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Marketing automation describes software or platforms that automate content, campaigns and interactions, to streamline marketing and to save time and money. Such systems began as software that simply automated the sending of marketing emails. But from these basic roots, marketing automation platforms have progressively evolved into far more complex and sophisticated software systems.

The background to marketing automation

Initially, during the 1990s, systems were created to integrate with CRM software and were often built to spec for large organisations that could afford to invest in bespoke technology. But gradually, from the middle of the 2000s, solutions have been developed that offer a wider range of functionality and a growing commonality of features. As these grew in popularity, and proved to be affordable to a wider range of businesses, the marketing automation industry really came of age.

At the same time, with the universality of the internet came a change in buyer behaviour. Instead of a fairly linear process, it now involves a more convoluted path, with a greater degree of research on the part of a consumer before any interaction with a salesperson takes place. Marketing automation helps identify prospects and guide them through this complex buying process.

Marketing automation functionality

Nowadays, marketing automation platforms provide functionality across a number of areas. While the precise features available differ between vendors, and between individual products, typical features will include:

Lead capture – acquiring and managing information on your prospects, including identifying their online behaviour, capturing their social profiles and buyer personas, and direct capture via forms. Marketing automation can integrate with CRM systems to cross-reference against pre-existing data, and to manage the data.

Content and campaign creation – creating content as diverse as emails, blog posts, landing pages, surveys and polls, as well as devising campaigns that bring several of these forms of content together.

Campaign execution – sending email campaigns, calendaring, social sharing and campaign management. The addition of personalisation further enhances campaigns. Dynamic online content can be generated, tailoring the user experience according to past behaviour or other factors that are known about a prospect.

Lead management – through lead nurturing, lead scoring and lead allocation, marketing automation systems can profile leads and identify and qualify them. When integrated with a CRM package, this bridges the gap between sales and marketing so that leads can be qualified by marketing before being handed over to sales.

Reporting and analytics – analysis and measurement of campaigns, alongside lead profiling – and often with a real-time view – delivers sophisticated marketing intelligence that can not only report on the returns of a campaign but also inform future strategic decision-making within a business.

Conclusion

Marketing automation software greatly enhances a business’s approach to marketing, streamlining its processes and facilitating demand generation, lead capture and prospect nurturing.

When companies can easily publish and manage content across online platforms and multiple social presences, it makes it simpler, faster and cheaper to attract and engage with prospects. These leads are then nurtured through the buying process, guided via enhanced, positive interactions with the brand, and ultimately converting into sales.

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