A Beginner’s Guide to Marketing Automation

It is unfortunate that you can’t just take all your potential customers out to Chili’s and win their business with a free Awesome Blossom. For today’s digital customer, you have to rely on robust technology to gain insight into website visits and improve marketing and sales efforts.

Whether you sell software to businesses or individual consumers, marketing automation capabilities are indispensable to your ecommerce strategy. According to a recent study by Bizo, 72 percent of marketers use marketing automation for lead generation. If you haven’t adopted a marketing automation solution into your ecommerce strategy, you need to read this beginner’s guide to marketing automation.

What is marketing automation?

Caitlin Marco, Marketing Automation Manager at cleverbridge, says that marketing automation provides, “a 360 degree view of the lifecycle of your customers. It gives your company the ability to communicate to customers from the moment when a visitor is introduced to your brand all the way until they convert into a paying customer and beyond.”

But this process is not as simple as creating a landing page, integrating some APIs and watching leads roll into your CRM. To effectively use marketing automation, companies must align internal departments, develop content strategies, qualify leads and continuously monitor results. As Marco warns, “Marketing automation success is a marathon not a sprint.” Ultimately, turning contacts into leads and leads into paying customers is crucial for all businesses, and marketing automation helps do that more effectively and efficiently.

Essential Features of Marketing Automation Solutions

Not all solutions are the same, but there are several key features you’ll need for your marketing automation campaigns. These include the ability to segment content to customers at different points along the buyer’s journey, API integration with your various databases and community support.

The Ability to Segment

If you are interested in high open/click-through rates and low unsubscribe rates for your marketing automation campaigns, you must capture important customer data and then qualify it before sending follow-up messages.

First, gather relevant departments like sales and marketing to establish buyer personas and criteria for defining when contacts become leads and leads become opportunities. For B2C companies, it is important to capture basic demographic (Who is this visitor?), behavioral (What pages are they visiting?) and transactional (What products have they bought?) data. For B2B companies, it is important to capture additional information like job title (Is this visitor a CEO or IT professional?), monthly revenue, amount of employees, and interest in seeing a product demo.

With all this information, you can create effective marketing collateral that speaks to your customers’ pain points. Landing pages with questions that capture demographic and behavioral data are also created to progressively profile contacts. Contacts are then qualified as leads or opportunities and segmented into lists which receive appropriate content at appropriate times.

You may be asking at this point: What turns a prospect into a lead?

Again, this is something that needs to be hashed out between marketing, sales and other relevant departments. But this is where that data from your landing pages and form submissions comes into play. As we said, qualifying leads often relies on capturing demographic information like your visitors’ operating system, their location, language and even age.

If you sell an antivirus program, for instance, a whitepaper full of technical jargon about the digital security landscape might be useful content for someone purchasing 50 licenses for their IT department to install on local corporate computers. But this type of content is probably useless for a retired history professor looking to make sure they don’t infect their home computer. For the latter type of customer, a 10 percent discount off a single license will suffice for driving the professor back to the shopping cart.

API Integrations

Because marketing automation occurs throughout the entire customer lifecycle, which hopefully includes lots transactions, survey responses and email click-throughs, it is crucial for a solution to not only integrate with your CRM, but also your with your ERP and ecommerce platform. Without the ability to integrate, your marketing automation efforts will result in incomplete or skewed reporting.

Mike MacFarlane, a Marketing Consultant with Couch and Associates illustrates why it is important that you ensure data consistency. He writes, “Let’s say a sales rep is speaking with a prospect. The prospect’s title is entered as Marketing Coordinator in the CRM system, but the rep learns it is actually Director of Marketing. You will want the ability to update the record to reflect the proper title, then have that information synced back with your marketing automation platform. This is important when it comes to database segmentation, lead nurturing and lead scoring.”

Community Support

Marketing automation tools are clearly complex solutions with many features. According to Marco, “Having a community of experts who are knowledgeable about these platforms and who have experienced the same challenges is incredibly valuable.” These forums provide an environment to ask questions and receive answers from your industry peers.

Marketing Automation Costs

It turns out that pricing can vary according to the solution. But one thing in common with all solutions is that they have embraced the subscription economy in more than one way.

That is, most marketing automation tools combine time-based subscription models along with usage based subscription models. In addition to the annually recurring cost of general licensing, marketing automation vendors will likely incorporate some sort of usage based billing into the price of their solution. Typically, this takes the form of either:

  • Costs per contact – Some solutions charge depending on how many contacts are in your CRM. You can send as many emails as your want, but once your Salesforce database reaches a certain threshold, the vendor charges extra for additional contacts.
  • Costs per send – Other vendors charge depending on your sending volume. You can have as many contacts in your CRM as you want, but once you reach a certain threshold of the amount of emails that you’ve sent, costs are raised.
  • Costs per seat – Still other vendors charge according to how many users have access to the solution.

Remember and don’t forget! There is also the cost of hiring a dedicated employee to manage your marketing automation solution.


The benefits of marketing automation are not just in driving more revenue, but also creating a more cohesive internal organization whose goals are aligned with consistent messaging across all departments. Marketing automation not only brings in the money, it also makes your organization more efficient and effective.