Marketing automation may initially conjure a somewhat confusing image since the very idea of automation is more likely to bring to mind a factory or assembly line.
Bringing automation into manufacturing environments was obviously transformative because it allowed companies to produce everything from car parts to toys in a consistent, efficient, and highly productive way. Automation is likewise transforming marketing processes for greater efficiency, but you can’t treat customers as though they were assembly line widgets.
In fact, it's more a matter of personalizing their experiences and that means recognizing unique differences and slightly changing your marketing approach based on what you know about their needs and wants. On the surface it may not sound like something you can automate. The best way to get your head around the link between marketing automation and personalization is to think of the mental reflexes that are developed as you get to know your customers.
These tend to take the form of “if this/then that” or IFTTT rules. Let’s take the example of how a local agency might use IFTTT to help a number of restaurants build up their digital marketing capabilities over time.
There may be some patterns:
- If they have little to no online reviews, then perhaps they may be interested in learning more about reputation management tools.
- If they try out a free version of a reputation management software and it seems to bring them more business, then they may be interested in an email campaign that describes the value of a paid version of the same product.
- If they click on that email and on any of the links within it, then it may be time to alert a salesperson.
- If you send an alert to a salesperson who has specific experience in the restaurant industry, then the chances of the customer making a purchase will most likely increase.
- If you send an alert to a salesperson who has specific experience in serving a particular kind of restaurant, like Italian restaurants, then the propensity to buy may be even higher.
Marketing automation as your assistant
Imagine hiring the world’s hardest-working marketing assistant — someone to whom you could pass on these rules of thumb and those that apply to all the other kinds of customers you serve. Think of marketing automation like that assistant, except that it doesn’t require sleeping, eating or booking time off for vacations.
Technology works well here, encouraging the customer to feel as if they’re being treated like an individual, but the experience created through marketing automation is based on tried-and-true approaches. Even better, the way you personalize doesn’t just draw upon your expertise, or that of someone else on the team. Rules can be added or the automation changed based on insights gathered from a continual flow of data collected about customer behavior. In that sense, marketing automation helps your entire business become smarter as you continue to gather additional customer insights.
The power of an integrated platform
Another reason you wouldn’t want to dump all this work on a single human being - besides the fact they’d never have enough hours in the day to do it all - is because they would continually need to be in close contact with many other departments besides marketing.
For example, they would need to track down a salesperson every time it looked like a customer was ready to buy. They would also need to cross-reference all information gathered about a customer with their counterpart in sales. There might there be discrepancies, out of date details or other errors. Those investigations take time, too.
Marketing automation tools not only work faster and better than manual people-performed processes for many of these routine tasks, but connect directly with other business areas where automation is likewise being used. In sales, for instance, combining marketing automation with customer relationship management (CRM) streamlines everything you need to acquire, retain, and build deeper relationships with customers.
You’ll also want to integrate with tools that help gather feedback from customers long after they’ve made a purchase. That will give a deeper perspective on the later stages of a customer journey. Think of where you could automate what happens when:
- A customer makes a payment: This might be a good time to schedule a follow-up or check-in to ensure a customer is fully satisfied with a purchase.
- A sales order status has changed: Customers don’t like surprises. Especially when it’s a delay or any other form of friction that gets in the way of running their local business. You can add alerts in marketing automation to ensure you communicate anything customers should know the moment they need to know it.
- A customer deactivates a product: Is this a customer’s way of saying “goodbye,” because they haven’t realized the value they wanted out of your product? Are they saying “good riddance” because other aspects of the experience were lacking? Maybe it’s both. Maybe they’re happy but should be offered a more advanced product.
Automation here supports putting greater effort into the relationship and customer satisfaction, rather than risk having them walk away for good. What you learn here can also help improve those first moments of the customer experience. The power of customer experience design is that you approach the journeys holistically. It could be overwhelming to keep it all in your head. Marketing automation lets you break it all down into a series of logical steps.
Unleashing Your True Potential
As you automate marketing processes, you begin to realize how ad-hoc the old way of doing things used to be. A salesperson might have gone with their gut in deciding when to reach out to a local business about a purchasing opportunity, for example. Or they simply might have based it on whenever they had an open spot in their calendar.
Marketing automation doesn’t just take away a lot of the grunt work. It allows you to be intelligent and specific about when to bring a human touch to the experience. You can literally set rules, for instance, that suggest waiting two hours after someone activates the free version of a product before sending out an email, or before having a salesperson reach out.
This makes everyone on the team work in a cohesive way that aligns with what a local business will need and want. Rather than being trapped in busywork, marketing automation lets you bring your best self to the customer experience.