Marketing Automation – what it is and why you need it!
What is Marketing Automation?
A method and technology, usually in the form of web application “software as a service” (SaaS), which is typically applied to online digital marketing, although it can also be applied to certain offline marketing activities. As the name implies, marketing automation software helps you to use the ever increasing power of computers and software to manage a large part of your marketing activities without the need for human control over or involvement in every small task. In fact according to Gartner Research, by 2020 customers will manage 85% of their relationships without talking to a human! Needless to say this can allow a small team to accomplish far more than was ever possible before when such tasks were done manually. Naturally even a big teams can also do much more than before, which is why marketing automation is so popular now amongst larger “enterprise” companies.
A common misunderstanding is that it applies just to the automation of email marketing which, while certainly a very large part of the puzzle, is in reality just one channel that can and should be automated. There is no good reason for automation not to be equally applied to social media marketing as well, for example, or even SMS marketing for that matter.
Another common mistake is assuming it applies just to the sending of messages (emails, tweets or SMS…) however it is most effective when combined with data gathering about prospects as they move through the funnel across various channels and analytics generated on that data – knowledge is power after all and the more the system knows about a visitor and a subscriber or lead, the better able it is to target them with the most appropriate message at the most suitable time to ensure increased customer engagement and conversions.
A properly setup marketing automation tool will help acquire new prospects with content marketing and social media marketing (amongst others), present them with the most relevant content on your own site, blog, social networks and email lists, engage them with smart triggered actions (see below), build a relationship and ultimately bring the previously anonymous prospect to the point of being a hot lead ready for your sales team to swoop in and close the deal or even go straight to the sale and beyond if you have a low-touch automated sales process hooked in as well.
This may all sound great in theory but the devil is in the details, so read on for more about how it works, how all the components fit together and how you can best benefit from this technology…
Prospects & Lead Acquisition
Prospects in this context refers to those visitors to your site, blog or even social profiles and are for the most part anonymous when they first arrive – they are not yet customers or actual leads, they have not subscribed to any mailing list or registered to any of your properties in any form yet. On the other hand Leads are those formerly known as prospects who have now subscribed in some way, usually involving providing you with their email address (or sometimes another form of contact details) so that you have a way to reach out to them at any time, rather than depending on them taking action to contact or interact with you or your systems.
Leads are of course considerably more valuable than Prospects as they are already on their way through your carefully crafted funnel, heading towards a sale at some point, or so you hope. Of course Leads don’t appear out of thin air and must first arrive as Prospects and these have to be acquired from somewhere, somehow. While not a magical solution capable of conjuring prospects and leads from thin air, marketing automation tools do usually either provide methods and systems for attracting prospects such as with inbound marketing tactics including content marketing, or integrate with other solutions such as paid acquisition (ad networks), or in an ideal world a combination of inbound and outbound along with all sorts of clever “growth hacks”.
Companies that automate lead management see a 10% or greater increase in revenue in 6-9 months. (Gartner Research)
Converting your prospects into leads is where some of the magic really happens with automation tools and this happens by closely monitoring the prospects behavior as they navigate through and interact with your site and your carefully crafted content and effectively learning what they are most interested in, building as detailed a profile as possible which can then be used for targeting them with personalized content on the web initially and later by email or other formats. This kind of automated personalized engagement makes a huge difference to conversion rates and would be almost impossible to do manually even on a small scale but with automation you can scale up massively with almost no effort, once the system has been setup appropriately for your requirements.
Buying traffic or paying to promote your content to give your marketing campaign a boost is commonly done as everyone knows and these things can also be integrated with marketing automation platforms in various ways. All it takes is a suitable API on both sides and a little bit of coding to connect it all together and you’re ready to boost or amplify your content across the social networks and many other audience magnets.
Marketers are forecasted to spend $27.6 billion on display advertising by 2016. (WebStrategiesInc)
Combine with analytics, split testing and prospect tracking and you soon have a powerful lead acquisition channel working alongside your other acquisition channels in your marketing automation tool.
It has long been said that “content is king” and that has never been more true than today where content marketing is proving to be a powerful force in generating traffic and leads for pretty much every business online. With Google forever changing the rules for getting indexed and ranked well, marketers and content creators are continuously upping their game in order to stay competitive. Articles and ebooks are getting longer and more in-depth, infographics are being churned out by the million, countless hours of professional quality video and podcasts are produced and all of it is shared on social networks, re-purposed into many other formats and shared again and again. The content marketing machine is a hungry beast which needs feeding regularly and in copious quantities!
Marketers spend over 25% of their marketing budget on content marketing. (B2B Marketing Insider)
Does it work though? Is it worth the not insignificant effort (and cost) to produce all this quality content? It surely does work and it is worth it! In fact, 67% more leads per month are generated by companies who blog, according to Social Media B2B and 86% of B2C marketers use content marketing.
There are many excellent guides to content marketing which can be found online these days and if you’re serious about it you should read them all and apply all the tips & tricks they describe. One “trick” which you will come across frequently is so called Content Curation which simply means finding relevant content and republishing/sharing or using it as the basis for new content – for example you could create a Tweet about a great piece of content you found on Moz and share that with your followers and so that Tweet is itself new content published by you. You could even create a whole new article which links to multiple curated articles and then share that – you are adding value to your users and to the original publisher of the content you curate – everyone’s a winner!
Basically you are finding, filtering and sharing content which other people produce (with appropriate link/reference to the original of course). This solves one of the great problems of content marketing for a small business which is how on earth to create enough content with your limited resources. Your audience craves more than you could ever create so you simply share with them great content found elsewhere which both supports your position and is useful to your customers.
Finding such content is easiest when using a content curation tool which helps you to cut through the clutter and see only what is most relevant and useful, whether it be blog articles, forum posts or even tweets.
Once you’ve created or curated suitable content, the issue then becomes how to distribute it to your followers and the wider world and this is again where automation tools come into play. Content can be scheduled for posting and reposting, shared across multiple networks at the appropriate time (for example you may not want to publish content at the weekend or on certain holidays or significant dates) to the most suitable audience who are most likely to be interested in what you share or publish, and all of it done pretty much without human intervention once it has been initially setup and added to the content library.
Isn’t technology wonderful? 😉
A huge feature of any marketing automation system is the scoring of leads, and by scoring I don’t mean the acquiring of leads, I mean creating a numerical score representing the quality and stage the lead is at in the funnel. In other words the higher the lead score, the more likely they are to convert to a sale, at least in theory – a low score is a cold lead (or sometimes just someone that is not at all relevant to you) who needs more nurturing and a high score is a hot lead, ready for the sales team to move in for the kill, as it were, perhaps through integration with your existing sales automation tools.
Lead scoring provides an ROI of 138% versus companies that don’t score leads. (MarketingSherpa)
Scores are calculated on various factors, demographics for example or job title, and incremented by events such as viewing a particular page, subscribing to a list, downloading an ebook, clicking a link in an email, etc etc. There are countless events that could be tracked and triggered and which can automatically increment (or even decrement) the lead score.
This automated scoring of potential (and actual) customers is a key factor in the ability provided by marketing automation software to remove the human element while still appearing to be human and then re-adding the human later in the funnel when the chance of successfully closing a deal is considerably higher.
Lead Engagement & Nurturing
Leads don’t magically become buyers all on their own, even though it may seem like it when using automation tools. Leads require constant care and nurturing and a relationship between you and your leads will need to be cultivated to ensure it bears fruit in the end. Leads are people too and people like to be engaged and informed and even sometimes entertained, so your job is to provide that engagement and inform or entertain them. You can do this for example with the aforementioned created or curated content, delivered to them through your web site, social channels and of course by email, at the right time and preferably specifically targeted to the individual lead.
Companies that excel at lead nurturing generate 50% more sales-ready leads at 33% lower cost. (Forrester Research)
You must give them real value, a reason for them to remain a subscriber to your mailing lists, a reason for them to actually be a lead in your system. Proper lead nurturing will provide an eager audience which is keen to see your latest content and receive whatever message you wish to send them and when the right time comes, such as when their lead score dictates, they will be considerably more receptive to your offer and much more likely to take that final step to progress from lead to paying customer.
Who has time to do all this nurturing manually and at scale? Basically nobody. Fortunately marketing automation and email automation excel at this particular task and once configured and populated with content (articles, tweets and emails) it is pretty much ‘set & forget’ so you can get on with other important tasks and only manually interact with the lead when they are sales-ready.
Imagine how much more efficient and effective your business can be when all these time consuming tasks are taken care of for you by “the machine”! Your conversions will actually increase and at the same time, customer experience will be dramatically enhanced.
Clearly blasting out emails to all your leads with entirely the same content is not going to produce the best results and there is a need to implement better targeting for any email campaign. This is why segmentation is required – assigning leads to segments or lists which are more narrowly focused allows you to easily send the most relevant content to your leads which naturally results in much improved customer satisfaction and increased conversion rates.
Segmentation can be demographic, psycho-graphic, behavioral or based on some other factor and leads can of course exist in multiple segments or lists at the same time. Leads can easily be assigned or segmented automatically using triggers (see below) and also in the same way, moved between lists based on all kinds of events and actions they perform.
If it doesn’t have triggers of some kind it isn’t really automation in the strictest sense – this is really the icing on the cake. Being able to create a trigger which activates based on an event or user action, for example when a lead visits a specific page, reads an article, downloads an ebook, views an email, clicks a link in that email, uses a certain feature within your application, unsubscribes from your lists, upgrades to paid, downgrades, complains about something, asks for help, gets help, closes their account or who knows what else.. the trigger can then perform some predefined action, such as sending an email, posting a tweet, displaying a customized web widget, adding the lead to another list or segment etc.
Event-triggered marketing can potentially save 80% of your direct mail budget. (Gartner Research)
The possibilities are endless with triggers and it is the secret sauce which automatically engages leads, builds that important relationship, pitches your customized offers at the optimal time and manages the customer experience across all your channels including web, email and social without any manual intervention until it is actually needed – not too soon and never too late!
Tracking & Analytics
In order to fully know what a prospect and lead is doing, what they are interested in, when they are ready to receive your next offer and what exactly that offer should be, you need tracking and analytics.
Additionally you can track email opens and clicks on any links in those emails, allowing you to measure the effectiveness of your email marketing campaigns. Similarly lead activity across social networks can be tracked, for example clicks on any links you post on Twitter.
Senior marketing leaders in 2014 feel that analytical orientation will become a more important skill for CMOs to possess in the future, while creativity will become less of a priority. (MarketingCharts)
Knowing which channels, which landing pages, which emails, which content is performing best is of course critical to success and growth hacking is rather hard to do without the statistics to show what works. This means split testing (A/B testing or Multivariate testing) is an essential component of the analytics functionality in marketing automation, whether it be a built-in feature or via an integrated 3rd party service.
Well defined, tracked and analyzed split testing of all aspects of your marketing campaigns will enable you to growth hack to your hearts content!
Conversion to Buyer
At the end of the day, assuming you’re a business with the intention of making a profit (or at least not losing money!), what you really need is your prospects to convert to leads and your leads to eventually convert to actual buyers and the sooner the better!
Traditionally there are all sorts of tips & tricks commonly applied and utilized to help convince a lead to convert to a sale, pitching special discounts at certain times for example, pricing strategies which can not only increase the number of sales but also the amount earned per sale and these strategies (and many more) can easily be automated.
Average website conversion for companies with defined processes is more than twice that of companies without. (CMO Essentials)
With automated processes for managing the engagement and relationship building, as mentioned above, along with lead scoring and triggers to pitch the right offers at the right time and bring in the sales team when the lead is hot, that precious conversion is far more likely to be obtained and at a higher rate than without a marketing automation system.
Customer Experience Management
Much has been said so far about using marketing automation software to increase conversions from leads to buyers and to build relationships and engage with leads, however it actually goes much further than that. One of the great killers of startups is user churn – when your startup is losing customers at a faster rate that you are able to acquire them, you are surely in big trouble!
Remember that a startup is only a startup when there is growth and some would say that retention is the biggest factor in startup growth because if you can reduce churn while maintaining new sales, you will grow nicely and it’s much cheaper to keep hold of existing customers than it is to buy new ones!
It’s easy to see how maintaining relationships can reduce churn and contribute massively to growth – happy customers stick around, those who are not so happy will be looking for the first opportunity to jump ship and there is always another competitor around the corner who will be happy to take your customers off your hands. However it’s not just about keeping hold of your existing customers – they are effectively a captive audience and as long as you continue to deliver value there is no reason you cannot sell to them again and again over the long term.
From repeat sales to up-sells and cross-sells, marketing automation provides many opportunities to significantly boost revenues earned from your customers and so properly managing the relationship with your existing customers is essential and again it is something which can easily be automated to a great extent without losing any of the ‘personal touch’ and in fact improving on that aspect in the process!
Besides the above mentioned benefits of managing customer experience, an added benefit is that happy customers also make you happy as well – happiness is contagious and spreads through your company, inspiring and motivating all involved, which results in even more productivity and a better product and service for your customers, which makes them even more happy – round and round it goes. As if that wasn’t enough, happy customers talk highly of you and as everyone knows, word of mouth marketing is pure gold!
Nothing online exists in a vacuum or in isolation, or at least it should not and that includes marketing technology. There are literally thousands of great marketing tools out there (see the epic image below by ChiefMartec – if you look closely you will even see Womplify in there!) these days with point solutions doing just about everything imaginable and many things you probably never would have thought of, along with suites or platform solutions such as Marketo, Hubspot, Pardot, Eloqua and of course Womplify, which provide a large number of integrated marketing functions.
Clearly there’s a vast market for niche tools but equally clearly there is no possible way for a platform to do everything currently done by the huge array of point solutions. So what should be done? Nobody really wants to have to go to 50 different sites or SaaS applications to do their marketing and having all that precious data in isolated silos is not doing anyone any good so the answer is simply integration.
It is common for SaaS applications these days to have an API and a good marketing automation solution also needs to have have a robust and complete API to fully enable integration of 3rd party systems, along with the important business data produced there, to ensure maximum benefit for any business that relies on such tools. Being able to import and export your data, hooking in your CRM software, Helpdesk, CMS, SEO, advertising networks, sales automation and much more, turns your marketing platform into an extremely powerful tool that you won’t ever want to live without once you’ve begun working with it!
Integration allows you to extend and enhance your marketing efforts far beyond what was previously possible and facilitates efficiently and effectively scaling up way above anything you could do before without a large team and bottomless pit of financial resources.
Being able to integrate your favourite marketing tools with a marketing automation solution is great of course, but there’s more that can be done here. If your automation is limited to the predefined triggers and functions provided by your chosen automation solution, you will soon start to hit walls and find yourself unable to do the more creative or advanced marketing that you need to do to stay ahead of the competition.
Frequently Asked Questions About Marketing Automation
Is it really affordable?
What counts as affordable will vary and if you’re a small business then spending $20k/year or more on marketing automation is not likely to be something you’d consider affordable. Fortunately there are affordable alternatives to the expensive “enterprise” type systems out there and Womplify is one such.
Is it for SMBs?
There are marketing systems which specifically target the SMB market, including our own, so indeed yes it is for SMBs of any kind and will work well in a small business.
Is it for Startups?
A marketing automation solution which is designed for small business is ideal for startups, at any stage of their lifecycle, even pre-launch. You can never begin your startup marketing efforts too soon!
Is it for freelancers & solopreneurs?
As above, an SMB solution is certainly suitable for freelancers and in fact I would argue that marketing automation is ideally suited to exactly such a business by its very nature since it automates tasks which previously took a lot of manpower. Being able to automate your lead acquisition and engagement allows you to scale up your business dramatically!
Does it integrate with in-house systems?
Certainly a system with an API such as Womplify can easily integrate with your own in-house systems to whatever level you desire.
Does it send newsletters?
Typically a large part of marketing automation is sending emails to subscribers or customers and generally that also means that you could indeed send newsletters or any other type of email required but it is not exclusively newsletter software. However doing so based on triggers which are activated by user activity or their stage in your funnel, is a great way to ensure they get the most relevant message at the right time. Drip emails or autoresponders along with all the personalization and automation features make for an all round powerful engagement solution.
Is it just e-mail marketing?
It allows you to do e-mail marketing and it is commonly associated with email marketing automation but it is not limited to that task and can operate across multiple channels. You can use it for sending your email newsletter as easily as sharing on social networks for example.
Does it automate social marketing?
Social media marketing is a great way to acquire new leads who are interested in what you have to offer and managing social network profiles and marketing commonly falls within the sphere of marketing automation software.
Does it require dedicated staff?
That depends entirely on how big your operation is and how much you want to invest in your marketing – it is not required to have dedicated staff but it certainly doesn’t hurt to have someone who can make sure you’re getting the most from your marketing technology investment.
Is it complicated?
That varies depending on the specific product or platform, some do indeed have a reputation for complexity, but there is nothing that can’t be learned and an intuitive interface with good documentation and a little experience will soon have you mastering it. We like to think Womplify is a system that can be quickly mastered and in fact you can be up and running with it in a matter of minutes, however we also provide a FREE setup service!
Is it for Content Marketing?
These days the importance of Content Marketing is widely known and its role in lead acquisition is clear – it works brilliantly! But content needs to be delivered to the right people or in other words to prospects and leads and so naturally marketing automation is front and center of that effort. There are plenty of other tools around that are also used in some way for content marketing and many of those can be integrated with marketing automation platforms.
Is it for SEO?
A large part of content marketing involves search engine optimization – you are creating optimized content which is distributed in various channels to attract traffic there and search engines are just one more place where people go to find information – content.
Does it do Inbound Marketing?
Whether you call it Inbound or Permission Marketing it is certainly a method you can employ with such a tool – you are publishing content to attract prospects who, hopefully, then give you their email address so that you can send them relevant and requested content. The exact use case is down to your own preferences at the end of the day but it is not exclusively inbound (or outbound) unless you want it to be.
Is it for B2B Marketing?
It is as good for B2B marketing as it is for B2C marketing – whichever field you work in, the automation will work equally well.
Do I really need it?
Only you can be the judge of that, however the common wisdom suggests that you probably do and there are countless studies to be found online which show increased conversions and greater efficiency and effectiveness through using marketing automation tools. Not using automation for your marketing and customer engagement activities is akin to leaving money on the table.
If you made it this far, you should know a whole lot more about marketing automation than when you started (unless of course you already knew a whole lot about it!) and your mind is probably brimming with the possibilities and opportunities within your grasp, just as soon as you get your chosen automation tool configured and ready to roll.
Do you want to increase your conversions? Do you want to acquire more leads? Do you want to be more efficient and more effective with all your digital marketing? Do you want your customers to be more satisfied? Do you want to reduce churn?
Do you want powerful and programmable marketing automation to make your marketing truly limitless??