Automation takes repetitive manual tasks out of human hands and makes computers responsible for them. Computers complete triggered actions efficiently: they can send a set email in response to a form fill, alert a team member to a change in a lead status, or send social posts at a scheduled time. While your team will still need to do a little planning to set up automations, you’ll save time (and your concentration) later by not needing to complete tasks individually as they arise.
Big Data’s usefulness as a business tool has made companies hungry for more data that they can use to better understand their customers, funnels, operations, and financials. Marketing automation systems produce granular, customer-focused data that can help your teams segment their customers, build better nurture campaigns, and close more sales. All of this new data can be analyzed right in the marketing automation tool, or it can be fed into a business intelligence (BI) tool to view its impact on the company’s overall ROI.
Analytics and reporting
The best marketing automation software includes analytics and reporting features that track and illuminate your campaigns. Using these features can help your team build better campaigns with more personalization and better customer targeting. While BI software brings together data from all across the company, marketing automation analytics focuses on marketing and sales campaigns.
Centralized marketing tool
It’s the dream: one marketing software to rule them all! Marketing automation software can come close to this dream, centralizing control over email, CMS, content marketing, contact forms and downloads, social media, and even direct mail and more traditional channels. This is, of course, depending on the size (and price) of the product, so check feature lists carefully before you buy to make sure you don’t pay for features you won’t use.
ROI, to put it simply, is gain from investment minus your cost of investment divided by the cost of investment. Your cost of investment should include how much you spend on the software per month or year plus what you spend on training and implementation. You can find your gain from investment number by looking at overall revenue, revenue per opportunity, or cost of opportunity. However you calculate your ROI for marketing automation software, look for the software to make your team more efficient, bring in more marketing qualified leads, and target the right customers at the right time. All of these improvements should increase your overall revenue.
Typical marketing automation user types
- CMO, Marketing Manager, Marketing Director: Decision-makers in the marketing team use marketing automation software primarily as a source of data for understanding how the team’s initiatives make an impact on overall revenue and where strategy changes could provide continued success.
- Content manager, specialist: Content creators and managers use marketing automation systems as a means of publishing and promoting content to the right customers and prospects at the right time.
- Social Media Manager or specialist: Social media managers and specialists use marketing automation tools to schedule posts to social media channels and monitor those channels for mentions and direct messages.
- Email marketer: Email marketers use marketing automation software to set up, test, run, and automate email marketing campaigns to targeted customer lists.
- Lead generation or demand generation manager or specialist: Lead and demand generation professionals use marketing automation to run email, PPC, and social campaigns as well as more traditional media campaigns that reach broad or targeted audiences. They can also refine the marketing funnel for those leads through detailed data and analytics.
Technology trends impacting marketing automation
Marketing automation systems often integrate new technologies—to the benefit of both the marketers who run campaigns and the individuals the marketing targets. The overall trends in MA software technology adoption have made communication with individual prospects and leads more personalized on a large scale.
Integrated behavior-based workflows
This trend has been used across technology areas including CRM, field service management, project management, supply chain management, and marketing automation tools to speed work handoffs automatically across different users and from one part of a project to another. Based on a series of triggers and actions, behavior-based workflows watch for a user or client behavior (the trigger) and reacts to that trigger with a specific automatic action.
Within marketing automation tools, behavior-based workflows can automatically track customers down the sales funnel based on the emails they open, the links they click on, the pieces of content they download, and the interactions they have with messaging systems or sales reps. The company defines what each of the triggers is within the marketing automation tool and sets a follow-up action to keep the customer engaged with the company’s content.
The payoff of behavior-based workflows is clear: rather than your marketers following up with every single lead who interacts with the brand, the team can specify the content those leads receive based on their interactions with your site. While the workflow automatically pushes relevant content to the customer based on how the company defines the actions, the marketing automation tool also collects feedback on how the workflow performs. By looking at where customers continue to interact with content or fall out of the funnel, a company can improve their own workflows and streamline their sales funnels to optimize their growth.
AI & machine learning
Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are the trends that everyone loves to talk about, especially for business technology tools, because they sound super sophisticated. What AI and machine learning really do is apply algorithms to the thousands (or millions, or billions, depending on what kind of data you’re collecting) of data points your technology collects. These algorithms can then improve how your company uses all of that data. These are some of the ways that AI and machine learning can bring insight and use to your data:
- Predictive analytics: Predictive analytics tools in marketing automation study how humans behave when they encounter your brand, website, content, emails, or social media. The tools then use that information to predict which kinds of customers will probably take actions on your site. By better understanding what customers want from you at any stage in your sales funnel, the tools can serve those types of customers the right content to bring them to buying stage.
- Chatbots: While they sound like something out of The Jetsons, chatbots are really another algorithm hidden behind a friendly interface: a messaging app. Chatbots use natural language processing and analytics to understand user requests. They can be used for all sorts of purposes like customer service, product recommendations, and providing the right content to a customer based on their needs. And it’s not just a passing fad. More companies are using chatbots to interact with customers at all stages of the sales and marketing funnel. In the first half of 2018, companies invested over $58 million in chatbot technology, and that number is expected to rise in the coming years.
- Voice assistants: NPR and Edison Research reported in Spring 2019 that 21 percent of American adults (51.3 million people) use smart speakers, and nearly 70 percent of those owners use their smart speaker daily. These tools use AI algorithms to understand natural language and parse websites and search results to answer user questions, order products, and provide support.
Automated social media marketing
Sharing content to social media regularly and with the most impact is a full-time job, especially if you do it right. But automated social media marketing tools take a lot of the pressure off of social media managers by scheduling posts out in advance, providing a way for teams to reschedule evergreen content to attract new readers, and providing a platform for understanding social media analytics like mentions and replies.
Automated social media marketing tools can either be included in a larger marketing automation platform or are sold as best-of-breed tools.
Lifecycle marketing works on the premise that marketing doesn’t stop at the sale, but rather throughout the lifecycle of the customer. Companies that engage in lifecycle marketing attract, engage, sell, support, and turn their customers into product advocates, who in turn can help attract new customers into the marketing and sales funnel. Marketing automation tools with lifecycle marketing features will go beyond the initial sales funnel and help you build customer advocates through referral programs, automated product recommendations, and other engagement tools.
Integrations for extra features
The software as a service (SaaS) and cloud hosting movements have made significant changes in the ways that companies purchase software over the past 10-15 years. Companies that used to purchase an on-premises license for each user now prefer monthly or annual subscription models.
And more and more companies are using a Frankenstein’s Monster of integrated best of breed programs and apps—an average of 121 cloud apps per marketing department—that communicate via API to manage their marketing. This doesn’t discount the need for a good marketing automation software that can manage data inputs from best of breed marketing tools.
Broader adoption trends
Marketing automation is now common for most marketing teams: 75 percent of marketing leaders use some form of marketing automation software according to the Social Media Today State of Marketing Automation 2019 Survey (gated). This aligns with the overall adoption rates of technology to enhance human work across marketing.
Whether companies have already implemented marketing technology or hope to deepen their usage of front-running trends like AI and machine learning within more targeted areas of their marketing, the tide has turned toward adoption and full integration of marketing technology within the team.
With the growth in adoption rates, scalable features, and increased personalization, those companies who fail to implement marketing automation will undoubtedly have trouble keeping up with the competition.