If you’re having a conversation about content marketing, email campaigns, social marketing, lead management or any number of other moving parts as it relates to developing an integrated sales and digital marketing process, it’s hard not to let a discussion of marketing automation make its way into the conversation.
So what exactly is marketing automation and why is there so much buzz—as well as concern, hesitation, lack of adoption and also excitement—around this concept and its related platforms? A quick Google search for the most basic phrase “what is marketing automation?” generates an interesting mix of results, most of which focus on the software platforms that power marketing automation. My own search results are dominated by content produced by several of the leaders in the marketing automation space: Marketo, HubSpot, Eloqua. Some of the keywords in the results describe marketing automation as:
- Nurturing, prioritizing, and recycling leads to convert more leads into revenue
- Fastest growing solution for marketers and sales professionals
- Software platforms that simplify, automate and streamline
- Lead management tool
At first glance it seems that marketing automation is a golden ticket that no savvy sales person or marketer could live without. When you start to compare features and functionality of marketing automation platforms on the market, it is easy to get excited about all the bells and whistles these digital marketing tools offer.
To be clear, marketing automation is not a turnkey solution for lead management or content publication and we do not see marketing automation as a replacement for marketing—it is merely a tool (albeit a robust tool) to aid in delivering relevant content to the right audience at the right time while also capturing valuable behavior-based data, and contributing to a streamlined lead management process.
Our take on marketing automation is that you will get out of it what you put into it. And what you put into it depends on how you address the initial stages of evaluating the appropriate platform for your needs, how it will be integrated into your overarching sales and marketing process, the team who will set it up and use it and how you will synch it with your CRM. It is not uncommon for the marketing department to take the lead on researching marketing automation solutions but a clear understanding of the technology implications and how to integrate its functions with those of the sales team’s efforts are what will truly contribute to an effective use of marketing automation. In many ways, marketing automation brings teams together and forces an organization to holistically think about their conversion funnel, lead scoring, messaging, calls to action and content strategy.
If content marketing is a core tenet of your digital marketing strategy and you need a solution to capture, score and nurture leads with targeted content, then it’s worth considering a marketing automation platform so you can not only leverage its features but also to reap its rewards.
Benefits of a Marketing Automation Platform
Marketing automation platforms may come with any level of bells and whistles but the core benefits found in many products empower marketers to:
- Manage campaign designs including visual content editing; have access to a content library; content targeting; content versioning; A/B testing; and mobile support
- Manage campaign details such as list segmentation, personalization; lead triggers and lead routing; integrate with PPC campaigns and Adwords; integrate with Salesforce or other CRM platforms
- Integrate and manage multi-channel marketing support like email, web pages, landing pages, microsites, RSS feeds, call centers, direct mail support, online event management and even physical event management
- Leverage sophisticated email marketing campaigns with list management, segmentation and personalization; standard and customized email templates; drip campaigns and scheduling; rules and automation; email deliverability reports; subscriptions and detailed reporting
- Manage sophisticated lead management and scoring with tools like demographic and behavioral data scoring, business rules, triggers and event processing, real-time prospecting, lead routing and distribution, and CRM integration
- Overlay social marketing with content marketing to create an integrated and measurable experience
All of the above features and tools may come standard but in order to get value out of them, you must first identify your content and lead management strategy, scoring criteria and lead routing process, related CRM, and how you will measure success. Integrating a marketing automation system actually requires a significant amount of work before you can begin to ‘automate’ your marketing activities.
What Goes Into A Marketing Automation Platform Decision?
Much like social media marketing, marketing automation is a tool that requires an investment of time and resources plus the financial investment for the platform. Allocating someone’s time to evaluating, selecting, planning, implementing and using a marketing automation system can be daunting. However, a January 2013 eMarketer survey shows that marketing automation is one of three top priorities for marketers to focus on this year.
As you research the many automation tools that are available, it is also worth reviewing best practices for marketing automation as well as focusing on your CRM. Additional considerations to get the most out of your marketing automation solution include:
- How do you capture leads currently and how you want to capture, score and route leads moving forward (i.e., do you have a form on your site that links to a database or does it simply send an email notification?)?
- What is your follow-up process for those new leads? The answer to this question will help identify the opportunity for drip marketing campaigns and the type of content you will need to create to be relevant to your leads.
- What content do you currently provide to your audience? (i.e., Do you have custom landing pages tied to PPC ads? Can site visitors access thought leadership via blog posts, white papers or videos? Do you distribute content via email or post on social channels where your audience can engage with it?)
- Do you have technology support so that all APIs, tracking codes and other system integrations (such as synching your marketing automation with your CRM) are done correctly?
Your marketing automation system will ultimately become the ‘home’ for your forms, landing pages, emails, leads, lead scoring criteria and routing system, behavioral triggers and reports that paint a picture of success and reveal areas for opportunity.
Before you start creating campaigns it is critical that your sales, marketing and IT teams have answered at least the above questions as well as many others that your automation system provider will ask so that what you put into your marketing automation will ultimately generate, and support, what you get out of it.