Marketing automation is a process of building procedures and rules that allows you to delegate highly repetitive marketing activities to a platform, with the main objective of better managing the relationship with your customers through digital means. Automation tasks are mainly related to email marketing, social media, media planning, and reporting. These automated activities, otherwise done manually, allow you to free up energy and resources to dedicate to the marketing and communication strategy.
Marketing automation, therefore, serves to better manage the relationship by increasing the frequency of contact while maintaining the quality and personalization of the messages.
Automation is one of the key points in the evolution of marketing in recent years. As always, it is an activity that impacts corporate culture, organization, and the technology that must be implemented. So it’s different from those activities that start at zero.
What is marketing automation? How does it work? What is it for? When is the right time to activate it? How much does it help your business? What is the most suitable software for your business?
Premise. Our agency is a Hubspot Partner. Although we have followed several marketing automation projects unrelated to this platform, we think of Hubspot when we think of a marketing automation platform. That is why we will talk about this software in the examples we will often see.
So, basically, what is marketing automation? Let’s see it with some examples.
- Welcome message to the new member. It is about building a workflow whereby every time a new newsletter subscriber fills out the form, at least one welcome email is sent immediately, in which we at least thank our new user.
- Abandoned cart. Having integrated the platform with your e-commerce site, it is possible to understand which of your registered users has abandoned the cart (without buying) and send them one or more emails with purchase incentives (for you, a 10% discount on things you have added to your cart).
- Request a review or feedback. After a customer has bought, you can send them an automated email asking them to leave a comment on the product or service. With a few expedients, this can be done even if the purchase is made in the shop. Obviously, in e-commerce, it is a more manageable process. Amazon has invented the mechanism of forwarding questions directly to other users to create communities and make those who have tried the product interact more with those undecided. And at the same time, they turn a service (which would be very expensive) into a sort of user-generated content (practically at no cost).
- Lead follow-up. You can send personalized emails when a contact downloads something and earns lead status. Marketing automation can come into play when it is necessary to re-contact these leads on particular occasions, such as after receiving an offer or downloading some particular content.
- Follow up with those who visit your website. If your contact is registered in the CRM, every time the user visits your site, he will send you a notification (which is already marketing automation). Next, it is possible to set up automation rules that send emails to the prospect and invite them to carry out actions (I think of the pricing page).
- Facebook Ad Retargeting Retargeting (not just Facebook retargeting) is already a marketing automation activity in itself, so if a user has visited that specific page of your site, he will receive ads (paid media) browsing the internet. This automated activity increases the conversion rate by directly communicating with those potentially interested in your product.
- The countdown for a Webinar Automation can also be used for event management, such as webinars. By building an email workflow starting from the date of the event, it is possible to send subscribers reminder emails for the upcoming event, the email with the link to participate, and thank you emails after the webinar.
- Database cleaning. This is a partly manual activity. Thanks to the possibility of creating lists of contacts who have performed specific actions through their digital behavior, it is possible to understand whether they are interesting leads for us or not. Thus, we can create lists of contacts who have seen our product page (interesting) or those who have unsubscribed from the newsletter (less interesting). This activity can help us understand how to keep our database clean and tidy. Usually, the deletion of the contract must be done manually.
- Personalization of the newsletter. This is the first activity that comes to mind. But be careful: not only is it possible to write the name of the contact within the text (so it reads “Ciao Luca” and not just “Ciao”), but based on the digital behavior of each one, it is possible to show him a text or a product rather than another.
- Up-selling and cross-selling By correctly setting the correlation between products, it is possible to tell the site to show cross-selling products directly on the product page or on the cart page. It is also possible to tell the platform to send emails with products related to the one just purchased, perhaps with a dedicated discount.
- Automatically segment a database. On the basis of what has been said so far, it is possible to categorize your contacts on the basis of specific actions they have taken or on the basis of the interest they have shown in our products or services. A classic example of this segmentation is:
- The lifecycle stage, i.e., the stage of the sales cycle in which the lead is located (usually a subscriber, lead, marketing-qualified lead, sales-qualified lead, or customer)
- The lead status indicates the actual status of the lead at that moment (it can be different from company to company): new, in progress, offer sent, to be contacted again, etc.
- Submitting Downloadable Content In the agency, through Hubspot, we have created landing pages, and for each of them, we have created a workflow that sends an email with the desired download upon filling out the form.
- Increase your click-through rate. I’ve left this one for last because this is the real goal of marketing automation rather than an example. The goal should be achieved through better profiling, more personalized communication, and higher frequency (without losing quality).
What is marketing automation?
When described superficially, the definition of marketing automation is quite simple. It involves using one or more software programs to make certain marketing actions, such as sending emails, publishing social media posts, or managing advertising campaigns, automatic and repetitive.
So automating means setting rules within a platform to avoid carrying out some operations manually.
If taken less superficially, marketing automation is a little more complex than a simple sequence of linked actions; it is a pervasive marketing tactic that acts, yes, on convenience and time savings but also allows you to:
- Follow the customer journey and optimize touchpoints with potential customers to maximize their effectiveness in terms of conversion probability.
- Improving the customer experience (and therefore the brand experience) through a wide range of customization options for content and means
- Manage the process of creating qualified leads.
- Improve sales performance by better-managing contacts and working on the relationship with each customer.
All this leads to only one result: improved sales and increased turnover. We are therefore not talking about a simple sequence of automated actions but about a system that helps generate a greater and more regular number of qualified leads and manage them better.
Furthermore, many think that marketing automation is only about emails, but in reality, it can be applied to:
- Social media marketing
- Email Marketing
- Lead generation
- Lead Nurturing
- Metrics and Analytics
- Contact and content management
But how does marketing automation work? How do I set up a sequence of automated actions so that the platform does what we want (and not what it wants)?
Meanwhile, we have already revealed three great mysteries of marketing automation:
- Needs a platform that allows us to automate specific communication actions. As mentioned, OFG is a Hubspot partner; therefore, what we will see is related to this platform.
- It seems contradictory, but it must be set manually, with care and attention to detail. If set correctly, it then takes off and becomes autonomous (it’s always better to check it now and then to optimize).
- The workflow makes it.
To understand how marketing automation works, it is helpful to understand the concept of workflow. A workflow is a flowchart that links different actions built based on the cause-and-effect principle. A workflow is a chained set of causes and effects and is made up of the following:
- Triggers or starting points, i.e., the events that initiate the automated sequence. This is the cause.
- Actions in sequence actually give rise to marketing automation and make it effective. This is the effect.
- Rules, according to which automation takes place. This is neither cause nor effect but simply indications, orders, that we give to the machine to behave in the desired way.
A workflow defines the instructions we give the platform so that it reacts with one or more response actions when a precise condition occurs. The main goal is to intensify customer contact, but there are other goals.
In reality, there are also what we call technical workflows, where the final result is not contacting a customer but carrying out an action within the platform itself to improve the quality of the database or manage actions on the contact profile, which otherwise we would have to do manually (for example, send an alert to the account when the contract is about to expire).
An example of a workflow
Let’s analyze, as an example of a workflow, one of the workflows that we have set up in Hubspot. The goal of this workflow is lead nurturing. However, the type of workflow we have chosen as an example is mixed: in part, it is a nurturing workflow, and in part, it is a technical workflow.
It all starts with an initial trigger, completing a form on a dedicated landing page that leads to one of our downloadables (the marketing plan template). The workflow and marketing automation are activated as soon as the form is filled in.
When a certain condition occurs or not, in this case, the fact that the company is potentially on target for us (turnover exceeding 3 million euros), a second check is made:
- If the company is on target, we verify that the lead has already been qualified (MQL, Marketing Qualified Lead, or SQL, Sales Qualified Lead).
- If the company is not on target, we set up a notification to notify us so we can cancel the lead or set it as not on target.
If the company is on target, then the workflow continues, and with a certain cadence (after ten days in this case), the first nurturing email is sent with evidence of our podcast. Then we shot another email with a video specifically on the subject and an article.
The goal is to keep the relationship alive, “warm up” with a prospect, and try to let him know how prepared we are and that we can help him on the subject.
Tools, tools, and platforms
What are marketing automation platforms? Which platform is right for your company? How do I choose the right software?
The first answer we are giving you is that. Obviously, there is no right or wrong software but only right or wrong software based on your goals and needs. If there was one good one for everyone, it would be much easier; we can agree on that.
Choosing the right software is not an undertaking to be underestimated and requires, to begin with, two important phases:
- a phase of analysis of corporate processes and objectives
- a software selection phase based on the required requirements
The damage from choosing the wrong platform can be seen after some time, and the greatest impact mainly falls on people. The less the software fits your business needs, the more time people will spend making up for it.
The last issue to address before getting to the platforms is the type of software to choose. There are more vertical tools, which may even deal with SMS only, or emails and SMS, such as emails, and then there are CRM (customer relationship management) that have different functions and are software that ALSO does email marketing.
Of course, it’s not that CRM is better than email marketing software. It simply does more things that make it useless if they don’t serve any purpose. So, what are the major platforms?
It was born as a CRM, which remains its beating engine, and over time it has become an all-in-one marketing automation software to manage the marketing, sales, and customer success parts. With Hubspot, you can manage, among other things, landing pages, forms, email marketing, contact profiling and lists, blogs, workflows, and social media.
Of course, all without having to enter a line of code. There is a free version with basic CRM functionality.
It’s Salesforce’s marketing automation software. Pardot was acquired by Salesforce itself in 2012 and had been integrating natively with its CRM ever since. Pardot also deals with marketing and sales automation by managing emails, blogs, and landing pages with an intuitive drag-and-drop editor.
Salesforce and Pardot also handle advanced reporting.
The number-one software for managing email marketing and (with a plugin) SMS Simple interface, drag-and-drop editor, and is easy to configure. It is also possible to manage social campaigns through Mailchimp. Through Mailchimp, it is also possible to create landing pages.
Mailchimp is not a CRM but was born as software to send newsletters. So it’s perfect if you plan to send mail; if you have other needs, it may have limited functionality.
Advantages and benefits
- The first benefit of marketing automation is efficiency. No one has to remember deadlines and can delegate time-consuming operations to the automation platform, focusing on more strategic-level activities.
- The second advantage is that it can handle operations that cannot be handled manually. Think about how many people a company that sells via an e-commerce site would need to hire if every order email, invoice, tracking information, etc., should be hand-delivered. Unthinkable!
- The third advantage is related to the possibility of customization. Many companies choose marketing automation because it significantly impacts the customer journey. Dedicated software allows you to monitor many touchpoints better and therefore have a more performing communication ecosystem to benefit a more fluid and controlled customer journey. We can precisely target content dedicated to a particular cluster of customers or activate email workflows (automatic processes) based on the digital behavior of some users.
- Another undisputed value of marketing automation is the possibility of measurement. Ok, this is possible even without an automation platform. Still, the truth is that a platform like Hubspot collects different data sources and provides different types of dashboards from which it is possible to draw insights that would not normally be reachable.
- Finally, another advantage is that all this data is associated directly with each contact. It’s different from knowing that someone has visited your site (like with Google Analytics) or that the user has visited a particular page (like with HubSpot). You understand that a salesperson’s approach changes when he knows what his potential customers are interested in.
The customer journey in marketing automation
Before discussing the relationship between marketing automation and the customer journey, let’s talk briefly about the marketing and sales funnel. Or rather, let’s talk about the funnel without talking about it (and no, Fight Club has nothing to do with it).
Today we introduce a new concept: the flywheel, the flywheel of growth. “New,” then, is all to be seen. The flywheel concept remains the same but considers the customer journey a more connected, holistic, circular system.
Let’s say it’s a paradigm shift: conceiving the customer journey as a circular process (and no longer one that is linear, with a beginning and an end) helps to manage customers even before and after the purchase, considering it immersed in a virtuous circle. But above all, it helps companies remember it after spending money.
To recap. Today, companies have dozens of touchpoints at their disposal. Consumers are elusive, and their attention becomes more difficult to obtain daily.
For this (and other reasons), marketing automation goes well with the customer journey: it allows companies to supervise better (and above all, automatically) all touchpoints to improve the quality of the relationship with customers and, consequently, the customer experience.
Marketing automation works on the customer experience with at least three pillars:
- Collects customer navigation data and helps companies store and structure it to obtain important reports and build dedicated workflows.
- It helps to understand the most interesting and effective touchpoints for each buyer’s persona.
- It helps develop a corporate culture centered on cross-departmental collaboration, which positively impacts the overall business.
We also need to start differentiating approaches and talking about B2C or B2B. In both cases, marketing automation is mainly about customer relationship management. Of course, it is one thing to have a few customers and a direct relationship (as is usually done in B2B) and quite another to have tens of thousands of customers to manage.
Mainly, the reason different approaches are usually used is this. Let’s see it in detail.
Marketing automation for B2C
We usually deal with many clients, so it would be impossible to manage a one-to-one relationship with each of them in a reasonable time frame. As we have seen, this is why it becomes necessary to oversee the entire customer journey.
Here, experience is fundamental; even a single hole in the relationship management process risks compromising the entire customer experience.
Attention. Many companies have no focus on touchpoints but do what they see their competitors (or even other companies in other sectors) doing. So I’m on Facebook simply because you have to be there. We disagree.
Adding a touchpoint adds complexity to the journey and means having to dedicate resources to ensure it is managed. Being there but not updating it or failing to respond is even worse.
This happens because there are often no data to support how much one vehicle works better than another or how much a touchpoint is more effective than others for customers. Decisions are made on our guts when there is no data, and we rely more on chance.
The main touchpoints to manage with marketing automation for B2C are email marketing, social media, digital ad campaigns, and all activities related to lead generation.
Marketing automation for B2B
A slightly different speech for marketing automation in B2B In most cases, customers in B2B are handled differently. Or better. So many touchpoints are the same, but it’s just a different relationship.
Complex purchasing calls for a personal relationship, often with several people within the same company who nonetheless participate in the purchasing decision. Not only. The purchase is considered “complex,” and because the invoice amount is often high, the decision is not always taken lightly. It’s not like buying a Coca-Cola; that’s it.
Here, marketing automation exists, but it is often accompanied by sales automation (in the CRMs that allow it), which helps even more with managing personal relationships. In short, it’s one thing to send an email to someone I’ve never seen, and who I know is called Luca. Another is to email Luca, whom I have known for many years and whom I hear on the phone thrice daily.
So marketing automation and sales automation work together for specific B2B tactics like account-based marketing and account-based selling.
Set up a strategy.
How does marketing automation work? As always, improvising is never nice, and everything must start with a management strategy.
But that’s not all, there are at least two other aspects to observe. At the macro level, automation goes through a 5-step process:
- Identification of objectives Why do I need automation? What are the company goals? What processes do you want to automate?
- Definition of the activities to be automated. Checklist of my ecosystem touchpoints and tasks that can be automated. Do you have an inbound marketing strategy behind you? In this case, you will have a lot of content, and the way to manage its automation must be well organized.
- Choosing the right software for your needs Our favorite software for this purpose is HubSpot. The low learning curve, interesting quality/services/price ratio, and easy integration with hundreds of other software.
- Workflow design and strategy implementation At this point, you have everything you need to start the execution.
- A recommendation: draw all your workflows on paper before putting your hand on the software. In this way, you will have a clearer idea of how to set up marketing automation and will be able to proceed more quickly when you put your hand into the software.
- Here is a small view of a workflow designed in HubSpot, the platform we use in the agency.
- Data analysis and constant optimization A common mistake—more on that later—is to think that marketing automation is something you set and never touch again. I would say no; that doesn’t work.
ROI in marketing automation
Return on investment is the dream of any business, especially any marketing business. Knowing with certainty how much turnover the lead generation activity brings or how much the customer care activity produces up-selling takes work. And we are talking about macro activities.
What is certain is that to calculate the ROI of an activity, you need clear and measurable objectives and well-defined KPIs. And then, it would be better to have a platform that helps us keep track of everything.
How do you calculate the ROI of a marketing automation activity? Let’s start with the goals. Having in mind why we are doing this activity helps a lot. Goals define how we approach the business and help us define strategy.
Scholars say that goals must be SMART: specific, measurable, feasible (attainable), relevant, and time-based, i.e. linked to a defined period.
Objectives lead to the definition of KPIs, i.e., those indicators by which I propose to measure my objectives. KPIs can be of different types:
- Acquisition KPIs, such as the cost that a company must incur to acquire a customer (the customer acquisition cost, or CAC),
- Engagement KPIs, such as CTR (Click Through Rate) or OR (Open Rate), are often calculated on newsletters or CTAs.
- Conversion KPIs, such as Cost per Conversion or Conversion Rate
- Retention KPIs, such as the Customer Retention Rate
Advice on what to do and what not to do
Having described how to set up the strategy, I would like to give you some advice derived from the agency’s experience in marketing automation.
- The marketing automation strategy is an opportunity to review your marketing and communication goals. Be sure to take your current processes and try to automate them before reviewing why you are automating them. Revision of objectives usually leads to new processes, content, and touchpoints. Automation offers new possibilities; try to exploit them all.
- Explaining to software what it has to do (what you want it to do) forces you to outline all your internal processes and design them carefully and precisely. In addition to this (and their possible optimization), marketing automation allows you to have a very clear idea of which communication paths your leads and customers take (and which actions they prefer to take). This leads you to understand which media and contents are more interesting for them and, above all, which strategies and tactics work best.
- Integrate marketing automation with your inbound strategy (or your content strategy): your content helps you better profile incoming leads. You need to be sure that this profiling capability remains active in automation, which leads directly to the next point.
- Contrary to what it may seem like and what we consider “inhuman,” marketing automation allows for a very high level of personalization. Customization requires much study and extensive analysis of everything that can be digitized and automated; all of this must be foreseen, designed, and brought into the platform. At this point, however, the personalization will be complete, and you will be able to give your customers a real brand experience without having to keep track of every single email.
- Personalization leads to a high targeting rate: are you making a lot of content for all your types of buyer personas? If yes, as it should be, automation will allow you to manage content dedicated to each buyer persona and any reactions (for example, managing the sending of other content based on their digital behavior) to begin building a relationship that will lead to the sale.
- Ok, the incoming leads, but remember the customers. Managing customers is as important (perhaps more so): as already mentioned, it is well known that selling to someone already a customer is easier, but how “easy” it is depends on the relationship we have built. Furthermore, think of the flywheel: a satisfied customer becomes a promoter and can convince others to buy.
Considering a current customer as a possible future customer (up-selling existing customers) leads to better terms of sales at lower costs. And this is a fact.
Suppose marketers think about the customer journey linearly. In that case, we will continue to be stuck in the current situation where marketing deals with recovering leads, which are then passed on to sales, who could then potentially pass through customer care.
Thus, the transition from lead to prospect to customer often becomes difficult; this often generates relational problems (especially in B2B, where the worlds of marketing, sales, and project management are very disunited and often in contrast) and a decline in enthusiasm.
Circular reasoning helps to understand that a customer must not stop being considered as such and that the onboarding process should take place without too many discontinuities in the various steps: the handover between marketing and sales and then between the salesperson who closed the contract and the project manager, on the other hand, is usually a traumatic thing for the client.
The goal is to deliver a more pervasive brand experience across all touchpoints and therefore arrive at higher satisfaction (which leads to the referral phase). A customer journey that enhances the customer experience is the illusion that every company must try to chase.
Here is the flywheel (which we could translate into “the flywheel of growth”).
As you can see from the image, the basic concept is to include marketing, sales, and post-sales in a circular process to attract new leads, engage them, keep them updated, and push them toward loyalty and ambassadors (as we said, referrals).
But what does the flywheel have to do with marketing automation, or, better yet, with automation in general? The answer is simple: for automation to be truly functional and effective, it should be applied to the entire flywheel (marketing, sales, and after-sales). Only in this way can automation be conceived as a truly useful tool for our users.
So marketing automation and sales automation must be part of a single path, a single customer journey: consider automation as a mechanical tool that aims to send messages arbitrarily created by the company for its customers in a unidirectional manner. There are better ways to conceive of this tool than this one, so thought can lead to the project’s failure.
The most correct way to think about marketing automation is to model it on the entire customer journey to support your customers as their needs and requirements evolve. The solution, therefore, is to consider marketing automation as a flexible tool dedicated to customers rather than statically decided in advance by the company.
5 myths to dispel
Considering marketing automation as something robotic is not the right way to see things and often leads to misunderstandings. Here’s what comes to mind:
- Done once, done forever. Nein!
- As we have seen, automation must be set up, but you must remember it: you must manage, measure, and optimize it to benefit from it truly. Take it seriously; it’s a powerful activity, but it needs to be well thought out and planned.
- Marketing automation is for emails only. Naaaa.
- As mentioned, marketing automation applies to different touchpoints and concerns the entire customer journey and contact management (even internal management). The benefits that automation brings, when used on an automation platform like Hubspot, go far beyond the sending of some newsletters.
- Marketing automation is a simple tool that automates silly tasks that could be done by hand but are time-consuming. It is also like this, but not only.
- Automation is not just a matter of saving time but of managing and “clustering” leads, personalizing content, creating relationships, managing negotiations, and closing sales. It is a complex tool, and it takes a lot of time to design all the activities and just as much to create the automatisms in the automation platform.
- Marketing automation is a tool that makes everything mechanical and poorly customizable; it is a little human but very robotic.
- It’s not like that; it’s quite the opposite. Or rather, it should be quite the opposite: marketing automation done badly is a succession of emails to which no one has deigned to devote more than 5 minutes, and they are the same for everyone. But we must always remember that on the other side (the recipient) is a person, a potential customer, with ever-changing needs. Following this evolution and satisfying the new needs that arise from a new awareness, perhaps created precisely by the content we have produced, is the true task of marketing automation.
- It’s a form of spam.
- Here we have exactly the opposite of what it should be: extreme customization leads to providing targeted content according to personal needs that cannot be considered spam. Here we are in the field of clustering the buyer personas and, therefore, of the high relevance of the contents: we know how they behave and what they are looking for, so we can give them increasingly targeted content. Other than spam.
Our Talent Garden case history
This is one of the case histories we are most proud of. Not only because it was such a massive job that it became an official HubSpot case history but also because it was a huge job. Any data?
- 2x increase in managed offers
- 90% less manual activity during the sales process
- One hundred fifty employees from five countries are on board.
- Thirty-four thousand three hundred twenty-three offers were created.
- 41 social profiles managed, and 73 million impressions
- 1.2 million emails were sent in the last quarter.
- 837 workflow automation
- over 9,000 assets managed
- 771 tickets managed