Marketing automation can take a lot of the weight off your shoulders, but it's not a magic wand.
Marketing automation can be applied to all sorts of processes - from lead generation and nurturing, to relationship marketing and customer retention activities. Complex series of activities can be triggered by customer behaviour such as responses to emails and website views. But, despite the name, marketing automation is about more than a set of tools: done the right way, it should help you improve the way you manage all your communications, qualify and nurture prospects and retain customers.
According to IDC, the worldwide market for marketing automation is set to hit $4.8 billion next year, up from $3.2 billion in 2010. While large enterprises have been using the technology for a while, most growth now comes from the SME sector, led particularly by companies in the high-tech sector - though manufacturing and retail feature strongly too.
At the heart of the process is the customer database, which should include detailed data on customer behaviour and interaction from a variety of sources. A relationship marketing engine coordinates this information to create and manage marketing processes; and analytics allows an organisation to measure the success of particular activities and optimise future strategies.
Marketing automation, though, is not a magic wand.
1. You still need to generate leads
With marketing automation, what you get out is very much about what you put in. It takes a bit of effort but, more importantly, a steady supply of leads. If those leads don’t increase, you're increasingly trying to mine an ever-smaller seam. It should go without saying that the content you distribute also needs to be good - don't forget, it can often be re-used.
2. Beware of becoming a spammer
It's tempting to buy up lists of contacts from outside: after all, the more emails you send, the better, right? Not so. Email marketing is notoriously irritating when it's unsolicited. Spewing out messages to customers that haven't requested them will damage your image rather than enhancing it, and leads to a very poor response rate. Even worse, it can lead to your organisation's IP address being classified by email providers as a source of spam, and potentially blocked.
3. It's not all about email
While email can be effective, it's very easy to ignore. It takes just a moment to delete a communication unread and over 30% of bulk email gets blocked. These days, buyers are far more likely to be using Google searches or social media for their research - which means you should be using these channels too and integrating your activities across platforms.
4. Plan a campaign as a whole
Because each action is triggered by another, it's vital to have the whole campaign mapped out in advance - indeed, it helps to actually plan campaigns in reverse. If, for example, you're going to send an email in response to a page visit, that email needs to be written at the start.
5. Put thought into implementation
Marketing automation entails changes in processes for both sales and marketing staff, with working tending to become more collaborative. These changes need to be managed, with new working practices defined and communicated clearly to staff.