Do you know what marketing automation is?
You could ask 10 people the same question, get 10 different answers, and yet every person be correct – at least partially. That’s because the term marketing automation has expanded into a catchall term for any software product that aids a business in communicating with, well … other people.
And, although the semantics have blurred, there are indeed stark differences between products that fall within this category. Choosing the right one will depend on your overarching goal, marketing know-how, time, industry, and budget to name a few.
Each product will fall into one of four categories:
- Email marketing software
- Prospect nurturing software
- Inbound marketing automation
- Relationship marketing software
Below you’ll find a brief overview of each breed to help kick off your search for a product optimized to your business.
Email marketing software
Forte: Sending and tracking batch emails to segmented lists of contacts.
Email marketing was originally created as an alternative to sending groups of contacts blind carbon copied emails (bcc). This, combined with more advanced segmenting tools, allowed businesses to increase the personalization of their email campaigns. Over time, email marketing software has built on its functionality to include open / click tracking and delayed delivery. As more and more features are added many of these companies eventually evolve into prospect nurturing software.
Here users provide lists of contacts and set a linear path of emails to “drip” over time.
Prospect nurturing software
Forte: Automate regular communication to groups of prospects in an effort to convert them into sales.
In a nutshell, prospect nurturing software represents the evolution of traditional email marketing – offering more customization and bells and whistles than its predecessor.
In addition to simple lists, prospect nurturing software has a more proactive approach of collecting leads by way of web forms and landing pages. It also facilitates multiple communication paths for each prospect, based on measurable behavior.
For example, two prospects may receive an identical email that contains a clickable link to a product offering. Those that click on the link would be assigned a “tag” and moved to a separate series of emails that contain a different call to action. This usually continues until a client either make a purchase or unsubscribes from the list.
An example of a simple campaign within prospect nurturing software.
Inbound marketing automation
Forte: Generating top-of-funnel leads by distributing unique content across email, social media, and websites – then nurturing the leads with tailored communication based on profiles formed by their interactions with the content (clicks, likes, et cetera).
Inbound marketing software is like a finely tuned machine that requires a lot of fuel (new content) and tweaking (adjusting campaigns) to work properly. Therefore, this product is generally reserved for companies with a dedicated marketing team. But when firing on all cylinders it can be an effective tool to streamline the sales process for online-savvy businesses.
Relationship marketing automation
Forte: Automating highly personalized and meaningful communication to increase referrals, retention, and online visibility.
Unlike the aforementioned systems, relationship marketing focuses chiefly on the existing client base of a business (in contrast to prospects). The goal is to send highly personalized touchpoints that both maintain personal relationships, and leverage them to increase sales. This is achieved by first evaluating the loyalty of individual clients, and then using psychology-driven content to influence desired behavior.
The best way to learn about relationship marketing automation is with a quick 30 min demo of Rocket Referrals
A closer look
I wanted to get into the weeds (or at least graze their surface) by expanding on a couple of the types of marketing automation; prospect nurturing and relationship marketing automation. Both are relatively new breeds of software, and people tend to get them confused. So, let’s take a closer look!
Who is Prospect nurturing software for?
Optimized for: E-commerce. Businesses with a moderate level of experience in technology and marketing.
Prospect nurturing software was designed for retail and e-commerce businesses that market to a large and diverse group of prospects. It aims to capture as many leads as possible and use automation to funnel them down a sales pipeline. The primary method of communication remains email, with a few platforms adding integrations that allow for text messaging, direct mail, phone calls, etc.
To highlight the focus of these systems I copied below the benefits Infusionsoft lists on their website:
- Capture more leads
- Improve conversion rates
- Master e-commerce
- Manage the sales process
Although some businesses have also adapted prospect nurturing software to communicate with existing customers, the diversity of communication is limited to the clients’ interaction with the emails / or lists created by the user. Campaigns can quickly get complicated and require intensive management.
How it works
Prospect nurturing software is a customizable platform, providing users the freedom to design their own communication campaigns.
For example, Infusionsoft likens its software to “a nice set of professional mechanics tools.”
In other words, this software is essentially a chisel and a block of wood. The user has the flexibility to fashion campaigns around their particular needs – however, they must have knowledge of marketing and/or best practices sculpt anything worthwhile.
The software is predominately “tag” based; meaning that personalization is limited to a finite number of paths based on a contact’s interaction with an email or web form. This limitation is most visible for businesses that have personal and ongoing relationships with their clients.
This is an example campaign from an Infusionsoft user.
Unfortunately, it’s next to impossible to get going with these systems on day one. The learning curve is rather steep. In fact, several of these systems require you to purchase an intensive training package to get the ball rolling. Infusionsoft, for example, says:
“Due to the robust nature of the software, all new customers are required to purchase a KickStart so they can hit the ground running.”
In addition to creating the initial campaigns, users are responsible for monitoring and tweaking them for the best results. This is where the marketing, a tech background, and knowledge of industry best practices come into play. According to Infusionsoft:
“You will never be done with your Infusionsoft implementation because there are ALWAYS more things you can be doing.”
Who is Relationship marketing software for?
Optimized for: Service-based companies operating within a local community, e.g. insurance agencies. Businesses that have ongoing relationships with their clients and the responsibility of communicating with them regularly, in a meaningful way, and outside online media alone (e.g. highly personalized email and handwritten cards).
How it works
Relationship marketing software aims to leverage the personal relationships that exist between a business and its clients. Insurance agents, for example, establish a bond with their clients and are expected to look out for them while keeping them top of mind. Of course, these agents couldn’t maintain regular meaningful communication with every client without some help. Relationship marketing software aims to not only bridge this gap but also encourage promoters to actively promote their agency.
The software analyzes the existing client base of a business and creates individual profiles for each contact. These profiles are primarily founded on a client’s loyalty to the business which is effectively measured over time. Highly personalized and purpose-driven communication is then sent to clients to encourage favorable behavior. This communication spans across email, handwritten cards, social media, and online review sites.
Perhaps one of the most distinctive features of relationship marketing software is its total automation and ease of use. Rocket Referrals, for instance, is not a universal tool. It is an optimized solution with psychology, research, and best practices preconfigured. There are no campaigns to configure. The software is as simple as data in, results out. Managing a profile entails flipping switches. Updates are automatic and the system can be set up to run on its own.
“This is a great product. The onboarding was done in 5 minutes and results were seen within 48 hours!”
Kevin Bull – Bull Insurance Agency referencing Rocket Referrals
This is the process of managing communication with Rocket Referrals.
To sum it up
As you can see, not all marketing automation systems are created equal. In fact, many are optimized for entirely different business models and objectives. Deciding on the right solution depends on your goals, available time, marketing knowledge, budget, and overall gumption to put the required effort forward. Choose wisely, my friend!