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Introduction

Marketing automation uses technology to automatically perform common marketing tasks, such as sending emails, publishing blog posts, posting social media content, and nurturing new leads until they are ready to buy. 

In this article, you’ll learn about why you need marketing automation, take a look at some of the most popular marketing automation tools, and learn how you can implement marketing automation for your business. 

Why Do You Need Marketing Automation?

When your customers are online, there’s a lot more opportunity to reach them than back in the day, when marketing consisted of little more than creating a few newspaper or TV ads. 

But this increase in opportunity also means that the work businesses have to do to succeed in digital marketing has proliferated. 

consitentdigital

As a digital marketer, you need to: 

  • Publish regular blog posts, following a content calendar
  • Optimize website content for search, commonly known as SEO 
  • Create and manage multiple email marketing campaigns
  • Post content to multiple social media platforms
  • Manage paid advertising campaigns
  • Review analytics to understand how your efforts are performing and get clues into how to improve them

And if a visitor providers their contact information, to move them from being a prospect to an active lead in your contact database? Then you’ll need a whole new strategy for communicating with them. 

Performing all of these tasks manually would be a herculean effort for a large number of leads—and one that you would quickly realize is impractical, even if you tried.

Marketing automation is the way to manage these tasks for businesses of all types. It’s a win-win: Your customers are better served by you in a more timely fashion, while you increase revenue and become more operationally efficient.

What Does Marketing Automation Do?

To help better understand how marketing automation works, let’s take a look at an example below.

lead-generation-workflow

We’ll pretend your business is a local gym, and your goal is to increase the number of new memberships. Here’s what a marketing automation campaign might look like in this scenario: 

  1. On your website, you create a blog post about the best exercises for building muscle strength. The post includes a signup for a short-term fitness challenge, with daily email reminders to be sent by you.

  2. The customer submits their email address to participate in the challenge. Immediately, you send them a welcome email with more information about you, and what they can expect to receive from you during the course of the challenge. 

  3. Each day for the next five days, you send them an email with a set of exercises to complete. The emails also contain tips and advice for addressing the issue that you already know is the most important to them, based on the content of the post where they first submitted their contact information—building muscle strength.

  4. At the completion of the challenge, you send the customer a follow-up email, with a video tour of your facility’s muscle-building equipment, and an invitation for them to come in for a personal tour.

  5. When your customer’s in-person tour is completed, you offer them a discount if they sign up for a membership that day. With the help of your marketing automation sequence, you’ve already done the hard work of convincing the customer why they should purchase from you. The sale is made. 

Each step of this process is made possible with marketing automation. It nurtures the customer with content precisely tailored to their needs. It requires no additional time from you, other than your initial investment to set it up.

And even more importantly, it allows your business to scale in ways you couldn’t achieve with your own manual efforts. With an approach like this, you can reach dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of prospective customers each day—all while you are focused on other business tasks.

Below, you can see what a real automation sequence looks like in a marketing automation tool; in this case, HubSpot.  

automation-sequence

What Are The Benefits of Marketing Automation?

We’ve already briefly explored why you should be using marketing automation. Let’s take a more in-depth look at some of these benefits now. 

1. Saves time

The efficiency of marketing automation is a major reason it’s become such a popular tool for marketers—research has found that for many marketers, the time it saves is the biggest benefit. 

With marketing automation you can eliminate many repetitive, yet important, tasks: sending email campaigns, following up on leads, posting new blog content, and more. Streamlining this busywork allows you to focus your time on higher-level business activities (while attracting stronger leads for you in the process). 

2. Improves lead nurturing

Getting new leads can’t be your only goal—you have to take care of the ones you already have. Converting a lead into a paying customer requires nurturing. Businesses who nurture leads make 50 percent more sales at a cost 33 percent less than non-nurtured prospects.

A marketing automation tool optimizes your lead nurturing efforts. With the depth of customer data available in marketing automation platforms, you can precisely segment your leads to create ultra-targeted nurturing campaigns with custom-tailored content.

buyers-journey-graphic2-01

 

3. Improves analytics

Analytics are essential for successful digital marketing—but because there are so many digital marketing channels available, reviewing the analytics for each one individually, and then applying your learnings to future efforts, is an onerous and inefficient task. 

Marketing automation software offers a single, centralized database so you can see not only how a specific tactic or campaign is performing, but how entire campaigns and platforms are faring as well. 

Some of the types of data marketing automation can provide are: 

  • Email open rate
  • Email click-through rates
  • Page views
  • Bounce rates
  • Website traffic by channel
  • Form conversion rate
  • The behavior of individuals as they engage with your website and content
  • Rating leads automatically based on behavior (called Lead Scoring) 
  • Sales based on the original source of the lead
  • and much much more

4. Enables A/B testing

Once you have data, you need to act on it. The analytics provided by your marketing automation tool allow you to easily make adjustments for the campaigns that are not performing as well as expected, and dial in further on those that are achieving results.

a-b-testing-example 

With A/B testing, you also can optimize already well-performing campaigns even more. For example, you can test things like: 

  • Offer type (such as ebooks, white papers, guides, and videos)
  • Text on the page
  • Images
  • Form fields
  • Call to Action (CTA) position
  • Button colors
  • Email subject lines, send dates, and times

5. Amplifies your reach

Customers can communicate with you in more ways than ever before—and that’s exactly what makes it virtually impossible for you to reach them all (ironic, we know). The challenge is only magnified for businesses with smaller staffs. 

Marketing automation allows your business to be in many places at once, even when you yourself can’t be. Blogs, social media, emails, lead forms, appointment scheduling—a marketing automation platform is the behind-the-scenes tool managing them all.

6. Improves customer experience

Customers expect more than a one-size-fits-all buying experience. Here’s just some of the data: 

  • 86 percent of buyers are willing to pay more for a great customer experience
  • 49 percent of buyers have made impulse purchases after receiving a more personalized experience
  • 72 percent of people will share a positive experience with six or more people
  • By the end of 2020, customer experience will overtake price and brand as the key brand differentiator

Marketing automation is one of the four most popular methods for creating these types of personalized customer experiences.

effectiveness-of-personalized-content-in-marketing

With customer data and segmenting, you can tailor the customer experience in ways big and small, from sending information about product launches to hosting webinars to offering exclusive promotions and discounts. What exactly the strategy looks like will vary by customer and their needs.

7. Lets you follow up automatically

Once you land a new lead, the clock is running to keep their attention. With marketing automation, the submission of a new lead can trigger a workflow that the customer receives immediately, whether you are in the office or not. Keeping them engaged, and showing you’re responsive to their needs, is paramount.

One client who owns a landscaping business once relayed her story about this. Her business sends out emails following a service request. The email includes a link to book a call on her calendar, which most do immediately after receiving the email. She described the benefit like this: 

When I am in the field working on landscapes and a lead comes into the website, the new prospect receives an immediate response and then can book a meeting right away. The homeowner is not worried about when they will get a call back, if ever, and because they know when the call will happen, they are relieved. This automation gives me a leg up above most other landscape businesses who hardly can find the time to call people back!

In the end, automation can significantly improve business operations and sales engagements for any business. 

8. Increases revenue

What’s any business’s ultimate goal? To increase revenue. Marketing automation can help with that. Here are some of the ways how: 

  • Shorten the sales cycle with effective lead nurturing
  • Provide opportunities for cross-selling and up-selling that gain additional sales from a customer who has already been acquired
  • Send email prompts for customers to return to abandoned online shopping carts
  • Offer both prospective and existing customers special discounts and deals through emails, texts, or other channels
  • Re-engage cold customers already familiar with your business to introduce new products or services

What Are the Best Marketing Automation Tools for Small and Midsize Businesses?

Businesses of all types are heavily investing in marketing automation—in fact, spending for marketing automation tools is expected to reach $25.1 billion annually by 2023.

There are a number of marketing automation tools available for your business. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular options here. 

Note: You may also have heard of customer relationship management (CRM) tools, which can have similar functions to marketing automation software. The difference between the two is that CRMs are primarily sales-focused, while marketing automation software is for, you guessed it, marketing tasks. Some platforms combine the two.

Here is the link from G2 that shows the live view of the ranking of marketing automation tools depicted in the image below

ranking-of-marketing-automation-tools

1. HubSpot

hubspot marketing automation softwareHubSpot is a pioneer in inbound marketing (in fact, they even coined the term). Its growth platform offers a full suite of software for growing your business: HubSpot CRM, Marketing Hub, Sales Hub, Service Hub, and CMS Hub. Hubspot scores #1 because its market presence and highest performance as rated by G2.

hubspot growth platform

Hubspot's multiple tools that integrate into one database help to magnify the power of their platform as your company grows. The automation that is at its core powers marketing campaigns, big and small for most any size business. What individual users like the most is that it is easy to use so you don't need to hire a consultant to help you use it. Because it includes functionality for all marketing tasks, users have one login to one solution that powers their workday, improves performance and delights their customers. 

Full Disclosure: Bristol Strategy, Inc. is a Hubspot Gold Partner and with experince with many marketing automation tools, prefers Hubspot.

2. ActiveCampaign

active campaign marketing automation softwareActiveCampaign helps businesses optimize their customer experience with features including email marketing, marketing automation, a CRM, website messaging, and machine learning. Its particular specialty is email marketing. 

activecampaign

Users report that they gain a lot of benefit from ActiveCampaign with some wishing the use model was not so simple so they could implement more advanced automation tasks. Others wished some features were available at the lower pricing levels. Regardless, it is a solid tool and ranks very high by G2, just below that of Hubspot.

3. Pardot

pardot marketing automation softwarePardot is a marketing automation software that has a primary focus on B2B organizations, and is owned by Salesforce. Its features include list segmentation, dynamic content, lead scoring and grading, lead nurturing, and social campaigns. 

pardot

One of the biggest benefits of Pardot is they are very well integrated with the Salesforce.com CRM. Pardot was acquired by Salesforce in late 2012 to fill a gap in their product portfolio. The feedback from users is that the marketing automation platform enables them to automate most any marketing task but wish the platform had more Account-Based Marketing (ABM) functionality. Pardot  scores in the middle of the pack for customer satisfaction by G2. 

4. Marketo

marketo marketing automation softwareMarketo’s marketing automation software, Marketo Engage, offers capabilities in core areas such as email marketing, lead management, consumer marketing, customer base marketing, and mobile marketing. It is owned by Adobe and has particular experience working with B2B and enterprise clients.

marketo-engage-1

Marketo is an excellent marketing automation platform and scores better than Pardot but not as well as Hubspot and ActiveCampaign by G2. Users would like better reporting and wish the user interface was not so outdated. But in the end, it provides most of the functionality that users need to automate their marketing campaigns. 

Our Recommendation

We recommend HubSpot, and use it for all of our own clients. We have found that the ease of use of the platform really enables our clients to learn how to use it and excel at applying the tools on a daily basis. The very high ratings by G2 are well deserved in our opinion. 

Regardless of the marketing software you choose, it's important to remember that a platform is simply a tool—and not something that will magically solve all of your marketing automation challenges. To be successful, your marketing automation platform must be integrated into an overall strategy. We'll get into that some more below. 

How Should You Choose Marketing Automation Software?

Sorting through your options for a marketing automation tool isn’t the easiest task. And if you find you don’t make the best decision about your platform initially, switching to a new one is an onerous and costly task. 

To make sure you make the right choice from the start, here are some questions you can ask yourself as you evaluate each platform:

1. How easy is it to use? 

The time savings you gain by implementing marketing automation diminish if you have to spend unnecessary time using your tool and setting it up. An intuitive, user-friendly interface is a must. And a platform that has a steep learning curve can be additionally costly, in both time and dollars. 

Don’t just rely on what you read about each software—take a demo of each option you’re considering. If you have other staff members who will be using the tool, have them sit in to get their own questions and insights, if you can. 

Request a Hubspot demonstration

2. What support is available?

Once you get started with your marketing automation tool, you’ll inevitably have questions about how to use it along the way. However, support capabilities vary between platforms. 

As you evaluate each of your software option, here are some things to consider: 

  • What types of support are available: email, phone, or chat?
  • How long is the typical response time?
  • Does the tool include support as part of its pricing, or is it an additional cost?
  • Are there online guides, videos, or a knowledge base available? Here's an example of one.
  • Is there a free option so you can dip your toe in the water and gain experience with the tool?
  • Are there video tutorials and certifications to enable your team to become more proficient in using the tool?

Tip: If you work with a marketing agency or consultant specializing in marketing automation to help you implement your system, they’ll have specialized expertise that will be an additional resource for you. 

3. What features does it include? 

Before evaluating your options, you should make a list of the features you need in your marketing automation tool. Ask for input from other areas of your company, if relevant—for example, if you’re in marketing, speak with the sales team to learn what’s more important to them.

That way, you can ensure you have a holistic list of criteria to aid you in making your choice, which can save you a lot of time and money. This approach also increases the likelihood of getting buy-in from other stakeholders in your company. 

Some features that you should look for include: 

  • Workflows
  • Email marketing
  • List segmentation
  • Lead generation, scoring and nurturing
  • Blog content publication
  • Social media posting
  • Live chat
  • Chatbots
  • A/B testing
  • Search engine optimization
  • Keyword research
  • Ad retargeting
  • Website analytics
  • Campaign reporting

You may not need all of these options right away, but choosing a more comprehensive platform now gives you a lot more flexibility to expand your marketing automation strategy later on. 

In addition, some platforms allow you to begin with a single component, such as marketing, and add more options, like sales, later on. 

We recommend that you choose an all-in-one software that unites marketing automation, customer service, a sales CRM, and a content management system (which is used to build your website) in a single tool.

4. What integrations does it offer? 

You likely are already using other tools to manage components of your marketing efforts—for example, Mailchimp for email marketing. A good marketing automation tool allows you to integrate your current tools into your new platform, rather than start over from scratch. 

hubspot integrations

Some common tools that can be integrated into a marketing automation platform include: 

  • Gmail
  • Outlook
  • Linkedin
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • Quickbooks
  • WordPress
  • Slack
  • SurveyMonkey
  • Shopify
  • Zoom

To see more examples of marketing automation integrations, you can check out this list. Note that some tools incur an additional cost to be integrated into your marketing automation platform, while others are free. 

5. What are its analytics capabilities? 

To reap the full benefits of marketing automation, you’ll need a software that can provide deep reporting and analytics about your marketing efforts.

First, it’s important that we understand the distinction between the terms reporting and analytics, as they are commonly mentioned together. Reporting provides the raw data about your marketing activities, such as how many visitors your website received in a month, or what the clickthrough rate was for a recent email. 

marketing automation analytics

Analytics expands upon the data collected in reporting, allowing you to explore and interpret information about how specific marketing automation tactics performed. 

A marketing automation software with robust analytics functionality is essential. Platforms that combine multiple facets of business activities, such as marketing, sales, and customer service, into a single, centralized database are particularly adept at providing this level of information. 

In addition, a marketing automation tool can use these data points to build artificial intelligence (AI) marketing about your efforts. 

artificial-intelligence

For example, leads are good—but they’re not all created equally (which you likely already know well from personal experience). A good marketing automation software can use AI to examine your database to determine which leads are most likely to purchase from you (a process called predictive lead scoring). This allows you to focus your efforts where you’re likely to see the greatest impact. 

6. What does it cost? 

The cost of a marketing automation tool can be the ultimate deciding factor in your selection process. 

However, the option that appears the lowest price initially can end up costing you more in the long run, when you add in extra fees for things like integrations, special features, and additional users. Tools that offer a transparent, easy-to-understand pricing structure are your friend. 

Here are some things to consider when evaluating the price of a marketing automation tool: 

  • What is the pricing structure? Can you pay month to month or annually only? If you pay annually, can you get a discount? 
  • How many customer contacts are included? Once you exceed that number, you may need to pay an additional charge per customer, or move up to a new package entirely. 
  • What features are included in each package?
  • Which types of businesses is the platform designed for? If it has a lot of enterprise clients, for example, you may end up paying for capabilities you don’t need as a small to midsize business.
  • Is training or onboarding included? 

Why Is Marketing Automation Important for Inbound Marketing?

Regardless of the marketing automation software you choose, it is simply a tool—and not something that will magically solve all of your marketing challenges. To be successful, your marketing automation platform must be integrated into an overall strategy

That strategy is inbound marketing. 

Inbound marketing is a methodology that brings customers directly to you with targeted, custom content that precisely meets their needs, at each stage of their buying journey. A marketing automation tool is how you deliver that content. 

buye-journey-information

At first glance, marketing automation can sound exactly the opposite of a personalized customer experience. After all, how can you make a customer feel special if you aren’t personally talking to them at all? 

But in fact, that is a misconception. With marketing automation, you’re delivering customers their content exactly when they need it—and in a way that guides them along the path that you want them to follow. 

Marketing automation is how you immediately send your customer the new download they requested when they first signed up for your email list. Marketing automation is how you follow up with those customers at regular intervals, providing them with helpful new content. Marketing automation is even the little things, like how you personalize each email with the customer’s name. Marketing automation is the tool that runs in the background to keep your customer front and center. 

Really, marketing automation isn’t just important for inbound marketing—it’s essential for business growth.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is this; marketing automation is a foundational element of any online marketing initiative. If you understand and believe that the modern customer is doing 3/4 of their research online before engaging with your or any company, then investing in a complete digital marketing solution is imperative. Once you make that choice, having a marketing automation platform that is both easy to use and very effective at implementing your campaigns is the only way to go. The final imperative is to use a platform that provides a unified solution across all digital marketing tasks, so the analytics for all of the elements of your campaigns and how they affect the success or failure with each other is critical. Point tools do not provide the visibility into what is working and what is not, leaving your business guessing.

Request a Hubspot demonstration

Success online does not start and stop with the marketing automation tools. Business leaders should understand that the methodology they implement using the marketing automation tools is as if not more critical a decision. We have found Inbound Marketing to be the most effective across industries and with B2B and B2C businesses. That methodology, fueled by the right content strategy, is a recipe for success.

Reach out to us to learn about Marketing Automation tools, to get a demo of Hubspot (our preferred solution) and to discuss how Inbound Marketing might be the right methodology for your business to help your business grow and thrive.

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