The Complete Guide to Marketing Automation

Most marketing professionals understand that marketing automation can streamline essential processes, allowing busy professionals to both dramatically cut down their task lists and deliver better customer experience.

But many teams still aren’t fully leveraging the power of automation. 

If you feel like your company is one of the many that could benefit from a more comprehensive marketing automation strategy — but maybe you’re not quite sure where to start — we have you covered.

What is Marketing Automation?

Marketing automation is the use of technology by modern go-to-market teams to perform repetitive marketing processes, including managing campaigns and customer interactions. 

When done right, marketing automation helps businesses manage their efforts across channels, track prospect behavior, and measure the success of their campaigns. Beyond simply saving time, a well-executed marketing automation strategy — enabled by accurate buying signals and cutting-edge tools — allows marketing teams to nurture key relationships with customized, relevant content.

Marketing automation tools can perform day-to-day functions like sending emails, posting on social media, and publishing content to a website. They may also handle repetitive workflow tasks, such as updating contact information, or provide valuable insights on target audiences

Some common examples of marketing automation include:

  • Email marketing sequences
  • Customer support chatbots
  • SMS notifications
  • Social media post scheduling
  • Outreach workflows 
  • Scraping lead data
  • Organizing CRM contacts
  • Omnichannel analytics

Surveys show that around half of marketers use automation on a daily basis.

The Key Benefits of Marketing Automation

Many businesses use automation to assist with nurturing leads at the top and middle of the funnel. Logic-based email sequences and retargeting campaigns allow marketing teams to deliver a personalized customer journey to every lead, even when those teams are working at scale.

However, lead nurturing isn’t the only use for marketing automation software. 

Certain tools in this category are aimed at streamlining internal processes. Being able to consolidate customer data at scale, and use automated workflows to manage marketing task lists, is every bit as valuable as lead-nurturing automation, for example.

The benefits of automating repetitive tasks and processes are magnified in ABM (account-based marketing). With multiple stakeholders to track across a range of channels, marketing teams that take a holistic approach to automation tend to see less burnout and fewer errors.

Account-Based Marketing (ABM) is a strategic approach that focuses on building personalized relationships with specific accounts.

It all adds up to a remarkable return on investment: $5.44 per $1 spent over the first three years, according to a study by Nucleus Research. Furthermore, it takes an average of only six months to recoup the initial investment.

The Biggest Obstacles to Marketing Automation Success

Although most businesses are now aware of the potential benefits of marketing automation, many marketers are still not sure how to fully leverage its capabilities. Some of the biggest challenges include: 

  • Data decay: If your database is out of date, you could be including the wrong contacts in your marketing campaigns. As it turns out, many business leaders are unsure about how much of their data is actually accurate. 
  • Partial profiling: Reducing the number of form fields can improve conversion rates. Yet, more submissions often come at the expense of greater segmentation. 
  • Poor customer acquisition: Marketers can find themselves sending email after email, with very few responses in return. Why? Because without personalized, relevant content, marketing automation falls short. 
  • Slow time to action: Sales teams spend a lot of time looking for contact information, which cuts into the time they have to actually make a touchpoint with a potential customer. Automation works, but only as fast as the sales rep can identify the correct person to reach out to, and how to contact them. 

In an ideal world, marketing automation can help you engage with your prospects and customers efficiently and effectively.

Implementing Marketing Automation

The secret to overcoming these challenges lies in how you apply marketing automation. 

Effective implementation goes beyond merely purchasing and using a tool — it involves strategic planning, resource allocation, and continuous optimization against a solid ABM framework. If your marketing team is currently using a different model, it might be worth making the switch.

The ABM Advantage

Account-based marketing is a strategic approach where a business communicates with individual prospects or customer accounts as markets of one. It has gained significant traction in recent years, particularly in B2B contexts.

The key benefits of the ABM approach to marketing dovetail neatly with the strengths of marketing automation:

  • Targeting and personalization: ABM asks marketers to target specific accounts or leads with highly tailored content and messages. Marketing automation tools help with scaling such personalization, ensuring each account receives relevant content.
  • Efficient use of resources: With ABM, marketers focus their resources on high-value accounts that have the most significant potential for revenue or strategic growth. This approach aligns well with marketing automation, which seeks to streamline and optimize marketing efforts.
  • Sales and marketing alignment: ABM naturally fosters alignment between marketing and sales teams because both are focused on the same key accounts. Marketing automation can enhance this relationship by providing tools and data for improved coordination and communication — ultimately leading to better campaigns and higher conversion rates.
  • Measurable ROI: The targeted approach of ABM makes it easier to measure the direct impact of marketing efforts on an account-by-account basis. Automation in analytics can further enhance your data, providing valuable real-time insights about campaign performance and ROI.
  • Enhanced customer journeys: The ABM approach promotes a better understanding of each account’s needs, behavior, and stages in the buying cycle. Marketing automation can leverage this information to personalize interactions during each stage of the sales funnel, leading to better customer experiences.

In essence, ABM and marketing automation go hand in hand. When used together, they can lead to more effective and efficient marketing strategies, improved sales and marketing alignment, and higher ROI.

How to Build a Marketing Automation Strategy 

Whether you decide to embrace ABM or follow a different approach, creating a clear strategy for marketing automation is essential. Here are the seven key stages of the process:

1. Establish Goals and KPIs

There are many different ways in which automation can contribute to your marketing efforts. As a starting point for your strategy, it’s essential to pinpoint exactly what you want to achieve.

To determine your goals, consider your overall company objectives. For instance, is lead generation a priority? Increased revenue? Brand awareness? Make sure your goals align with these high-level objectives. 

Then, consider whether your stated goals are specific, measurable, actionable, and realistic.

Once you’ve established your goals, assign each a specific key performance indicator (KPI) and a time period in which you’d like to achieve each goal. This will help you determine whether your new technology is living up to expectations. 

Some sample KPIs include:

  • Cost per lead
  • Revenue
  • Engagement per lead
  • Average lifetime customer value
  • Average deal size
  • Sales cycle duration
  • Conversion rates
  • Website traffic
  • ROI 

2. Map Out Your Marketing Processes

Before you can start making progress towards your defined ambitions, it’s essential to map out your existing marketing machine. 

This detailed blueprint should reveal how your operation fits together, and where you could use marketing automation to speed things up. An effective process map should cover the entire customer journey, identifying key touchpoints, and the actions you want prospects and customers to take at each stage. 

You also need to define your lead-scoring model and list clear rules for when leads should be passed from marketing to sales.

3. Find Your Tools

Introducing automation into your B2B marketing process usually means investing in new tools.

There are multiple factors to think about when selecting your marketing automation solutions. Here are some of the key considerations to keep in mind:

  • Feature set — Begin your selection process by analyzing each platform’s automation features. Keep in mind the goals you previously established.
  • Usability — Remember, marketing automation platforms are supposed to simplify your marketing processes. If a tool isn’t easy to use, then it probably won’t help your case.
  • Support — No matter which platform you select, your team is guaranteed to run into a few problems during implementation. As you do your research, identify which vendors are known for providing the best customer service.
  • Compatibility — Does your chosen email marketing automation integrate with your customer relationship management platform? Does your new a/b testing automation work with your landing page builder? Make sure to check compatibility before adding any given tool to your shortlist.
  • Pricing — Be aware that different tools are aimed at different types of company. Per-user pricing can be great for small businesses, but expensive for larger companies.

4. Get the Right People on Board

Far too often, companies will appoint one person to execute the entire strategy. Although having a point person in charge of implementation isn’t a bad idea, the process is often too much for one person to handle.

In order to be successful, your company will need to take a collaborative approach to implementation. The individuals necessary for a successful implementation strategy typically include:

  • Email marketing specialists
  • CRM managers
  • Sales leaders
  • Content teams

Prior to getting started, discuss your collective goals and outline any new responsibilities. Consider lead routing, personalized content creation, lead scoring, email segmentation, and more.

5. Prioritize Sales and Marketing Alignment

While automation can improve efficiency within your marketing department, the biggest gains come through better alignment between your marketing and sales teams.

Companies with aligned sales and marketing are 67% more efficient at closing deals.

According to research from Marketo and ReachForce, sales ignores up to 80% of marketing leads. Effective automation can cut this figure drastically by improving lead qualification and lead management, delivering more information about qualified leads, and enhancing the sales process with automated engagement.

To unlock these benefits, sales and marketing should work together to develop an implementation strategy. 

6. Invest in Training

Adding new digital marketing tools to your stack usually involves a significant investment. To ensure you realize good value, it’s important to make sure your staff are fully acquainted with new platforms. 

This might seem like a no-brainer, but training is often the most neglected step in implementing marketing automation. In part, this is due to a reluctance to spend more up front. But training will improve your ROI in the long run.

Many B2B marketing platforms offer training as a part of your original investment. Be sure to ask about different training options before committing to a vendor.

7. Prioritize Data Hygiene

Low-quality, incorrect, and incomplete data can be one of the biggest obstacles to success when it comes to automation. If the data entering your automation tools is incorrect or out of date, the output will be useless.

Establishing a hygiene process can help your business avoid such issues, and reap the rewards of marketing automation much faster. This starts with marketing tools built on a foundation of top-quality, constantly improved data and signals about your key accounts and markets — a major advantage of a platform like ZoomInfo Marketing.

Good data hygiene also involves implementing quality control and performing regular maintenance on your existing databases — think subscribers, CRM contacts, customer loyalty, demographics, tech stacks, and more. 

If this all sounds very time-consuming, remember that automation can assist with data hygiene tasks.

Make Marketing Automation Work for You

From ecommerce email campaigns to customer lifecycle analysis, automation can change the game for your marketing team. With the right tools and strategy in place, you can create campaigns that are significantly more unified, easier to track, and more cohesive. 

But remember — paying close attention to both strategy and implementation is vital if you want to enjoy the full benefits of marketing automation.