An Introduction to Marketing Automation – Getting Executive Buy in

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Marketing automation is one of the new buzzwords making the rounds in sales and marketing circles, but what exactly is it? If you've ever received emails and viewed coordinated social media posts about an upcoming promotion or purchased a product and subsequently received information about after sale support in your inbox, then you've been a target of a marketing automation campaign.

In simple terms, marketing automation is a series of technologies and software platforms that enable businesses to "automate" repetitive marketing tasks across multiple channels, such as email, social media and web. Companies such as Marketo provide the platform, support and consultants to assist in making these decisions based on industry best practices.

In the past, actions such as emailing prospective customers, publishing social media posts and posting new content online had to be manually executed one at a time. Those activities can now be coordinated ahead of time and scheduled to occur automatically through marketing automation technologies. Many B2B and B2C companies utilize these tools to streamline and target their marketing efforts.

How can marketing automation help your business?

Prior to the rise of the internet and ecommerce, anyone wanting to learn more about a product or service had to visit a store or reach out directly to a sales rep for that information. Over the past 15 years, prospects have increasingly done more and more of their research online prior to engaging a company directly for additional information.  Since this research can be done largely anonymously, by the time a sales lead reaches the sales team, the prospect is likely very close to making a purchasing decision. This trend indicates two things:

1) The majority of the sales cycle is now occurring prior to the customer engaging the sales team.

2) Older methods of distributing mass amounts of general, impersonal information to prospects have become outdated as prospects actively seek more detailed and specific information relevant to their needs.

Marketing automation allows companies to personalize their communications and nurture prospective customers along the buying continuum. You can now send prospects a series of emails customized to their specific interests and linking to relevant content online. Prospects are more likely to read and take action when communications are personalized and relevant. Automating these tasks allows your team to focus more on the quality of the communications rather than the actual distribution thereof.

For many companies, a marketing automation campaign does not end with a successful sale. They continue to engage with customers after the sale to make sure they are satisfied with their purchase and inquire if they need any after sale support in hopes of building loyalty and fostering future sales.

Marketing departments are no longer getting a free pass when measuring their stewardship of marketing budgets. They must demonstrate a strong return on investment for their marketing dollars. Because of the integrated nature of marketing automation campaigns, they allow for accurate tracking of customers from identification to quote to sale and beyond, providing an unprecedented level of data.  This information often proves invaluable when evaluating campaigns and developing future strategies. 

What are its limitations?

Like any computer program, it will only work as well as it has been programmed to do so. A flawed campaign will not magically right itself. Because so many tasks are programmed to occur automatically, errors in the flow of data or routing of prospects may go undetected unless your team constantly monitors the campaign. In short, the campaign will run exactly as programmed, for better or worse.

You will need a sufficient quantity of prospects and customers in order to justify the cost and time involved in running an automated campaign. Without a sufficient flow of prospects and customers, you will end up doing more work and spending more money executing an automated campaign than you would running a manual one.  Sufficient volume will vary based on your business type.

What else should you know?

Make sure you have something of value to say. Communicating simply because you can is never a good idea. Without targeted and engaging content, your communications will come across as impersonal and intrusive.

Give yourself plenty of lead time to plan, set-up and test before you launch your program. Marketing automation can greatly extend the reach of your team; however, it will require continuous maintenance and optimization in order to run effectively.

  Possessing an understanding of processes, strengths and limitations can help you decide how to most effectively utilize marketing automation for your business. When used correctly, these programs streamline workflows, increase efficiency and expand revenues. Consider the best solution for your business.