Marketing Automation: What It Is, and What It Is Not


Marketing Automation: What It Is, and What It Is Not

By Special Guest
Jeff Dworkin, Principal Consultant of Ghostpoint
  |  January 21, 2016

As often happens with new technologies, marketing automation/technology has become the latest buzzword within the marketing space. Products that were once sold under such names as email marketing, content curation, list management, inbound marketing platforms, and outbound marketing platforms are all being sold as marketing automation. According to, the marketing technology landscape for 2015 included 1,876 vendors represented across 43 categories. That is almost twice the number of vendors that the landscape included in 2014. 

So while there is this big bucket of vendors and products that fall into the marketing automation and technology bucket, we are still left with the question of exactly what is marketing automation? With so many players in the space, you can find a plethora of definitions out there. 

Here is my contribution to the discussion.

Marketing automation is the systematic use of technology to track and manage prospects along their journey from initial acquisition by the system until they either become a customer or are ejected from the system as non-viable. This is done by collecting data from a variety of sources (website activity, live-event participation, social posts, etc.) and by automating certain tasks that are designed to cause the prospect to take action. These actions are then used to establish a prospect’s level of engagement with a company’s marketing programs.

Based on a prospect’s level of engagement, that prospect is either ejected from the system, continued to be tracked and nurtured along his or her journey, or turned over to sales as a marketing qualified lead. The goal is to turn the sales team into a closing machine because it is only receiving truly qualified leads from the marketing team.

Features of Marketing Automation

Because marketing automation is still developing, the features that make up a basic marketing automation platform are still up for discussion. This is the short list that I have been using for some time now.

Segmentation and Targeting – Allows marketers to sort, manage and engage prospects as a group. For example, segmentation is the ability to sort prospects according to the products in which they are interested. Targeting enables marketers to then send different messages to each group.

Email Nurturing/Drip Marketing – Once a customer is placed onto a segmented list, the marketer has the ability to schedule a series of communications by whatever medium the customer requests (email, SMS, phone call, etc.) and measure the prospect’s level of engagement with those communications. Clicking an “I Want a Demo” link in a communication certainly tells you something about that customer that sales needs to know right away. Clicking on an “unsubscribe” option tells you something completely different about that prospect.

Lead Scoring – Having a way to quantify the actions of a prospect enables finer tuning of the marketing system. Points are accrued to prospects as they interact with the marketing system.  Certain activities can be worth lots of points (attending a webinar or downloading a whitepaper) while other activities can be worth fewer points (opening a blog post or visiting a certain web page). Once the total of these points reach a certain threshold (based on an agreement between sales and marketing) the prospect is considered MQL and sent over to sales for the close. There can also be trigger events that immediately cause the prospect to become an MQL. Asking for someone in sales to contact them would be a trigger event.

Integration with CRM – This is critical to getting the real value from marketing automation.  Once a prospect becomes an MQL, it must be moved to the CRM system, and the sales team needs to be automatically notified. All the information about what the lead did to become an MQL must be transmitted to sales so that sales team members are prepared to engage with the lead. As the sales team further qualifies the lead and eventually closes, the details of the deal need to be transmitted back to the marketing automation system so that marketing activity can be tuned to generate better leads and so that the ROI of marketing activity can be determined.

Marketing Automation vs. Customer Relationship Management

CRM systems have been around for many years. While many of the tasks of a CRM system are similar to those in a marketing automation system (i.e. sending email), there is an important distinction. CRM is really designed to address leads in a one-to-one manner. One of the major benefits of marketing automation is to be able to manage groups of prospects and to do this with as little human input as possible. For example, many CRM systems can send an email to a group, but a good marketing automation solution sends a series of emails to prospects based on when they joined the group. It can then take follow-up action based on how the recipient interacts with the email.

Marketing Automation is Not Automatic

Setting up an effective marketing automation program requires lots of planning long before the first prospect is ever acquired from the program, converted, and eventually closed. Once the hard work of planning and implementing all of the pieces of a marketing automation program is done, and you can actually turn on the system (and you have done these steps well), that is when tasks that were formerly completed manually can become automatic. And even after the system is running, there is ongoing care, feeding, and monitoring that has to take place. The goal is to make automatic many of the tasks that used to be done manually by many sales and marketing staff. The system has to scale, while consuming fewer manual resources. This enables marketers to be constantly refining and improving the system so that it churns out better qualified leads for sales people, turning them into closing machines.

Jeff Dworkin is principal consultant of Ghostpoint (

Edited by Kyle Piscioniere
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