When it comes to online marketing, there’s a lot to keep up with. What messages should you send via email? Who is interacting with your social media pages? What are prospects looking for when they visit your website?
One way to keep up with all of your marketing channels and messaging is to use marketing automation. But that takes a little more than simply buying the right software and blasting your list with messages.
Done correctly, successful marketing automation will increase your number of leads and conversions. In a VentureBeat survey  of over 700 marketers, 80 percent of marketing automation users saw their number of leads increase, and 77 percent saw their number of conversions increase. If you’re looking for that kind of success, keep these tips in mind.
1. Get your lists in order.
List management is crucial to marketing automation success. You’ll need a big list, but that doesn’t mean you should go out and buy a bunch of contacts wholesale. Reaching out to a cold list can come across as awkward and misdirected, especially at the beginning of a sales cycle.
Take the time to build your list organically through your website, social media pages and other marketing efforts. If you do buy leads, make sure they’re qualified. Here are some other list management best practices:
- Clean up. Remove non-deliverables and spam addresses. Validate all the email addresses on your list.
- Once your list is clean, start segmenting. MailChimp found  that segmentation can lead to a 15 percent higher open rate 59 percent higher click rate. The way you segment your list will depend on your industry and buying personas. You might want to consider a position in the sales cycle, geography, interests, age, gender, industry, etc.
- Make sure people aren’t being duplicated on multiple lists and, thus, receiving too many messages.
2. Get your content right.
Invest in good content that engages your target prospects and calls for action at the right moment. Remember there’s a difference between well-written content and content that performs well. A few things that can help you succeed:
- Know your audience and tailor your content appropriately.
- Understand the value your product or service offers.
- Create a messaging strategy for your different lead segments at every stage of the sales funnel (this would include welcome emails, follow-up messages, thank-yous, special offers, and more)
- Take full advantage of marketing automation (for SEO, lead capture forms, landing pages, reporting) to develop a content strategy that speaks to your leads.
Aligning content strategy with marketing automation  is no easy task, so it might be worth the time and money to hire a content strategy professional who can help you improve your messaging.
3. Have a lead generation strategy.
If you already have a lead gen strategy, prepare to automate it. If your process isn’t established yet, start by determining how you’ll drive traffic into your sales funnel. This is another area where content will come into play. Depending on your industry, you can offer various content assets (research reports, whitepapers, e-books) in exchange for contact information.
You can use all types of content to find out who people are and what they are looking for, then move them through your sales cycle. In-person events, online tools, webinars, and marketing partnerships can also be great ways to generate leads. All of these steps can be automated — to a degree — with the right software tools, which means you can scale up.
4. Establish goals and expectations.
Although your marketing team is probably singing the praises of marketing automation, it’s important to know that it won’t solve all your problems. When done correctly, automated marketing will expand your reach to more leads and convert more leads to customers, but you have to establish your goals and create a strategy in order to make that happen.
While you’re at it, make sure you get buy-in from your business leaders and executives and communicate clearly to them. One study indicates  that only eight percent of companies see increased revenues within six months of adopting marketing automation. But after just one year, 32 percent see increased revenue, and after two years, that figure climbs to 40 percent.
It might take a while to see ROI from marketing automation, but the rewards are steep for those who endure. According to a 2014 report by Aberdeen , companies using marketing automation achieve 53 percent higher conversion rates than non-users, plus an annual revenue growth rate 3.1 percent higher than non-users.
5. Go all in.
Whether you’re brand new to marketing automation or you’ve been using some of these tactics for a while, it’s a good idea to think through your efforts and make changes, where necessary.
Buying marketing automation software  won’t solve all your problems. You have to put people, content, and processes in place to make the whole strategy work. Set goals, create a plan, and shore up your lists before you purchase any software. Otherwise, you might not get what you pay for.
Megan Pacella is a contributor for TechnologyAdvice.com , with specializations in B2B marketing and sales. She has also written for USA Today, Bearings Guide, 10Best Nashville, and other publications.
- ^ fotolia (us.fotolia.com)
- ^ VentureBeat survey (insight.venturebeat.com)
- ^ found (mailchimp.com)
- ^ Aligning content strategy with marketing automation (relevance.com)
- ^ One study indicates (www.b2bmarketing.net)
- ^ Aberdeen (www.aberdeen.com)
- ^ marketing automation software (bit.ly)
- ^ TechnologyAdvice.com (technologyadvice.com)