Key Points
  • Marketing automation is the process through which agencies or local businesses automate their marketing efforts through the use of software and technology.
  • It provides businesses with value by making everyday repetitive tasks like sending emails, posting content, and calling potential customers easier to accomplish.
  • To master the art of creating personalized content, one must first master the knowledge of who the different stakeholders are and then connect with them using relevant pain points.
  • ROI for a marketing automation campaign must be tracked by analyzing whether the customers took the necessary action that was desired from them through a campaign.

Detective Del Spooner winks at his superior as he walks inside a heavily-guarded interrogation room and death stares the robot sitting there. Spooner takes a document out and places it on the table in front of him. He looks up and stares once again at the robot with detestable eyes.

The six armed-guards standing in the background constitute just one of the many elements in this scene, which undoubtedly shows us that everyone in the room hates robots. The animosity is so evident that one begins to wonder that maybe even the robot hates itself for being there.

Sonny, the robot, looks confused. He doesn’t understand why he’s being interrogated in a dingy room filled with professional wrestler-esque guards. All he did was follow human orders. 

Orders to make lives easier. Orders to save time and money. Orders to automatethings.

Spooner, who till now has undeniably established his position as an old-school idealist, asks Sonny a question. 

“Can a robot write a symphony? Can a robot turn a canvas into a beautiful masterpiece?”

Sonny, whose head was bowed till now, half looking at the document and half contemplating the reason for his existence, looks up almost instantly and responds. 

“Can you?”

Ouch! Touche, detective.

For those who’ve seen the movie I, Robot, you’ll recall this famous scene from it where detective Spooner (played by Will Smith) insinuates that robots cannot be trusted and don’t have emotions. For those who haven’t seen it, the idea behind the scene is simple: 

Beware, the bots are coming!

Even though the movie is set in the year 2035, when it’s highly probable that almost everything will be automated, at present, not a lot of things are. However, among the things that are, marketing automation is one of the most viral concepts to grace agencies and local businesses.

What Is Marketing Automation 

As the name suggests, marketing automation is the process through which agencies or local businesses automate their marketing efforts through the use of software and technology.

what is marketing automation

The aim behind such an automation is to streamline the marketing efforts and get optimum results. The presence of the concept, which includes tasks like email marketing, sales process automation, and data management, empowers agencies to grow through valuable multitasking.

I know what you’re thinking. Isn’t this exactly like I, Robot? How can we trust technology to execute the most time and cost-sensitive marketing strategies in the best possible manner?

You can, my friend. You can.

The key aspect about marketing automation software is that, in addition to using infallible algorithms during the implementation stage, it executes the automation part without losing touch of personalization with the customers as well.

Vendasta’s chief strategy officer, Jacqueline Cook, believes that the relevance of the content sent to a potential partner, as well as the time it is sent, matters a lot too.

Marketing automation is speaking to someone with a message that is relevant and resonates with them at a time that is relevant as well. The best marketing automation platforms allow you to deeply understand your customers and pivot and segment based on certain attributes or needs.

Jacqueline Cook

Chief Strategy Officer, Vendasta

What this means is, not only can your agency save time and resources when it comes to setting up automated campaigns, but it can also ensure that the customers (or potential customers) are targeted with pertinent content since relevance is of the utmost importance. 

The content that any agency would generally send to a new potential customer would be different when compared to that sent to an existing one. Marketing automation allows for such customizable functionalities to be incorporated and, hence, helps save time, effort, and money.

How Does Marketing Automation Work

Imagine if there was some way you could find out the exact time to call a radio station during one of those “be the ninth caller and stand a chance to win” contests.

Or, imagine having the ability to send someone an email about the “best tenants insurance available” when they’ve either just moved into their new apartment or are about to finalize one.

Timing is crucial, and that is what marketing automation is all about. It’s about striking while the iron is hot. Leveraging automation, agencies can target customers at the most relevant stage during their customer journey, without having to spend much time or effort. Furthermore, the practice of contacting customers at the ‘right time’ increases the chances of closing them.

At Vendasta, the ideal marketing automation that we follow can be divided into three parts:

automation process

  • Data Collection

When it comes to getting a marketing automation campaign started, the first step that agencies must take is to gather relevant data surrounding their customers. Doing so would not only help them decipher what exactly a customer wants, but also help them design campaigns with a hint of personalization that increases the probability of bringing the customer on board.

Research indicates that 75% of potential customers are more prone to be converted if they are recognized by their names in campaigns. Therefore, personalization becomes very critical and agencies can achieve that using marketing automation software.

But, how do you define personalization? What is it that an agency must do to hit the nail on the head when it comes to establishing that initial connect with a potential customer?

Is it to know the first and last names of customers?

Probably a good place to start since beginning an email with the words “Dear First Name” would be off putting (you won’t believe how often this happens though). However, what’s even worse for an agency is to refer to a customer or prospect by using the wrong name.

Vendasta’s co-founder and chief marketing officer, Jeff Tomlin, agrees with this thought process. He’s found himself stuck in one such marketing automation campaign that continues to mess up his name and therefore does more harm than good to the agency running it.

Everybody has been on some sort of an automation campaign and if it's not handled properly, it can make you look really bad. I continue to get emails that call me Karen every single day and cannot seem to get rid of them.

Jeff Tomlin

Chief Marketing Officer, Vendasta

As hilarious as it may sound to refer to Jeff as Karen, it’s a strict no from a business perspective. So, what else must an agency do to personalize the initial connect with a client?

How about knowing the name of their business and a list of their potential customers?

That’s not bad. But, let’s be honest. Every agency today knows the names and details of the people that their targeted businesses would be targeting. That’s how marketing works. That’s how business works. And everyone is doing it. 

What agencies need, though, is something that makes them stand out from the rest. Something that would make a business owner stop doing what they’re doing and take notice.

For the sake of this explanation, imagine that your name is John and your password is ThisIsMyPassword123 (Yes, we know. That is indeed the greatest password in history). Now, imagine John getting an email from an agency with the subject line, John, is your password ThisIsMyPassword123? Click here to find out more about our products.

Before we go ahead, no, we’re not suggesting that you hack into someone’s business account. That would be illegal and wrong. It would surely get your customer’s attention, but it would definitely be illegal and wrong. Also, did we mention that it would be illegal and wrong?

The idea behind this explanation was just to showcase the level of personalization that agencies must sought after in order to get the attention of their customers.

At Vendasta, we find success in achieving that level of personalization through our Snapshot Report. Business owners find value in accessing a report, which shows a detailed analysis of their business, and identifies areas of improvement that would lead to boosting their revenue.

Snapshot Report

Therefore, for agencies looking to get a foot in the door, a snapshot report is a great tool for starting conversations with local businesses by highlighting gaps in their marketing efforts and proposing optimal solutions to tackle them.

  • Drip Campaigns

Remember earlier when we talked about striking while the iron is hot? Now is the time to do so.

Once we get the attention of prospective clients through snapshot reports, the next phase in the marketing automation plan begins. This is when we execute a well-structured and detailed week-by-week drip email campaign that talks to the customers about what they want to hear.

Why is it called a drip, you ask? That’s because just like the name suggests, a drip email campaign delivers the intended message in small doses over a period of time.

Drip Email Campaign

Let’s look at an example to understand this better.

John’s business of selling pancakes is not doing so well. He thinks he’s doing everything right, but still doesn’t quite understand what the problem is. His usual, and loyal, customers can’t stop praising him about how good his pancakes are. However, getting new customers on board has been an area of concern that is causing the business to lose money.

One look at the snapshot report tells us the reason why John’s Pancakes isn’t doing well. It’s because John doesn’t do a good job of responding to his customer reviews. There were a few instances when some customers had bad experiences (as is evident with every business) and then went ahead and left bad reviews on social platforms.

Furthermore, the listing of John’s Pancakes is missing from a number of key business websites. Something that explains why the same people keep visiting his shop over and over again, and the new ones do not. It’s because people on the lookout for options can’t find John’s Pancakes.

Day 1:

We initiate the first point of contact by sending John his business snapshot report. Data suggests that emails with personalized subject lines are 26% more likely to be opened, and that’s what we do. Sending a personalized business snapshot report with the business name gets John’s attention, especially since his business hasn’t been doing so well.

This is where the automation part starts to kick in. Once we know the pain points that we must focus on for John’s Pancakes, we can create ready-to-use email campaigns for businesses similar to his whenever we come across them. Using marketing automation software, agencies can customize emails, set delay times, and tailor them further to suit their own style.

drip email campaign

Day 8:

Once we’ve initiated contact with John regarding his business, one of two things can happen. Either he feels the need to contact us and seek help (in which case we remove him from the drip campaign for future emails) or he chooses to ignore us and keep flipping those pancakes.

If he does ignore the first email (tsk tsk), the marketing automation campaign sends him the second email a week later. As we keep moving forward in the timeline of emails, the idea is to start driving home the pain points more directly. In this case, we guide John towards John’s Pancakes’ customer reviews that have been driving people away instead of attracting them to his business.

drip email campaign

Day 15:

By this time, hopefully John knows that he has a problem with his customer reviews. While his pancake business does have a lot of good reviews, it also has its share of bad ones that are driving people away and need to be tackled as early as possible.. Furthermore, to ensure that he reaps the best benefits out of the positive reviews, John must also start responding to them in a timely manner to build his brand identity and bolster customer relationships.

However, that’s not the only problem that John’s Pancakes must tackle.

Remember how it’s always the same set of people who visit John for their usual dose of pancake ecstasy? That’s because John’s Pancakes isn’t listed on some of the most important business listing websites. Therefore, in the third week, John receives the third automated email that helps us drive the point home about how listing solutions can increase customer footfall.

drip email campaign

Day 22:

And finally, in the fourth week of the automated drip email campaign (the duration, delay, and dynamics of which can be customized by agencies as per their needs), John receives the final email that offers him a valuable solution about better managing his social media requirements.

The great part about creating marketing automation campaigns, in addition to being customizable (did we say that already?), is that they’re ready-to-use (with quick changes if necessary) at the click of a button. Not only does the feature save tons of time when it comes to designing specific campaigns, but it also saves added costs of creating content that is relevant.

drip email campaign

  • Real-Time Tracking

The process of tracking the success of the messages sent out as part of a drip email campaign is advisable for agencies to understand the strategies that worked for them and those that didn’t. These learnings help them evolve over time by capitalizing on the plays that were most successful and eliminating one that failed to deliver results.

Furthermore, agencies must also track the analytics of a drip campaign to better understand the thought process of a targeted prospect. Since timing is critical in marketing automation, the analytics need to be tracked at every instant to understand the optimal time when the sales teams must make contact with the prospect.

Again, it’s about striking while the iron is hot, and using customer relationship management (CRM) software, incorporated with state-of-the-art artificial intelligence, agencies can pinpoint the exact moment when businesses are ready to engage with them and start buying.

At Vendasta, through our owned-and-operated Sales & Success Center, our sales team makes use of hot lead notifications to track the activity of potential prospects. During the marketing automation process, whenever a prospect interacts with content that is sent to them, we get notifications in the form of flames. Needless to say, more flames, the hotter the prospect.

hot lead notifications

It is evident here that the probability for the sales team to convert the UPS Store (three flames) into a permanent partner would be higher when compared to Finn McCool’s Bar & Grill (one flame) because the UPS Store activity signals that they’re ready, and are much closer, to buy.

Another advantage of hot lead notifications is that the technology helps agencies and local businesses gain an edge over their competitors by helping them figure out the answer to the third piece of the customer acquisition puzzle. CSO Jacqueline Cook sheds light on the same:

It's very important to know who the customers are, what they need, and when they're ready to talk about a product or a service. A lot of platforms have just one or two pieces of that puzzle figured out, but for us (Vendasta) to have all three is pretty powerful.

Jacqueline Cook

Chief Strategy Officer, Vendasta

Why Do You Need Marketing Automation

The foremost reason that agencies and local businesses need marketing automation is because it provides them with value by making everyday repetitive tasks like sending emails, posting content, and calling potential customers easier to accomplish.

In addition to that, automation provides agencies with benefits that help them improve sales and marketing alignment, reduce their customer acquisition costs (CAC), save time that can be better utilized elsewhere, and finally be more efficient towards managing business operations.

  • To Improve ‘Smarketing’

If there was one occurrence in every organization on which people could bet their money and be assured of a jackpot victory, it would surely be the misalignment between sales and marketing.

The metaphorical tiff between the two departments is so old that it probably dates back as far as the late 1500s when the term marketing first made its appearance in dictionaries.

In fact, the concept is so common these days that the misalignment between sales and marketing is often a standard theme for internal company jokes. 

Which joke is our favourite? Glad you asked.

Team Marketing: Do you know which sport the sales team is best at? Dodgeball since they’re always dodging our leads.

Team Sales: That’s right we do dodge them. Because we only follow up on the best leads!

*SorryNotSorry*

However, for a business to grow, it’s imperative that the sales and marketing departments be properly aligned to each other. It’s essential that the gap between the two teams is always bridged so that the relationship creates a synergistic alliance.

As is evident with many agencies, the misalignment might occur either due to improper communication or due to the lack of processes related to making contact with prospects.

The sales team might not be provided with the right kind of leadsor don’t have enough information about the quality of leads. On the other hand, marketing also needs to keep in contact with a customer long after they have been sent to the sales team since it is a well-known fact that the possibility to upsell to an existing client is greater.

Marketing automation is the perfect answer to solve this growing problem. The philosophy at Vendasta resonates along the same lines as well with our CMO, Jeff Tomlin, leading the charge. 

According to Tomlin, every agency must ensure a tight smarketing connection so that the sales team can call leads as close to that moment when they’re ready to buy.

Marketing automation is really important for the evolution of the sales model. If we're going to try to drive efficiencies to our sales force, we have to find businesses that are ready to buy. We can't boil the ocean. You can't sit down and have a sales force call out an entire marketplace without qualifying it first.

Jeff Tomlin

Chief Marketing Officer, Vendasta

  • To Lower Acquisition Costs

For any agency, the cost of getting customers on board can be a big problem. They need to incorporate efficient methods to reduce the CAC, especially if the existing ones are very expensive and are biting into company finances.

Marketing automation is one such method to reduce the customer acquisition cost since the automated campaigns do the majority of the work, which otherwise would have added to the costs. 

From saving added marketing costs (through the use of drip campaigns) to saving extra sales costs (no more cold calling), agencies stand to gain a lot. Then there are savings that arise due to the usage of pre-made templates and content. No longer do agencies need to shed extra money and resources on creating content, which can be customized and personalized as well.

  • To Save Time

As mentioned before, through marketing automation, agencies can target their potential customers at exactly the right time, thereby saving a lot of time and effort.

A lead response management study indicates that if a lead is contacted by the sales team within the first five minutes of signing up for a service or product, not only do the chances of converting that lead into a partner increase a 100 times, but it also helps free up the sales team to contact more prospects in that short time period.

Such a practice of contacting potential customers at the right time helps develop a culture of achieving more results in less time. At Vendasta, with the help of our Sales & Success Center and its in-built hot lead notifications functionality, our sales team not only knows when to contact a lead, but also how to qualify them further.

automation alignment

  • To Be More Efficient 

Lastly, marketing automation helps agencies make their processes more efficient, thereby empowering them to save more, exploit more, and ultimately achieve more.

The usage of pre-made drip email campaigns, which can be executed in a matter of minutes as opposed to days (or even months) before, can not only help agencies save extra costs, but also help them save time when it comes to training newly-hired sales and marketing resources.

Furthermore, catching the attention of potential customers has never been easier. Through the Snapshot Report, which has proven results for success, prospects get access to data relevant to their business and therefore engage more readily than before.

What Are the Challenges of Marketing Automation

  • Lose Time to Save Time

Even though one of the main benefits of marketing automation is to help agencies save time, the initial implementation process can be a laborious task, thereby creating an entry barrier. 

According to a research report by Ascend2, the second-biggest barrier that agencies face while implementing marketing automation is the integration of the software within their systems. The first one being delivering personalized content, which we will talk about later as well.

Since the initial integration process can be time-consuming and involves a lot of processes like trainings, setup configurations, and internal assessments, almost 60% of the agencies and local businesses can take up to six months to adopt a marketing automation platform.

In the longer run, however, once all integration processes are completed and things fall in place, businesses start enjoying the benefits as the automation campaign starts delivering results.

  • Automation, Yet Not Automated

One of the most challenging aspects about marketing automation is that it’s not automated. 

True that agencies can set up their pre-made drip email campaigns and get hot lead notifications about when to engage with customers, but unless you’re looking for a reason to keep calling Jeff as Karen, the software still hasn’t reached the stage of ‘set it and forget it’.

After setting up the initial automation process, there is still a need for constant monitoring, as well as a continuous maintenance and optimization of campaigns.

I think the challenge for every marketing automation system boils down to two things: 1) how might we speak in a way that is relevant to every customer segment, and 2) marketing automation platforms often, I guess the old era of them, rely on you setting up the 'if this, then that' logic.

Jacqueline Cook

Chief Strategy Officer, Vendasta

Maybe a prospect was added to a wrong list, which means they would receive content about a product that they’re not interested in instead of receiving content that would convert them. Such a wasted opportunity could prove to be detrimental to a business’s bottom line. Or maybe the prospect was converted into a paying partner and now no longer has the need for these emails.

In either scenario, the automation process would need to be tweaked through manual intervention. The process, however, still provides agencies and local businesses with optimum value since it helps them be more efficient through saved time, cost, and resources.

  • Lack of Data

For an automation campaign to begin, agencies must ensure that they have access to relevant data about a potential customer. As mentioned before, the collection of data can help agencies get a foot in the door with their prospects and hence improve their chances of making a sale.

However, the challenge that agencies face at this stage is to get their hands on the data that is relevant to a specific prospect and their business operations. Furthermore, another problem that they might be faced with is having a list of prospects and not knowing what to do with it.

It is understood that the customers need to be contacted, but what content must they be shown that would attract their attention without raising any eyebrows?

Should agencies send a generic email about a prospect’s business operations as a first point of contact? Or should they just send a general salutation email asking whether the potential customer was interested in doing business with them?

This conundrum can be solved by using the Snapshot Report. Using Vendasta’s Sales and Marketing Platform, agencies can generate a detailed, personalized report about the prospect they’re about to target and then send it to them to capture their attention.

Post that, they must gauge the situation by tracking how interested the prospect is and accordingly tackle the automation campaign.

  • Personalization (Know Your Stakeholders)

Going back to Ascend2’s automation survey, delivering personalized content has been identified as the number one barrier for agencies when it comes to adopting marketing automation.

The survey states that 44% of marketing influencers today believe that the challenge of delivering personalized content through their automation campaigns is what is keeping agencies and local businesses from adopting this functionality.

We, at Vendasta, agree with these findings because personalization indeed can be very tough to pull off. Especially if one doesn’t know anything about the stakeholders that are targeted.

To get optimum results from a campaign, the first step of which is to catch the eye of a prospect, the automation message must be kept personal. Generating the Snapshot Report is good, but not knowing what to point out to the prospect from that report can be a problem.

Talking to a sales manager of a local business about the reviews that their company is receiving on social media platforms would be as ineffective as talking to a marketing manager about hot lead notifications and the opportune time to contact a lead.

Therefore, to master the art of personalized content, one must first master the knowledge of who the different stakeholders are and then connect with them using relevant pain points.

 

Robert, The Sales Manager

Good ‘ol Bob is the person responsible for managing the team that converts those leads into partners. What would grab his attention when receiving automated content from agencies is data surrounding the best sales practices and analytics on how to measure them. He’s one of the proponents of effective smarketing and would find value in knowing how marketing automation can bridge that gap. Furthermore, Bob would also like to receive content that talks about what clients want so that he can deliver the best results.

 

Sally, the Business Owner

Finally, we have Sally the business owner who’s won all the latest entrepreneur of the year awards and can’t wait to get her business to reach the pinnacles of success. She’s cautious about how agencies approach her to get her to bring them on board to help her business thrive, but hasn’t yet seen something that would blow her mind. What she needs from agencies is a detailed Snapshot Report that talks about how her business is faring, shows what its strengths are that need to be exploited, and lastly provides a glimpse of her weaknesses that need to be worked on.

Miranda, The Marketing Manager

Marketing managers are most interested in statistics related to customers and the cost associated with bringing them on board. Therefore, when it comes to sending personalized content to someone like Miranda, agencies must ensure they talk about lead generation, managing reputation, and analytics related to best understanding the return on investment (ROI). Miranda would also be receptive if she is shown valuable ways to handle her social media needs that include managing multiple business accounts together.

 

Vern, the Sales Representative

Vern is Bob’s go-to-guy when it comes to initiating operation ‘call those leads and get them on board.’ He wants to contact leads as fast as possible and at exactly the right time to ensure maximum probability to close the sale. He hates calling unqualified leads, who ruin his day by cutting his calls or not responding to the emails that he sends them. Therefore, agencies must ensure that the Verns of the business world receive content that tells them about the magic of hot lead notifications and how to increase the chances of having better engagement.

What’s the ROI from Marketing Automation

Allright. There’s been enough talk surrounding the goods and bads of marketing automation. It’s time to get down to brass tacks. Time to answer the question that everyone has on their minds.

What’s the ROI that agencies can expect to receive from marketing automation?

Before we answer that question, it’s important to understand the relevant metrics that must be used to measure the success or failure of an automated campaign.

If people keep opening your emails and acting on them, they must be finding value in those things. So, engagement metrics would sort of be the surface level for tracking the success of a marketing automation campaign. But I think the next level of tracking the ROI is to understand what were you trying to get the customer to do and whether they did it.

Jacqueline Cook

Chief Strategy Officer, Vendasta

Building on what CSO Jacqueline Cook says, it is imperative that the ROI for a marketing automation campaign be tracked by analyzing whether the customers took the necessary action that was desired from them through a campaign.

For example, maybe the call to action was for them to start using the Social Marketing tool to better manage their social media posts. Or maybe it was to drive them to use Reputation Management to tackle their bad reviews. Depending on whatever it was, agencies can measure ROI by analyzing whether they took action, and not by whether they opened the sent email.

Research at Vendasta has proven that agencies that utilize marketing automation software to empower their businesses have enjoyed a 10x lift in their digital revenues, more than 30% click-throughs on their campaigns, and a 900% increase in conversion of leads into customers.

Furthermore, looking at a case study that we prepared by tracking the results of a newspaper based out of California that strived to help a local chamber of commerce create additional ways to increase their membership renewals, we were able to generate some fascinating statistics.

These findings delineate how valuable marketing automation can be for agencies to incorporate. Out of the 730 prospects that the chamber put on their automation campaign, they were able to achieve a click-through rate of 49% and an open rate of 34%. Furthermore, the chamber had a huge lead-to-customer conversion rate of 49.2%, which saw them add USD 57,000 in revenue.

How Can Vendasta Help You

While Vendasta is not the only player present in the marketing automation domain today, the other software do have their respective share of pros and cons. In fact, according to our CMO Jeff Tomlin, that was one of the major reasons why we stepped into the field of play.

One of the reasons why we (Vendasta) started thinking about marketing automation was because there were a lot of problems in the existing automation space. There were a lot of challenges present with some of the big enterprise solutions that we wanted to overcome.

Jeff Tomlin

Chief Marketing Officer, Vendasta

Using those existing problems to our advantage, we strived to think like agencies and answer the questions that they either have on their mind right now or might have in the future.

One of those focus areas, which ranks high up the priority scale for Vendasta, is the need to incorporate artificial intelligence into marketing automation. CSO Jacqueline Cook believes that such an integration would make marketing automation stand true to its name (of being automated) and provide agencies with the value to actually set it and forget it.

The new marketing automation platforms that will really take it to the next level are those that will be optimized based on the preferences of the customers by using artificial intelligence based on existing engagement rates/open rates.

Jacqueline Cook

Chief Strategy Officer, Vendasta

Another value proposition that came from that exercise was to provide an end-to-end platform that incorporated not just a marketing automation tool, but also a sales and advertising tool all wrapped into one package. Often agencies might be bothered with the burden of operating different tools for different purposes, which could prove to be highly inefficient.

Vendasta’s platform can be termed as a ‘complete agency in a box’ with one piece of that growth engine being marketing automation. Using this tool, agencies can not only utilize different categories of marketing like customer acquisition, product adoption, and product upsell, but also get access to pre-made email campaigns best recommended to help their business grow.