What does “Marketing Automation” mean?

And do you need it?
Updated on:
What is marketing automation software? How is it different than your CRM?

Note: this is a part of our CRM Definitions Series.

When looking at feature lists for CRMs, various “automations” will be highlighted: salesforce, services, and what you came to read this article for, marketing. CRM software and marketing automation software can be aligned, but they are often two separate programs that either integrate or sync up with each other to share contact data for marketing purposes. Before we dive into how marketing automation is connected to CRM or if you need it for your business, let’s define it in clear terms:

The ultimate goal with marketing automation is to nurture prospects with personalized, useful emails, tweets, and newsletters--without the labor of individually assessing the needs of and contacting each prospect.

At it’s simplest, marketing automation software can automatically send emails to your leads. It can personalize these emails based on where the lead is in your sales pipeline and other information you’ve collected about that person.

It can also help with regulating mass email campaigns, triggering emails when a lead is most likely to buy, and analyzing the data of your marketing efforts to see if they’re actually working. While email is everyone’s favorite marketing tool of the moment, marketing automation can also help execute targeted campaigns via advertising and event promotions.

How is it used?

Some big companies use marketing automation really well--they can’t possibly nurture all of their prospects and past customers all of the time, but they want people to find the products and content they need. So, they use software to do the nurturing for them. This is why you get emails from your favorite websites recommending a pair of shoes, an article, or a trip to Spain in your inbox every day.

Other times, marketing automation can feel like spam. This is why some email marketing automation software, like MailChimp, have strict anti-spam policies. They have guides for avoiding spam filters, but most of their best practices involve getting consent from subscribers before sending emails. If a lead doesn’t want the content and information you’re providing them, they’re not a very good lead--but it’s your job (or theoretically, your software’s job) to find that out before emailing them, not after they report you.

How is “Marketing Automation” software different than a CRM?

This blog post from Capterra explains the connection between marketing automation software and CRM software in terms of the sales funnel--marketing software helps nurture leads at the top of the sales funnel so that they can become qualified leads for the sales team to handle within the CRM at the bottom of the funnel.

Sometimes, CRMs include marketing automation features. They might have the ability to send and track email campaigns built right into the CRM itself. More often, CRMs integrate with a separate marketing automation software. The software will pull data from the CRM (like email addresses and names) to run marketing campaigns, and then return that data to the CRM or analyze it using its own interface.

So, while you’re often using more than one program to run your business, the two programs should integrate enough for your needs. Sometimes, all you need is a record of your marketing emails in your CRM--other companies might want more sophisticated projecting and analyzing in the CRM itself for their sales teams to look over.

Consider how involved and how separate your sales and marketing teams are. If you have a person running your newsletter and a handful of people on sales, they can probably share data without an issue, whereas entire departments may have very separate workflows and therefore need different kinds of data readily available.

Do I need marketing automation software?

There are really three possible answers here:

  1. You don’t need marketing automation because your business is very simple, or you aren’t responsible for marketing.
  2. You need some kind of marketing tool, but something simple like email blasts or basic automation that you can sync up with your CRM.
  3. You have very sophisticated marketing needs and require a CRM to directly handle the automation and reporting aspects.

For those of you in the first category, congratulations on being honest with yourself and your business’ needs so you don’t overspend or overreach. If Gmail is serving you just fine, or the funds just aren’t there, that’s ok--email marketing software isn’t going away, and you can always look into cheap or free plans in the future when you’re ready to dive in.

For readers who are undecided, or who think they’re in the second category but are curious about the third, the rest of this post is for you. Small businesses can definitely use marketing automation and CRM software; there are plenty of reasons to invest in your marketing efforts, even if you’re just beginning to think about things like lead nurturing and the top part of your sales funnel. The important thing to consider here is scale. Just as there are many affordable CRMs, there is also affordable marketing automation software--to a point.

MailChimp, for example, offers a free version of their email marketing software with limited features (so, no automation, but you can read up on the features they do offer for free here). Many CRMs (including ours) integrate with MailChimp, so you don’t have to add extra operating costs in order to dabble in marketing software. You can upgrade if you need to, but affordable plans are available.

If you’re looking to email 10,000 people and have triggered automation, however, you’re going to need to get comfortable with shelling out a bit of cash in order to streamline your marketing and sales processes with automation software. As your business grows (possibly due to some marketing), you can weigh the costs and benefits of having automated marketing campaigns--and never forget the importance of balancing automation against real people. If you’re really invested in your leads and customers, you’ll want to give them the information they truly want and need.

Need help finding the perfect CRM for your small business? Check out our free ebook on selecting the right CRM for your company.

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