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What is Marketing Automation, and Do You Need It?

07.16.2020 | Andrea Pratt

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If you’re in the marketing field or own a business, you’ve likely heard the term “marketing automation” before. If it’s baffled you up to this point, or you’re trying to decide if you should be leveraging it, you’ve come to the right place.



“Marketing automation is technology that manages marketing processes and multifunctional campaigns, across multiple channels, automatically,” says Salesforce.

We’ll break that down a bit more. Basically, marketing automation involves automating certain repetitive marketing tasks to make them more manageable and help you scale your business. Marketing automation software allows you to generate and nurture leads behind the scenes as you perform other essential tasks that software can’t help you with.

How does it work? Marketing automation software uses data you collect about your customers through interactions with them. These interactions, which can be on your website, through email, on social media, etc., trigger actions by the software based on rules that you “teach,” or program, into it. These actions help you build personalized relationships that nurture leads through the Buyer’s Journey (and beyond).

Here’s an example: Setting up an automated “autoresponder” email that thanks customers for their purchase. You build an email and then create a “workflow” in your marketing automation system that triggers the email to send immediately whenever someone makes a purchase through your website. This helps you build your relationship with customers, and you don’t have to lift a finger to send it (after the initial set up).

Clearly, marketing automation can do some cool things. But is it for you? We’ll explore that question in this blog.



Marketing automation software can do a lot more than simply automate email sends. It can help you connect with people, track their interactions, trigger actions in response, convert leads, and measure results. The aim is to create a network of automations that guides leads through the Buyer’s Journey.

Here are the basics things marketing automation software can help you do (though features vary among platforms):

  • Raise Awareness:
    Marketing automation software can help you get your message in front of people by enabling you to create and manage:

    • Blogs
    • Landing Pages
    • Social Media Posts
    • Ads
    • Multi-Channel Campaigns
  • Create Contacts:
    Once your content has attracted awareness, marketing automation helps you create and manage contacts with:

    • Forms
    • A CRM (customer relationship management system)
    • Personas
    • List Segmentation
    • Lead Scoring
    • Chatbots
  • Manage and Nurture Leads:
    With data on your contacts, you’ll be able to automate personalized content as well as empower your sales team to nurture leads using:

    • Email Marketing
    • Automated Workflows
    • A Resource Library
    • Dynamic Content
    • A Meetings Calendar
    • In-Platform Calls/Videoconferencing
    • Sales Reports
  • Delight Customers
    We all know retaining customers is far more effective than converting new ones. Your software will help you keep your customers engaged and delighted by supporting:

    • Customer Service
    • Customer Feedback Gathering
    • Content Publishing
  • Measure & Analyze
    Plus, track the efficacy of your efforts on an individual or campaign basis. You’ll see how well your efforts are helping you build awareness, create leads, and drive purchases with:

    • Analytics
    • Attribution Reports
    • Sales Reports



Marketing automation only has the benefits we just mentioned when it’s used correctly. Here are some common reasons why a company can miss out.

Marketing automation is not a holy grail. Investment in marketing automation software (which can be tens of thousands of dollars per year for higher-end platforms) does not always produce return on investment (ROI).

Why is this the case, when marketing automation can do so many powerful things? Typically, the problem is that users of marketing automation software don’t fully use it. Starting to use marketing automation software always involves a learning curve and a gradual uptake of features. But many users can become overwhelmed or simply find that they do not need all of the features they invested in. Or perhaps they didn’t end up having the time that is necessary to set it up and continuously feed their system so it can run well.

Prospective marketing automation users should carefully consider their needs, perhaps working with a marketing agency, and then choose a solution that they are at a scale to justify.

Lack of a Strategy
In one 2016 study, only 32% of companies considered marketing automation “very successful.” (59% responded “somewhat successful”.) This does not mean that marketing automation isn’t worth the investment. (We know highly-personalized marketing is effective, especially for younger generations.) Rather, it is reflective of the finding in that same study that 58% of “best-in-class” marketers say the most significant barrier to marketing automation success is “lack of an effective strategy.”

Marketing automation requires ongoing commitment. While tasks can be automated, the software does not run on its own. Companies must have a clear strategy for how they will utilize their system and be committed to monitoring and investing time into it.

Not everything should be automated. Some companies set up their system to be as hands-free as possible. This can cause issues for them when customers expect a one-on-one interaction and find themselves speaking to a chatbot or receiving a canned email. For instance, automation should not be used for conversations that take place further down the sales funnel (this mainly applies to B2B). It shouldn’t replace your customer service (beyond certain communications surrounding the interaction, like confirmation of a support ticket being submitted). Social media engagement should not be automated.

Automation can never replace genuine human interaction. If you don’t offer an authentic experience, your customers will find a competitor that does.



So do you really need marketing automation software? It depends on the scale of your business. Before investing in marketing automation software, you should have a large enough current of traffic and leads to justify automating. If it’s hard or impossible to maintain one-to-one communications with contacts, or if you feel contacts are slipping through the cracks because you or your team aren’t able to have enough touchpoints with them, it may be time.

Maybe you’ve been using disparate software for email marketing, social scheduling, contact management, etc. One centralized marketing automation software with all of these features could be a great help and potentially even save you money.

Of course, you also have to make sure you have the budget to invest in the software at the start and pay monthly or annual fees. Consider that you may also want support from a consultant at some point. Plus, you’ll need to be continuously monitoring and feeding the system with content to attract and engage leads.



There are many marketing automation software options. Some of the most popular include:

  • HubSpot
  • MailChimp
  • Marketo
  • Pardot
  • SharpSpring

How do you know which one to choose? Here are some ways to narrow down your list.

  • Head to each candidate’s website and take a deep dive into the services they offer.
  • Check out comparison websites like G2.
  • Take a look at each candidate’s pricing structure to see which ones offer the best balance of features and price for your needs.
  • Take a peek at YouTube how-to videos to see what people are using the software for.
  • Check each candidate’s Facebook group (if they have one and if it is a public group), Reddit page, or Twitter mentions to gauge sentiment about the software (and its customer service!)
  • Schedule demo meetings for a walkthrough of all that each software on your shortlist has to offer.
  • Try to a secure a trial so you can take the software for a test drive before committing.

Whichever software you choose, make sure it is well known for its excellent support and customer service. Once you get started, you’ll likely have a lot of questions. And be aware that some of these platforms are better at marketing than providing the services they say that they do. Take the time to understand exactly what each one offers!



On a closing note, we’d like to address any concerns that marketing automation is disingenuous. Maybe you’re thinking that sending an automated email to a customer feels unethical. But, let’s be real, you’re not pulling the wool over anyone’s eyes with marketing automation. People know when they are dealing with software. They also know it can be helpful. Marketing automation—when used well and fed with excellent content—helps you enhance the customer experience.

Especially for younger generations, personalization and communication at every turn is downright expected from brands. Marketing automation can help you meet those expectations. That said, there are certainly times when dealing with a human is necessary—which is why robots won’t be running marketing anytime soon.

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