Selecting the right marketing automation software is no mean feat.
Last week, Scott Brinker released his ‘MarTech 5000 ’, a visual representation of the martech landscape. Its size and complexity reveals the true challenge marketers face when assessing new marketing technology.
Automation is no exception, with well over 100 vendors competing for the attention of CMOs and Marketing Directors all over the world. For the decision maker, choosing a vendor likely involves months of research, listening to innumerable sales pitches, watching countless demos and talking ad nauseam to other brands like yours to see what works.
Factor in the time spent haggling for budget and justifying it to superiors, and I’m sure you can feel a migraine in the works. And that’s before even starting to think about implementation.
But, as a recent survey found, it’s worth the hassle. 84% of marketers  describe their marketing automation strategy as either ‘somewhat’ or ‘very’ successful, and 91% of the most successful users  agree that marketing automation is ‘very important’ to the overall success of their marketing across channels.
A recent ClickZ Intelligence webinar  with CRM & Marketing Automation Specialist Kevin Borwick at PwC, revealed that using marketing automation to nurture leads has a tangible impact on purchase size – with nurtured leads purchasing 47% more than non-nurtured leads.
Before we begin…
It’s important to distinguish between standalone marketing automation software and an ‘all-in-one’ CRM. The former will integrate with your existing systems (including your CRM) and often offers a level of customization. The latter is a CRM first, but includes marketing automation as part of the package.
If you’re a small business with a limited budget, consider investing in an all-in-one solution. The individual features may not be best-of-breed, but the guarantee that everything will work together is of greater value. If you’re unwilling to jettison your existing systems, or want truly cutting-edge features, standalone marketing automation software is likely a better option. That’s what we’ll be dealing with in this article.
Here’s a quick rundown of some key capabilities of marketing automation software, with a few brand examples to give some context, as well as some innovative use cases to spark your creativity. It’s by no means comprehensive (the market is huge – estimated to be worth $5.5bn by 2019) but this should give you a sense of what’s possible with automation.
Why do marketers use automation?
Increasing efficiency and reducing human error are two key benefits of marketing automation. The software is a bit like a hyper-efficient intern: it just does what you tell it to, but much faster and more accurately than you could. You, meanwhile, can get on with other things.
A recent survey  found most marketers are primarily concerned with using automation to increase marketing ROI (46%), optimize productivity (45%) and acquire more customers (45%). Measuring performance was also a key goal, with 40% selecting it as one of their most important objectives for a marketing automation strategy.
What can you do with marketing automation software?
In order to assess the relative capabilities of different software vendors, it’s important to understand what’s possible with marketing automation. Capabilities are wide-ranging, but automation is typically used for acquiring and nurturing leads. Some vendors will offer a suite of capabilities, others will focus on just one or two.
Build and personalize emails. Personalization was one of the biggest buzzwords of 2016, but for good reason. Last year, Experian  found that personalized promotional emails had a 27% higher unique click rate, an 11% higher click-to-open rate and more than double the transaction rate compared to non-personalized ones.
Most vendors will have a template builder/editor and support basic personalization and audience segmentation. Cutting-edge vendors will offer dynamic content personalization based on information from your CRM like lead score, job title, interests and behavior.
Our topic-specific newsletters, for example, are sent out to an auto-generated segment, qualified based on page views and engagement metrics.
Send automated responses. Functional emails like confirmations and ‘thank-you’s are obvious targets for automation. In theory, however, you can set whatever triggers you like. This means you can re-target customers who have read particular pages on your website, engaged on other channels or abandoned their shopping cart before purchasing.
Web / online marketing
A/B testing. Most vendors allow you to run split tests for things like emails, landing pages and forms. And although not currently available through the major vendors, technology is already being developed that will bring machine learning into the equation – allowing marketers to set campaigns to run, test and self-optimize based on set parameters.
Dynamic customization. Typically available for emails, landing pages and forms. New York hotel The New York Palace, for example, personalize their homepage based on a user’s location:
Form customization is another key feature, with fields appearing or disappearing based on data customers have previously filled in.
Lead scoring. Data collected on demographics, browsing history, site search terms, stated preferences can be used to automatically score leads. Lists can then be generated based on these criteria. An email marketing vendor, for example, might flag C-suite users who have read a blog post about the benefits of upgrading email marketing software as ‘warm’ leads for their salespeople to follow up with.
Automated alerts. Some vendors allow you to create alerts based on lead activity, such as clicks, page views or purchases. This gives salespeople a view on customer interactions in real time and empowers them to start upselling, or work to resolve pain points as quickly as possible.
Program management. Marketing automation software can be used as a tool to help manage campaigns across several channels and touchpoints – such as online ads, social media, mobile. It can also help optimize campaign assets like landing pages and emails for each platform, as well as tracking their performance.
Event/webinar marketing. After some set up and template-building, the tedium of sending invitations, registration requests, reminders, agendas and follow-ups can be handled automatically – freeing up your team to handle other aspects of the event you’re running.
A ClickZ Webinar email
Scheduling. Tee up social media content in advance on multiple platforms simultaneously and track engagement metrics such as link clicks, likes, share, retweets and replies. This gives a view over how effective your social content is at driving traffic and, ultimately, conversions.
Social listening. A growing trend in marketplace, top-end marketing automation software can now help monitor what customers are saying about your brand on social channels. This information can then be used to trigger specific campaigns or even to update individual lead scores.
There are more sophisticated tools to monitor what your audience is talking about on social channels, but marketing automation software has the benefit of letting you action insights automatically.
Workflows. These allow you to set triggers based on particular actions. Different vendors call them different things, but they all perform similar functions. Kevin Borwick, CRM & Marketing Automation Specialist at PwC, explained this in more detail in our recent webinar on marketing automation :
“There are a few different types of workflow triggers. There’s an activity trigger, such as form submission, someone who clicks through an email, a visit to a landing page. You also have a date trigger. This means you hold people for a certain length of time, you can send them content after a certain time frame elapses, or you can evaluate what content to send them after a certain amount of time.
“And last is data. Data-driven decisions are based primarily on customer data profiles. So if someone has a particular city, state, employment, purchase history, lead score or even birthday, you can use that data to further personalize your campaign.”
Do the research
With so many vendors in the marketplace, it’s essential to understand what’s out there and how it matches up with your business needs before investing in a platform.
Greg, our Digital Director here at ClickZ, advises that you spend a few weeks getting to grips with the exact functionality you need and speaking to brands in similar sectors to see what’s working for them – before getting demos from your shortlist of providers.
Be ready for innovation. By most measures, the technology is still in its infancy. With machine learning  and predictive analytics on the horizon, only time will tell what the future holds for marketing automation.
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- ^ MarTech 5000 (chiefmartec.com)
- ^ 84% of marketers (research.ascend2.com)
- ^ 91% of the most successful users (www.emailmonday.com)
- ^ ClickZ Intelligence webinar (www.clickz.com)
- ^ recent survey (research.ascend2.com)
- ^ Experian (www.experian.com.au)
- ^ Chubbies Shorts (www.chubbiesshorts.com)
- ^ Shopify (www.shopify.co.uk)
- ^ webinar on marketing automation (www.clickz.com)
- ^ machine learning (www.clickz.com)