The Ins and Outs of Marketing Automation

Claude Harrington 11.17.2015

Recently at IdeaRocket, we received demos from three of the leading marketing automation firms: Act-On, HubSpot and Marketo. This post will not be a declaration of whose service is “best” (because, quite sincerely, that answer depends on your company’s specific objectives), but instead we wanted to take a wider look at this budding industry and make sense of what these firms really have to offer. And, ultimately, try to answer this question: is marketing automation really something that can help your business, or is it just the soup de jour at the Buzzword Café?

So let’s start with the BIG question…

What the heck is marketing automation?

It’s a collection of digital tools that can help marketers streamline their workflows.

What kind of tasks can marketing automation assist with?  

Things like lead nurturing, lead scoring, customer segmentation and management of e-mail campaigns. These are just a few of the services offered, of course, but hopefully give you a sense of what marketing automation is all about: using technology to maximize your outreach efforts (with an emphasis on in-bound marketing).

What does the interface of this assistance look like?

While the aesthetic and capabilities differ by provider, what all marketing automation platforms have in common is this: a centralized command center to organize (and visualize) your disparate marketing efforts. It’s a database, really, that helps you track prospects, supervise interactions and tailor the right message to current and potential customers.

That all sounds good but, uh, can’t I just do all of that myself?

This question really gets at the heart of marketing automation. It does all sound good, but a skeptic can’t help but wonder: is it really necessary to automate these functions?

To answer this question let’s think about a different kind of automation: product assembly in a factory. Whether that product is teddy bears, automobiles or good old cliché widgets, there’s almost definitely a version of assembly—done “by hand”—that does not require automation. But the primary reasons that companies automate production are twofold:

  • Speeds up the Process
  • Creates Larger Output

And those two things, really, are what marketing automation offers:

  • Maximized Efficiency (minimized redundancy)
  • Scalability

So, going back to the original question—can’t I just do all of that myself?the answer is basically: yes, but it will take longer. And depending what stage your business is in (and what kind of resources you have), it might very well make sense to do these kinds of things by yourself. For example: if you’re a small company or a young startup, an emphasis on scaling up might be needlessly premature. Especially when you consider the cost of marketing automation services (which can cost upwards of $1,000 a month)

That’s a lot of money! Does it really cost that much?

It can, but that cost really depends on a number of factors. First and foremost, of course, is the service provider. But the cost will also be affected by things like the number of users, quantity of contacts, the number of digital amenities desired, etc. etc.

Regardless, it’s not cheap. But it’s also worth noting that in addition speed and scalability, there’s another key component that adds value to marketing automation. And it’s something with no equivalent to the product assembly comparison above…

What is it?

Hold on. Can we get a drumroll, please?

Okay, fine. [Drumroll]

One of the greatest benefits to using a marketing automation service is that it can provide you with lots and lots of information. And not just metrics and analysis of your marketing campaigns, but details like:

  • Who is visiting your website?
  • How long are they spending on certain pages?
  • What was the outcome of that visit?

On a singular basis, information like this is anecdotally interesting. But when aggregated with hundreds of visitors (or thousands, or millions) the analytics can become rather illustrative. Data like this can potentially demonstrate more than just what’s working (and what’s not), but help dive into the nuance of why, how and what can be done instead.

Intriguing! Can you tell me more about tools like these and how they might differ between different marketing automation companies?

Yes, absolutely. Tune in next week as we take a closer look at some of the top marketing automation companies and delve deeper into the minutiae of this growing industry…

In the meantime, there was a great story on VentureBeat yesterday–entitled Marketing Automation Battle for SMBs Heats Up as Salesfusion Raises $13.5M–that provides an interesting look at the business (and opportunity) behind marketing automation companies. 

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