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What Is Marketing Automation?

Today’s marketing professionals are faced with a constant demand to deliver a high volume of qualified leads to the sales forces they support. With competition across all industries at an all-time high, and buyers who are becoming increasingly fickle, marketing teams must implement more frequent and more complex campaigns in order to reach and communicate with their target audience.

But, as strategies rapidly shift and budgets tighten, and traditional programs like trade shows and advertising are quickly replaced with new initiatives such as pay-per-click campaigns and search engine optimization, putting effective marketing strategies into motion is more challenging than ever before.

Marketing automation systems, also referred to as marketing information systems or enterprise marketing management systems, streamline, automate, and enhance the planning and deployment of marketing campaigns and promotions.

With a marketing automation solution in place, a company can improve every facet of the lead generation process and better manage their communications across channels. Marketing automation solutions empower sales and marketing teams with the tools and technologies they need to effectively segment and manage prospect and customer databases, execute targeted and effective programs, track leads, analyze results, and accurately measure return on marketing investment.

When linked closely with sales force automation, customer support, and other customer relationship management (CRM) systems, marketing automation can provide complete visibility into the closed-loop lead process. With this type of comprehensive CRM infrastructure in place, data can be synchronized between marketing, sales, and customer support teams, so companies can track a contact and its activities from the instant communication begins throughout the entire sales and customer lifecycle.

Key Benefits for Your Company
With marketing automation systems, your marketing staff can eliminate the tedious, cumbersome manual tasks they are burdened with today, and minimize the overlapping or redundant procedures that waste time and money. Additionally, because all the tools and information they need to launch a campaign will be at their fingertips, your marketing team will be more agile and flexible, able to react instantly to shifting strategies and changing plans.

Marketing information systems can also enable the kind of intelligence-driven planning and execution that can dramatically improve the effectiveness of programs and initiatives. The historical campaign information these systems contain can provide valuable insight about what works and what doesn’t, so your marketing team can make better, more informed decisions regarding future promotional activities. Campaigns will be more targeted and more relevant, response and conversion rates will jump, sales cycles will shorten, and return on investment in marketing activities will be accelerated.

Does My Company Need Marketing Automation?
Any company that relies on a mix of marketing activities (i.e. direct mail and email campaigns, trade shows and events, advertising, Web and search engine optimization programs) to secure solid sales opportunities will benefit greatly from a marketing automation system, which will help integrate and coordinate the various ongoing activities to optimize results. Additionally, businesses with disparate, fragmented lead generation processes can leverage marketing automation to centralize their programs and maximize resource efficiency and staff productivity.

Common Marketing Automation Features
Today’s marketing information systems deliver a wide array of features to support end-to-end lead generation processes. Some of the functionality you are likely to find in the most popular packages includes:

  • Database and list management capabilities that make it easier for your marketing staff to add new lists – such as those acquired from a third-party – to the database, merge multiple lists together, and segment the database based on specific criteria.
  • Comprehensive campaign creation and management, so your marketing personnel can efficiently develop promotional materials, select target records for the campaign, and execute according to plan.
  • Lead tracking that allows your marketing team, as well as your sales force, to track each opportunity throughout the pre-sales cycle. So, you can gain true visibility into all customer and prospect touch-points by tracking what campaigns each customer and prospect received and responded to.
  • A full suite of reports and analytics that allow you to conduct in-depth analysis of campaign results, customer and prospect behaviors and preferences, marketing costs, and more.

What to Look for When Choosing a Solution

When choosing a marketing automation solution, integration is key. Many companies implement sales force automation, contact management, and customer support systems long before they deploy a marketing automation solution. So, you need to make sure the solution you choose will work seamlessly with the other CRM applications you already have in place.

Additionally, because many marketing teams work closely with multiple third-parties, such as list brokers, printers, and copywriters, you should choose a solution with comprehensive vendor relationship management capabilities. This will help your marketing staff make wiser decisions when outsourcing campaign-related work, and help them better track all activities and costs associated with marketing programs.

With the right solution and enabling technologies in place, marketing automation can empower you to increase productivity, boost response rates, and maximize ROI.