So you're pretty sure that if it doesn't become part of how your company operates, you're going to miss out. On the flip side, you've also heard that it can be time-consuming and expensive, at least upfront. What should you believe? We've got some basic information to help you separate fact from rumor and to begin to understand how marketing automation can add to what you do. What Is Marketing Automation? At its most basic level, marketing automation uses online processes to conduct communications that nurture sales prospects. It is designed to, ultimately, make your work easier and it does this through multiple platforms. Think email, websites, and social media. Marketing automation can help quantify the likelihood that a prospect will ultimately become a customer. Almost everything is measurable and both the processes and content can be changed mid-stream if data shows that there's a need. Automated marketing processes replace things that, years ago, marketers might have had to do by hand. This includes sending emails to customers, answering questions on products, thanking customers or doing customer service follow up or following up during or after an industry event. The best types of marketing automation programs use it not only to direct prospects through a sales funnel but to make the customer's experience easier and to develop long term relationships. How Marketing Automation Is Evolving Email has traditionally been one of the first focus areas for marketing automation. In its earliest days, marketers could create a series of email templates that suited a variety of situations such as when customers signed up for their email list or when they looked at specific product information. Then, based on a series of instructions created in advance, automated marketing systems would send emails that are tailored to a customer's situation. Marketing automation is currently evolving from those beginnings. It is using text messages in addition to emails and integrating messaging capabilities into websites and social media platforms. It is also connecting more seamlessly to prospecting databases. It's also able to be managed, to at least some extent, from a variety of devices, including smartphones. How Marketing Automation Can Help Your Business There are lots of things that marketing automation can do. It can score your leads, help develop them into customers, and even find you new leads -- all while you're doing other things. The right process will also review your customer's online activity to determine what messages/set of communications the need to receive and then the platform will set them up to receive that. Lastly (but not least, as the saying goes) marketing automation will also ensure that prospects remain engaged with your company. Marketing Automation Tools What are the tools for this process? Specific tools include Mail Chimp and Constant Contact which have been around for a while and used primarily for email marketing. It is worth noting that some of these tools do extend a bit into other spaces such as social media and have digitized real-time event planning functions. Other widely-used tools include HubSpot and Pardot. These connect more intensively with other online platforms like social media and integrate seamlessly with Salesforce's customer database. When Marketing Automation Works Best Marketing automation works better under some circumstances than others. For example, it works better if you use more qualified sales leads, who already know a little bit about your product upfront than it does with an oversized, paid list of emails. Another way it produces better results is if you have specific, targeted goals. If you know exactly what you want to do, you can plan a strategy driving towards these results. This is likely to involve a series of emails that contain specifically directed content that's focused on this strategy, and a series of metrics to see how you're doing at each point so you can make changes if needed. As you consider how you're going to use marketing automation tools, keep these principles in mind. Marketing automation isn't cheap, but it IS effective. If you decide to take it on, you want to be smart about how you use it.