What is Marketing Automation?

Marketing automation and marketing automation software are among the hottest topics in marketing right now, and they’re a part of almost every team’s 2023 marketing strategy.

In fact, a recent survey shows that 75% of companies use marketing automation software.

And with good reason! The right marketing automation strategy can touch almost every step in the customer journey, making positive impacts on the results of your inbound marketing, content marketing, digital marketing, email marketing, and social media marketing efforts.

And that’s really just the tip of the iceberg! In this article, we’ll dive into how automation can improve your marketing processes, multiply the impact of your marketing teams, and improve your customer experience.

What Is Marketing Automation and How Does It Work?

Put simply, marketing automation refers to any kind of automation software that’s designed to improve the impact of your marketing efforts or further your marketing strategy in some way. Different marketing automation tools and marketing automation platforms do this in different ways.

Some automate away repetitive tasks like social media posting, freeing up your marketing team for more creative work.

Some automate customer interactions to provide instantaneous, 24/7 responses to any potential customer who has a question.

Some marketing automation software crunches customer data and can give visitors personalized recommendations that improve the customer experience.

Some marketing automation tools facilitate communication between marketers and your sales team.

Marketing automation software exists to help with just about anything that a marketer might work on, but what all of these automation tools have in common is that they’re designed to help businesses (including small businesses) improve the impact of their marketing activity.

Another thing almost every piece of marketing automation software has in common is that it works using data. Customer data is the fuel that powers great marketing automation, no matter where it lies in the funnel.

A social media marketing automation tool, for example, might use past post performance data to identify the best times of day to post and past post content data to synthesize new post topics with a high probability of generating engagement.

On the other end of the funnel, a sales automation might use data from a customer’s interactions with the marketing site and the product itself, identify a pattern in the data that suggests a likelihood to churn, and notify a sales rep so they can reach out to prevent it.

How Can Marketing Automations Help Businesses?

As mentioned above, marketing automation software can help businesses in a wide variety of ways. From a business perspective, the potential benefits are almost limitless, as automation can be used to improve everything from email marketing to onsite A/B testing.

Let’s look at a couple of specific business problems and see how automation can help solve them.

Problem 1: Customers Churn

Churn is a problem that affects most SaaS companies. It can be particularly painful in the B2B space, where a single client churning or falling out of your B2B marketing funnel might represent millions in lost revenue.

So how can B2B marketing automation help? By seeing patterns in the data that humans cannot.

Over time, if you’re collecting and storing enough customer data, you’ll have enough data on churned clients that automation algorithms can begin to analyze to identify patterns.

A simple example of this type of pattern is customers who previously opened your email newsletter regularly and have sense stopped opening it. These customers are more likely to churn.

However, marketing automation software can identify much subtler and more complex patterns.

These patterns can then be applied to the real-time data of your current customers so that when one starts fitting the “churn” pattern their account is flagged by the system so that action can be taken.

Often, the action itself – such as adding the customer to an email marketing flow – can be automated as well.

Problem 2: Marketing and Sales Aren’t in Sync

It’s a common problem in many businesses; marketing teams and sales teams are busy, so they’re not in sync. But that lack of communication can cost sales.

For example, if a salesperson is speaking to a prospective customer but they don’t have up-to-date data from marketing on what content that customer has seen on your website (for example), they won’t be able to craft a carefully targeted pitch.

On the other side of the spectrum, if the marketing organization isn’t hearing back from sales about which marketing campaigns are working best, what content is most effective, etc., then they could be wasting a lot of effort.

The right marketing automation platform can fix this by automating a lot of the communication between these two teams such that (for example) marketing site data is sent to Salesforce to keep the sales team informed automatically, and sales data is sent to marketing too.

Here, automation tools are used to keep the teams in sync by making much of the communication required between them instant and automatic rather than manual and (as a result) often delayed.

Problem 3: Customers Need Help

No matter how good your product is, no matter how well-written your documentation, customer support requests happen. And when customers need help, they expect to get it fast.

Marketing automation platforms can be a big help here because they’re capable of responding instantly. Unlike your actual support team, marketing automation software doesn’t need to sleep, eat, or take holidays. It can always be there to help.

And while it’s not likely to replace your support team, good marketing automation software can reduce the burden on them by resolving many of the most common questions via (for example) chatbot responses.

Marketing automation can even help eliminate support requests before they happen. For example, automated email marketing campaigns can be triggered when a customer takes a certain action that suggests they might need help.

Or, website visitors can be proactively recommended educational content (via a chatbot, an onsite recommendation engine, etc.) based on their on-site behavior. For example, automation software could prompt someone reading the FAQ for a product to watch an educational video.

Problem 4: Your Team Is Busy

If there’s one problem that seems to afflict almost all marketing teams from small businesses all the way up to the Fortune 500, it’s this: too many things to do, too little time.

While marketing automation software can’t slow the relentless march of time, it can give time back to your team by taking repetitive tasks, minutiae, and other distractions out of their hands so that they’re able to spend more time innovating and creating.

Consider, for example, the social media team. Typically, these are marketers that have been hired because they’re great at creating social media content. That’s what you want them to spend their time doing.

Marketing automation software can let them do more of that by taking some of the other marketing tasks (post scheduling, data analysis, rescheduling successful posts, etc.) out of their hands.

Let a computer pore over time-series data to identify the best times to post. By doing this, you’re giving your human team members time back to focus on creating new, engaging content that’s going to tell your brand’s story better.

How to Get Started With Marketing Automation

Marketing automation can solve so many problems that almost everyone is looking to implement.

But getting started with automation isn’t quite as simple as just assessing marketing automation platforms and then picking a favorite. Your marketing strategy will be far more likely to succeed if you approach it systemically.

(See more marketing automation examples here.)

Step 1: Set Up Data Tracking

Customer data is the fuel that powers automation. Any type of marketing automation you’d like to implement, from email marketing automation flows to digital marketing automation of Google Ads, is going to rely heavily on your customer data to be effective.

Moreover, the more data you have, the more complex and precise your automations can get. So an important first step in any marketing automation strategy is to ensure you’re collecting as much customer data as possible.

Generally, this means using an event-driven tracking system that can identify individual users and track their actions over time as they do things such as interact with your ads, read content on your site, and use your product.

All of those actions are data points, and the more of them you can collect, the more powerful the automations you’ll be able to leverage.

Step 2: Learn About Your Customer Journey

The next step is to ensure that you understand your customer experience from beginning to end. Typically, the best way to do this is through a combination of quantitative and qualitative research.

On the quantitative side, you should dig into the data you’re tracking and look at how users interact with your brand over time. What content do people often look at before purchasing? What on-site actions are likely to lead to a conversion?

It’s also often helpful to do some qualitative research and actually speak to some of your customers about their journey – how did they first hear of your brand, what content did they consume on your site, what convinced them to purchase, etc.

When you’ve completed this research, you should have an idea of what a typical customer journey looks like, and you’ll probably also have noticed a few spots in that journey where people are falling out of your funnel.

That’s what we’ll look at in more depth in the next step.

Step 3: Craft Your Strategy

Once you’ve got the customer journey down, it’s time to come up with an automation strategy that targets your weak spots.

Since every company is different, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Your strategy will be based on what you discovered while researching the customer journey.

For example, you may have found that users who engaged with your email campaigns were more likely to purchase.

This might lead you to pursue email automations such as building more complex automated flows to direct specific emails to the users most likely to be interested in them or optimizing send times and A/B testing subject lines to improve open rates.

Alternatively, maybe your email marketing results looked great, but your digital marketing wasn’t bringing enough people into that stage of the funnel. You might look into automation that can optimize your Google Ads placements, content, and targeting.

Whatever your problem is, there are marketing automation tools out there to solve it, so the key to your strategy will be prioritizing the most impactful problems to solve first.

Step 4: Implement Automation

Once you’ve built your strategy, it’s time to actually implement the automation.

While this could be done manually if you’ve got a generous engineering team, typically in marketing, automation is implemented via the use of purpose-built marketing automation tools. Many of the marketing tools you already use likely also have automation features.

We’ll discuss picking tools a bit later, but once you have picked them, you’ll need to get them set up and connected to all of the customer data that you collected in step one.

Depending on the tool, it may not need to access all of your customer data. An email marketing automation tool that’s built to optimize subject lines might only need access to email marketing data, for example, as it’s only going to be manipulating subject lines.

However, more robust automation tools may require a lot more data to be effective. This is particularly true of tools that leverage predictive analytics – the more data points they can analyze, the more places they’ll be able to spot patterns that a human never could.

Step 5: Monitor and Optimize

Once your automation tool is set up and plugged into your data, you’re on the road to success with marketing automation. But don’t take a victory lap just yet!

Getting the most out of most automation tools still requires at least a little bit of human intervention.

First, you should monitor the results of any automation work you implement regularly to ensure that everything is working correctly. Building an automation campaign monitor or dashboard may be a good idea, particularly if you’ve got lots of automations to track.

Second, you should look for opportunities to optimize your automations whenever possible. Would adding another data stream make the recommendation engine more accurate? Would retooling your nurture flow make your automated campaigns more effective?

Remember that while email marketing automation (for example) can help you optimize subject lines, send times, audience lists, and more, it can’t actually write your emails for you (at least, not yet)!

Automation is always going to be most powerful when it’s paired with the human insight and creativity that your team already has.

How Does Marketing Automation Affect the Customer Journey?

Understanding the customer journey is an important step in building a marketing automation strategy, but it’s important to remember that the journey isn’t set in stone. It could be and should be influenced and changed by the automations you implement.

For example, imagine you’ve discovered that a particular piece of content is quite convincing for a certain subset of your site visitors. Visitors in that audience segment tend to convert at high rates if they’ve seen that piece of content.

Seeing that this was the case, you implement automations to put that content in front of that audience as quickly as possible. It’s shown to them in remarketing ads, emailed in automated nurture campaigns, and recommended in pop-ups on the site.

These automations will change the customer journey, ushering more people in that audience through your marketing funnel, and probably speeding up their time-to-purchase considerably since they’re being proactively shown the content rather than stumbling across it.

Of course, that’s just one example of how marketing automation can impact your customer journey.

Depending on your goals and the marketing automation tools you choose, it’s possible to impact every single step in the journey with automation.

From digital marketing campaigns building initial awareness to customer service automations designed to reduce churn, there are ways that you can smooth and improve the journey for your customers from the first touch to the last.

How to Choose the Right Marketing Automation Platform for Your Business

Once you’re sold on marketing automation, you’re confronted with another problem. How can you choose the best marketing automation tools?

First, no single marketing automation solution is going to be perfect for everyone. However, particularly if you’re just getting started in the realm of automation, it may make sense to choose a holistic tool that brings together all of your data for analytics and automation in one place.

Woopra, for example, is a marketing analytics software that tracks your customer data and integrates natively with a number of popular marketing tools, database platforms, etc.

Because it already has all of the data required and integrates natively with the marketing tools you’re probably already using, setting up automations is quite simple when using Woopra.

For example, you can easily build automated action-trigger flows where an automated response is triggered whenever a user takes a particular action. When a customer fills in a form, you can set triggers to automatically send a welcome email and ping your sales team in Slack.

Woopra also supports automations to reduce repetitive tasks from marketing to customer service. And since it’s an analytics tool too, it also includes built-in analytics automation, so you can generate and send analytics reports automatically to keep everyone on the same page.

Whatever marketing automation platform you choose, it’s important to look at its integrations, because connecting it with tools for which it doesn’t have native integrations can be challenging and require engineering work.

Integrations with your email marketing tools, digital marketing tools, and data storage tools will be particularly key.

There’s no single tool that’s right for every stack, but Woopra supports everything from databases like MySQL, PostgreSQL, and Snowflake to sales tools like Salesforce Pardot to email marketing tools like Mailchimp and digital marketing tools like Google Ads.

Whatever you choose, the most important thing is just to pick something and get started. Marketing automation is an iterative process, and you’ll be monitoring and optimizing as you go.

Over time, you’ll probably add more automation tools to your stack as you dig deeper into specific areas of your customer journey. But a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Don’t wait to begin your marketing automation journey!