Every marketer and business owner is time-poor. There are always too many things to do and never enough time. Marketing automation, however, is one saving grace that can free up time, improve results and create a healthier bottom line.
That’s why marketing automation has become one of the most useful tools in any marketer’s toolkit.
In fact, in the 2019 State of Marketing Automation Survey from Social Media Today, as much as 75% of all companies use at least one marketing automation tool.
In this guide we’ll discuss what marketing automation really is, explain how it works, cover why it’s so beneficial and run through some of the major tools available. We’ll also go into how to use it best, mistakes to avoid, and how to know if marketing automation software and tools are right for your business.
What is marketing automation?
Marketing automation is various types of technology that automatically complete tasks that were once completed manually.
Marketing automation tools and software help manage multiple aspects of the marketing process across multiple channels, meaning that it can help marketers with everything from social media management, to direct email campaigns, to display advertisements.
Automation can assist marketers and business owners at any stage of the sales funnel, from lead generation to the final sale, making it a ubiquitously useful tool.
A simple example of marketing automation is when you set up a system to automatically send customers a message exactly one week after a purchase to ask for a review or feedback. In the past, marketers may have manually sent out such emails following purchases, but automation ensures these emails land in client inboxes with minimal manual input.
In short, automation makes marketing easier. It lightens the load and frees up your time to use more productively elsewhere.
How does marketing automation work?
Modern day marketing is an industry of data and most managers and marketers are drowning in it. From customer demographics to A/B testing results, click-through rates, abandoned carts, ROI and so much more, there are endless amounts of data and countless ways to use it.
Marketing automation takes that data and immediately turns it into practical, effective actions.
For example, automation software can take your entire email database and filter the customers into various groups depending on their stages in the customer journey, then send each one a tailored message. This ensures customers who have just made a purchase don’t receive a discount offer that would make them regret their purchase, whereas new customers do receive a discount offer to encourage them to make their first purchase.
What are the key benefits of marketing automation?
With marketing automation, tasks that would take you hours, if not days or weeks, are completed automatically. This makes time savings one of the biggest and most advantageous benefits of automation software.
For example, marketers often spend time monitoring their social media inboxes and responding to repetitive queries and requests. A simple chat bot tool can help to manage these inboxes and respond to frequently asked questions with automatic replies, only passing complex or novel questions on to the marketer.
In time, the chat bot can even learn new responses, saving more time and becoming more useful as it builds on its database.
One Nucleus Research study found that time savings due to marketing automation saw business productivity increase as much as 20%.
Nothing gets missed.
Another major benefit is that automation avoids important tasks getting missed.
Consulting firm Invesp found that almost half (48%) of salespeople never make a single follow up attempt with prospects. Following up is an important task, as the same survey found that 60% of customers say no four times before saying yes, so if a salesperson doesn’t keep trying, they can lose out on sales.
Therefore when automation sends out follow ups with prospective clients automatically, it is ensuring this vital task does not get missed by a busy or distracted marketer. In this case, it might follow up on leads, but other tools might ensure customers receive responses to queries, or that a customer receives a reminder for their appointment.
Some marketing automation platforms will help you to keep an eye on customer behaviour as they navigate your website, social media channels and other touch points. Together, this gives you a fantastic insight into their interests and purchasing habits and, as such, helps you to determine which customers are most worthy of your time and attention.
Basically, automation can essentially help to rank potential leads, bringing the cream to the top and ensuring your efforts go into the leads that are most likely to convert based on their past behaviour.
Ultimately, much of marketing comes down to the return on investment and automation feeds into healthier ROI in numerous ways.
- Allowing salespeople to spend more time productively
- Finding leads more likely to convert
- Building better customer relationships
- Retaining existing clients and attracting valuable new ones
- Increasing average spends
- Minimising shopping cart abandonments
- Reducing ad spend or increasing return on the same ad spend
- And much more
One Pardot survey found that the main reason for chief marketing officers to implement marketing automation was to see an increase in revenue, with 79% citing this goal. This was followed shortly behind by getting higher quality leads, at 76%.
What kinds of marketing automation tools are available?
Marketing automation is not one tool, but many. There are numerous ways marketers can automate their workflows and the customer journey, and you can pick and choose which tools would be most beneficial for your business model.
One of the simplest and most commonly used forms of automation, email automation is easy, effective, and efficient. This is when a program is set up to send out emails in response to certain triggers.
For example, if a customer abandons their shopping cart, an automatic email may be sent two hours later offering a discount code and a reminder to finish checking out.
Social media automation.
Social media automation is a tool that handles all of the mundane parts of social media management, such as scheduling, posting, cross-posting, and responding to frequently asked questions.
Customer Relationship Management automation is when a CRM program pulls together customer data in one convenient place. This allows those on the marketing team to quickly pull up information, such as groups of customers based on demographics, or information about a single customer and where they are in the sales funnel.
Like CRM automation software, analytics automation is also an internal form of automation, where it doesn’t directly interact with customers, but it does automate large portions of a marketer’s work.
Analytics automation measures the performance of various strategies, providing fast tabulated results for your marketing efforts.
For example, Google Analytics is one of the most common analytics automation products. It pulls together data on your strategies, such as display ads and pay-per-click search engine marketing campaigns, and shows you important website data, such as your bounce rate and session duration, plus much more.
Marketers can then use this data to make educated decisions about weak points that need to be improved (such as a high bounce rate), or areas that are performing well and could be further optimised (such as keyword investment).
How to implement marketing automation: Best practices.
Marketing automation is an exceptional tool but, like any tool, it’s much more effective in the hands of a professional. Upskilling and learning as much as possible about your specific automation software can pay real dividends when it comes to results, but in general, there are best practices to keep in mind.
Focus on the customer journey.
Customers at different stages in the funnel require different messaging and strategies, but you can’t put strategies in place without first fully understanding that funnel.
A good place to start is by creating a customer journey map. This map will grow and evolve as you gain a greater understanding of the journey, but it will help to inform your approaches and messaging (AKA how you wield your automation tools) from day one.
Use lead scoring.
Lead scoring is a strategy where you assign ‘points’ to your customers as they hit certain targets in order to help you determine the most valuable leads. Automation will help you to do this.
For example, reading a blog might score a point, downloading a guide might score five points, signing up to a newsletter might score eight points, and requesting a quote or consultation might score ten points. Your automation software will use these points to create a list of leads who score the highest – and are therefore more valuable to you as a customer and worthy of extra attention.
Learn everything you can about your customers.
Marketing automation relies on basic data, so the more data you have, the more accurate and valuable it can be.
Whether or not you already have a database of information, you can always find and add more with:
- Customer surveys (offer a voucher or reward for higher engagement)
- Audience analytics
- Information from contact forms
- Extra details from the sales team or rep who deals with them
Using marketing automation software without setting goals is a little like setting up display ads without setting goals. A target helps you to focus your efforts and work towards a goal rather than just setting it up and letting it loose.
Your goal could be anything from more click-throughs from email marketing to more check-outs following shopping cart abandonment, more time spent on site, or better reviews.
Don’t make these marketing automation mistakes.
Marketing automation is like any tool – you will continue to learn and improve with time and experience. That said, you can learn from the mistakes of others right from the start.
Here are some of the more common mistakes to avoid.
Not reviewing and updating.
One of the traps of marketing automation is that it can work so well that you don’t keep an eye on it. However, this should never be a total ‘set and forget situation’.
Set yourself calendar reminders to regularly review your strategies and messages. For example, your social media replies may need to be updated during the holiday season, and your birthday email will need to be updated at least once per year so you’re not sending the same email each time.
Not testing and trying.
Analytics automation in particular makes testing out new strategies easier than ever. This means you can test different calls to action, different subject headlines in emails, different headlines in pieces of content and so on, and quickly see the results.
Trying out new strategies – especially on small trial groups – and using the results to continually improve your marketing is key, so be sure to make the most of this useful function.
Focusing too heavily on one segment.
Another trap some marketers fall into is throwing all of their focus and attention into one segment of their customer base.
For example, perhaps your lead scoring efforts have created a pool of viable customers who are likely to convert in the near future. Naturally, it makes sense to focus on getting them across the line, but it shouldn’t come at a cost to the rest of your sales funnel. Be sure to continue working to add new potential leads to the start of the funnel, otherwise you may burn through your viable leads and have little left to continue with in future.
Is marketing automation right for you?
Marketing automation can work for businesses of all sizes, from small businesses just getting started and needing a hand to stay on top of the basics, to major multinationals who couldn’t get by without it.
And there are plenty of marketing automation platforms out there. A good one to get started with is Thryv, a clever piece of software that covers several automation bases – including CRM, email, social media and analytical automation – as well as a number of other useful business tools services, such as search engine optimisation and online listing management.
It basically brings all your productivity tools into one place, offers 24/7 support whenever you need it and creates an average 25% increase in customers (based on Thryv usage data).