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The ABCs of Marketing Automation: A Beginner’s Guide [With Examples]
As many as 79% of companies today are using marketing automation (MA), and 91% of users say it plays a key role in the success of their marketing activities.
It’s no wonder, then, why more and more businesses are jumping on the trend.
But as familiar as you probably are with the term by now, you may still face a cloud of questions: what exactly is marketing automation? How does it work in practice? And how can you use it to help your business?
True to the theme of MA, let’s make the complex, simple.
What is Marketing Automation?
Marketing automation definition
Marketing automation is software that automates your repetitive marketing tasks and campaigns across the entire customer journey, completing them on your behalf when and how you decide.
And better yet, “thanks to the customer data that informs it, marketing automation can personalise every experience based on a customer’s needs, preferences, behaviour, etc., helping you create more relevant and impactful marketing messages”, adds Samantha Savage, efficy’s Email Marketing Specialist.
Essentially, MA helps businesses achieve more while saving time and resources.
It can take over your monotonous processes, streamline the way you source leads, and finetune how you nurture customer relationships — making your efforts 10X more effective.
Pretty cool, huh?
What can you automate with MA?
When we talk about MA, one of its main elements is email marketing. In fact, as marketing automation is so essential for email marketing in today’s world, the two are nearly synonymous.
So, most often, marketing automation refers to sending pre-scheduled emails to prospects and customers with tailored messages based on their behavioural and personal data.
For example, if someone makes a purchase on your website, that can trigger a timely, automated email thanking them for it.
Each automated campaign is designed to walk prospects through the customer journey with personalised content and prolong customer lifetime value.
But while marketing automation primarily concerns sending emails automatically, it doesn’t stop there.
Activities from email marketing to social media management, audience segmenting, personalised ads, lead prioritisation, and more can all benefit from marketing automation.
Why businesses need marketing automation
What if you could see what your leads are doing in real-time, engage them, and convert so many more into loyal customers?
And what if you could set something up to continually take care of these tasks for you — when and how they’re supposed to — even when you’re offline?
Marketing automation is your solution to do just this.
“With MA, you can automate personalised, dynamic messages that actually engage your unique visitors, gaining their trust and compelling them to take desired actions”, says Savage.
Don't just take it from us — with marketing automation tools, 58% of marketers experienced more effective communications, and 74% say they saved time.
Automating your communications not only frees up your time but also allows you to communicate with the right people, with the right message, at the right time.
More and more, consumers are expecting automated communication, too. Imagine purchasing some funky new sneakers and not receiving that timely follow-up email that confirms the purchase and thanks you for it.
Something wouldn’t sit right — you might even wonder if the company you purchased from is legit.
Automation is your only path forward if you want to keep up with digital development and the growing demands from your customers and leads.
How does marketing automation work?
Marketing automation is informed by data. With the right software, marketers can compile data from the interactions their audience takes across digital channels, and the MA tool puts that data to work by triggering relevant marketing messages in turn.
While marketing automation does the heavy lifting for you, you still have the control; what data you want to collect, how you want to collect it, and what messages you want to send are all defined by you.
Once you’ve set up your goals and built your campaigns, the technology takes over and sends content to your identified leads and customers — based on where they are in their customer journey with you, their behaviour, and personas — to help you build better customer relationships and increase conversions.
How to make marketing automation work for you
1. Make the most of your integrated customer data
Each action your prospects and customers take across your digital channels equals a point of data that fuels your strategy, informing you where they are in their journey, their interests and needs, and how you can best engage them.
Some types of data you can use:
- Website activity
- Event registrations
- Items in cart
- Email behaviour
- Profile activity
- Search terms used
- Time of activity
As you can imagine, these actions and data points add up. Unless you’re a wizard, it would be impossible to make use of them all manually.
This is where your marketing automation software comes in. A marketing automation tool makes the most of your customer data from their interactions across digital channels, such as your website, emails, and more.
With this data, you can profile and segment your customers to send them personalised messages and keep engagement going throughout the customer lifecycle.
2. Reach the right people with informed segmentation
Use your customer behaviour and personal data to build informed segmentation.
A segment is like an intelligent, dynamic filter that groups similar people together based on shared behaviours, traits, and more.
Segmenting your audience is what enables you to send the right messages to the right people.
Unless you know who you’re targeting, you won’t be able to create an effective communication workflow capable of meeting your audiences’ expectations.
Here’s an example: let’s say you emailed a webinar invite to 100 people, and 80 people decided to attend, but 20 people didn’t show up. You can make one segment targeting the people who attended and another segment for those who didn’t.
That way, when you send a “Thanks for attending my webinar!” email, it will only go to the attendee’s segment. Whereas those who missed out would receive a “Sorry you missed it!” email instead.
With segmentation informed by data, you’ll ensure your recipients receive only relevant messages that speak to them, resulting in a much more compelling customer experience.
And to add icing to the cake — proper segmentation has been shown to lead to revenue increases of up to 760%.
3. Send timely, personalised messages at scale
Each person is unique, so their journey with your business is going to be unique too.
Every automated message you send should reflect the recipient’s customer profile — their behaviour, their segment, and their unique needs.
The fact is that personalisation drives loyalty; when your leads and customers feel personally engaged, they’ll start to feel more connected to your brand.
A study done by Epsilon shows that 80% of consumers are more likely to purchase from a brand who offers personalised experiences.
So, what does personalisation look like in practice? A basic example of personalisation is greeting each customer by their first name in your email communications.
Of course, you won’t have to do this manually; marketing automation uses personal data to do this on your behalf.
There are multiple ways automation can put your data to work to tailor your marketing communications: from a customer’s name to their location, to the actions they take on your website, and much more.
With prompt, personalised communication, you can significantly boost customer engagement and foster stronger relationships at scale.
TIP: Set timers, alarm clocks and timeframes in efficy Marketing to always deliver your personalised messages at prime time.
4. Generate automatic reports to measure and analyse results
At the end of each campaign, you can — and should — analyse your results to optimise your automations where necessary.
With marketing automation, you can easily track and analyse the results of your communications through automated reports. Pinpoint what’s working in your campaigns — and what isn’t.
These key insights will help you identify and understand your overall performance so you can make adjustments to bolster your long-lasting success.
5. Grow your customer relationships — and your sales
Long gone are the days of creating mistimed, mass emails and generic marketing messages that won’t be relevant to everyone who receives them.
With integrated data to better target, personalise, and time your communications, marketing automation will put you on the right track to building long-term, profitable relationships with your customers.
From lead generation to conversion, marketing automation helps you create better customer relationships and drives revenue — all while saving you time.
What is a marketing automation flow?
A marketing automation flow — also known as a workflow — is the journey you take your prospects and customers on through your automated campaigns.
More concretely, a flow represents a series of marketing tasks, like emails, that trigger consecutively and make up each campaign.
Flows give you a visual plan over every stage of the customer journey, providing a framework for each touchpoint.
How to build a marketing automation flow
Your flows are predefined and built by you — including what information will trigger them, what content you want to send, and how they’re timed — each with a goal in mind.
Once your flow is all set up, your marketing automation solution walks your customer through until the flow’s goal is fulfilled.
And once the goal of that flow is completed, they’ll be automatically removed — where they go next depends on their subsequent actions and how you’ve constructed things.
Take a common example of what this looks like:
- Someone signs up for your newsletter to stay up to date with the goings-on of your business.
- That action triggers a welcome email that is personalised to them.
- Then, another email is triggered a few days later that educates them more about your brand.
- Once these communications have been sent and the goal is met, that flow is complete.
With your automated flows, you can reach your customers with more impact: from welcome messages, to lead nurturing, and even re-engagement campaigns, you’ll seamlessly guide your customers toward the next conversion, building a valuable relationship with them in the process.
5 ways to use marketing automation flows for B2B
1. Welcome customer flow
What better way is there to begin a lasting relationship than with a warm welcome? A welcome customer flow is your chance to make your first impression genuine and memorable.
Your customer has just completed their first purchase; now it’s your turn to make a move.
Before you act, make sure to set a clear strategy: what’s the purpose of your message? What do you want to promote? Maybe you want to offer knowledge about your business, grow your followers on social media, or get a sign-up for your newsletter.
When you’ve figured that out, your welcome customer flow will:
- Give you and your customers a chance to get to know each other better beyond the product
- Keep the conversation going and help you stay top of mind for future upselling and cross-selling opportunities
Remember, a welcome message is a one-chance opportunity to create the first bond with your new customer; make sure you don’t extinguish the relationship at the start by being too sales-focused.
2. Lead nurturing flow
As a solution provider to your customers, you sit on a wealth of smart strategies and helpful tips that they rely on. From white paper downloads to webinar registrations, these actions create fresh leads to nurture and could be the beginning of strong customer relationships.
Now’s the best time to start a dialogue with your fresh leads. Following a download, engage your leads by:
- Getting feedback about the resource they downloaded
- Inviting them to share the resource on social media
- Recommending similar content to pique their interest
Make more of an impact with less effort. Set this flow up as a series of emails sent over a period of time to ensure you’ll nurture, not smother.
A TIP FROM SAM: This series of emails is where you get people more involved with your company as a brand. Here is where you take steps to build trust as a solutions provider AND deepen the relationship by connecting with your leads and clients across important channels and touchpoints.
3. Win-Back Flow
B2B companies need to build long-term relationships with their customers to stay successful. A win-back flow plays a key role in ensuring customer retention; its purpose is to re-engage customers who have slowed or stopped their interactions with your business.
If you’re facing an inactive customer, here’s what your automated email series might look like:
- Start with a hello that refreshes your customer on how your business benefits them; sometimes, a simple reminder is all it takes.
- Follow up with an email that offers an incentive, support, or perhaps one that requests your customer’s valuable feedback.
- Finally, send a “last chance” email as a friendly–but final–nudge to re-engage. This email is meant to create FOMO, but it can also help you clean up your list by providing your inactive customer the option to unsubscribe.
Competition can be tough for businesses with similar products or services, so this campaign is about showing your customers why they should reinvest in your business. Winning back customers is not the simplest task, but with strategy, creativity, and personalisation, you’ll be on the right track.
4. Upsell flow
Let’s say someone signed up for a 14-day free trial, or you acquired a new freemium user.
This is where you need to be two steps ahead of the user: anticipate the questions they might have about your service, product, or support, and tie them all together in a series of emails — like a ‘care package’ of sorts.
This will keep them educated and engaged and prevent drop-offs after you’ve sent the first email.
The difference between a campaign for a freemium user and a paid user is that your focus should be on upselling your features, products, and services. Not all free trial users make use of the full duration, so engage them with your key selling points early in the process.
Your upsell flow can:
- Help them get started by pointing them to useful guides and resources.
- Tell them all about the kinds of support they’ll receive.
- Remind them of the paid features or services they’re missing out on as a trial user through testimonials from loyal customers.
A TIP FROM SAM: A free trial or freemium version of your service is a great asset for getting your leads one step closer to your business goals. So, this upselling campaign should focus on reminding them what they’re missing out on by not upgrading to your full product or service.
5. Onboarding training flow
Getting your customers onboard will make your business sail smoothly. With onboarding flows, you can offer your customers deeper knowledge about your business by sharing content that matches their wants, expectations, and needs.
Set up a flow that follows up after a customer makes their first purchase on your website. You now have an idea of what kind of products this person might be interested in, and you should act accordingly.
To make the onboarding experience exciting, you should:
- Identify customer behaviour and customise the content to the type of product purchased
- Engage your customers by sending them tutorials on how to use the purchased item
- Invite the customer to an onboarding training session
With an onboarding flow, you can quickly turn first-time purchasers into returning customers by providing them with timely, relevant content.
5 ways to use marketing automation flows for B2C
1. Welcome subscriber flow
One of the most used B2C marketing automation flows is the welcome email — and for good reason.
Greeting your new subscribers with a welcome subscriber flow is an important way to build the initial contact with a new potential customer.
Say someone signs up for your weekly newsletter. An opt-in to a newsletter is symptomatic of a build-up of engagement; through a variety of touchpoints, a person became attracted to your brand, products or services. This very action of opting in shows they’re interested in and expect to hear from you.
Now, you have an excellent chance to send a warm welcome with a personal tone and engage their interest.
By setting up this simple flow, you’ll:
- Initiate the beginning of your relationship based on two-way communication
- Get a chance to learn about your customers and vice versa
- Meet their expectations right from the start
Be careful when crafting your messages; being too sales-focused initially might hinder your opportunity to build a relationship.
2. Post-purchase flow
Did you know that you’re up to 14 times more likely to sell to an existing customer than a new one?
Take advantage of the momentum that resulted in an initial purchase and turn it into repeat revenue through a post-purchase email flow.
Post-purchase emails will remind the customer of your presence and strengthen your position in their mind with personalised product recommendations, vouchers, or an invitation to your loyalty programme. For example:
- An order confirmation email is sent out.
- Another email follows shortly after with an invitation to join your loyalty club.
- Converting customers are automatically added to your flow for loyalty members.
Post-purchase emails are the perfect opportunity to keep building your customer relationship toward future sales.
3. Abandoned cart flow
When a purchase is interrupted or cancelled, it isn’t necessarily a symptom of a lack of interest. People are busy, and attention spans are short — the hop from an abandoned cart back to a sale may be as simple as a reminder.
By finding an item and adding it to their cart, the shopper has already indicated interest; harness the opportunity to get them back to their cart with an abandoned cart email.
This email, or series of emails, will serve as gentle reminders for the shopper to return and complete their purchase.
You can set up your abandoned cart email to trigger shortly after a cart is abandoned — for example, after 15 minutes or an hour.
The distracted shopper will then receive an email, “The funky sneakers are almost yours...” that briefly reminds them of the items they left behind and encourages them to finish purchasing them.
If they convert, the goal is then complete, and they’ll leave the flow. However, if they’re still hesitating, you can set up a second reminder email to send after a set amount of time with a discount or limited-time offer.
Don’t let lost sales be lost sales; abandoned cart emails are an effective way to nudge customers back to conversion.
4. Happy birthday flow
An upcoming birthday is a great opportunity to communicate with your customer. Deliver a fun and personalised experience to make them feel special and nurture your relationship.
To set up this flow, you’ll first need:
- Express consent to collect your visitors’ data
- To create a form that requests their date of birth
You can then set up the flow to watch out for, or “listen”, for customers’ birthdays and send your pre-crafted message to them. Each year, your customers will be pleasantly reminded of you and feel special thanks to your warm wishes.
A TIP FROM SAM: While a simple “Happy birthday!” message with a coupon can be effective, some people prefer not to buy themselves gifts. Send a list of products related to their last purchase or website activity so they can easily share it with their friends and family. This way, they won’t have to spend time creating their wish list — you’ve already got it covered.
5. Product recommendations & retargeting flow
Customers are far more likely to interact with recommendations that directly speak to their interests.
Make full use of the data you’ve collected to retarget, upsell, or cross-sell products to them. There are many ways to switch things up for this particular flow.
For instance, you can use segments based on a customer’s previous purchase and send them content related to that.
Here’s what this might look like:
Imagine a customer booked air tickers to Tokyo on your website.
Based on that action, your digital marketing solution will tag the customer with tags like “Tokyo” and “Japan”.
An hour later, an upsell email will trigger to the customer containing a limited-time offer for hotel and guided-tour packages in Tokyo and across Japan.
The possibilities are endless: you can highlight popular items to make purchasing decisions easier, update your customers about this week’s latest products, or send reminders about the products they were looking at an hour ago.
6 steps to successful marketing automation
1. Set goals
Before you take the step to implement the software, be sure to document what outcomes you’re expecting.
“You can invest in the most advanced software solution in the world, but it won’t truly benefit you unless you put some smart strategy and thinking behind it”, begins Savage.
“If you really want to get started with marketing automation, you need to know what (and why) to automate in your marketing process.
Do you want to engage inactive customers? Do you want to create better timing in your sales process? Do you want to get your customers on board more smoothly and easily?
Put a plan in place to set yourself up for success”.
2. Get to know your data
Your customer data is the foundation for all your marketing automation efforts.
As a first step, be sure to set up the purpose of your data collection and define how you’re going to collect it.
Your data is going to connect customers to the next step in their journey, so it’s important to collect it intentionally and understand how you’re going to make it work for you.
“A golden rule is to always make sure the data you’re working with is fresh and relevant. Everything you have in your data will end up in your emails and other communications”, adds Savage.
3. Monitor the customer journey
Your audience and their journeys are never static. You’ll need to monitor and understand your customers’ journey to excel at automating your campaigns.
Why? It’s what allows you to tailor your automated messages to your customers’ needs and behaviours.
“Build your flows to engage customers and address their pain points and motivations at each stage of the customer journey”, says Savage.
“Knowing who you’re targeting at what stage will help you send content that resonates with your customers and keeps them moving along to the next conversion point”.
4. Take a multi-channel approach
It’s no secret that the modern consumer frequents multiple different channels, so, what better way to engage your ideal customers than meeting them where they are?
The multi-channel approach enables you to build trust and create a stronger customer experience through more exposure and engagement offered.
Think about this: with multi-channel campaigns, your business will have increased interaction opportunities to generate leads and boost conversions.
Of course, automation will inform and streamline your efforts, making them more effective.
5. Create high-quality content
With a trusted CRM software at your side, you can take a 360° view of every customer profile, gaining essential insights into what content each customer likes to see and engage with.
These understandings can then be put into creating more personalised content.
Some points to remember are:
- Make use of segments to ensure your messages are relevant.
- Always seek to create value for the customer — this could mean personalised product recommendations based on their website behaviour, informative case studies, or special offers.
- Keep in mind where your customer is in their journey to make sure your content stays engaging and non-intrusive.
There is no shortage of possibilities for content.
By following these points and getting creative, your content has the power to help you stand out from the competition and develop lasting relationships with your audience.
6. Measure your results, regularly
“Once you’ve achieved the level of performance you aimed for, it’s the best practice to continue measuring various aspects of your workflows”, says Savage.
Here are some things she recommends identifying:
- What is your most successful campaign, and why?
- How many leads did you attract?
- How many qualified leads are sent to sales?
- What are your open and click rates?
- How much do these factors impact your ROI?
“After getting to know the insights, you can improve your workflows and eliminate the negatives”, she adds.
With your numbers in hand, a great way to measure your success and understand where to improve your performance is by benchmarking.
Plan, do, and review is a continuous cycle that every successful marketer adheres to. Frequently reviewing your campaigns and processes — and benchmarking them against others’ — will uncover opportunities to make them work better for you.
As you tweak your moving wheel of marketing automation, it will only build its momentum, rolling out your strategy smoother and more effectively as time goes on.
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Achieve more without doing extra work, but don’t just take our word for it. Check it out for yourself by booking your free personal demo today.