Best Marketing Automation software of 2020
Ranking the best in marketing automation
Marketing automation software provides a platform for your company to effectively coordinate and manage your company’s digital marketing strategy.
With a good marketing automation system, you can send emails, reach out to customers via social media, send personalized special offers, and launch campaigns in specific subgroups of customers, all without active intervention from your marketing team.
Marketing automation is the latest evolution of digital marketing, and if you’re not on board, your company is probably falling behind.
Why use marketing automation software?
Once your customer base surpasses a critical threshold, it’s just not possible to market effectively by hand. Some companies try to work around this by bulk-mailing email blasts to their entire email list, or by hiring an army of new employees for their marketing division, but a far better solution is to use marketing automation software.
Many of the mundane tasks of marketing—sending emails in response to certain customer actions, carrying out an advertising campaign aimed at a specific subset of your customer base, or keeping your company’s social media feed populated with quality content, can be queued up ahead of time or automated. This is exactly what marketing automation software allows you to do.
Being able to coordinate your marketing strategy from one dashboard can help you create synergy between your different pipelines of digital marketing. Coordinating email newsletters with social media campaigns or text alerts for members can be a great way to generate a bigger boost in sales than a series of uncoordinated and separate campaigns.
Coordination also helps with making marketing promotions that are geared towards a specific subset of your customers. Marketing automation software helps you queue up campaigns, and can even personalize marketing campaigns and strategies at the level of the individual customer.
Perhaps the best reason to use marketing automation is right in the name: full automation of marketing campaigns. If you want to set up automated pipelines to get customers or potential customers started on a marketing campaign as soon as they initiate a particular action (for example, signing up for an email newsletter, joining a membership program, or making a purchase, marketing automation software provides a perfect platform for setting up these automated marketing systems, with arbitrarily large levels of complexity.
As your company grows, your ability to scale your marketing program effectively becomes increasingly important. As small businesses transition to mid-size businesses, they often find that the marketing strategies that worked well with a small number of customers just can’t cut it as they grow. This is where marketing automation can really help.
Finally, marketing automation software keeps your marketing campaigns accountable. If you’ve been sending out emails into the void with little or no feedback on their efficacy, it’s time to start using marketing automation software. You’ll get access to numerous performance indicators, including email bounce rate, open rates, and click-through rates, which give you valuable information about how to improve your marketing strategy. Is your bounce rate really high? If so, the emails on your mailing list are dead or out of date—you need to work on getting new emails from customers interested in your business.
If your open rates are too low, that means your emails don’t sound interesting enough even to look at. This could be because you aren’t targeting your messages to match what your customers want, or it could be because you have an email list populated by people who are uninterested in your company.
Finally, if your open rates are good but your click through rates are poor, the content of your marketing emails needs work. Many marketing automation software systems provide similar metrics for text messages, phone calls, social media interaction, and more sources of key performance indicators, or KPIs, of marketing success.
Even with just these examples, it’s easy to see how marketing automation can be used to improve the quality of your marketing campaigns, identify flaws in your strategy, and ultimately lead to more sales.
Who uses marketing automation software?
It should be a no-brainer that the most important users of your marketing automation software are the people on your marketing and sales teams. Both your team leads and your boots-on-the-ground basic marketers need to buy in to using your marketing automation software for it to be successful.
Team leads rely mostly on the dashboard data and the key performance indicators to identify how specific marketing campaigns or strategies are unfolding. Quick access to all of these data allow them to act quickly to double down on effective strategies and abandon ones that aren’t working.
Marketers under the team lead will be the ones setting up the automation pipelines for specific campaigns and making sure customers are getting funneled into the right groups and are getting incorporated into the right marketing campaigns.
Because marketing automation involves multiple different streams (for example, email, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter), it is becoming increasingly important to involve your social media team in your marketing automation software usage.
With more employees being hired specifically for social media, social CRM, and social marketing roles, it is the job of the leadership in your marketing division to make sure their efforts are a part of your company’s broader marketing strategy.
Likewise, given the increasing importance of data analytics at all levels of conducting business, your analytics team will likely want the ability to access the performance metrics that come out of your marketing automation software. They aren’t likely to be involved in the day to day operation of the marketing automation software, and won’t likely be intervening in the ongoing marketing campaigns. However, getting long-term insights from the data provided by your marketing automation software can go a long way towards helping long-term revenue growth.
Many marketing automation software makers encourage their users to consider the role of marketing automation in the broader customer relationship management (CRM) lifestyle: hopefully, your potential sales leads turn into first-time buyers, who in turn become long-term repeat customers.
This means being able to easily hand off customer information to technical services, customer support, and your CRM software. Keep team members and team leads from all of these elements in the loop when you are using marketing automation software for maximum efficacy.
Marketing automation software should make it easy to queue up campaigns and tag specific subsets of customers for a certain type of email. The entire idea behind marketing automation is to make it far more efficient to provide high-quality marketing content to your potential customers, so high quality marketing automation software should make it not just possible, but easy, to set up long and sophisticated marketing campaigns targeted at specific subgroups of your customer base.
These campaigns can involve multiple media streams (for example, email, text message alerts, and social media). You should also be able to trigger events based on certain prerequisites; for example, you may want to initiate a certain marketing campaign when a customer makes a purchase of any item of women’s apparel from your online store. Good marketing automation software will let you specify all of these conditions.
Marketing automation software can help you personalize messages for customers. If your idea of personalization is just changing the name in the first line of an email, you need to update your expectations of what marketing automation software can do.
Marketing software lets you insert customized content based on specific segments of your markets, and in the case of higher end marketing automation software, even user-specific data based on previous purchases.
Building personalization into your marketing automation software can increase your open rates, increase your click-through rates, and ultimately increase sales.
Intelligent analytics provided by higher-end marketing automation software can help you get a better return on investment in your marketing. Effective marketing is analogous to a good investment: a clever and well-executed marketing strategy can lead to strong returns on investment, or ROI.
With marketing automation software, you can more aggressively spend time and money pursuing promising sales leads, and spend less time and money on low-potential leads that aren’t likely to pan out. While many marketing automation systems offer some type of analytics, with a higher end product you’ll get features like lead scoring and better integration with your CRM system, increasing the usefulness of the analytics data you get out of your marketing automation system.
Better marketing automation software tools let you track marketing across a wider variety of channels. When you think of marketing automation, the topics that probably pop into your head immediately are email and, more recently, social media.
Make no mistake, these are both incredibly important channels for digital marketing, but some marketing automation software helps you integrate data and communication across phone calls, text messages, and even your own proprietary app (via direct API interactivity), if you have one. If your marketing strategy hinges on coordinating marketing efforts across multiple channels of digital communication, make sure you go with a marketing automation software that supports as many different media types as possible.
If you want to take a data-driven approach to marketing, look for marketing automation software that supports A/B testing. Though not a universal feature, more and more medium to high-end marketing automation systems offer A/B testing as a core part of their software functionality.
What is A/B testing for marketing? Here’s the idea: let’s say you come up with two ideas for marketing campaigns, but you’re unsure which is more effective. You can take a small subset of your marketing base, randomly split them into two groups, and run the marketing campaigns on each group.
Because you randomly allocated the customers, you know that any difference in your key performance indicators (open rate, click-through rate, conversion rate) has to be attributed to differences in the effectiveness of the marketing campaigns. A/B testing lets you determine, through empirical evidence, the most effective ways to reach your customers.
Q: How is marketing automation different from CRM?
A: Marketing automation shares some overlap with customer relationship management (CRM), but there are some important differences. Marketing automation encompasses the full range of customers and potential customers: from cold leads (a new user on your emailing list, for example) all the way to long-time repeat customers.
CRM is primarily focused on the final stages of the customer life-cycle: taking solid leads and turning them into repeat customers. CRM often involves more of a personal touch (e.g. direct contact with sales reps) compared to marketing automation, but with the advent of intelligent personalization in marketing automation, that distinction is getting blurred.
If your primary business challenge is generating and identifying promising sales leads, you want to focus on marketing automation. In contrast, if your primary challenge is turning solid leads into satisfied buyers, you want to focus more on CRM. Of course, the best of both worlds is doing both well.
Q: How is marketing automation different from email marketing?
A: Marketing automation involves email marketing, but it’s not limited to using email as the only channel of communication. To be sure, email is a phenomenal way of keeping in touch with your customers—even as social media becomes increasingly popular, email still remains the most reliable way to generate and maintain customer interest.
Still, marketing automation goes a lot further than just queueing up email blasts and newsletters. Marketing automation can help automate your social media strategy, send out text alerts for customers in your membership program, and more.
The ability to coordinate marketing across multiple different digital marketing channels is the primary distinction between just email marketing, and a full marketing automation strategy.
Q: How can marketing automation help your business?
A: Your business’s bottom line is dictated by two things: revenue and costs. Fortunately, marketing automation helps on both fronts. The benefits for revenue should be obvious: with a more efficient way to reach your customers, you’ll be generating more leads than before. And with effective marketing strategies, you’ll be converting more of these leads to sales, hence increasing revenue.
The efficiency boost you get with marketing automation software also helps cut costs, too: your marketing team can be leaner and more efficient. Instead of getting bogged down with laborious and repetitive tasks, your marketing team can automate these tasks away using your marketing automation software.
Marketing software also helps you identify sticking points and weaknesses in your current marketing strategy: comparing email bounce rates, open rates, click-through rates, and conversion rates, for example, can give deep insights into what part of your marketing strategy is weakest. As you work on your marketing strategy, you can iterate this process to continually refine and improve your company’s marketing campaigns.
Q: What kind of marketing automation can help B2B sales?
A: With business to business (B2B) sales, providing something useful for your customers is the name of the game. That’s why inbound marketing is so critical for B2B success. Moreso than any other type of sale, businesses come to you with problems they want fixed.
If you show them that your company can help, you can close out a sale. If not, that’s a customer you lose to a competitor. Since the stakes are so high with B2B sales, marketing automation can make a big difference. Setting up pre-triggered events is huge when it comes to applying marketing automation to B2B sales: if a prospective buyer signs up for a free trial, or sends in a request for a quote, your marketing automation software should immediately kick into gear.
For example, many companies send out white papers, brochures, or eBooks automatically after customers request further info. You can also automatically send an email putting a prospective customer in touch with a sales rep. Marketing automation can also help you identify promising leads so you can prioritize your time on the potential customers with the biggest upside.
Q: How can marketing automation help your social media strategy?
A: Coordinating your social media strategy with your overall marketing strategy is a great way to increase conversions and increase revenue. For instance, if you are running a social media promotion, you get users who click through the ad to sign up for an emailing list.
Signing up can immediately trigger a personalized email to the customer from your marketing automation system, with product recommendations, useful info, or a discount code. Your marketing automation software can also help you funnel interest to your social media channels, which will increase brand awareness and ultimately generate more marketing leads in the future.
Q: How can marketing automation help retail sales?
A: Marketing automation is a major part of success with retail sales, both in terms of online retail and in terms of brick and mortar retail sales. With online sales, marketing automation is perfect for delivering personalized recommendations to your customers, or for running promotions during the lead-up to special occasions like holidays.
For brick and mortar retail sales, marketing automation is more focused on getting foot traffic into your store. Marketing automation can be a huge help when you are putting on special events, as you can coordinate advertisements for the event across all of your digital marketing platforms. You can even tailor the advertisements to specific subsets of your customer base to increase turnout and increase interest.
Q: How does marketing automation differ from ESP?
A: Your ESP is your email service provider: this is the company that hosts your email servers and actually sends and receives your email messages. Quite often, ESPs offer their own marketing automation services, though these can vary substantially in quality.
A good marketing automation system will be able to interface with just about any ESP, given the huge variety of email service providers that a user might have: some companies host their emails along with their web hosting, while bigger companies often run their own internal email servers. Regardless of your ESP, you can find a marketing automation software that should integrate well with it.
Q: Does SEO contribute to marketing automation?
A: SEO helps generate what marketers call “inbound marketing”—with good web content, potential customers will find your website and, hopefully, be interested in the information, services, or products that you provide.
Good SEO is essential if you are relying on web searches to generate a large portion of your eventual customers. However, good SEO isn’t the whole story. Once a potential customer finds your website, you need to funnel them into your marketing automation system.
This is why calls to action are so important: getting someone who has just found your website to sign up for an emailing list, download a white paper, or engage in a live chat with a customer service representative is essential for converting that web search hit into a sales lead.
Q: How is marketing automation software related to lifecycle marketing?
A: Lifecycle marketing is a philosophy that revolves around nurturing customer relationships from initial contact all the way to long-term repeat buyers. Marketing automation is all about managing the initial phases of customer interest.
Once you have identified a potential customer, you want to get them into your marketing automation system as soon as possible. That could be obtaining a social media follow, an email address, a cell phone number, or other contact info that can go into your marketing database. Marketing automation helps develop customer interest to the point where they are seriously considering a purchase.
At around this point in the customer’s lifecycle, CRM starts to be the main focus. That means transitioning your promising sales leads into purchases. After a purchase has been made, customer support and technical services become increasingly important.
Even so, marketing automation never ends, because you always want that customer to be able to re-enter the marketing lifestyle when they are ready for another purchase.
Marketing automation can increase your sales leads and increase your conversion rate from leads to customers.
By improving your ability to customize, automate, and coordinate your digital marketing strategy, you can get potential customers more excited, more engaged, and ultimately more likely to become repeat buyers.
Digital marketing is practically synonymous with marketing automation, so if you want to increase your revenue, marketing automation is the way to go.