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What is Marketing Automation? – Basic Overview & How it Generates ROI

Written by Colin MacInnis. Published on July 3, 2018.

What is Marketing Automation?

Marketing automation is a software feature that allows users to automate processes related to marketing operations. This includes launching campaigns, updating contact records, publishing to social media, and sending notifications to team members.

You can use marketing automation to do any one of these functions:

  • Send an internal member of your team a text message alert.
  • Send an internal member of your team an email notification.
  • Create tasks for members of your team.
  • Send emails to contacts in your CRM.
  • Publish posts to Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Google+.
  • Update fields and properties of a contact record.

The result of using marketing automation is a streamlined process that increases operational efficiency. For your sales department, this means automatically notifying reps when a lead is sales-ready (CRM consultants call this sales enablement). For your marketing department, marketing automation enables team members to plan, schedule, and launch marketing campaigns. For your customer success department, marketing automation means updating customer records to provide more insight during the renewal process.

Marketing Automation in Practice

Marketing automation should be used to enrich contact records and nurture leads along their customer journey. When done correctly, your subscribers will graduate into leads. Your leads will turn into customers, and your customers will become ambassadors of your product or service.

A classic example of a company with a winning marketing automation strategy is Amazon. When you browse products on Amazon, their system uses marketing automation to understand 3 items: (1) What products you’ve viewed, (2) What categories those products belong to, and (3) What products you’ve purchased in the past. Based on your online browsing behaviour, you will be served advertisements on social media, blog posts via display ads, and even receive emails that promote the products you were browsing.

By the end of the nurture cycle, you will have been exposed to various touchpoints that remind and encourage you to take action on promotions and discounts. The goal of Amazon’s nurture process is to entice visitors to buy their products.

The Value of Marketing Automation in Terms of Return on Investment (ROI)

There are 3 areas where marketing automation pays off the most:

  1. Automatically updating data about contacts, customers, and leads; therefore providing meaningful real-time data about business operations.
  2. Increasing the work capacity of your sales reps; allowing them to interact with more leads and close more deals.
  3. Improving the performance of renewal contracts with customers; successfully onboarding and interacting with customers leading up to the renewal of their contract.


Automatically Updating Data About Contacts

When a contact interacts with a website, you can use marketing automation to collect useful data about that person. For example, when someone submits a form for an ebook, you can configure your CRM and automation to append the title of the ebook to the contact’s record. This can be used later by the sales team, when suggesting other content that person may be interested in.


Increasing the Work Capacity of Sales Reps

You can build automated processes inside your CRM. For example, a process could be setup to rotate Leads to members of the sales department. Additionally, you can automatically create tasks and reminders for sales reps to contact Leads. Together, this increases the efficiency of your sales reps and enables them to interact with contacts in a week.

Example of Marketing Automation in Startups: For founders reaching out to their personal networks, it’s easy to import a list of contacts into your CRM and enroll them in an automated process that emails them. Instead of emailing hundreds or thousands of people yourself, the system sends them on your behalf. Then your team is free to continue making calls with Leads who are already Marketing Qualified.


Improving the Performance of Renewals

Improve renewals with marketing automation by automatically changing the stage of a renewal deal. As the stage changes over time, automatically send reminders to your customer success reps to interact and engage with existing customers. This avoids the classic scenario of awkwardly asking existing customers to renew after not being in touch for months on end.

Ways to Use Marketing Automation

  • Cart Abandonment. Cart abandonment is when a website visitor adds items to their cart, then leaves the website. Marketing automation can send emails or run ads to this visitor that draw them back into the website and complete their purchase.


  • Ebook Email Nurture. Send a series of emails after someone downloads a resource from your website. The goal of an email nurture is to elicit an actionable response to interact with your brand more. Most commonly this means purchasing more products, taking advantage of a coupon, speaking to a sales representative, or joining a newsletter.


  • Newsletter Send-Out. Use marketing automation to automatically send newsletters to subscribers. You can setup if-then logic to re-engage people who don’t open your newsletters, and send other emails for people who interact with them; leading towards a goal such as scheduling a consultation, downloading a resource, etc.


  • Webinar Attendance. Event-based marketing automation strategies are commonly used for webinars. These strategies usually include automatic email notifications to contacts who register for an event. Leading up to the event, they receive an email confirmation email, 1 week notice, day-before notice, and 1-hour-before notice. After the event, they receive a follow-up email summarizing the content of the webinar with a link to watch the replay.


  • Lead Assignment. Marketing automation can be used to build Lead Assignment Rules. In this regard, you can automatically pass and rotate leads to departments in your organization. Have a subscriber who just submitted a sales-form? Rotate them to your sales department. Did you sales team just close a new customer? Rotate them to your customer success department.


  • Dashboards Reporting. One of the strongest features of marketing automation is the ability to keep records clean and update relevant information about contacts. By doing so, you can layer reporting tools onto the data and create custom reports and dashboards that reflect the true performance of your company. Furthermore, because these records update automatically, you can get a real-time view of your operations. This is perfect for companies interested in doing week-over-week reporting, monthly reporting, quarterly reporting, and annual reporting. Plus your investors will love it.

When to Invest in Marketing Automation

The cost of marketing automation software varies across platforms. Unless your organization is ready to quickly scale operations and aggressively grow, you may want to prioritize other items of your operations and not buy marketing automation software. Alternatively, if growth is on your horizon, marketing automation might be the perfect step forward for your business.

As a reference point, here are some scenarios that highlights moments when a company should consider the benefits of marketing automation:

  • When you’re expanding your 1-person company and hiring new staff.
  • When you’re producing content like ebooks, resources, and checklists.
  • When you’re generating natural organic interest in your products and service; generating sales inquiries and phone calls.
  • When you’re taking on more customers and want to automate some of the repetitive tasks involved in onboarding.
  • When you slip-up on necessary communications to clients and customer that impact your renewals.
  • When your business acquires investors and needs to scale operations fast.

If your business is experiencing, or has experienced, any one of the situations above, then marketing automation may be the right solution for you. The key element of the purchase-decision relies on your ability to identify how your business can benefit from automation. If you run your website as a hobby, or a casual blog, you may not need automation. However, if you’re looking to scale that blog, marketing automation will help you get there.

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