Marketing automation software helps automate and scale repetitive marketing tasks. The software also enables the analysis of marketing efforts.
Most marketing automation systems are built around leads (people) and campaigns (message sequences). Leads in the marketing database can be nurtured with relevant, personalized content.
Marketing automation campaigns are more complex than batch and blast email campaigns. Campaigns can involve digital channels beyond email, such as social media, SMS, landing pages, etc. They can also be designed with complex logic. This is the automation piece. Users can segment leads, personalize messages, and trigger events (like sending an email or updating a record) based on lead behavior. Once a campaign is over, reporting tools can measure its performance. This tells marketers what worked well and what did not.
Some marketing automation platforms are better suited for large businesses, and others for small businesses. Some focus on B2C marketing, some on B2B marketing, others on both. Most offer inbound and outbound marketing tools, though some have stronger features around one strategy (i.e. HubSpot is an inbound marketing tool). You should assess your use case and the marketing challenges you have before evaluating products
Marketing Automation Features and Capabilities
Marketing automation started out with just email. Today, websites, mobile apps and SMS, and social media are all integral to successful marketing efforts. Most marketing automation tools will include functionality for all of these platforms.
The core set of tasks for marketing automation include:
- Email marketing
- Landing page creation and customization
- Lead management
- Lead scoring
- Reporting & Analytics
Features vary from vendor to vendor, as well as by paid tier. No matter the level, marketing automation features can be grouped as follows:
- Email Marketing & Online Marketing
- Lead Management
- Reporting & Analytics
- Social Marketing
Some more advanced features (i.e. for enterprise-level platforms) include:
- CRM integration
- Social media marketing and management
- Web conferencing
- Dynamic website / Progressive profiling
- Marketing Resource Management (MRM)
- Cross-channel campaign management
- Predictive analytics
Email Marketing & Online Marketing
- Email Management: Automation for opt-in, unsubscribe and bounce processing. This sometimes includes a dedicated IP address and link validation.
- Landing Pages: Direct clicks to a unique, relevant page. The ability to customize pages helps control the customer experience and is well-known to increase conversion rates.
- Triggered Email: Send real-time, personalized emails based on customer actions.
- Forms: Registration forms to capture lead data and add it to the database. May allow for social sign-in. This sometimes includes “smart” forms that recognize known visitors and ask progressive questions to update their records in the database.
- Dynamic Content: Landing pages and emails can be automatically customized. This compartmentalization can be based on industry, location, job title, or other segmentation factors.
- Mobile: Mobile-optimized features are common in most marketing automation platforms today.
Lead Management Features
- Lead Database: Archive actions between your company and individual prospects. Email clicks, website visits, scoring changes can all be automatically logged.
- Behavior Tracking: Indicates a prospect’s interests and place in the buying process. May include the websites they visit, social networks they participate in, keywords they search with, emails they open, etc.
- Lead Nurturing: Emails can be triggered based on a predetermined campaign, and in a sequence that aligns with the customer’s journey to a potential customer more information as you go along. More important for B2B marketing.
- Automated Sales Tasks: Automatically send follow-up messages based on specific behavior, create lists of qualified leads for sales, and alert salespeople of new action.
- Segmentation: Demographic and behavior-based filters refine the outreach process.
- Workflow Automation: Planning, calendar creation, and task assignments can all be automated.
- Scheduling Flexibility: Control when your messages will be sent by day and time, and whether they should be spread out throughout the day. Gate and prioritize messages, or schedule messages to send based on the time zone of the recipient
- Lead Scoring: Identify the best lead for a campaign or tactic. You can weigh important and undesirable behaviors automatically.
- Data Quality: Merge duplicate leads, identify missing information and standardize information.
Reporting & Analytics Features
- Basic Reporting: A summary of email and landing page campaign success. This is typically featured on a built-in dashboard.
- Program ROI Analytics: Give visibility into your marketing efforts’ ROI. It’s a bigger picture approach, comparing the success of campaigns and channels.
- SEO & Keyword Tracking: Track keyword strength and compare competitor performance.
- Multi-touch Revenue Attribution: Credit every campaign touchpoint before the sale. This gives better visibility to the performance of each campaign tactic.
- Testing: Some platforms allow A/B testing or multivariate testing for automated campaigns. Material to test may include subject lines, send times, or even personalized content and custom landing pages.
- Web Analytics: Determine which pages of your website are most popular with prospects. Look at bounce rate, common paths and more.
- Predictive Analytics: Use data trends to optimize future marketing operations. This is a developing area for marketing automation analytics.
Social Marketing Features
- Social Campaigns: Cross-sell content with automated posts across channels. Qualify prospects using comments, replies, and tweets.
- Social Listening: Monitor brand mentions across the social sphere. Gain insight into prospect segmentation and campaign messaging.
- Social Sharing: Incorporate smart share buttons into campaign messages. Gain data about who shares content which content and what drives social conversations.
- Social Engagement: Increase engagement with polls or referral programs. Some tools allow integration of engagement apps to your Facebook, email, and website.
- Social Analytics: Add tracking to social media campaigns, and improve your conversion rates for future campaigns.
List Size & Target Market
Different marketing automation software fits different use cases. In particular, think about scale and industry.
The technology you need will vary depending on the size of your company, your marketing team, and your database (list size).
Marketing automation platforms aimed at small businesses go beyond pure-play email marketing. Typically they try to provide an all-in-one system that is easy to use and within budget. They will also feature CRM tools, social tools, etc., but they won’t have all of the bells and whistles. Complex logic, reporting, and integrations are three areas of marketing automation tools for SMBs tend to have simplified.
Enterprise-level offerings tend to be “marketing clouds” that also go beyond traditional marketing automation features. Unlike SMB tools, they typically have breadth and depth. Enterprise platforms typically offer granular control over campaign logic, advanced reporting, and many integrations offer additional capabilities. They also have other advanced tools like A/B testing, social listening, and ad management. IBM, Oracle, Salesforce, and Adobe have all acquired marketing automation products that they offer as part of an enterprise suite.
The right approach also varies based on what you’re marketing and to whom you are marketing. For example, are your customers’ businesses or consumers? Marketing practices in the B2B industry differ from the B2C industry. The channel frequency, and duration of communication, as well as the degree of personalization, will probably be different.
B2B marketing automation is all about ‘nurture’ programs. This builds interest in the product through education on its uses. It is where drip campaigns and content marketing come in.
B2C marketing involves a much larger prospect pool. Brand and product are more important than a relationship. Ecommerce features are also more important. This includes bulk email campaigns, open rates, targeted offers, shopping carts, and more.
Marketing Automation Integrations
Most marketing automation buyers already have a CRM system. Integration between your CRM and marketing automation software is important to consider. The integration has to go both ways. A change in a marketing campaign should n the record of that campaign and its members in your CRM, and vice versa! Data consistency is crucial for lead nurturing and scoring. This determines whether a person continues receiving marketing messages, or gets passed to sales or support for follow up.
Here are three things to consider when you’re evaluating integration to your CRM::
- Automatic mapping vs. manual field mapping
- Real-time syncing vs. periodic syncing
- Accessibility of lead and contact information
CRM integration is probably the most important for both B2B and B2C marketers.
But there are many other integrations that are also useful. Since MA software often works as a marketing hub for marketing operations, vendors offer a growing number of integrations. For example, for many B2B companies, webinars are a key tactic for qualifying leads. Integration between marketing and webinar platforms means more lead capture and more accurate lead scores.
Pricing for marketing automation tools is usually based on included features. It is typically a subscription model. The more features included in the package, the higher the monthly price. Vendors that take an all-in-one approach (i.e. with a built-in CRM) may base the pricing on the number of contacts. Users can expect to pay around $200/mo. for a basic monthly package. Enterprise-level software (with all the bells and whistles) will run up to $3,000-$7,000 per month.