eventually lead to that purchase. This progression is known as the customer journey, and every interaction your customer has with your brand - online or offline- is called a touchpoint. Using marketing automation, you need to ensure the best possible interactions across these journeys, because one gap in the touchpoint could make or break a deal.

So how is marketing automation different from CRM?

On the surface, a marketing automation software appears to be indistinguishable from CRM software. They seem to serve the same - delighting customers- using a deft combination of automation and customer data. Similar to the difference between marketing and sales, the difference between a MAS and a CRM are subtle. 

Even though sales and marketing are often used in the same breath, and sometimes mean the same thing, they are different activities that take place at various stages of the customer lifecycle. Let’s consider an organizational funnel, where raw leads are at the top, and conversions are at the bottom. 

Marketing typically targets the raw leads and helps to qualify them to the point at which the sales team would take over. The sales team would then take these qualified leads and convert them into customers, and then push them further along the roads of purchase and beyond. 

It is true that a CRM software stores customer data, just like a marketing automation software does. In fact, it goes a step further and stores interactions with customers as well, giving salespeople more precious insights into individual customers by maintaining a detailed history and timeline along with their profiles. However, in the case of marketing automation, customer profiles and data are rarely ever the starting point. The main takeaway of a marketing automation software is to create campaigns and communicate, whereas for a CRM is to complete deals and maintain customer relationships. 

Note: Each system is slowly absorbing the functionality of the other. Deploying a CRM software and marketing automation tool separately leads to data leaks, which disrupts customer interaction. Taking care of two different tools to manage data is also a laborious task. Freshworks CRM brings marketing and sales together and provides a unified approach to data management - one centralized data system for all your customers

Benefits of marketing automation

 

Any marketing automation tool makes life very easy for us marketers to set up those repetitive manual processes once and focus more on strategizing, analyzing, and optimizing our marketing campaigns. Here are the main benefits of marketing automation:

Promotes efficiency

Manually communicating with all your leads and prospects individually while your business grows, is practically and humanly impossible. Your audience will all be in different stages of their buyer’s journey, and personalized conversations are what every consumer is looking for. Automation makes sure that these emails and communications can be set on autopilot, regardless of which stage the customer is at. It also removes any scope of human error, increases in the speed of doing the same work, thereby making a marketer’s job more efficient and effective.

Higher productivity

Now that many of your tasks are automated, and the marketing automation tool has eliminated a lot of human efforts, it frees up a lot of your time to focus on more critical tasks. You can move on to complex tasks and issues, and leave all technical process-based woes to the marketing automation system. Make a more significant impact and be a more productive marketer and also push it to the salespeople. In fact, marketing automation increased sales productivity by 14.5%.

Centralized Database

You collect a lot of customer data via touchpoints like emails, website visits, in-app behavior, social media, and so on. All of this helps you create a 360-degree overview of each customer, and all of it is available in one data hub. A marketing automation tool would have contact demographics, behavior, purchase/shopping history, interests, and more relevant information in one centralized area.

Better decision making

With all that data that is available in your system, you can understand your customers, your funnels, and processes better. You can identify patterns and segment your customers on a granular level, build better campaigns, and, therefore, relationships that convert more. This helps in making better and more informed marketing decisions.

More scalability

Let’s take an instance where you are sending an email campaign to 10 of your first ever leads. You have the bandwidth to be able to have a one-on-one conversation with each of them and create a personal relationship. It’s easy. But as the number of customers increases, the ease decreases, the tedium increases, and so does the possibility of making mistakes. A manual system is not scalable. It’s imperative for you to set up a marketing automation system to grow more.

Personalize the customer journey

We have moved on from one-size-fit-all marketing strategy and communication. Everybody wants to receive personalized messaging, which makes personalization vital to effective lead nurturing. A marketing automation tool is better equipped to create dynamic/personalized communication, which is contextual to the customers’ interactions and behavior. A personalized customer journey enhances customer acquisition and increases retention too.

Evident return on investment

As your business scales, it’s not cost-effective to manually communicate and keep track of your audience. A marketing automation tool that has all the data will also display all the information in terms of conversions, purchases made, revenue earned, etc., with every campaign. With all this information available, you can see the ROI of your campaigns and the software that you are investing in too.

These are just some of the most common benefits of a marketing automation tool. There is a lot that comes with using a marketing automation tool, but they differ for the type of system you are using and the goals you are trying to achieve. The fundamental objective is that it aids you in lifecycle marketing.

What is customer lifecycle marketing?

 

As the name suggests, it is marketing throughout the lifecycle of the customer. The modern buyer goes through so many touchpoints in their life as a customer and uses a variety of channels. As a marketer, you have to create messaging throughout the lifecycle of the customer, integrating it with a range of marketing channels. Lifecycle marketing is precisely that. 

 

We have been visualizing a buyer’s journey as a funnel for decades. But, the funnel is now obsolete. You cannot predict if a customer will follow the same funnel to convert anymore. That’s when the customer lifecycle came in. 

Attract prospects

With marketing automation, you can identify specific prospects and address them directly with personalized content. Using conversion optimization tools, you can optimize the website experience for all your visitors, and nudge them to leave their information. With social media post scheduling, you can attract more and more prospects. Moreover, you can set up web-forms to acquire more leads.

Create awareness and interest

Not every lead would convert to a paying customer immediately. You have to ensure that they are interested enough to do so. You can educate them with incredible content like ebooks, infographics, reports, free tools, etc., and create immense value. The prospect may be in this stage for days or months, and a marketing automation tool will aid you in targetting them with the right content irrespective.

Convert to customer

After keeping prospects engaged with your automated messaging and if they are interested enough, you can close the sale. With your lead qualification process, you know exactly which stage each prospect is at. This makes prioritizing easy for the salespeople. You can delight the customers by fulfilling your commitments on time and offering more if the need be.

Convert to advocates

The best brand ambassadors are your happy customers. Anybody looking out for your business/brand would always prefer customer reviews than your own words. You can encourage referrals by sending discount coupons and creating incentives for your customers.

The lifecycle never really ends. It keeps going on and on and helps you in keeping a customer for life.

Marketing automation strategies to run successful campaigns (Some best practices)

 

A marketing automation strategy would largely depend on the kind of tool that you are using and the objectives you are trying to attain. A precursor to following a strategy/best practices successfully is to have a marketing automation tool that you are using. Here’s are some of the best practices that you can include in your marketing automation strategy:

Determine your goals and requirements

Before you figure out which marketing automation strategy to follow or software to invest in, you need to know your marketing goals. Ask yourself questions (in this order):

  • What are my short term (1-3 year) and long term (5-10 year) goals?
  • What are the marketing activities required to fulfill these goals?
  • Are any of these activities repetitive in nature or can be automated?
  • Are there any gaps that need to be plugged in my current martech stack?
  • What are the tools in the market that can help me fill the gaps and improve ROI?

When you finalize your goals, you can easily walk backward and take the right steps.

Map your lead stages clearly.

Lead mapping plays a crucial part in your marketing automation process. You need to identify and classify your needs and categorize them as per their maturity stages. Unless you do this, your marketing automation tool wouldn’t be successful. Map your audience into stages like - Raw leads, Viable leads, Marketing qualified leads, Sales accepted leads, sales qualified leads, won (Converted leads), lost leads, so on, and so forth.

With your marketing automation tool, you can create custom fields next to each lead, and conveniently track where they are in the funnel. Setting clear lead stages and qualifiers can completely upturn your marketing automation strategy.

Define the marketing persona.

It is essential to understand who your target audience is. Marketing or buyer personas are imaginary versions that you create of your leads, readers, customers, users, etc. A one-size-fits-all approach is for the 20th century. You have to tend to your audience, and understand with absolute granularity what your ideal customer is like. So, look through your existing customer database or interview your current customers, and create a buyer persona.

Prepare your lead qualification process.

Now that your lead stages are in place and you understand your audience, you must determine a lead qualification threshold. This is also known as lead scoring, which is the process of assigning a score to your audience based on multiple attributes. This will push leads automatically through your marketing automation system and help you prioritize your leads and respond to them accordingly. Attributes like demographics, behavioral actions, company information, etc., will qualify your leads through your lead stages.

Clean your data and segment your audience.

Sometimes people leave false information on your sign-up forms, and sometimes they leave information twice. With thousands of customers, you cannot manually clean your data. Your marketing automation system should eliminate all outdated data. Duplicates must be removed or merged, and fake emails and phone numbers should be verified automatically and removed.

A marketing automation tool can also automate audience segmentation and configure your lists. The audience will be segmented based on their behavior and interactions with your website/product. This will save you a lot of time, and not hamper your marketing goals.

Set up a welcome email series.

There’s a saying that you need to hit the iron while it’s hot. If a website visitor leaves their information, you know they are interested. Sending them an email immediately leaves a lasting impression. Welcome emails are opened 4 times more and clicked on 5 times more than a regular email campaign. If we talk about revenue, then welcome emails generate about 320% more revenue per email as compared to any other promotional email. So set up that welcome-email series today, and let your prospects know that you are thinking about them. Say thank you, provide value with an article or a sign-up reward, or just introduce yourself.

Create a content strategy.

Now that you understand your audience, know which stage of maturity they are at, what they are interested in, and have a lot of more information, you can build a content library. On the basis of what they enjoy reading, you can create new and engaging content. Knowing how far they are along the pipeline, you can write relevant messages designed for different stages of the customer lifecycle. Content is indeed king, and your strategy can make or break your deal.

Build behavior-based workflows.

You cannot manually deliver a contextual experience to all of your customers. That is humanly impossible. With everything that you have put together now, you can create workflows and leverage email drip campaigns. Drip campaigns are a series of emails that are created in advance, and scheduled for a specific time on the basis of your audience’s behavior.

Set them up for different instances like product onboarding, cart abandonment, reminders, transactions, product updates, and more. You need to ensure that your audience gets a contextual and cohesive content experience.

Analyze and Optimize

You have everything you need for an effective marketing automation strategy, but you can’t get it perfectly right in the first go. Marketing is all about experimentation. Use your marketing automation tool to analyze your lists, campaign performance, customer reaction, etc., and optimize your strategy and content accordingly.

How can your teams use marketing automation? 

Marketing team

With marketing automation, you, as a marketer, can automate the entire customer workflow with the help of behavior-based automation. You can set up welcome emails, email drips, onboarding emails, wish them on their special days, create communication to help them self-serve, create awareness with social media posts and scheduling, segment potential customers better, and do a lot more.

Sales team

A marketing automation tool with CRM capabilities or integration will keep both your marketing and sales teams aligned. So far, they have worked in silos, but their objectives are somewhat the same. Your sales team can help customers get the most out of your product by segmenting and targeting them based on their behavior. Sales teams can also prioritize the leads they want to go after, based on lead scoring.

Customer success team 

Your customer success and support teams have to make sure that the customer is delighted using your product. With marketing automation, they can see which customers are unhappy or close to churning, increase response time with personalized emails, and retain customers better. They can also collect customer feedback, which will help in product advocacy and help your marketing team get more leads.

What to look for in marketing automation tool?

 

Marketing automation software comes with multiple capabilities, which is why it is often confused. One tool can combine features from email marketing tools, workflow automation systems, lead management dashboards, content management software, collaboration tools, project management infrastructures, CRM software, analytics, social media automation, business intelligence systems, and a lot more. You need to find the perfect match as per your requirements and the goals that you are trying to achieve. 

While going out and choosing the perfect marketing automation system, you need to look at the following:

Ease of use

There is a lot of effort that goes into adopting any kind of software. You have to ensure that the software you are considering is easy to use and adapt to. Your entire marketing team, along with sales teams sometimes, will be using this tool. Make sure that it is intuitive and explanatory, with a clean dashboard and minimal clutter.

Scalability

You don’t invest in software just to use it as a small business. The software should have capabilities to aid you when you grow. As your contacts and audience grow, the product that you are using needs to adapt and evolve with your business/brand.

Modification and customization

As you grow, this becomes more and more important. A software that you use needs to work as per your requirements, and not vice versa. You should be able to create your own dashboards as per the data you want to see, build custom reports, add your brand colors, and more. It needs to speak to you and your business. Ensure that the tool you are looking at is customizable.

Proper support

A lot of tools provide support only for the premium plans, and have only specific mediums. You might not have an account manager for the plan that you choose. It’s important to find a product with support channels that work for you, and they provide unencumbered support.

Security

Data is one of your most important resources. Your contact information is a big currency in today’s world. Ensure that the marketing automation system takes complete responsibility for your data, and all your information is secure.

Integrations

It is important that the marketing automation software speaks with your entire martech deck, and also with all other tools that you are using. CRM integration is an absolute must. Updating information manually is a thing of a past.

Transparent pricing

A lot of tools have overage costs and hidden pricing. You need to make sure that the tool you choose not only works with what you can afford, but is also absolutely transparent and understandable. 

All the features that you need

You know what you are trying to achieve. Make sure that the software you are ready to invest in, supports all the features you need. It needs to have email marketing, behavior-based workflows, lifecycle marketing, lead capturing, lead scoring, and anything else that you desire. Artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities would always be a big plus.