The last decade has seen major shifts in the way buyers engage with brands — especially in business-to-business (B2B) markets. With so many more media channels than in past years, and information so much more abundantly available, buyers are now more in control, operating under the radar and only engaging with sales when they're ready to buy.

That change has shifted the balance between sales and marketing for most businesses: Marketing is now responsible for more of a company's selling process. And marketing automation has emerged as a key platform of choice to help organizations embrace these changes. Marketing automation gives marketers the power to automate multichannel campaign delivery, collaborate better between marketing and sales, generate higher-quality leads, drive measurable revenue delivery and measure return on marketing investment (ROMI).

What Is Marketing Automation?

Marketing automation is cloud-based software that enables organizations to effectively manage the dialogue they have with customers and prospects. It enables marketers to plan, coordinate, manage, deploy, orchestrate and measure their marketing campaigns and activities across multiple online and offline channels, and across all stages of the customer life cycle from acquisition and onboarding to ongoing customer service and customer success.

With marketing automation, businesses can build standardized email and landing page templates, forms and "nurture" paths that reflect different campaign types and scenarios. Business marketers can build (and replicate) campaigns at scale, automating common tasks to provide an always-on marketing machine that connects a customer's journey from the first touch a prospect has with the brand, through to customer acquisition, and beyond.

For example, a potential prospect who arrives at a company landing page after clicking on an ad for a white paper may provide their email address and be automatically added to the company's marketing automation nurture stream. Based on rules built into the system or in response to the individual's digital activity, that prospective customer will receive follow-up emails offering additional content (i.e., "nurturing" the customer toward the eventual sale). The follow-up content grows in depth and continues "down" the classic marketing/sales funnel until the customer is ready to buy.

For B2B organizations, marketing automation can transform a marketing and sales process by automating lead generation and management, thus improving lead volumes, quality, velocity and conversion. For long and complex buying cycles, it drip-feeds relevant messages and content at key stages of the customer journey, helping to maintain prospect dialogue until leads are "sales ready."

By integrating marketing automation with customer relationship management (CRM), organizations get to realize a single view of the customer and their engagements with the brand. By connecting all stages of the customer journey and sales funnel, marketing automation provides the ability for marketing and sales to view and track sales pipeline, opportunity conversion and closed revenue — which means they can track and accurately measure ROMI.

Marketing Automation vs CRM

Marketing automation software is used by marketers primarily for campaign automation, management and deployment, whereas CRM software is used by sales teams for managing the customer contact and pipeline process including lead routing, contact and task management, lead status management, opportunity tracking and revenue reporting. In addition, customer service teams use CRM software to track incoming customer complaints and share data on customer status, common issues and resolutions, and patterns that emerge among different groups. In organizations that lack full-fledged marketing automation systems, marketers may also use CRM software to manage campaigns, but less comprehensively.

Key Takeaways

  • Marketing automation can transform marketing and sales integration to improve lead quality, conversion and revenue generation.
  • It automates customer journeys, delivering the right content, at the right time, in the right channel.
  • It can help companies understand more about customers through advanced data tools and strategies.
  • Standardized campaign processes, designs and user flows help improve marketing efficiencies.
  • With marketing automation, organizations can more effectively track and measure ROMI to prove the value of marketing to the business.

Marketing Automation Defined

Marketing automation enables organizations to deliver advanced digital, customer-centric marketing by effectively managing the dialogue with prospects and customers. It does this through campaigns that can be deployed to support different engagement strategies at key stages of each potential customer's "buyer journey." Marketing automation provides the core functionality for organizations to target buyers through advanced profiling and segmentation strategies, to connect media and channels to landing pages for lead generation, to gain insight through visitor tracking and lead scoring approaches and to nurture leads to create sales-ready opportunities.

Organizations that effectively link marketing and sales steps together while configuring their marketing automation platforms with an agreed demand waterfall model — the mapping, definition and alignment of key stages of the buyer journey and sales process to provide a consistent view between marketing and sales teams — can effectively manage and track funnel performance and unlock trackable revenue growth with marketing automation. Crucially, the best marketing automation deployments are dynamically iterative — the system and the marketers who use it continuously learn what works best and what doesn't from the ongoing dialogue with prospects and customers and then continuously improve the marketing automation system based on what they learn.

With marketing automation, data-driven trigger campaigns (newsletter campaigns, welcome campaigns, keep close campaigns, onboarding campaigns) can be automated based on user behavior or defined events, enabling standard processes and customer touches to be streamlined and automated. For example, a process could be activated to automatically send welcome emails to prospects a set number of days following the completion of a contact-request form.

What Does Marketing Automation Do?

Marketing automation enables marketing teams to automate the process of sending campaigns, generating leads and tracking and measuring marketing activities. Outbound campaigns can be built that send personalized emails, based on a configured timeline, to different audience segments. Such campaigns can promote a specific offer or piece of high-value content, such as a white paper or ebook, hosted on a landing page to encourage prospects to share their data in return for access. Captured through online forms, prospects will be directed to view or download the content asset. Based on the prospect data, intelligent campaign rules and processing steps can ensure that the most relevant pre-configured email or multichannel nurture can be triggered.

By building a lead-scoring model that tracks user behavior, leads can automatically be generated and routed to sales and CRM systems when the right profile fit is identified. Sales can also leverage the same tools to send follow-up emails that can be tracked, enabling sales to get rich insights into content engagement and website activity. Standard reports can be configured and automatically sent to different stakeholders so campaign and sales performance can be monitored.

How Does Marketing Automation Work?

A marketing automation platform continually tracks the brand-customer dialogue. It captures data on audience behavior so marketers can build processes and programs that automatically trigger relevant communication at key stages of the customer journey. That can mean different acquisition, cross-sell and upsell communications, depending on a given prospect's previous content interactions. For a platform to work effectively and drive the most value, it needs to be configured to support the marketing needs of the business.

Most marketing automation platforms are accessed through a web browser and feature step-by step workflow tools and drag-and-drop editors to easily configure campaign flow and steps. WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editors make it easy to build e-mails and forms without technical knowledge.

Marketing Automation Components

The core components needed to build and activate campaigns in a marketing automation platform include:

  • Contact data: This involves uploading, importing or syncing data from CRM systems and leveraging the marketing automation platform's core functionality to build data segments that reflect your target audience.
  • Campaign flows, nurtures and triggers: Each step within a campaign flow will need emails, which are triggered based on prospect action or at specific time intervals. Emails will need to link to landing pages that contain embedded forms to capture data and activate additional campaign steps and flows.
  • High-value content: Automated campaign flows, nurtures and triggers only work if the marketing automation platform is populated with an appropriate amount of content that is genuinely useful to prospects. The more granularly defined the campaign's audience segments, the larger the number of discrete content assets that are required to power the campaign, and the more narrowly targeted they must be for each prospective persona.
  • Lead scoring models: To automate the process of when leads are passed to sales, a lead scoring model is needed that combines profile fit and behavioral attributes to identify the leads that have the highest propensity to convert.

By combining these components, a marketer could, for example, easily build a campaign to invite prospects to a seminar. A list would be uploaded with the key contacts a company wants to target. These contacts would then be added to a simple campaign flow that sends an invite email directing users to a landing page that outlines the agenda and contains a form so they can register their interest in attending. Once registered, an email confirmation would be sent, and reminders would then be automatically triggered at key dates in the build-up to the event. With an active lead-scoring model in place, each prospect's interactions with website content could be tracked, and sales could be alerted to the most highly engaged of those prospects.

Why Is Marketing Automation Important?

Marketing automation can align and support different teams and functions behind a single goal of driving revenue growth.

For management, marketing automation brings lower cost, higher productivity and, most importantly, superior visibility into the pipeline that leads to far better forecasting and decision-making. For marketing, it's about much better effectiveness through automation and the ability to prove ROMI and revenue generation from marketing investment. For sales, it's about better-quality leads that drive their success faster and higher.

Overall, the organization benefits at every level through increased customer and pipeline visibility that supports superior strategy development and management decision-making.

Marketing automation proved important on all these fronts for a global packaging giant. In its very first marketing automation deployment, the company increased its return on every dollar invested in marketing campaigns by 40% in the first year and generated 20% more sales leads.

Who Uses Marketing Automation?

Marketing automation is relevant to all sizes of organizations looking to engage, manage and automate the communications dialogue with a large target audience of prospects and customers. But is adopted more commonly by mid-market and large enterprises with larger salesforces responsible for driving pipeline and converting leads into revenue.

The platform is usually the responsibility of the marketing department, which builds a dedicated demand-generation team. That team will include marketers responsible for developing the strategy, planning the campaigns — including nurture paths and triggers — and creating the content. However, those team members don't program the marketing automation technology. In most organizations, there are three core roles that have their "hands on" the marketing automation system:

  • System architect: Typically, this is a technical role held by someone trained to be an expert in the platform and capable of configuring all core functionality including data rules, processes, steps and triggers. This person will be the system administrator ensuring ongoing operational efficiency and data compliance.
  • Web developer: This role includes the HTML development of emails and landing pages and their integration with website pages. This person will also ensure tracking scripts are in place, forms are configured, and integrations can be connected to third-party applications such as CRM systems.
  • Campaign builder: With the advanced settings in place, this person will be responsible for building, activating and reporting on all the campaigns required by the organization.

What Problems Does Marketing Automation Solve?

Marketing automation's power is its ability to drive value across numerous areas, solve everyday marketing challenges and help companies create excellent customer experiences that drive marketing efficiencies and growth. The biggest problems it can overcome include:

  • Low lead volumes: With marketing automation, organizations can target, engage and nurture buyers. Landing pages hosting gated content can boost the volume of leads an organization generates.
  • Poor lead quality: A lack of quality data makes it harder to profile buyers and assess lead quality. By activating campaign tracking and standardizing data-capture fields, organizations can ensure they are capturing the right prospect information and behavioral intelligence.
  • Lack of customer insight: By tracking campaign engagement across content, buyer journey stages and personas, brands can gain deeper insight into the profile of their buyers. Those insights can lead to improved media, content and messaging.
  • Maintaining customer contact: Building a dialogue with customers to maintain brand awareness can be time-consuming and costly. With templated campaign flows and emails such as newsletters and product updates providing regular communication, marketing automation makes it easier and quicker to maintain customer contact.
  • Data compliance: Without a compliant database that reflects the privacy regulations protecting prospects and customers, brands risk violating Europe's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the stringent California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), and similar regulations in different jurisdictions around the world. By building compliant forms with standard opt-in rules and contact preference centers, organizations can maintain compliance and build more effective and marketable databases.
  • Lack of ROI measurement: Tracking the ROI of marketing activities and campaigns is always a challenge. With CRM integration and campaign tracking and tagging built into marketing automation, organizations can attribute closed business to the campaigns that generated the opportunities, making ROI a reality.
  • A disconnected marketing and sales funnel: Marketing and sales typically operate in silos making it hard to align on a single marketing and sales funnel. Marketing automation forces both teams to collaborate and build one view of the funnel, agreeing on lead definitions, processes, roles and responsibilities and internal service-level agreements (SLAs).

Marketing Automation and Customer Experience

The way prospects and customers engage with brands has radically changed over the last decade. Customers now expect content on-demand and are engaging with brands on their terms. With the shift to inbound, real-time and always-on marketing, brands need to be capable of managing different interactions and engagements at scale. The website has become the virtual salesperson providing targeted messages, content and experiences to different stakeholders at all stages of the customer journey.

With effective integration of marketing automation into the website and key media channels, brands can more effectively orchestrate the customer experience, delivering the right content at the right time through powerful cross-channel nurturing strategies. By aligning nurture paths with the customer journey, communications can be automatically triggered and adapted based on the prospect's buyer profile, real-time behavior, buyer stage and interests. Welcome nurtures, education nurtures, product nurtures and keep close nurtures are just some of the more common strategies that are built to maintain the contact dialogue and increase lead velocity and conversion.

Benefits of Marketing Automation

Marketing automation supports two core strategies: The ability to grow revenue through more effective customer acquisition, cross-sell and up-sell; and the ability to increase marketing efficiencies while reducing costs.

Growth enablement and revenue delivery can be achieved through:

  • Enhanced audience insights and better customer experience.
  • Delivering the right content at right time based on customer behavior.
  • Improved lead generation — quality, volume and velocity.
  • Enhanced revenue forecasting, ROMI tracking and measurement

Increased marketing efficiency and cost savings can be achieved through:

  • Reusable email, landing page templates and forms.
  • Replicable multitouch campaign flows to deliver campaigns at scale.
  • Customized campaign segments to improve targeting and personalization.
  • Automated programs and rules to clean data and ensure GDPR and CCPA compliance.

Challenges of Marketing Automation

Marketing automation projects are also considered change management projects, considering all of the significant organizational challenges they entail. This is because of the number of different teams and stakeholders throughout the organization that need to buy into the marketing automation plan, contribute to the project's development and adjust their business processes in accordance. It is not an overstatement to say that a well-executed marketing automation plan will likely transform the way a company goes to market.

To help minimize risk and achieve a successful project delivery, consider the following challenges:

Team alignment: The successful deployment of marketing automation platforms requires alignment of various teams including marketing, sales, data, CRM, IT, website and analytics. Ensure all stakeholders know their role and what's required to contribute to the success of the project.

Management buy-in: Senior management may be skeptical of the value of marketing automation, so it's critical to define clear goals, benefits, outcomes, KPIs and a business case that outlines the business value and return to the organization.

Sales team buy-in: Marketing automation has the biggest impact on sales teams that are used to traditional ways of selling and owning the customer relationship. The concept of marketing automation and new digital techniques such as lead scoring and nurturing will feel daunting to some, so be prepared to share proof points and educational content that demonstrates the value to them.

Marketing and sales integration: Without both teams pulling in the same direction and agreeing on a single marketing and sales funnel and related SLAs, your project will be hobbled. Ensure both stakeholder groups are involved from day one and be clear about the roles and responsibilities you envisage for each group.

Having enough content: Without high-value content (ebooks, white papers, webinars, etc.) that prospects and customers are prepared to register and share their personal data for, the value of marketing automation is suspect, at best. To build a continuous dialogue from first touch to conversion you need enough content to support the different stages of the buyer journey and effective behavioral lead scoring.

Technical integrations: Integration with numerous platforms will be required to help build a deeper 360-degree view of the customer. The most important and critical to ensure effective and seamless data exchange is CRM integration. Field mapping, data processing and data synchronization rules will need to be defined to ensure you have the foundations in place for full funnel visibility.

Lead quality: Don't expect marketing automation to be a lead machine overnight. It takes time to build the optimum lead scoring model that reflects the target customer profile and level of buyer behavior. It will require constant review and adjustment, and engagement with sales to arrive at the ideal model.

9 Common Marketing Automation Features

Marketing automation platforms provide functionality that can be configured to support the specific marketing requirements and use cases of virtually any organization. They typically include the following features:

  1. Database and segment builders
  2. Campaign management
  3. Landing pages and forms
  4. Lead scoring models
  5. Lead nurturing and campaign flows
  6. Lead alerts and routing
  7. Visitor tracking
  8. Real time synchronization of lead data
  9. Measurement and analytics
  1. Database and segment builders: Working with these tools, marketers select from firmographic and behavioral data to filter and identify individuals that reflect the targeting criteria for their campaigns. By selecting prospects based on job roles, company revenue levels and geographies, and overlaying that with data about which contacts have opened emails or visited key web pages within a certain timeframe, marketers can easily identify prospect segments aligned to a given campaign's needs.
  2. Campaign management: Campaign management tools enable marketers to build campaigns that consist of multiple assets including emails, landing pages and forms, and even integrate wider channels. Campaign management tools let you replicate and adjust parameters to support different types of campaigns from newsletters, product launches, event invites and content promotions, making it easy to repurpose at scale. This drives campaign efficiencies, reduces costs and enables marketing teams to deliver campaigns at speed. A/B testing, personalization and dynamic content are typical features within campaign management tools.
  3. Landing pages and forms: Landing page templates provide conversion optimized experiences for lead generation from referring channels such as search, social and digital advertising. Capturing prospect data in return for value-based content enables organizations to convert anonymous website visitors to leads. Lead capture forms with progressive profiling (soft conversion) enable you to capture more prospect detail with each content conversion. Landing pages that focus on a specific offer, call to action, and high value content experiences drive greater conversion, enabling more prospects to enter the funnel.
  4. Lead scoring models: Lead scoring is an automated process that qualifies prospects based on their profile fit (using data captured through forms) and digital behavior (interactions with campaigns, web pages and content). By combining these scores, you can start to rank and prioritize leads, identifying those that have reached the marketing qualified lead (MQL) threshold and should be handed off to sales. To start building a lead-scoring model, consider the most important profile attributes that describe your perfect customer, such as job roles, seniority levels and company revenue or employee size levels. Then identify the key web pages that you believe indicate high levels of buyer intent — such as case studies and cost calculators — and score those pages in terms of levels of importance. When both are combined, you have the ideal customer profile to start lead scoring against.
  5. Lead nurturing and campaign flows: Lead nurturing is the process of creating multistep campaigns that drip-feed relevant content and messages at the appropriate stage of the customer's journey, orchestrated across multiple channels. This is typically done through drag-and-drop journey builders through which marketers set and automate activities based on user behavior. When planning lead nurturing campaigns, think about the stages of the customer journey (awareness, interest, learn, etc.) that nurturing emails will be triggered for, and then align content assets with those different stages. Think about how long a prospect might stay at each stage of the journey, as this will determine the email cadence required to build a dialogue and maintain contact.
  6. Lead alerts and routing: When a lead has been created, automated processes can determine who the lead should be routed to and notify that person. This is also the point where the lead will be transferred to a CRM, to allow for lead qualification and lead stage management. Lead alerts typically include the prospect data, overall lead score and recent campaign activity with which the prospect engaged.
  7. Visitor tracking: Tracking visitors allows marketers to understand their prospect and customer behavior. It includes referring media channels, email opens and clicks, website visit recency and frequency, pages accessed, and content engaged with or downloaded. This not only provides deep insight into your audience profiles and personas but allows you to build a 360-degree view of the customer. Opening the data via dashboards can help sales teams more quickly build a profile of the buyer, yielding more accurate sales approaches and delivery of more relevant and engaging communication.
  8. Real time synchronization of lead data: Synchronize lead history to and from CRM and marketing automation systems to keep prospect information up to date, including lead information and the historical record of customer interactions on all digital channels. This gives salespeople an accurate picture of the prospect's journey and most recent engagement with the brand, so that follow-up communication can be tailored based on the content and website pages with which they engaged.
  9. Measurement and analytics: Campaign reports help analyze data on user behavior, content engagement, multichannel interactions and campaign efficiency. What's more, metrics-oriented dashboards make it easier for marketers to track and attribute all marketing efforts and prospect conversions through the various funnel stages, creating the opportunity for marketing teams to provide real ROI. By understanding the prospect conversion metrics through each funnel stage, marketers can start to predict more accurately future campaign performance and outcomes, and the levels of investment required to achieve those outcomes.

Typical Marketing Automation Integrations

Nearly all marketing automation platforms provide integration capability in the form of APIs that make it easy to connect different platforms within a marketing technology stack, integrating data to build a 360-degree view of the customer. Integrations typically fall into three categories:

Third-party integrations: These are integrations through APIs that enable the most common CRM, analytics and website platforms to connect to marketing automation systems. However, they usually require technical resources to configure these data transfers with API calls or file imports/exports.

App Clouds: These are app libraires compiled and authorized by the marketing automation vendor. They include pre-built out-of-the-box app connectors that ensure seamless integration with the most popular content, personalization, webinar, event and data tools.

Marketing Clouds: The most advanced marketing automation platforms from the leading providers also have wider CRM, personalization, content, analytics and customer data platforms. These are part of the same product family, can be bought individually or connected as a holistic, integrated marketing platform, and provide marketers with an advanced marketing technology solution that meets the needs of more sophisticated use cases.

Common marketing automation integrations across these three categories include:

  • CRMs: The most common and critical integration to ensure contact, lead and opportunity data can pass seamlessly between both platforms. Also enables effective tracking of KPI's, pipeline value and overall ROMI measurement.
  • Website systems: Marketing automation tracking scripts, landing pages and forms will all need integrating within your website so you can track user behavior and capture lead data and referring media channels for effective attribution.
  • Data tools: With data at the core of marketing automation, data cleaning, enrichment and augmentation tools will help you to build and maintain audience data. This data is key to building advanced audience segments, personalization and dynamic content.
  • Webinar platforms: Content is critical to ensure audience engagement and conversion, and webinars are one of the most frequently used content formats because they're very good at securing high-quality leads and sales dialogue. Integrations enable marketers to build pre- and post-webinar email nurture streams, with triggers based on user engagement.
  • Content tools: Integration of digital asset management (DAM) and sales-enablement platforms make it easier for marketers to add content to email and landing pages from one central content library.
  • Data management platforms (DMPs): For organizations with advanced media and programmatic needs, integrations with DMPs allow third-party data to be infused into their marketing automation platforms. The data can be used to build advanced audience segments for media targeting and remarketing.

Marketing Automation Examples

Engaging and relevant customer experiences are core to brand growth because they generate higher-quality customer relationships. The examples below provide insight into how three different organizations have leveraged the power of marketing automation to build more high-quality relationships.

A global banking giant wanted to use its marketing automation platform to understand more about its prospects and customers, including the channels and content that were converting the most leads to customers by persona and funnel stage. Through standardized form fields, advanced tracking and content tagging, its system was able to produce data that could be easily visualized and analyzed in custom reports. That helped the bank identify key trends that informed decisions about how to optimize its marketing spending.

A UK provider of telecommunications services and network solutions wanted to streamline the process of onboarding new customers by automating key steps of the process. By mapping out their customers' life cycle experiences, the carrier was able to build standard email nurture flows triggered when a customer signed up for a product and at subsequent key points in the typical onboarding timeline. This kept customers informed about their installation process and provided technical guidance that ensured smooth service activation and improved customer satisfaction.

A global engineering manufacturer wanted an ongoing dialogue with customers while maintaining compliance with GDPR and CCPA guidelines. The manufacturer built a customer subscription center through which customers maintained their own contact details and privacy levels, enabling them to select topics and content areas of interest to them. This provided deeper customer-interest insights, which the manufacturer used to build topic-based audience segments for future emails and newsletters.

11 Steps to Getting Started With Marketing Automation

Despite the many benefits of marketing automation, relatively few organizations have achieved excellent deployments because of the organizational challenges that must be overcome. Chief among these are business process change and the need for close collaboration among multiple departments — especially marketing and sales. Beyond that, there is the need for technical acumen, rigorous management and an attitude of continuous improvement. Taking all this into account, the most successful marketing automation deployments usually start small, and are run by teams prepared to build quickly on initial proofs of concept.

Here is the step-by-step high-level plan for deploying marketing automation:

  1. Pick a small pilot campaign, in one region, with a small team of people to prove the value before wider rollout.
  2. Align management and sales stakeholder goals with marketers', making sure each is clear on the short- and long-term marketing automation benefits to expect.
  3. Define the outcomes you seek, in terms of leads or pipeline, sales increase, retention or growth.
  4. Develop the blueprint for achieving those goals, defined in terms of the personas that influence or decide purchase; the different buyer journeys each of those personas pursue; the content and messages that will influence them, rationally and/or emotionally, at each stage of each persona's journey; and the trigger events that indicate transitions between journey stages. This is the essence of the “nurture stream.”
  5. Test your assumptions about personas, their journeys, and their content needs via digital body language (DBL) analysis and predictive modeling, using the results to refine your personas and enhance all levels of the blueprint.
  6. Get consensus from marketing and sales stakeholders on the initial lead-scoring approach, and what characteristics constitute a qualified lead. Plan to make this a "living document" that evolves during execution to embrace new insights into prospect behavior.
  7. Begin execution, i.e., program the blueprint into the marketing automation system you've chosen, commission the content, build the initial audience database and/or launch awareness campaigns that draw people into the nurture stream.
  8. In 2-to-4 weeks, plan a round of campaign optimization based on immediate results. At this stage you can assess email open rates, click-through rates, subject line performance, performance of key content assets, etc., at least well enough to make adjustments to tweak performance.
  9. After six months or so (actual timing is based on the duration of your customer's expected buyer journey), analyze results against stakeholders' goals to see what benefits accrued, and what learning you can use to improve/optimize the nurture stream. If you've integrated your CRM, you can evaluate stats like pipeline value and revenue closed.
  10. Based on the attributes of your successful pilot, build a business case for expanding marketing automation to more business units and regions.
  11. Consider connecting your marketing automation system to additional data sources and technologies to improve the sophistication of campaign delivery and orchestration, and to build a more complete picture of customer profiles.
accounting financial controller skills

4 Marketing Automation Best Practices

In the best deployments, marketing automation becomes a self-learning process. What these four best practices have in common is that they all leverage data produced by the marketing automation system in processes that aim to improve the system’s performance.

  1. Review lead-scoring models at key intervals. Scoring models will need refining based on the volume of leads being generated and their overall quality. It takes time to arrive at the ideal lead-scoring model and to find the right tolerances to trigger quality MQLs. Define when marketing and sales will meet to review lead, opportunity and pipeline performance.
  2. Continually improve data quality. Without quality data your marketing machine is like an engine making do with dirty oil. Define processes to ensure data is kept clean, enriched and compliant with relevant regulations. Building customer preference centers can help keep data fresh by allowing customers to update their contact records and select the communications they want to receive.
  3. Define KPIs for measuring funnel conversion. Tracking the progression of contacts progress through each stage of the marketing/sales funnel (for example, suspect to prospect, prospect to MQL, MQL to sales-accepted lead (SAL), and so on) enables marketing and sales to identify average conversion percentages. Those percentages can then be used to help forecast future pipeline and sales outcomes at the campaign planning stages.
  4. Continually refine, adapt and build new content. Over time you will start to understand what types and formats of content convert prospects to customers, and that prospects prefer to engage with at different stages of the customer journey. This will help you build out more advanced content strategies for different personas and journey stages.

Choosing Marketing Automation Software

Selecting the right marketing automation platform is a balancing act of cost, functionality and support. Create a scoring system outlining your key requirements to make it easier to compare and prioritize among your potential vendors.

Functionality. Although most marketing automation platforms provide very similar functionality, not all are equal. Prioritize the functionality you need based on the use cases most relevant to your organizational goals. Use cases could include, for example, deploying programmatic media, targeting and engaging audiences on mobile devices, incorporating dynamic content within web environments — or all of the above. By understanding your digital marketing priorities and the use cases that will support them, you can identify the most important functionality aligned with your marketing automation roadmap. You can use this information to create scenarios for vendors to respond to as part of your procurement process, giving each vendor an opportunity to demonstrate how it would deliver on the scale and depth of your exact requirements.

Integrations. Integration with your existing tech stack will be critical, as will the ability to plug in new tools as your marketing automation efforts scale and your organization's maturity increases. Ensure the levels of integration and customizations that you require can be supported now and in the future. Use cases that will be most dependent on integrations are the ability to connect with other advertising technologies (adtech) and marketing technologies (martech), to activate data-driven media and the ability to build out a prioritized tech stack customized to the growth needs and marketing maturity aspirations of the organization.

Product development. Marketing automation isn't something you want to switch out or upgrade often, so you need a platform whose vendor is going to continually innovate and adapt along with the continually shifting marketing landscape. Ensure the vendor has a sufficient research-and-development/innovation roadmap, with new functionality being released at key cycles. For example, ask how they are adapting to advances in predictive, machine learning and artificial intelligence, all of which are important at various stages of the marketing automation process.

Training and support. The capability of the vendor and the support and education they provide is just as important as the platform. The success of your implementation will be in large part to the onboarding and skilling-up of the teams that will manage the platform within the organization. Check if vendors have active user communities, user groups and continual learning and educational content.

License and cost model. Different vendors price and license their marketing automation platforms based on a combination of variables including database size, email send volumes, number of marketing users, functionality, integrations and more. Ensure you can still afford the platform as you scale, or you could end up locked into an agreement and platform with an unrealistic and unachievable total cost of ownership.

Free Email Marketing Automation Software Checklist

To facilitate your marketing automation solution search, download our free 59-point checklist, bucketed into the five categories described above.

Get the free checklist(opens in new tab)

Grow Your Business With NetSuite's Marketing Automation Software

Perhaps more than with most technologies, marketing automation is one where organizations benefit by starting small and then scaling up. The Oracle NetSuite family facilitates this with multiple system levels. NetSuite CRM can help companies getting started with marketing automation to automate their entire marketing process. It enables targeted marketing campaigns and helps to optimize ROI.

Marketing automation has the capability to transform the way a brand goes to market. It provides an always-on demand engine that automates customer experiences and continually generates sales-ready leads. It unites marketing and sales behind a single funnel and provides the functionality to accelerate marketing revenue generation and track return on marketing investment. For marketers who are serious about embracing modern digital marketing, marketing automation could potentially be their most potent tool.

Marketing Automation FAQs

What is marketing automation used for?

Companies use marketing automation to deploy and automate targeted outbound campaigns and inbound marketing to generate more leads, increase lead velocity, deliver better quality opportunities for sales, and to measure return on marketing investment (ROMI).

Which marketing automation is best?

While the best marketing automation platform could be different depending on the specific use cases and needs of a given organization, the best marketing automation deployments are those that embrace a model of continuous improvement. Such deployments are marked by business processes that leverage data generated by the marketing automation system to improve the organization's marketing automation program.

What is a marketing automation workflow?

Marketing automation workflow refers to a step-by-step campaign flow that automates the delivery of content across email and other channels. Workflows can be set up to reflect different communications and campaign types, such as newsletter campaigns, welcome campaigns, keep close campaigns and onboarding campaigns.

What are some examples of how marketing automation works?

The most common examples of marketing automation deployments involve campaigns that are set up to achieve the following communication needs:

  • Cross-sell and up-sell campaigns,
  • Contact acquisition and database growth,
  • Demand generation to acquire new customers,
  • Ongoing customer communications (newsletters, updates, etc.),
  • Product launch campaigns,
  • Thought leadership content promotion,
  • Event and webinar promotion and registrations,
  • Customer onboarding, and
  • Partner communication campaigns.