You've heard about it, you know plenty of marketers infatuated with it, but at the end of the day what is marketing automation?

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The Ideal

At its best, marketing automation is software and tactics that allow companies to buy and sell like Amazon -- that is, to nurture prospects with highly personalized, useful content that helps convert prospects to customers and turn customers into delighted customers. This type of marketing automation typically generates significant new revenue for companies, and provides an excellent return on the investment required.

Though it's not the easiest marketing initiative to execute on, marketing automation is certainly not impossible. Imagine you're trying to grow a plant. First you need fertile soil ripe for the growth of your plant. Next you need seeds themselves to care for, and last you need water and light in order to nurture those seeds into a lush, blooming plant.  It's not foolproof, but it's not impossible. In our story, effective marketing automation looks just like nurturing this plant does. At the end of the day, we hope we've nurtured our leads (the seedlings) well enough to produce actual paying customers (a lush, full-grown plant.)

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The Reality

However, the term “marketing automation” has become a buzz-word, where marketers seek out marketing automation software under the impression that all of the digital marketing tools necessary for growth, including those needed to generate new leads, roll up under the hood of marketing automation. This misconception leaves many marketers with sophisticated tools to automate the middle of their funnel, but no solution to generating new leads to nurture in the first place.

The consequence is that marketers begin buying lists of email addresses to nurture instead of generating inbound leads. While it seems like a quick fix, it's not a long-term solution, nor does it create the fertile ground for a healthier, longer relationship with your future customers. In our plant analogy, it's sort of like using artificial chemicals or enhancers to make your plant grow faster. Sure, it seems like a good, quick fix--but it doesn't set you up for future, long-term success. While it's definitely the easier route, it doesn't set you up for long term success.

New research shows that as a result, many marketing automation investments fail. Companies that try to automate the delivery of unsolicited emails generate little engagement and become known as spammers. And companies that implement complicated automation programs without a reliable source of organic leads find that their investment has little impact on revenue.


So how do you navigate it all? This page will help you -- it will explain what good marketing automation looks like, whether it's right for you, and how to implement it successfully.

Marketing Automation Resource Center

Find all the resources you need to learn more about marketing automation, whether it's right for you, and how to execute on it.  

Why Does Marketing Automation Fall Short?

When there’s no top-of-the-funnel foundation put in place to support middle of the funnel marketing automation. Many marketers invest in marketing automation before they have fertile ground for advanced lead nurturing campaigns to blossom. Marketers won’t have the ingredients they need for effective marketing automation until they have both a steady flow of organic leads coming through the funnel. Too many marketers without inbound lead generation strategies spend their time figuring out how to take the tiny fraction of the market they already have in their database as leads and squeeze more out of them. While they’re doing that, their competition is figuring out how to get more out of the 99.99% of the market that’s still out there. Do you have all the existing leads needed to hit your revenue goals in your database already? Are you getting your fair share of the available market?

It’s ineffective given the effort required to see meaningful results. When done correctly, effective marketing automation takes time, effort, and resources to implement and maintain for revenue growth. Even if your database is currently filled with top-notch, quality leads, how effective will your marketing automation be when you’ve either converted all those leads into customers, or when your database begins decaying at the rate of 25% / year (via unsubscribes, job turnover and a variety of other factors.) Even when they’ve invested the time and effort to master the art of “Amazon-like” marketing automation, without enough leads to work towards purchase many marketers end up unhappy with the ROI of their marketing automation investment.

It opens the door for irrelevant, spammy, automated messages. Understanding that a large database of leads is required for marketing automation to have any effect on their bottom line, many marketers end up buying lists of contacts to nurture with marketing automation. The consequences of list-buying are numerous, but most importantly this spammy tactic produces incredibly low ROI. Along with the cost of buying these lists, sending unsolicited emails to people who have never requested any information from you leads to low engagement and hurts your IP address reputation, lowering your email deliverability rates.

When marketing automation is limited to one channel (most commonly, email.)To say “email doesn’t work” would be a lie. However, to treat email as the only avenue of communication with your contacts is a disservice to both your business, and the experience of your leads.

Because of the constant influx of marketing emails to their inboxes, buyers have begun to block out many  of these communications, whether through inbox filters or a subconscious disregard for irrelevant messages. Instead, these buyers are doing Google searches, and asking their friends for recommendations. They’re tapping the social media community for advice and browsing your website to see if your business offers a solution fit for their challenges. If you’re only communicating with these leads through email, you’re not only missing out on an opportunity to reach your leads via multiple channels during various parts of the decision process, you’re also ignoring a slew of behavioral data points they’re giving you about their needs and interests.

If you’re not leveraging interactions across every marketing channel like social media, your website, or the content your leads are consuming, it’s as if you’re only listening to your leads 30% of the time. Have you ever been on the phone with a sales rep who doesn’t answer your questions and reads straight from a pre-generated script without taking your specific needs into account? Did you end up buying from that company?

 

What does “bad” or “good” marketing automation look like?

Marketing automation campaigns can run the gamut in terms of functionality and effectiveness. Let’s explore what it looks like when a marketing automation approach is ineffective, and which approaches produce the highest ROI for your marketing automation efforts.

Traditional marketing automation: a limited approach. Traditional marketing automation often refers to triggering emails based on time delays or actions likes clicks on links and email opens.  But is an email click enough data to execute an effective lead nurturing strategy that appeals to their needs as a consumer?

These types of drip email and branching logic tactics fail to supply the marketer with any context about who her leads are, where they are in her funnel, or what they’re interested in. This gives little foundation to automated campaigns based upon , and ultimately results in a poor user experience for those prospects.

Inbound marketing automation: centered around the prospect. Inbound marketing automation uses all the information we know about a person to understand what their wants and needs are, and delivers them the information they need to make a purchase, exactly when they need that information, in the place they’re looking for it.

Good marketing automation takes into account the evolving needs of your leads, and the behaviors and interactions they have with you across all of your marketing channels. Using behavioral inputs from multiple channels such as social clicks, viewing a pricing page or consuming a particular piece of content gives marketers the context they need to fully understand a lead’s challenges and how to guide them down the funnel. The most effective marketing automation not only collects data from multiple channels, but uses those various channels to send their marketing messages as well. That means the success of your campaign relies less on the email, and fully utilizes the various channels that influence a buyer’s decision.

Watch this video to better understand how inbound marketing automation is different from traditional marketing automation.

 

How do you know if it’s time to invest in marketing automation?

If you’re producing effective inbound marketing content, you’re generating a steady flow of new, organic leads, and you’re ready to scale your successful efforts, chances are it’s time to focus your efforts on a marketing automation strategy that will nurture those quality leads into paying customers. Below are some good questions to ask yourself when deciding if marketing automation is the right move for your business. 

  • Are you generating a steady flow of new and qualified leads?
  • Is your sales team overwhelmed with the number of quality leads you’re passing along to them? 
  • Has marketing and sales agreed on what conversations should happen with marketing and which with sales?
  • Do you have an efficient content strategy mapped to your buyer’s journey?
  • Are you tracking your leads’ digital body language across every touch point and marketing channel (not just email)?
  • Do you have a proven lead nurturing strategy that you want to scale?

These are all good signs that marketing automation (when done right) could work for your business. The key here is understanding that marketing automation does not do marketing for you, but can help scale your successful efforts.

 

What are the keys to successful marketing automation?

Though there are many pieces that must be put in place to establish a successful marketing automation strategy, there are two extremely key principles to keep in mind when developing a strategy that scales and evolves with your customers.

(1) Recognizing that marketing automation does not do marketing and lead generation for you, but can help scale your successful efforts.

The first step is building a pipeline of good fit leads by generating relevant, optimized content that speaks to your prospect’s needs and challenges. This is where inbound marketing becomes the building blocks of your marketing funnel.

(2) Centering your marketing messages around the real, live person at the receiving end of your campaigns.  

That means we should treat them like a real person, not a fragmented self across different tools like email, social media, etc. If we can leverage all the marketing tools, channels and behavioral data possible to paint a complete picture of a person, we can nurture them based on their unique challenges and interests, not based solely on the emails they open or click through.

 

How do I choose the best marketing automation provider for my business?

When considering a marketing automation provider, it's important to choose the software and company that best suits your business and your unique goals. Don't focus on the individual features--focus on the business results and the long term partnership.

Here are some resources to help you make your strategic decision.

 

Can you recommend more resources to help me understand marketing automation better?

Here are a few good places to start:


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