What is Marketing Automation Software?

In today's world of immediate gratification, it is practically unheard of to wait a week for product literature to be delivered, for a return phone call or referral to a local retailer. Even waiting a day is unsatisfactory for many prospect inquiries and potential customers.

But how can businesses provide rapid-fire yet accurate responses, escalate serious prospects from browsers, and ensure the sales department follows-up with qualified leads without adding more staff?

Marketing automation software is designed to quickly satisfy customer inquiries and identify sales-ready leads for the sales force.

According to Forrester, marketing automation focuses on the lead acquisition and demand generation activities, as opposed to the sales activities, where CRM systems as a whole tend to focus. Simply put, these tools automate marketing processes — everything from strategic planning and campaign design to customer segmentation, lead generation, nurture campaigns, prospect scoring, and closed loop analytics.

But while they perform many functions, there is an overarching focus on lead management, which Forrester defines as processes that help generate new business opportunities, manage volumes of business inquiries, improve potential buyers’ propensity to purchase, and increase alignment between marketing activities and sales results.

“The reality is that marketing has been largely under served from CRM providers, so other vendors saw a gap in the market and decided that they were going to serve the marketing organization with the right automation tools,” explains Suresh Vittal, a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research.

A Day in the Life of Marketing Automation

Marketing automation platforms may be separate but integrated to customer relationship management (CRM) software, or part of a CRM suite. In either scenario, they eliminate many time-consuming yet vital tasks, automate both atypical and commonly recurring business processes, steadily advance sales prospects to become sales-ready leads, provide analytics to measure benefits and results, and deliver closed-loop visibility around acquiring new customers.

The results? Improved campaign performance, higher marketing budget ROI, more top of funnel qualified leads, increased sales and enhanced staff productivity, without the incremental overhead associated with bigger staffs, a surge in payroll and hours of new employee training.

At a time when marketing investments are extensively scrutinized for their return on investment, marketing automation platforms deliver a powerful and proven combination of increased sales lead acquisitions, more systemic prospect to lead conversions, improved marketing effectiveness, a more productive sales team and real time insight into the success of marketing campaigns.

Although marketing budgets are tight, according to VP Industry Marketing for Xerox Global Services and former Forrester Research analyst Laura Ramos, its fairly easy to make the business case for procuring some form of marketing automation designed to run online campaigns, capture responses, profile prospects with scoring and turn good leads over to sales.

Appiro, for example, has seen its lead volume increase by 195% since deploying Marketo's lead management suite a year ago, Kirk Crenshaw, marketing director at the cloud computing solution provider, told attendees at a Sales 2.0 Conference. In addition, the Salesforce partner's pipeline grew 100% and the volume of leads attributed to marketing grew 180% he said. All this at a time when Appiro halved its marketing spend, according to Crenshaw.

How it Works

The cloud applications enable companies to manage and communicate with prospects via their preferred medium, be it email, snail mail, online, social media, telephone or instant messaging. Marketing systems provide the framework to methodically acquire, nurture, score and forward sales ready leads to the sales force.

Since integrated CRM solutions track and store these communications, any authorized marketing or sales person has visibility into all points of contact and can effectively speak as an informed resource and with a consistent company message. Immediately, this eliminates the need for recap conversations, where callers must - often angrily - bring an inside sales person or account executive up-to-speed on the promotion or marketing message they received and would like to explore further.

The technology allows a company to see a website visitor's digital footprints, tracking activities and behaviors of most interest to prospects, the materials they viewed or requested, and any subsequent actions - such as registering for a webinar, visiting a social networking community, or locating a local retailer.

Companies then can take this information to provide more relevant follow-on messaging and rank prospects, escalating the most promising to the sales team for speedier follow-up. In turn, executives can more easily determine the success of particular campaigns and use marketing analytics to better allocate funds for future promotions, technology or people.

Marketers can share technology tools with partners, a move that improves partnerships, cements a brand and delivers more compelling joint messaging. A retailer, for example, can extract a customer’s purchase history and integrate to or customize a manufacturer's marketing collateral with its name and logo for use on the retail website or print campaign. This delivers more targeted campaigns, eliminates long approval processes and allows for immediate, across-the-board changes if necessary.

On the Flip Side

For years companies have been managing their marketing departments' campaigns and interactions with limited automation and much delayed information. However when communications, correspondence and transactions are not integrated with their CRM software system marketers miss the opportunity to get the most out of their marketing dollars.

They run the risk of annoying potential customers with irrelevant campaigns, distributing ill placed campaigns to the same prospects multiple times, forwarding unqualified leads to the sales team and not unifying marketing staff with sales resources which ultimately comes across as disjointed to inquiring prospects. And even the smoothest-operating multiple tool system will be more time-consuming than a holistic approach to this critical component of a company's growth.

Solutions from vendors such as Oracle Eloqua, Adobe Marketo and Salesforce, with multiple marketing clouds, are pushing the envelope in areas such as anonymous visitor tracking, lead scoring, nurture campaigns and automated lead distribution to the sales team. With offerings for small, midsize and enterprise-level organizations, there is a MarTech solution available for businesses of all size and industry.

With marketing automation platforms, businesses can navigate that tightrope between too much or too little information, effectively communicating with website visitors and campaign prospects - and improving their ability to transform those prospects into customers.