What is Marketing Automation, Exactly?

25 April 2017

Let’s face it, digital marketing is full of confusing terminology. And unlike those lucky ducks who found careers in their field of university study, we don’t get the luxury of familiarising ourselves with countless digital acronyms for four years before creating our first marketing campaign. What digital marketer hasn’t had a moment when their boss has asked them about a particular digital strategy, later to find themselves surreptitiously looking it up on Wikipedia?

So if you’re too embarrassed to ask what marketing automation is, shake off that shame coat and have a little read. Marketing automation has changed a lot over the last few years – it’s no wonder there’s confusion! It’s no longer the impersonal, ‘robotic’ alternative to manually implementing marketing tasks that it once was. Today, marketing automation has evolved into a powerful tool that extends far beyond a ‘clever’ email platform or CRM.

So what is marketing automation in the context of 2017?

Put simply, marketing automation is any kind of software that automates repetitive marketing tasks (like sending out emails and posting on social media), and then integrates these marketing tactics across multiple digital channels. If you’re using an inbound marketing strategy, marketing automation can amplify your efforts, streamline the implementation of inbound tactics, and importantly, provide you with the data crucial to converting leads. The area where marketing automation really comes into its own is where many marketers end up failing: in the middle and final stages of the sales funnel (conversion and close).

But there are so many different tools!

There’s a plethora of automation software available today, each with its own pros and cons and integration abilities. This wildly varying degree of integration and functionality can easily create confusion about the process. It’s unsurprising, then, that knowing which tool to adopt—or even if an automation tool is really necessary for your business—can seem confusing. What’s more, many companies forego the all-important task of researching whether the tool they’re considering will actually help their marketing team meet the business’s unique marketing goals and objectives.

Considering the above, it’s no wonder there’s a pervasive ‘fuzziness’ around this tool.

To help you to make heads or tails of what can be an incredibly potent addition to your marketing arsenal, we’ll explore the marketing tasks and tactics that can be simplified—and bolstered—by marketing automation.

Email marketing and lead nurturing

Email remains one of the most effective marketing tools out there – if it’s done properly, that is. Writing personalised, relevant emails to every single prospect would take a whole lot of time – time you can’t afford to spend on just one task. When automated, the right marketing emails are sent to the right prospects. This is incredibly helpful, as it means that someone who’s still in the early stages of the sales funnel receives content that’s tailored to their specific challenges and concerns, as opposed to a one-size-fits-all, generic mail. Importantly, automating your email marketing campaigns enables you to segment leads and assign them to the relevant workflow – in a fraction of the time it would take to do manually.

(Not sure if you’re attracting the right leads? Click here to download our complete guide to lead qualification)


Setting up workflows

As mentioned above, one of the greatest functions of a marketing automation tool is that it can sort leads according to where they’re sitting in the sales funnel. Also known as workflows, each lead is sent a relevant email shortly after they perform a specific action (like downloading an eBook or requesting a quote) in order to nurture them towards conversion. If someone lands on your website and clicks on your “Request a quote” button, for example, they’re showing serious buying intent. Once they’ve filled in a form, they’ll be automatically added to a workflow that will notify your sales team that it’s time to reach out via a call. In the same vein, if someone downloads an eBook on your website, they’re interested in your offer, but not yet ready to convert. They’ll then be added to a workflow that marks them as ‘marketing qualified’, and then nurtures with emails and other content that will facilitate further interest and, hopefully, a sale.

Using smart forms to collect invaluable information

The key to successfully converting leads lies in knowing what their challenges are, anticipating them, and then providing them with information that’s of real use to them. To do this, you need to gather data, and a marketing automation tool can do just that –  via the use of smart forms. These are essentially short forms presented to a lead that need to be filled out before they can perform an action, like downloading an infographic or a product brochure. Instead of presenting a lead with stock standard form field, smart forms display content based on a visitor’s input or past interactions with your website. You’ll then be notified that a visitor has filled out the form, which will then trigger the next step in your workflow.

The end goal of marketing automation? To save you time on ‘drudge’, yet essential tasks, simplify the entire sales process and provide you with a data-driven view of where any lead is at any given time.

Want to learn more about the power of marketing automation? Download our 7 Powerful Inbound Marketing Charts.





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