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Mastering Marketing Automation

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What is Marketing Automation? Mark Parent, President/CEO of Inbound 281 Explains.

These days, for sales and marketing, it is almost passé to say but is worth repeating: the buying-selling process today is much different than it was even a few years ago, buyers find sellers.

The information explosion of the internet age has put customers in the driver's seat.

Prospects now self-manage their own sales funnel. Prospects identify their pain points and conduct their own research. They explore their options and evaluate products. They do their own comparison shopping, make their own decisions, and complete their own purchases. 

"They often do this without ever requiring the services of a salesperson. This occurs whether the item being pursued is a wrist watch, a car, or industrial machinery."

63% of the companies growing faster than their competition are using marketing automation.


Sure, for specialty products or big-ticket items with long buying cycles, the salesperson is an essential element. But, in many fields, across the B2C and B2B landscapes, salespeople have had to adapt to a new terrain. They now must be more nurturing, more consultative, more savvy and more customer-centric.

Just as the sales game has changed, so has marketing. Marketers – the folks who craft and disseminate the images and words that support sales -- have also been impacted.

In the past, marketing was about blasting the same message to as many people as possible. Nowadays marketing is about interacting with prospects in a more individualized manner, on their turf, according to their wants and needs. Marketing has shifted from an emphasis on quantity to an emphasis on quality.

Marketing automation supports this shift, and with greater results. A study by the Lenskold Group found that 63% of the companies growing faster than their competition are using marketing automation.



How did we get here? Why are marketing automation consultants and marketing automation agencies now needed? A confluence of factors is responsible:

  • the evolution of search engines and search marketing
  • the expansion of high-speed internet
  • the development of smartphones
  • the explosion of social media
  • the re-thinking of old-fashioned sales and marketing approaches

All of this has occurred in the last 20 years. When Google debuted in 1999, traditional sales and marketing tactics still held sway. It was a different world back then. Dial-up was how most people went online. Social media did not exist. Personal cell phones, let alone web-savvy smartphones, were a novelty. The email was still in its infancy as a marketing tool. (In 2000, there were 570 million global email accounts; today, that number is over 4.3 billion).

At the turn of this century, brochures, catalogs, direct mail, and cold calling were still how companies communicated. Marketing budgets back then were largely devoted to print, TV, and radio. Savvy marketers might have used variable printing for their mailers.

According to data compiled by Douglas Galibi, in the United States in 2002, the internet accounted for $4.8 billion in advertising spending. This was out of a total outlay of $236 billion. Fast forward to 2017 and digital spending topped $72 billion, outpacing TV as the largest channel of advertising expenditure.

These statistics are tell-tale symbols of digital’s growing stature. They show where marketers devote their dollars in pursuit of consumers. But the growth of digital has brought on more than just budgetary changes. As digital was evolving in the early aughts and transforming the tactics of marketing, a corollary change was happening. This change transformed the strategy of marketing. This change is known as “permission marketing."


Permission marketing says that markers should only communicate with consumers when they have the consumers' consent.

In his book “Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers into Friends and Friends into Customers” (1999), Seth Godin advocated for a different approach. Push marketing was out, he said. Permission-based marketing is in.

In push marketing, messages are purposely designed to be interruptive to get noticed. TV ads that interrupt a program or the classic example. These interruptions are meant to get your attention. The problem is, that viewers, become numb to the interruptions and tune them out. The interruptions become white noise.

Permission marketing says that marketers should communicate with consumers only with the consumer’s consent. Opt-in email is a perfect example. Under the opt-in model, marketers only communicate with people who have given their OK to be communicated with. Opt-in is a foundational element of email marketing automation.

Permission marketing asks marketers to rethink not just where they engage prospects, but how they engage them.

The national Do Not Call Registry is an outgrowth of permission marketing. The Registry came into being in 2003 as a way for consumers to say “no” to receiving telemarketing calls.

The CAN-SPAM Act (officially titled Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing) is another example of permission marketing. Coincidentally, it was signed into law in 2003, too. CAN-SPAM established the United States’ first national standards for sending commercial emails. CAN-SPAM mandated that emailers provide a way for recipients to unsubscribe.

These laws, combined with emerging digital technologies and changing consumer behaviors, created a climate that was fertile for marketing automation.



To define marketing automation, there’s no better place to start than with marketing automation companies that established the industry. HubSpot is one of the premier marketing automation platforms on the planet. HubSpot marketing automation is defined as:

“Marketing automation refers to the software that exists with the goal of automating marketing actions. Marketing automation makes repetitive tasks such as emails, social media, and other website actions easier. ”

At its best, marketing automation is software and tactics that allow companies to buy and sell like Amazon. They nurture prospects with highly personalized, useful content that helps convert prospects to customers and turn customers into delighted customers.

Other marketing automation specialists define marketing automation as:


“Marketing automation refers to software platforms and technologies designed for marketing departments and organizations to more effectively market on multiple channels online (such as email, social media, websites, etc.) and automate repetitive tasks.”


“In a nutshell, marketing automation software collects and uses data to send personalized messages to your contacts at different times based on their actions.”


“Marketing automation is a type of software that allows companies to effectively target customers with automated marketing messages across channels including email, websites, social media, and text messages to generate sales leads. The technology is a segment of customer relationship management, or CRM, and is typically used by marketing departments as a way to remove repetitive tasks from staff workflows and increase overall marketing efficiency.”



As much as marketing automation is tied to the growth of the internet, its origins actually pre-date modern digital life.

The first marketing automation platform was created by a company called Unica in 1992. Their eponymous software was the first package to combine customer analytics, cross-channel execution, and integrated marketing operations.

Unica was expensive and used mainly by Fortune 100 firms who could afford it. But the software gave a glimpse of what was possible. Unica was purchased by IBM in 2010. It still forms the backbone of IBM’s Marketing Solutions targeted to large-scale enterprises.

In 1999, Eloqua and Silverpop debuted. Eloqua was an immediate hit and inspired other platforms such as Pardot, Infusionsoft, and Marketo.

As the speed of the internet increased, so did software as a service (SaaS). This led to cloud-based marketing automation solutions. HubSpot, in 2006, was among them.

By 2010, most of the platforms we now recognize as leaders in the marketing automation field had been created. The years between 2010 and 2014 saw mergers and acquisitions aplenty, as this infographic from Marketing Automation Insider shows.

As competition heated up in the marketing automation space, consumers benefited. The average monthly cost of marketing automation came down. What formerly cost thousands of dollars per month could be had for hundreds. A tipping point had occurred. Since 2015, the makers of marketing automation platforms have focused on adding features. This has extended their appeal. Small and midsize businesses can now afford marketing automation technology.

Today, there are several dozen different technologies that can be considered marketing automation. As of 2016, there were 482,765 websites using marketing automation. HubSpot has the largest single share, at 21%. HubSpot is especially dominant among SMB companies that have revenues below $100 million. (source: The State of Marketing Automation 2017.)

HubSpot is the dominant marketing automation platform for the SMB market, with a 21% market share.



Now that we understand what marketing automation is, let’s look at its essential elements. Most platforms include the following capabilities:

  • Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
  • Email Design and Automated Delivery
  • Social Media Integration
  • Website Management, Landing Page Creation, and Form Building
  • Lead Scoring and Lead Nurturing
  • Analytics, Measurement, and Reporting

Here’s a look at what’s entailed within each feature.


Most marketing automation platforms include some type of customer relationship management (CRM) capability. Enterprise-level platforms that are owned by CRM companies -- for example Pardot, which is owned by Salesforce -- use the separate CRM.

Marketing automation platforms like HubSpot that are targeted to SMBs have their own full-featured CRMs. The presumption is that SMBs might not have the luxury of a separate, stand-alone CRM.

CRMs let you manage your sales funnel by tracking the status deals, as well as tracking your interaction with individual contacts. You can log your communication activity with contacts. You can also well as view their engagement across the website, social channels, email, and more.

In a perfect world, marketing and sales are in complete alignment. Integrating marketing automation and your customer relationship management brings you considerably closer to that perfect world. Aligning your automation with your CRM means the process of handing qualified leads over to sales becomes more streamlined and efficient.


Marketing automation platforms let you efficiently design and create template-based emails. Most platforms include a robust set of design features. Using templates, you can guarantee design and branding consistency across your emails. You can even create different templates for different purposes. You can have a template for your monthly newsletter, a template for your weekly blog feed, a template for product announcements, etc.

The real value of marketing automation when it comes to email is you can eliminate manual drudgery. You can send emails by automating them with workflows. These workflows can be triggered by date or, even better, by prospect behavior and characteristics. And you can dynamically include personalized information relevant to the prospect. This personalized info includes their name, company, industry, what they did on your website, and where they are in the sales funnel. This is the real beauty of marketing automation relative to the lead nurturing process.

Marketing automation allows you to narrow the focus of your email campaigns. With automation tools, you can set predefined trigger points based on customer interaction with your brand. For instance, if a customer downloads a white paper, you can send a follow-up email. That email will contain content specific to the white paper.

You can use marketing automation tools to ensure your customers are getting relevant content at every step of the customer journey. At the same time, you reduce the chances of irritating your customers with repetitive, impersonal communication.

According to HubSpot, companies who excel at lead nurturing generate 50 percent more sales-ready leads at 33 percent lower cost.

Companies that excel at lead nurturing generate 50 percent more sales-ready leads at 33 percent lower costs.


Marketing automation can also help you refine your social media strategy. How? Because automation tools help you identify the interests of a particular customer. By integrating your social media and automation tools, you can craft more effective social media messages. Marketing automation tools help you drill down into the real interests and needs of your email customers. These tools also help you do the same for those who follow your social media messaging.


Good marketing automation platforms allow you to manage your website content by building effective landing pages and conversion forms. 

Landing pages are where the magic of inbound marketing lead conversion happens. Inbound marketing is a methodical approach to content marketing. The goal is to attract prospects to your website with high-quality content, then convert them into named prospects. Inbound marketing depends on marketing automation. The two go hand-in-hand.

Marketing automation platforms also allow you to create a variety of conversion forms. These include progressive profiling forms that gather more information as a prospect engages more often.

As part of website management, marketing automation platforms allow you to track visitors as they navigate your website. This capability lets you view which pages and key prospects are viewing. You can use these insights to trigger emails and inform in-person conversations.

Marketing automation will also track anonymous visitors to your website and tell you which company they are from. Platforms do this by matching a visitor’s IP address to public databases of company IP addresses. So, if an unknown visitor from a company you are pursuing visits your site, you will see that visit. If you are able to convert that person via a form, their past anonymous activity is included in their profile.


From a sales development standpoint, these might be the most important aspects of marketing automation. All platforms let you assign scores to prospect engagement behaviors across social media, email, and your website. For example, if you have a really critical page on your website, you can assign it a high score. Then, whenever someone visits that page, their lead score will increment according to the score value. You can then trigger notifications to salespeople when lead scores hit a certain level.

Effective lead nurturing focuses on engaging with customers based on where they are in the customer life cycle.


Effective lead nurturing focuses on engaging with customers based on where they are in the customer lifecycle. Marketing automation helps you track customer progress through the pipeline. It is easy to see why automating this process can save time and money.


Underlying all of marketing automation’s content creation and lead management is the ability to measure what is happening. A robust marketing automation platform includes metrics on any and everything. This includes email opens, clicks, keyword tracking, traffic source, and more.

For reporting and ROI tracking. marketing automation lets you create campaigns. Campaigns tie together all assets and efforts related to an initiative, so you can gauge the overall effectiveness. If you launch a series of similar emails and landing pages, you can associate them with a campaign. After a period of time, you know how well the web pages, social postings, Google ads, and emails do.

If you are using CRM, you can also connect these activities to sales and bottom-line ROI reporting for a campaign.



So, what are the benefits of marketing automation? There are plenty, for large businesses as well as small businesses. Marketing automation helps with lead generation, of course. But it does more.


By nurturing customers with regular personalized, relevant communication, marketing automation lets you sell more to your existing customers. With marketing automation, you can automate the sending of engagement, re-engagement, and upsell emails.


How many customers do you lose because they fell off the radar and you lost touch with them? With marketing automation, you can stay in touch. You can schedule automated campaigns and personalize emails to be sent on a regular basis. You can coincide these with important dates, such as expiring subscriptions. Marketing automation campaigns can help you advance your customer service operations to keep customers longer.



Marketing automation shortens your sales cycle in several ways. As we have written before, communication has always been a key component of sales. First, marketing automation lets you score leads for quality and relevance before they are turned over to sales. This means the sales team gets leads who are “warmer” than they might otherwise be. Marketing automation also allows you to respond to prospects more quicker. A Harvard Business Review study showed that companies who contact prospects in under an hour are 7 times more likely to have a meaningful conversation with key decision-makers.



With marketing automation, you can assign different scoring to high-value engagements versus low-value ones. This makes your lead qualification process better reflect high-value prospects who are worth pursuing. By writing blog posts and creating emails based on automated campaigns, you can.


This is one of marketing automation’s biggest benefits. A properly built lead nurturing effort will deliver more sales-ready, bottom-of-the-funnel prospects. A study by VB Insight reported that 80% of marketing automation users saw their number of leads increase. 77% saw the number of conversions increase.


80% of marketing automation users saw their number of leads increase, while 77% saw the number of conversions increase.



By sending the right message to the right person at the right time, marketing automation increases your engagement. You can include dynamic tokens such as a person’s name, company, or industry to further personalize their message. This enhances the probability of it being opened and clicked. A/B testing also allows you to test different approaches and use the ones that are most effective. You can even conduct real-time campaign monitoring.


The reporting features of marketing automation let you devote time and energy to the tasks that are delivering the best results. With marketing automation, you will know which landing pages, forms, or emails perform best. With A/B testing, you can evaluate different messages and designs. You will know which performs best, then use those to launch the most effective campaigns possible.


By automating many of the essential tasks, marketing automation helps you get more done with fewer resources.



Because marketing automation requires the collaborative input of both the sales and marketing teams, both teams benefit. They both gain a better understanding of what the other side is doing. In this way, they gain an appreciation for each other’s challenges.



So, how do you succeed at marketing automation? A suggested five-step process is:

  • Establish Objectives
  • Plan the Work
  • Work the Plan
  • Let it Go, Let it Grow
  • Adjust, Explore, Expand

As with any business initiative, success comes when you plan the work, then work the plan. Planning the work requires first establishing objectives. What is it you want to accomplish? What do you want the end results to be, and by when? For some companies, it might be increasing email delivery and performance rates. For others, it might be improving lead scoring so as to enhance the lead qualification process. Knowing your end-game objectives will help you create the system that delivers those results.

Once you have your objectives and key performance indicators in place, you must create an implementation plan. Marketing automation has a lot of moving parts. Based on your objectives, you should start there. If your organization is skilled at digital marketing, you might be able to tackle all the moving parts at once.

Most likely, though, you should start with the foundational aspects. This includes configuring the CRM and segmenting your lists. Then work your way up. Many companies that are new to marketing automation employ the services of a digital agency that specializes in the field. [insert link to our Agency download].

Outsourcing is often the quickest way to get started. In fact, 75% of very successful users outsource all or part of their marketing automation efforts. They use companies that specialize in MA, according to a report by Marketo & Ascend2 titled “Marketing Automation Strategies for Sustaining Success.”

75% of very successful users of marketing automation outsource all or part of their efforts to companies that specialize in MA.


Depending on the complexity of your plan, building out your marketing automation platform can range from days to months. It will involve creative as well as technical people. The creatives generate the content needed for emails, landing pages, and website pages, while technical people handle the coding and programming. 

Often, the best way to show a quick win is to start with a general interest newsletter. The newsletter should include several stories or items of interest that drive people back to your website. You can begin tracking recipient behavior and engagement from the first email. Also, don’t forget to put a newsletter sign-up form on your website. This will let you grow your subscriber list organically, in a permission-marketing way! And avoid these mistakes, too.

After one year of using marketing automation, 32% of businesses say they see increased revenue.

After you are up and running, the next step is to give the system time to work and let it grow. The good news is you shouldn’t have to wait long. After one year of using marketing automation, 32% of businesses say they see increased revenue. For those to have been using it for more than two years, the figure is 40%. (Source: B2Bmarketing.net and Circle Research “Benchmarking Report Marketing automation” (2015). Even in the interim, you will have key metrics to monitor. These include web visits, form conversions, email open, click rates, and more.

Once you’ve had your marketing automation system running for a while, you should expand and explore your options. With the bevy of metrics that marketing automation provides, you will always be monitoring and tweaking your efforts.

It is also worthwhile to embark on new initiatives, such as marketing campaigns targeted to narrow audience segments.

With marketing automation, the more specific, personalized, and targeted your communication is – quality over quantity -- the more effective and rewarding it will be.