What is marketing automation?

Marketing your small business effectively might seem time-consuming and overwhelming, but there’s a simple solution within reach, marketing automation.

Automation can improve the efficiency and consistency of your marketing efforts while helping your company thrive and reach goals more quickly. Putting automated tools and processes in place can go a long way in getting your brand name out there and generating leads. 

In this guide, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about marketing automation.

1. What is marketing automation?

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Marketing automation is the technology that helps you create a system to handle your marketing efforts automatically like sending triggered emails using automated workflows, posting on social media, and segmenting customers based on their purchasing preferences, and behavior. This strategy uses marketing automation software to capture leads, build relationships, and guide prospects through the sales funnel.

In most cases, automating your marketing requires basic setup and minimal oversight. That means it frees up valuable time that you can spend on more complex or strategic tasks. Because marketing automation is designed to optimize your results, it can help you achieve even better outcomes than you could accomplish manually.

Marketing Automation is powerful software and processes which make complex and repetitive tasks easy

2. What does marketing automation do?

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Marketing automation offers you a versatile set of tools at your fingertips to help you save time and money in your marketing efforts. From social media and email marketing to PPC and display ads, marketing automation allows your business to save time and improve productivity by simplifying and managing some of your business’s most time-consuming marketing and sales activities.

For example, automation tools let you:

#1. Process customer data. Capturing customer data and updating records in real-time can be tedious and time-consuming. Most automation tools can handle these tasks automatically via a customer relationship management (CRM) tool.

For example, most automation software can collect and process customer names, email addresses, shipping information, business details, and other essential data. They can take input from a contact or lead form and funnel it into a built-in CRM or your existing database.

#2. Qualify leads. When prospective customers first appear on your radar, you don’t always know whether they’ll convert. If you manually qualify leads or assess their interest levels, you could waste countless hours of time and energy. That’s why many marketing automation tools have algorithms that can qualify leads automatically.

For example, many automation tools collect explicit data that prospects provide directly, such as their email addresses. These tools also track the implicit data that prospects provide indirectly, such as the products they view on your website. Then the software uses the rules you’ve set up to identify qualified leads. That way you can focus your energy on customers with more potential.

#3. Nurture prospects. In many cases, prospects aren’t ready to purchase from your company right away. Instead, they may need to see and interact with your website, social media pages, emails, or digital ads several times before converting. Marketing automation allows your company to connect with prospects repeatedly so you can guide them toward a purchase.

For example, your marketing automation software can send emails or prepare ads that target customers who are seriously considering a purchase. By sharing the right content with the right prospects at the right time, you can nurture leads effectively.

#4. Analyze campaign performance. When you want your marketing campaigns to succeed, it’s important to review results regularly. Yet compiling data and drawing conclusions can be an endless task, especially if you approach it manually. That’s why most marketing automation tools have dashboards that let you review performance at a glance.

For example, automation software can instantly calculate the number of new customers or the amount of revenue a campaign has generated. Most automation tools also recommend simple actions you can take or settings you can change to drive even better results.

3. Common marketing automation features

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Depending on the marketing automation software you’ll choose, you’ll have a different set of customization, personalization, and integration features, however, all marketing automation solutions come with some common features for:

Email marketing automation

With automated email marketing, you can send messages to groups of prospects or customers. Every time you send an email, you can collect subscriber data. That means you’ll know who opens each email or clicks on each link. You can also track related information like which website pages your subscribers visit or what content they consume.

As your marketing platform collects this data, it can automatically create customer segments or groups of subscribers who have something in common. Segments may be age, occupation, or interest in a particular type of product. Then the software can send relevant messages to each group, as a result of their activities. These are known as triggered emails. Some of the most common triggered or automated emails include:

  • Welcome emails: Many companies send these emails to new subscribers right after they sign up for a list. Whether your welcome email is a single message or a sequence, it can introduce your brand and tell subscribers what to expect from your company.
  • Milestone emails: Brands often send emails on anniversaries, birthdays, and other important events for subscribers. Your milestone emails can celebrate big days and offer incentives like discounts or coupons.
  • Abandoned cart emails: E-commerce companies typically send these emails automatically when a customer leaves their website before checking out. Your abandoned cart email can encourage customers to complete their purchases or provide a limited-time offer.
  • Referral emails: After a purchase, some companies invite happy customers to refer family and friends. Your referral emails can include extra motivation like a discount or a coupon for both existing and new customers.
Take away: Automated email marketing can help your small business connect with prospects repeatedly and consistently. Interested visitors opt-in to receiving your marketing emails, so you can build warm relationships as you move them closer to making a purchase.. 

Social media automation

With social media automation, you can build an engaged audience and share your company’s content on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other networks. Social media automation lets you efficiently tackle tasks like:

  • Sharing content: You can schedule posts to publish at ideal times on one or more networks. Some automation platforms also let you republish content periodically so you can distribute it more effectively without extra work.
  • Growing your brand: To help you save time, many social media automation tools can engage with your followers automatically. You can create automatic responses for common messages or frequently asked questions.
  • Monitoring mentions: Many automation tools automatically track brand mentions on your social media networks. That means you’ll always know when customers or competitors are talking about your brand, and you never have to miss a conversation.
  • Tracking progress: To help you stay on top of progress toward goals, many software platforms offer reports on your social media performance. You can use this data to further optimize your performance or automate your approach.
Take away: Automated social media marketing helps you increase brand awareness and customer loyalty around the clock. The more prospects engage with your small business on social media, the more content they’ll see, which can lead to brand superfans.

Google Ads Automation

With Google Ads automation, you can easily execute and optimize search engine marketing (SEM) campaigns. Google Ads offers both pay-per-click (PPC) search ads and display ads that can reach an estimated 90% of internet users. Google Ads has several options for automating your SEM strategy:

  • Smart campaigns. These simple ad campaigns take just a few minutes to set up. After you select a goal and enter basic business information, Smart Campaigns run automatically. They require very little management, so you can depend on Google Ads to optimize your ads and get the best possible results.
  • Responsive Search Ads. To set up responsive search ads, simply input a few headlines, ad copy, and image options. Then let Google Ads test out different combinations and find the option that’s most likely to appeal to your target market.
  • Dynamic Ads. To create dynamic ads, enter the URL that you want to advertise. Then allow Google Ads to use material from your website to create ads that resonate with your audience.
  • Automated bidding. It isn’t easy to know how much to bid for a page view, a click, or a conversion. When you choose automated bidding, Google Ads strives to get the results you want for the lowest amount possible so you don’t have to do the math.

Automating your Google Ads can help you drive awareness and generate sales without advanced technical knowledge. Since this digital ad platform lets you automate most of the hard work, you can accomplish your marketing goals more efficiently.

When the time will come for you to choose the best marketing automation software for your own business, make sure it also includes some more advanced features such as:

  • CRM integration: All of your automation efforts should funnel information to a single CRM. With this feature, you can make sure you have one complete set of customer records instead of multiple databases with half-completed or overlapping records.
  • Segmentation and personalization: These components are both essential to marketing automation, and any software you choose should have advanced options. Your platform should create customer segments automatically and add personalized or dynamic material to your content.
  • Landing page tool: Many companies develop targeted landing pages for various customer segments or buyer’s journey stages. Look for a software platform with a landing page tool so you can build optimized pages and track results in a single place.
  • Lead scoring options: When your marketing software analyzes and qualifies leads automatically, you can save valuable time. Seek out a platform that works with your company’s lead scoring system to increase the chance of identifying qualified prospects.
  • A/B testing: When you want to improve outcomes, testing variables can help. Look for a platform that allows split-testing, which lets you run campaigns with minor differences so you can find out what works best for your audience.
  • Analytics and reporting: To get the best possible results, track results, and review them regularly. Make sure your software offers comprehensive analytics and reporting so you know what’s working and how much time and money it’s helping you save.

Within the next section of this guide, we have outlined some of the best marketing automation software and tools you can find.

4. Best marketing automation software and tools for 2021

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#1. ActiveCampaign specializes in email automation and has helpful CRM integrations. With this software, you can create customer segments, write dynamic email content, and score leads. ActiveCampaign also includes a website-based chatbot that you can customize based on audience behaviors. You can even use the platform’s customizable automation goals to measure your progress.

#2. Drip. Ideal for e-commerce businessesDrip offers personalized marketing automation designed to improve customer engagement and loyalty. This platform easily integrates with Shopify, WooCommerce, and other e-commerce stores so you can track website visitors and provide them with relevant content. It also has CRM features and segmentation options, and you can connect the platform with your email and social media pages for even more automation options.

#3. GetResponse. From email marketing and landing pages to social media ads and webinars, GetResponse has a full set of automation tools. With this platform, you can boost sales and engagement via personalized emails, and you can build automated ad campaigns on Facebook and Instagram. You can also develop and build targeted landing pages and host webinars to attract and convert leads.

#4. HubSpot combinesmarketing, sales, and customer service automation into a single platform. Each component connects to the platform’s CRM, which makes it easy to track leads and build relationships with customers. With HubSpot, you can attract and engage with new customers thanks to the built-in lead generation and email automation tools. You can also use customer service tools like the knowledge base and support tickets to cultivate loyalty.

#5. Keap makes it easy to set up your flywheel, thanks to its Campaign Builder tool. With this feature, you can get a bird’s-eye view of your marketing strategy and create an automated system for everything from social media and email to landing pages and e-commerce sites. The CRM ties everything together, effectively streamlining your sales and marketing efforts.

#6. Klaviyo specializes in email automation and integrates with BigCommerce, WooCommerce, Shopify, Magento, and other e-commerce sites. With Klaviyo, you can create customer segments, personalize messages, and access in-depth reports. You can also link your social media pages for automated ad campaigns.

#7. MailChimp. With MailChimp, you can develop shoppable landing pages to increase sales, launch digital ads to attract new customers, and create email segments to engage your audience. This platform integrates with apps like Zapier, allowing you to add extra personalization and automation to your campaigns.

#8. Marketo is an all-in-one automation platform with email marketing, lead management, and mobile marketing tools. With this platform, you can attract new leads, increase customer loyalty, and everything in-between. You can even use its revenue attribution feature to understand which parts of your strategy boost your bottom line the most.

#9. Ontraport. With Ontraport, you can automate emails for various customer segments, build targeted landing pages, and create forms for lead generation. The platform’s CRM automatically tracks activity so you can always share the right content with customers at every stage of their journey.

#10. SharpSpring is a full-service marketing automation platform that offers behavior-based email marketing, social media marketing, and dynamic landing pages. The built-in CRM ensures that you can track leads and customers easily, and the reporting feature helps you keep your goals in sight.

5. The benefits of marketing automation for your business

Marketing automation offers several attractive benefits for small businesses looking to grow, such as:

#1. Saves time. With this solution, your team can stop spending time on repetitive tasks like sending individual emails or publishing social media posts. Instead, you can set up campaigns or tasks once, and then let your marketing platform determine when to do them and who to target.

#2. Increases productivity. When you have more free time and fewer tedious tasks, you can focus on high-level responsibilities instead. Your team can devote energy to long-term planning and business growth, improving overall productivity significantly.

#3. Improves outcomes. If you take a manual approach to marketing, your team could waste time and energy on cold calling or outreach to uninterested customers. When you embrace automation, your efforts tend to be more successful. That’s because this technology helps you focus on the right customers at the right time, making your work more worthwhile and effective.

#4. Upgrades customer experiences. Along with making things easier for your team, automation can also upgrade customer experiences. After all, this technology is designed to target the most relevant customers. That means customers are less likely to feel like you’re spamming them with unnecessary information and more like you’re personally reaching out to them with helpful solutions to their problems.

#5. Ensures consistency. When you take a manual approach to marketing, you might use a different method each time you acquire a new customer. But with automation, you can put each prospect through the same series of steps. Since every customer has a consistent experience, you can gather accurate data, find out what works best, and then adjust your system for even better results.

#6. Creates sales opportunities. When you use a marketing automation platform, it’s easy to create more sales opportunities or increase the ones you already have. Many platforms let you automatically upsell more advanced services or cross-sell similar products using a combination of marketing funnels, email sequences, and ad retargeting. That means you can increase revenue and raise customer lifetime value (CLV) without having to invest more time or energy.

#7. Connects marketing channels. If your small business is like most, your customers interact with your brand on a number of platforms. For instance, your social media followers may also subscribe to your email list and visit your website regularly. Marketing platforms can automatically link the data from each channel. That means you can track prospects more accurately and avoid repeating your efforts for the same customers on different channels.

6. How does marketing automation work?

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Let’s use an example to best explain and understand how marketing automation works.

Let’s suppose that you are planning to host a webinar about a new product you are selling. So far, you have captured all the customer data you needed via your business’s blog, website, mobile app, or social media and here it’s where marketing automation takes over and does all the job.

  1. Your email subscribers get a weekly email series encouraging them to sign up for a webinar. Interested prospects would click a link in your email, leading to a signup form. Your automation platform collects the data from the signup form and uses it to identify highly interested prospects.
  2. Webinar attendees receive a series of emails leading up to the event. Your automation software sends these emails to interested prospects at set times, encouraging them to take actions like reading a branded case study or signing up for a trial of your new service. The platform would track which prospects took action, using that data to qualify leads further or to provide more targeted content.
  3. After the webinar, attendees get additional email reminders based on the actions they’ve already taken. You might write email reminders encouraging more customers to sign up for the trial or send a renewal notice to those who have already completed it. Your automation platform schedules the emails to send over the course of weeks or months. The software continues to track customer actions, preventing those who purchased from receiving additional reminders or shifting those who didn’t renew to another email sequence designed to recover lost customers.

Now that you have an idea of how an automated marketing campaign works, we can look at the benefits of using marketing automation.

7. Some marketing automation best practices

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Here are some marketing automation best practices you should remember when the time to design your marketing automation strategy will come:

#1. Define your buyer personas. Every small business should have at least one buyer persona or representation of your ideal customer that helps you develop products and marketing strategies geared toward them. To create a buyer persona, make note of key information about your customers:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Location
  • Interests
  • Challenges
  • Goals

Buyer personas are essential for automation because they give you a framework for your marketing materials. Once you’ve developed your buyer persona, you can create content, messaging, and ads that speak to your ideal customers.

#2. Map out your lead’s journey. Next, chart the journey that your typical customers go through from the moment they learn about your brand to the moment of purchase. Use this example to map your buyer’s journey:

Awareness stage: What challenges are prospects facing when they first learn about your company? Which terms and keywords do they use when researching solutions?

Consideration stage: What kind of information do prospects seek when considering your brand as a solution? What type of content do they consume, and what other brands or products do they compare with yours?

Conversion stage: What are your customers’ main objections before deciding to purchase from your company? Do trials, coupons, discounts, or referrals tend to guide them toward a conversion?

Once you’ve mapped out your buyer’s journey, you can create content for each stage. For example, you might develop Google Ads for the awareness stage and social media posts that link to blog posts for the consideration stage. Then you might create a series of triggered emails for prospects in the conversion stage.

No matter which stage you are creating marketing material for, make sure it offers ample value for your customers. For example, you might lead educational webinars, develop persuasive case studies, or commission expert blog posts. When you provide high-value content, you can build trust and grow relationships with your customers.

#3. Create a lead scoring model. Not all leads are created equal, and manually finding the diamonds in the rough can be a lengthy process. In 2020 and beyond, creating a lead scoring model is critical for making your automation efforts more efficient.

To develop an effective model for qualifying your leads, review the data you already have. Identify the characteristics that good customers have and the behaviors that good leads tend to exhibit. Then set up your marketing automation platform to score leads and route qualified prospects to sales representatives or share relevant content for their stage in the buyer’s journey.

#4. Balance marketing automation and personalization. When you first begin using a marketing automation tool, it’s easy to shift your strategy too far toward automation and too far away from personalization. Yet you’ll get the best results when you strike a balance between the two. Use the tips below to achieve the best possible mix of automation and personalization.

Stop mass marketing. You could use your marketing platform to share the same messages with all your new leads, engaged prospects, and current customers. But if you opt for over-automation, you’ll miss key opportunities to send your audience offers and information tailored to their specific needs.

Instead of mass marketing to your audience, add a personalized touch. Use the data you’ve collected to create customer segments and send relevant messages based on their demographics or actions. For example, you can use your automation platform’s built-in personalization tools to send specific messages to customers who have already downloaded two of your case studies and so are more likely to be ready to make a purchase.

Avoid excessive personalization. Customers tend to appreciate receiving marketing messages that speak to their interests and needs. Yet they can easily be turned off if the offers or content imply that your company knows too much personal information. For example, customers with children are likely to be comfortable receiving offers designed for parents. Yet they probably won’t appreciate receiving offers for mothers of three boys, especially if they haven’t provided that information directly to your company.

To avoid alienating customers, resist over-personalization and respect your customers’ privacy. Before creating and marketing to a special segment, consider how you would feel if you received this email. Does it feel like you’re relying too much on personal details and implicit data? If so, reconsider your messaging.

Perfect your schedule. If you target prospects at the wrong time, you risk annoying leads or losing prospects altogether. When you automate your marketing, it’s vital to get the timing right.

Rather than sending the same message to your entire customer list at once, use the powers of both personalization and automation to share the right message with the right customer at the right point in the buyer’s journey. You can rely on data and analytics from your marketing software to find the ideal timing to maximize interest and conversions. 

Include manual touches. Using automation exclusively can save you time, but it might make your team miss out on important sales opportunities. As you get started with automation, think about where your team can improve outcomes by adding manual touches.

For example, a one-on-one sales call might help prospects overcome objections and make a purchase much more quickly than an automated series could. Try a few different ideas and track your results so you can understand what manual processes enhance sales outcomes and which detract from success. 

#5. Optimize your marketing automation ROI. To make your automation efforts as effective as possible and generate returns you need time as well to implement some best practices, such as:

Setting goals and priorities. To make your automation strategy as successful as possible, establish goals in advance. Make a point of setting SMART goals, which are specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and time-bound objectives. For example, you might set a goal of automating an SEM campaign with Google Ads that attract 100 new leads within one month.

As you monitor your results, calculate your return on investment (ROI) by subtracting your marketing expenses from the revenue you earned from automation, and then divide the result by your marketing expenses. Keeping track of your ROI can help you determine whether your automation efforts are worthwhile and if you could benefit from investing more.

Knowing your customer experience. If you don’t understand the buyer’s journey or the path your audience takes from prospect to customer, then you may never be able to automate your marketing efforts effectively. Take the time to map out your customer experience so you know how to guide prospects successfully.

To better understand this process, review the various touchpoints customers have with your company before converting. Consider sending current customers a survey to get even more details about their experiences or objections they overcame before purchasing.

As you track your results, make note of areas where your efforts don’t pay off as much as you’d hoped. You may find that you don’t know your customer experience as well as you thought. Updating your research may help you improve your understanding and streamline your automation efforts.

Creating dynamic content. One of the best ways to take your automated campaigns to new heights is by producing dynamic content. This type of content has interchangeable parts that your automation software can assemble in a variety of ways. For example, it can match various headlines with body copy or images depending on the customer segment or the search term they used to find your website.

When you create dynamic content, your marketing automation platform can try out different combinations and find what your audience responds to best. Then your software can show the most effective combinations to the right customers automatically.

Never stop testing. Once you begin to hit your stride with marketing automation, you might be tempted to stick with what works. However, maintaining the status quo can cause your efforts to become less effective over time.

Instead, commit to experimenting and testing with new tactics and platforms. Monitor your results so you know what works, and adjust your strategy accordingly so you can keep improving your outcomes.

Increase efficiency and improve outcomes with marketing automation

When you want to streamline your marketing efforts, automation is a smart choice.

Since effective marketing automation uses a customer-centric flywheel model, these tactics are designed to attract and delight customers. That means you can boost customer loyalty, improve CLV, and grow your business when you automate your marketing efforts.

No matter which channels or platforms you choose for automation, you can outsource the process to save your team even more time and energy. From social media marketing and social media advertising to email marketing and SEM, find experienced freelancers to implement and optimize your marketing automation system.

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Contributor @samcx.com. Passionate about everything Sales, Marketing and Account Management.

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