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Hi, I'm Nicholas Gottlieb.

I make things grow online. I also enjoy surfing, sailing, bluegrass, and seeing the world.

Nicholas Gottlieb

I write about product, growth, software, and startups.

What is marketing automation?

Marketing automation is a term that you hear a lot these days, but what exactly does it entail? In the simplest terms; marketing automation is the use of software and data to automate marketing processes. These processes can include any activities that are normally the responsibility of the marketing department but most commonly include:

  • Email Marketing
  • Landing Pages
  • Lead Scoring
  • CRM Integration
  • Social Media Marketing
  • Multivariate Testing
  • Measuring/Analytics

These are all activities that predate modern marketing automation, however with the access to data and software that we have today all of these activities can be automated in ways that make them much more efficient and effective.

For example, without marketing automation a typical on-boarding process may looking something like this for a B2B SaaS company:

  1. New user signs up for a free trial via landing page
  2. Welcome email is sent to the user with a ‘getting started’ guide
  3. Member of the sales team gets contact info from database and contacts lead to close the sale

With marketing automation it would look more like this:

  1. New user signs up for a free trial via landing page
  2. Using data available on the new lead (this data may be supplied by the lead or pulled from a 3rd party data source based on the url of the lead’s email) a personalized welcome email is sent to the user with a vertical specific ‘getting started’ guide
  3. The lead is ‘scored’ based on their readiness to buy (have they contacted sales before? looked at the pricing page? signed up for a webinar?) as well as the potential size of their account (is the email domain from a F1000 company?)
  4. The lead is automatically pushed into the CRM where the sales team can view all relevant data and focus on those leads that are highest value and most ready to buy
  5. Based on the actions that the lead takes further communication is initiated (ex. if the product has not been used 7 days after sign up send a video link with some example use cases, this is called ‘drip marketing’)

This is a very generalized and watered down example, but it shows the potential that marketing automation has to make sales teams more efficient and successful (which is ultimately the goal of every marketing department). One sentiment I hear sometimes from people who don’t totally get marketing automation is that it is ‘not personal enough’ and will turn off potential customers who may feel they are being marketed to by a machine rather than a person. The truth is that a well designed marketing automation system will deliver relevant content in a timely manner, making the whole process of getting marketed to more enjoyable and less ‘spammy’. Of course marketing automation by no means guarantees an increase in efficiency; a poorly designed and implemented marketing automation system can and most likely will hurt your marketing efforts.

In addition to making marketing (and sales) processes more efficient, marketing automation also makes it easier than ever to measure the efforts of the marketing department. With marketing automation you can track each touch point a lead has with marketing throughout the buying process and calculate much more easily what percentage of leads and sales are ‘marketing driven’. This also makes it much easier to adjust marketing priorities and budgets based on what efforts are delivering the highest ROI.

We are still in the very early days of marketing automation and as data becomes even easier to collect and interpret the potential for automated marketing will only increase. The ultimate goal of marketing automation is to use software to make the marketing process more enjoyable for the user and more profitable for the company, and I think this is a great thing. Of course I would also love to hear what anyone reading this thinks as well.