How does marketing automation work?

Christoph Trappe 3 minute read

Marketing automation has become an essential fixture in today’s digital marketing stack. But despite its widespread adoption, many remain unsure of how these platforms actually work their magic. Terms like lead scoring, campaign triggers, and CRM integrations sound intriguing yet complex. So, to simplify the concept, in this article, let’s answer the question: How does marketing automation work?

The Core Functions Powering Automation

At the highest level, marketing automation software aims to optimize the customer journey through timely, relevant messaging. But to enable this vision, several key capabilities come into play:

A Central Customer Database

“I really consider it sort of the brain. That being said, you need to treat it well. It needs to have clean data, I mean, clean to the extent that anything’s ever truly clean,” said Ali Jawin, SVP, Head of Global Marketing at Outreach, on an episode of “Marketing, Demystified.

Marketing automation platforms create a “centralized hub” for housing prospects and customer information. Data feeds into this repository from your website, email campaigns, ads, events, surveys, and more. A marketer can view behavioral profiles and history in one place versus digging through disparate systems.

Integration with Other Martech Tools

Ali Jawin

Ali Jawin

“I’d say the first thing is, it almost doesn’t matter what tools you have if they’re not connected,” said Ali.

While serving as the core database, marketing automation must also connect other technologies to activate insights. This includes syncing key data fields with your CRM for sales visibility, incorporating web analytics for attribution, firing email campaigns, and more. APIs and connectors enable these critical handshakes.

Lead Scoring

The power of marketing automation shines through lead scoring – assigning prospects an interest “score” based on their actions. For example, downloading a certain asset may equate to 50 points, while frequent site visits tally 10 points each. Score thresholds determine the next steps, like routing to sales or triggering a nurture campaign.

Campaign Workflows

Alongside scoring comes workflow automation to respond based on customer cues. These rule-based “if/then” sequences execute tasks like sending specific follow-up emails or adding/removing from groups. No manual updates are needed.

Reporting and Optimization

With all activities flowing through the platform, rich campaign and channel performance analytics emerge. Marketers gain visibility into engagement rates, conversions, pipeline impact, and ROI to optimize programs.

Read next: 15 examples of artificial intelligence in marketing

When these capabilities work in concert, marketing automation truly differentiates from primitive email systems. Let’s examine how they deliver value across the customer lifecycle.

Attract: Scoring and Nurturing Interest

During initial research phases, prospects access various content to explore needs and solutions. The automation platform detects these actions through web analytics and scores interest accordingly.

Upon hitting defined thresholds, leads enter timed nurture campaigns that continue educating through the sales process. So rather than leaving visitors who downloaded a guide stranded without follow-up, you automatically stay top-of-mind.

Convert: Accelerating Sales Conversations

As interest solidifies into purchase intent, workflow rules notify sales to prioritize hot leads. Those not quite ready receive automated nurtures covering common questions and concerns until triggering defined sales readiness criteria.

Marketing automation lets you scale one-to-one selling far beyond manual capacity. Lead scoring helps focus effort on qualified accounts for efficient conversions.

Retain: Delivering Personalized Experiences

Post-purchase, customers enter tailored re-engagement paths based on previous buying behaviors, firmographics, preferences, and more. This powers relevant cross-sell offers, prevents churn, and ultimately maximizes lifetime value.

Ongoing scoring combines with external data feeds to determine if subscribers are still happily consuming versus showing warning signs of defection. Automation adjusts outreach strategies accordingly.

Enhancing Skillsets for Success

Sophisticated automation does necessitate new internal skills, however. To harness its full potential, digital marketing strategist Michelle Nedelec recommended on “The Business Storytelling Show” that teams can succeed with a can-do attitude and willingness to learn new skills and use advances in technology to their advantage.

A blend of intellectual curiosity, technical chops, and cross-functional diplomacy can be a great start. Many mature companies now house dedicated Marketing Operations groups to own platform governance. A fractional CMO to lead the charge is another option.

Going From Good to Great

While possessing raw functionality, poor implementation and governance limits impact. How can marketers maximize marketing automation ROI? Some key principles:

  • Connect the Data Ecosystem: Pipe in all possible sources, ensure accurate flows across tools
  • Document Processes – Maintain internal wikis detailing campaign logic and changes
  • Continual Testing – Refine segments, content, offers, and settings through experimentation
  • Foster Adoption – Train marketers to build competency leveraging capabilities
  • Prioritize Privacy – Respect opt-outs, anonymization, data access rights

“In essence, marketing automation eliminates time-consuming tasks for marketing teams and helps companies drive business growth quicker,” said Jenn Mancusi, CEO and co-founder of Growgetter, a HubSpot partner. 

With customer-centric configuration, automation propels top and bottom-line growth. But failure to govern effectively squanders potential. Approach with equal parts strategy and discipline to dominate.

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