Marketing Automation 101

What Is Marketing Automation?
Sergey Nivens/
Summary: When you have to plan, build and execute marketing funnels, you’re tapping into the potential of one of the most powerful resources in the marketing sector: marketing automation. But what is it really? How can someone define it today?

What Is Marketing Automation?

A popular article about the top 10 marketing trends in 2019, published a few months ago—but still relevant—by Entrepreneur, starts by mentioning how the marketing funnel is changing, and therefore how important it is for marketers to learn how to build and improve their marketing funnels. Now, when you have to plan, build and execute marketing funnels, you’re tapping into the potential of one of the most powerful resources in the marketing sector: marketing automation.

How Industry Leaders Define Marketing Automation

There are many definitions of marketing automation out there. You could start with Wikipedia and then, google it even further. A couple of definitions that I really liked, as a marketer, are the ones provided by Hubspot and its competitor Pardot.

Hubspot defines marketing automation as a “software that automates your marketing for you. The software is designed to help you prioritize and execute your marketing tasks in a more streamlined and efficient way.” Alternatively, the definition given by Pardot is extremely spot-on: “Marketing automation is a software platform that helps you automate your marketing and sales engagement to generate more leads, close more deals, and accurately measure marketing success.”

It’s not surprising that both definitions are strongly focused on the “software” side of things, as both companies provide automation software. And those definitions are actually all but wrong. In fact, the automation of marketing processes can be made possible only through the adoption of software or technology that helps you—and/or your team—automate routine tasks, and therefore: a) save time and increase your productivity and b) reduce errors in your execution due to lower human-touch impact.

Does Your Company Need To Implement Marketing Automation?

The answer to this question may come with a few nuances, but generally speaking, it should be a solid “yes.” Of course, marketing automation is a better fit for companies that have complex and structured processes in place, but it can also help smaller organizations as the overall goal is the same: to simplify the marketing workflow and save time, allowing people to focus more on planning, strategy, and optimization. If we go back to Pardot’s definition: “generate more leads, close more deals, and accurately measure marketing success,” it becomes obvious why this is every marketer’s dream.

If you want to implement and leverage marketing automation, you should be advised that this process can take some time, depending on the maturity of your marketing/sales strategy. For example, if you want to leverage marketing automation to build marketing campaigns and generate/nurture leads, you’ll need to first define a clear buyer’s journey, along with a well-structured ICP—Ideal Customer Profile. Also, for your automated marketing workflows, you’ll be required to put together some content (end to end: from ads to landing pages, emails to downloadable assets, etc.) or your perfectly automated machine won’t be able to produce any results.

What Can You Use Marketing Automation For?

Managing Your Contacts

One of my favorite areas of marketing automation is the management of your database of contacts. Years ago, we had to manually process, change and update the status of our contacts one by one; however, thanks to marketing automation, it is now possible to modify contact records in bulk, saving an incredible amount of time. With all standard marketing automation software platforms, you’re able to build workflows triggered by actions: as soon as people in your database take actions (interact with your website or content, fill out a form, click a specific ad, etc.), their history will be updated and their status will be changed accordingly. If you spend some time to create those workflows, rest assured that you’ll be generously rewarded as you see your database of contacts move down the funnel.

Nurturing Your Contacts

Nowadays, generating leads has become almost too easy. People are pretty comfortable giving you their data (as long as you’re offering them something useful in return.) But what happens next? The one thing you want to avoid is overpopulating your database of contacts and then letting this data sit there unused. That would be the worst thing you could do for your marketing ROI. With marketing automation software, you can easily build nurturing streams and progressively engage your contacts, starting with a TOFU (Top of the Funnel) message, and then moving them down the funnel with MOFU and BOFU calls to action. An example? Offer your contacts your best-ever piece of content, and prove to them that you know what you’re talking about. Once you’ve established that trust, you can engage them with more 'salesy' emails or ads and start talking about the solution you’re providing to their problems, ideally validated by a third party (case studies are a perfect way to do this.) Finally, be ready to offer them something directly related to your product; perhaps a free trial or the possibility of getting in touch with you for a free demonstration. A key piece of advice? Don’t rush it. People don’t like to be sold, as they actually love taking their time to read, learn and then decide. So you should give them this time, and take yours to build killer content. You, really, don’t want to burn your pipeline!

Aligning Sales And Marketing For Better Results

Everything I discussed above can only happen if marketing and sales are on the same page. Actually, while we could say the alignment of marketing and sales is something that marketing automation can help with, it is also something that marketing automation needs in order to be effective. Let’s start with the latter. The marketing team should work tightly with the sales team when it comes to defining what content will be delivered, when it will be sent, and to whom. In other words, the two teams have to work together while building the workflows and, even before that, the buyer’s journey and the buyer persona. It is absolutely crucial. Then, in regards to how automation can help with aligning those teams, it is more a matter of notifications and “milestones.” When do you want to notify the sales team that contact X has downloaded an important asset? Should you be notifying them regardless of the contact’s company size and industry? When are you planning to hand those leads off to sales? These are just a few of the many questions that you’ll have to ask yourself before pulling the trigger and deploying your automation strategy.

Next Steps For Your Marketing Automation Strategy

I understand that this whole marketing automation thing might sound overwhelming. And I’m not saying that you shouldn’t feel like that! But for sure, you should not feel discouraged. Automation is not something you can build in a day, and this is why the sooner you start, the better it is for your entire organization. If you don’t know where to start, I would recommend reviewing this checklist and trying to assess your current situation. After that, define priorities and deadlines—and always try to be realistic when putting these together. Then, discuss this internally with your stakeholders and get their buy-in. You’ll be surprised at how much easier everything seems after these few simple steps!

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