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What is Marketing Automation?

Written by Flawless Inbound on May 22, 2016 9:00:00 AM

In Marketing Enablement

You've heard about it, you know plenty of marketers are infatuated with it, but at the end of the day, what is marketing automation?

Marketing automation refers to the software that exists with the goal of automating marketing actions. Many marketing departments have to automate repetitive tasks such as emails, social media, and other website actions. The technology of marketing automation makes these tasks easier. 

THE IDEAL

At its best, marketing automation is a combination of CRM software and tactics that allow companies to buy and sell like Amazon -- that is, to nurture prospects with highly personalized, useful content that helps convert prospects to customers and turn customers into delighted customers. This type of marketing automation typically generates significant new revenue for companies, and provides an excellent return on the investment required.

Though it's not the easiest marketing initiative to execute on, marketing automation is certainly not impossible. Imagine you're trying to grow a plant. First you need fertile soil ripe for the growth of your plant. Next you need seeds themselves to care for, and last you need water and light in order to nurture those seeds into a lush, blooming plant. It's not foolproof, but it's not impossible. In our story, effective marketing automation looks just like nurturing this plant does. At the end of the day, we hope we've nurtured our leads (the seedlings) well enough to produce actual paying customers (a lush, full-grown plant).

THE REALITY

However, the term “marketing automation” has become a buzz-word, where marketers seek out marketing automation software under the impression that all of the digital marketing tools necessary for growth, including those needed to generate new leads, roll up under the hood of marketing automation. This misconception leaves many marketers with sophisticated tools to automate the middle of their funnel, but no solution to generating new leads to nurture in the first place.

The consequence is that marketers begin buying lists of email addresses to nurture instead of generating inbound leads. While it seems like a quick fix, it's not a long-term solution, nor does it create the fertile ground for a healthier, longer relationship with your future customers. In our plant analogy, it's sort of like using artificial chemicals or enhancers to make your plant grow faster. Sure, it seems like a good, quick fix--but it doesn't set you up for future, long-term success. While it's definitely the easier route, it doesn't set you up for long term success.

New research shows that as a result, many marketing automation investments fail

Why Does Marketing Automation Fall Short?

When there’s no top-of-the-funnel foundation put in place to support middle of the funnel marketing automation. Many marketers invest in marketing automation before they have fertile ground for advanced lead nurturing campaigns to blossom. Marketers won’t have the ingredients they need for effective marketing automation until they have both a steady flow of organic leads coming through the funnel. Too many marketers without inbound lead generation strategies spend their time figuring out how to take the tiny fraction of the market they already have in their database as leads and squeeze more out of them. While they’re doing that, their competition is figuring out how to get more out of the 99.99% of the market that’s still out there. Do you have all the existing leads needed to hit your revenue goals in your database already? Are you getting your fair share of the available market?

It’s ineffective given the effort required to see meaningful results. When done correctly, effective marketing automation takes time, effort, and resources to implement and maintain for revenue growth. Even if your database is currently filled with top-notch, quality leads, how effective will your marketing automation be when you’ve either converted all those leads into customers, or when your database begins decaying at the rate of 23% / year (via unsubscribes, job turnover and a variety of other factors.) Even when they’ve invested the time and effort to master the art of “Amazon-like” marketing automation, without enough leads to work towards purchase many marketers end up unhappy with the ROI of their marketing automation investment.

It opens the door for irrelevant, spammy, automated messages. Understanding that a large database of leads is required for marketing automation to have any effect on their bottom line, many marketers end up buying lists of contacts to nurture with marketing automation. The consequences of list-buying are numerous, but most importantly this spammy tactic produces incredibly low ROI. Along with the cost of buying these lists, sending unsolicited emails to people who have never requested any information from you leads to low engagement and hurts your IP address reputation, lowering your email deliverability rates.

When marketing automation is limited to one channel (most commonly, email) to say “email doesn’t work” would be a lie. However, to treat email as the only avenue of communication with your contacts is a disservice to both your business, and the experience of your leads.

Because of the constant influx of marketing emails to their inboxes, buyers have begun to block out many of these communications, whether through inbox filters or a subconscious disregard for irrelevant messages. Instead, these buyers are doing Google searches, and asking their friends for recommendations. They’re tapping the social media community for advice and browsing your website to see if your business offers a solution fit for their challenges. If you’re only communicating with these leads through email, you’re not only missing out on an opportunity to reach your leads via multiple channels during various parts of the decision process; you’re also ignoring a slew of behavioural data points they’re giving you about their needs and interests.

If you’re not leveraging interactions across every marketing channel like social media, your website, or the content your leads are consuming, it’s as if you’re only listening to your leads 30% of the time. Have you ever been on the phone with a sales rep who doesn’t answer your questions and reads straight from a pre-generated script without taking your specific needs into account? Did you end up buying from that company?

more resources to understand marketing automation better

Here are a few good places to start:

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