May 17, 2021 (Updated: May 4, 2023)
Many people talk about automation marketing, but the term covers a lot of things. Whether you want to email your prospects, follow up sales, send out one-off promotions, or improve your conversion rates, automation marketing offers a solution. From improving your buyer’s journey to tracking and retargeting traffic, there are plenty of ways to deploy digital marketing automation in your business. No matter which goal you set your eyes on, you can improve your efficiency and return on investment.
There is no official marketing automation definition. However, most experts agree on the main aspects and elements of the software that help businesses scale up their promotions and client acquisitions. These are:
The main purpose of marketing automation is to target, generate, qualify, and convert leads across various digital marketing platforms. It helps businesses scale their operations, research their customer behavior, and improve the conversion rates of their campaigns.
If you are researching automation marketing, you might be thinking about a particular software. Without the intelligence and the technology behind the applications, you would not be able to handle all visitors.
Choosing the right marketing automation technology is not easy. First, you have to clearly define your channels and goals. That’s what this guide will help you with.
Marketing automation is, however, only one side of the coin. Without a well-designed content and advertising strategy and a well-planned buyer’s journey, no platform will get you the desired results. Many businesses make a mistake when investing in a platform believing that it alone will solve all their marketing-related problems. You need to have clearly defined conversion goals for the digital automation tools to work in your favor.
There are several ways marketing automation tools can improve your business and help you scale your campaigns. It works for startups, growing companies, and larger organizations with huge databases that are hard to manage manually.
There are several benefits of internet marketing automation that are worth mentioning if you are currently researching your options and looking for software that will take care of repetitive customer service and content creation tasks.
By automating certain marketing tasks, automation can reduce the overhead in the company and the cost of employees carrying out different activities related to customer acquisition and service. According to the Digital Marketing Institute, implementing a system for automation can reduce overheads by 12%.
Another great benefit of automating certain marketing activities is improved efficiency. You can really streamline some activities and simplify your marketing processes when you choose the right software. For example, you will design the lead generation funnel and add the necessary steps to your system to complete. That way, your prospects will be nurtured without you having to contact them manually.
Today, people are looking for immediate answers. If you cannot provide them with the solution immediately, they are likely to click away, never to return. An advanced digital marketing automation system will take care of the prospect nurturing and customer service processes, so your visitors get superior service before and after they buy.
Further, advanced features of digital automation tools will allow you to “tag” prospects and leads based on their interest and behavior to deliver the most suitable and relevant messages to them.
Digital marketing automation technology also allows you to create stunning content that reflects your brand. Whether you are looking to engage with your audience through email, text, retargeting ads, or social media, you can be consistent and ensure that you are easy to identify as a brand. By making use of the templates and layouts made available by the tools, your potential customers will be able to identify your messages based on their look, style, and feel.
One of the main advantages of using marketing automation is to target the right people with a buying intention. This feature is often forgotten by marketing professionals. You can, for example, decide to send out a promotional email to people who have visited a certain page on your site. If they already checked out the product, it is more likely that they will take advantage of the promotional offer and that it will be relevant to them.
They often say that marketing is a numbers game. If you don’t know your numbers, chances are that you are not maximizing your selling power. Most marketing automation platforms will deliver you easy-to-view statistics in a snapshot format. They provide you with information on how many people opened your emails, how many of them visited your site, and how long they spent there. You can also track their activity and engagement level on social media.
Integrating your marketing automation with your customer relationship management (CRM) system will give you the power and data you need to make your campaigns work for your business.
Once you have a great marketing idea, you might want to start planning the different touch points of your campaign. Manual implementation would take you weeks, if not months. However, some automation software has simulators that will take the guesswork out of your campaign plan. Others will give you a template based on your goals and conversion targets.
Marketing should not be considered a cost; it is an investment. That said, what really matters is the return on your marketing investment (ROMI). The good news is that automation marketing can help you generate and convert more leads without putting in more effort.
According to Sales Force, nurturing your leads can increase your sales opportunities by 20% on average, and help you direct 451% more qualified leads to your business.
Not many people are going to be ready to buy the first time they land on your website. They need to get to know, like, and trust you. If you don’t follow up with them, you are simply leaving money on the table. Digital marketing automation will take advantage of sales opportunities and nurture your leads until they are ready to buy, improving your long-term conversion rates and customer loyalty.
Knowledge is power, and the more data you have about your leads’ and customers’ behaviors and attitudes, the better you can tailor your marketing campaigns to their needs. Marketing automation will help you qualify your leads, understand your niche better, and tailor your campaigns to their needs, based on the intelligence gathered.
Let’s say that you are running a pet supply store. Knowing whether a lead or customer has a cat or a dog will help you develop offers and campaigns based on their needs.
Of course, there are other benefits of using marketing automation software. Each tool has its strengths. That’s why we will review ten of these tools in detail below.
Whatever your needs are, you can find the right digital automation tools to handle the job for you. Some of these players have been around since the birth of internet marketing, while others are new in the marketing automation scene and are making a quick impact.
This online marketing platform takes care of your promotions as well as your sales. It is web-based, and it has a great reputation. If you are looking to manage leads and customers in the same place, you might consider setting up an account. The good news is that you can get a free plan with unlimited contacts.
The engine behind the platform is the workflow process that you can design. You can tag your contacts, add events, and follow up with up to 2000 of them on a free plan. Upgrade to the paid option, and you will be able to send up to 120,000 emails each month and add as many automation workflows as you want.
One of the most well-known software platforms for automation marketing is HubSpot. While it is best known for email marketing, it has quite a few other features that are worth a mention. The most notable is that it integrates your CRM into the automation platform, so your sales and marketing teams can work together seamlessly.
Founded in 2006, HubSpot is used by many large companies that pay close attention to multichannel marketing and sales integration. The upgraded version of the marketing automation software will give you customization options, but the free version is quite limited.
In the upgraded version, you will get goal-based nurturing flows, custom workflow management, and conversion measurement tools.
When it comes to value for money, HubSpot doesn’t measure up to some of its competitors. You will only get to manage 100 contacts for $200 per month.
One of the oldest players in the marketing automation space, Infusionsoft has been through a lot of changes since 2001. The main benefits of using this platform are to save time on repetitive tasks and maximize revenue. However, the software does more than that.
You can stay on top of your contact list, send out invoices, or even take payments. If you want a 360-degree view of your customer base and segment them based on their buying habits and online behavior, Infusionsoft is a software to check out. Small business owners and those who operate in the digital sphere love this platform.
Infusionsoft doesn’t have a free package, and the minimum monthly price is $99, which gives you the ability to store 500 contacts and send out 2,500 emails.
Mainly used as an email marketing platform, Constant Contact is a great autoresponder, and more. It is affordable, too, at $20 per month for up to 500 contacts. If you run social media campaigns, you will be interested in the event management and fan promotion tools integrated into this marketing automation software.
Mainly used by B2B companies, this platform is great for optimizing sales conversions and categorizing leads based on the level of interest and engagement. Founded in 2012, this Salesforce.com company helps you nurture and qualify leads. Businesses that pay a lot of attention to customer experience and buyer journey maps love this easy-to-use platform.
If you are the type of marketing professional who wants to know everything about your campaigns, you should certainly consider Pardot. With email marketing, ROI reports, and lead nurturing sequences, this is a great tool that delivers reports and results. All that comes at a price of $1,000 per month to start with the Pro package.
One of the things that stands out in Marketo is the ease of use for the average marketing professional. The cloud-based software is easy to set up and use, and it helps you manage leads, engage with prospects, and nurture relationships.
The good news is that you don’t have to pay for the setup, and the platform works really well on mobile traffic.
Focusing on both inbound and outbound marketing activities, Act-On is all about maximizing your conversion opportunities. The ROMI optimization features of the platform are great and easy to implement for medium-sized businesses.
Higher conversions come at a price, though. You are expected to pay $900 a month for the basic package that allows you to have 2,500 contacts and add 50 sales and 3 marketing users.
Designed for SMEs, LeadSquared is a platform that is easy to use. You can create automation and use it for email marketing flows. However, you can even capture leads from online chat, your site, and even a phone call. If you are not sure whether it is suitable for you, there’s a free trial offer. If you like the features and interface, you will be paying $200 a month for their most affordable package.
Focusing on the B2B market, Sugar Market is committed to helping e-commerce companies improve their revenue flow. They support businesses build a sustainable and profitable revenue funnel that works across the organization. It integrates the activities of sales and marketing teams, and it provides smart recommendations on how to maximize the revenue results from each lead.
If you are looking to segment the market and categorize leads, iContact might have the right marketing automation solution for you. Apart from basic automation features, it also has its own email marketing platform.
New marketing managers love using iContact because they can take advantage of the advice provided by experienced brand and marketing advisors.
iContact doesn’t only do emails; it can manage your social media and landing pages, too.
When it comes to digital automation tools, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. You have to consider several factors before choosing the right platform. Here are some of the things that should influence your final decision.
Companies operating in the e-commerce space will need more robust sales and payment system integrations than other companies. Your focus should be on the sales and conversion tracking features, and the integration of sales and marketing departments’ activities. However, if you are focused on social media and content, you might need a tool that handles SEO, paid ads, and the analysis of different channels of communication.
There’s no point in getting a software or platform for your marketing automation that your team will not be able to use. If it is too hard to set it up and the company doesn’t offer training, it will be a challenge and you might want to choose a more user-friendly platform.
If, however, your marketing team enjoys a challenge, and they are enthusiastic about learning new things, you can go for a more advanced solution. That way, after the learning curve, your team can make the most out of the capabilities the automation software offers.
Depending on your niche and how you currently communicate with your customers, you might want to tailor your channels to the market’s needs. Some customers will be more interested in email newsletters, while others will check back regularly for discounts. Whether you would like to target them on LinkedIn or via email, there is an automation tool that will suit your needs. If you want them to call you, look into a software that has CRM integration and call tracking.
Affordability is another factor you should consider, but always look at the price/value ratio. Don’t just check out the package you need right now; think long-term. You might only have a couple of hundred people in your database now, but this is likely to change. If you are planning on expanding your team, you will need to add more users to the automation platform, which can significantly increase your price. Moving your existing marketing automation space to a new platform is harder than upgrading your existing service.
If you would like to make your job easier as a marketing professional responsible for campaigns, you might want to start by planning your digital marketing campaigns. Always start with the end result in mind. What would you like your website visitors to do, and how you can get them to embark on a journey to get to know, like, and trust you?
Once you have the target set up, you should identify the tasks you need to complete to get people to engage with your brand and enter your sales funnel. If you run a busy marketing department, you can cut the workload of your team and make their job easier, more effective, and more enjoyable. Here are a couple of tasks you can automate and scale using advanced software:
Of course, your business might only need a couple of these integrations to begin seeing results. If you are using multiple digital automation tools, you can easily connect them using an API or a third-party service, such as Zapier.
Once you have selected the features you would like to have in your marketing automation toolkit, you will have to find the software that will make all of the tasks work seamlessly.
There are several comparison sites, such as Capterra, that will give you an overview and side-by-side account of the different platforms, including price, account limits, user ratings, and implementation options. It will also give you alternative software to check out, making your research easier to complete.
The good thing about checking software comparison sites is that you will be able to read real users’ reviews, so you can see which features are praised by others working in similar roles as you.
Image via Capterra
The main things you should be checking out when researching marketing automation tools are ease of use, value for money, features, and customer service. Check whether there is a free trial offer that you can take advantage of, so you don’t end up paying for something that doesn’t work for your business.
It might be a good idea to shortlist two to four software solutions and test drive them if they have a free trial. If they don’t offer this, you can contact the developers to send you a demo version, so you can see whether the interface is to your liking and whether the stats are displayed in a way you would like to see them.
Create an evaluation checklist and complete it for each software you have tried and tested. The one with the highest score (from you and the team) will be the one you should think about implementing. It might be a good idea to have a chat with a sales representative and ask the questions you need answered before you sign up.
If you want internet marketing automation to be successfully implemented, you will need to get your colleagues on board. Some automation tools will offer a series of training videos for you to use. You should allocate time for your marketing team to go through them so they can start using the software as soon as possible.
Once you have completed the implementation of the tool and have the campaigns running as they should be, you will need to set benchmarks and expected outcomes to measure its performance against. Whether it is simplified workflow, better customer engagement, or more sales you are looking for, you should clearly define the targets that you want to work towards.
While a marketing software can integrate many activities, there are some core processes that it needs to handle seamlessly. Here are the main categories in which you will have to evaluate the performance of your digital automation tools.
If you are engaged in content marketing, it is important that your posts get seen. Whether you are scheduling posts ahead on your blog, drip-feeding content to your newsletter subscribers, or sending out notifications to your list about a new post or product they might be interested in, you will need the right automation in place. You should also have tools in place that help you complete your research for new content created for your site.
Without making sales, you will not get a good return on your investment in your digital marketing software. Using artificial intelligence and data based on your visitors’ and customers’ behavior, you can optimize the performance of your content and paid advertising with one click. You will know which products are the most popular, where your visitors “drop off” your website, and focus on optimizing landing pages to get better conversions and ultimately more sales in the long term.
Staying on top of your social media channels can be challenging for businesses. You cannot spend time manually posting updates and content on each platform daily. That’s what automation marketing is designed to take care of. Most platforms will allow you to schedule posts ahead, notify followers, engage with others’ posts, and distribute your content seamlessly from your blog to your Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, and Google accounts. This will definitely save you time and free up your team’s resources.
Knowing your customers and profiling your prospects are two of the main benefits of using internet marketing automation. You will gather information on website visitors by tracking their behavior on your website, social media platforms, and other sites. You can score visitors based on how engaged they are with your content, your product pages, and your social media.
Image via NeilPatel.com
For example, if someone has clicked your Facebook ad but hasn’t signed up for your offer, you can create a retargeting campaign to get them to take action. Customizing the messages and marketing campaigns to fit the profile of the prospect will improve your conversion rates.
Business intelligence is one of the main assets of any company. Getting to know the market and your customers’ preferences and pain points is a great way to improve your marketing campaigns. Make sure that you are looking at the statistics delivered by the automation tool and act on the trends. As an example, SocialPilot, a social media management software, allows you to see which of your hashtags were the most popular in the past few months, and when they were active on the platform, so you can adjust your strategy accordingly.
Image via Socialpilot.co
Emerging trends in the marketing automation space, according to 1827 Marketing include streamlining processes to simplify user interfaces and make data easily available to review, analyze, and share.
Integrated data implementation is something many marketing automation technology companies have introduced recently. If you are engaged in multichannel marketing, you will see all your data in one place, instead of having to separately review the stats for your last email campaign, your Facebook page performance, and your Google ads results.
Using artificial intelligence and data collected from native platforms on customer behavior patterns, some companies are even experimenting with predictive marketing analytics. AI machine learning has become increasingly proficient in helping marketers take the guesswork out of their campaign planning.
Automation marketing solutions of the future are likely to include delivering personalized customer experiences. Collecting purpose-driven data will help brands send out personalized offers, recommendations, and even branding content to their potential customers, making their interactions feel even more personal.
One of the main things that every internet marketing automation tool should allow you to do is to plan your customer journey and client enrollment. However, sales, marketing, and branding should work in tandem to create an appealing and well-respected brand in the online space.
Designing your touch points will help you implement automation marketing quickly and effectively. Doing a bit of market research and checking out the campaigns of the main players in your niche are a good start. See what the competition is doing to engage with visitors and potential clients who have already shown interest in their product or service. Don’t copy their campaigns, but do try to get ideas from them.
The main parts of every buyer’s journey, according to EdgeF, include six stages that your marketing campaign needs to cover:
Customers are actively searching for answers to their questions and solutions to their problems using search engines and social media. An automation platform will help your brand’s messages appear when customers are looking for a certain phrase. Whether you are listed in a directory or are ranking for a certain keyword, this first impression counts the most.
At the second stage of the buyer’s journey, people want to relate to your brand and make sure that your values and vision are relevant to them. They don’t necessarily consider buying from you, but they will want to relate to you and understand your brand better. Give them insightful messages, behind-the-scenes posts, and showcase what your company stands for.
At this stage of the journey, customers are looking at multiple solutions and are considering your offer as an option. It is your job to convince them that you provide great value and can be trusted. Publishing customer testimonials, case studies, and comparison tables will help them compare your offer with competitors’.
When your prospect gets to this stage of their journey, they will already have a clear intention to pay for a solution, but they are not convinced that your offer is the best. That’s why you will need to reinstate the benefits of working with you or buying your product. Offering guarantees and showcasing your qualifications or associations will help them decide.
Once the prospect is happy that you can solve their problem, they will be extremely likely to buy from you. Your marketing automation should focus on getting them to take action. Reduce the risk by offering a free trial or a discount code through email or retargeting ads.
This is the stage you would like every potential customer to arrive at. They will be ready to buy, and you will have to deliver a seamless buying process and outstanding customer service to keep them happy long-term. Follow-up messages as well as thank you emails can be automated, too.
Your marketing automation plan should take care of all six stages of the customer journey outlined above, and potentially even after-sales activities as well, such as review collection to make a difference in your return on marketing investment.
In a way, sales funnels can be part of your marketing automation, but they are the skeleton, while the implementation is left to the digital automation tools. A funnel, in essence, is a part of the buyer’s journey and is built in a way to maximize your sales opportunities. However, sales funnel software platforms don’t deliver everything marketing automation tools can. For example, they would help you build landing pages and follow-up emails, but not give you statistics on social media posts or sales.
A sales funnel is based on landing pages that include lead magnets for building your database of qualified buyers. You can send them automated email follow-up sequences, but a funnel management software will not take care of your customer service, tracking links, and multichannel marketing in most cases. Therefore, even if you use a funnel building software, you will still need a marketing automation tool to streamline your promotions.
There is a common misconception that marketing automation will automatically improve your conversions and sales. This is not the case, according to HubSpot. You can automate the middle of the funnel, but if you don’t have a solid lead generation system, there will not be enough prospects for you to market to.
A good offer that your prospects cannot refuse (such as a free trial or a report download) will take care of the beginning of the funnel. However, your customer journey might not be as linear as you imagine. If your sales, customer service, and marketing activities are not aligned, you are not likely to see significant results from implementing digital automation tools.
One of the main reasons why marketing automation fails to deliver results for companies is because businesses focus on getting people on the list, but then they forget to nurture them.
Another reason why your company might not benefit from marketing automation is that it doesn’t segment customers. The journey and marketing messages delivered to high-value and low-value clients should be different. Without treating your prospects as individuals, you will not be able to build a meaningful relationship with them.
If you fail to build an inbound client acquisition strategy and you don’t know exactly what you want the leads you generated to do, your marketing automation will lack direction and purpose, and it will not deliver.
Every business, big or small, could benefit from digital marketing automation. Whether it is a small business with one marketing professional taking care of all the social media posts as well as the blog and the newsletters, or a multinational business with global customers, there is a suitable software that will cut the workload, learning curve, and cost of delivering campaigns.
It is important to evaluate the functionality of a marketing automation software with your company’s needs in mind. You also need to think long-term. While you might currently only need to send out monthly newsletters and collect email addresses on your site, your needs will change later on. It is always better to have some extra functionality in your marketing automation toolkit than to be required to switch to another platform further down the line.
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