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  • John Walker

What is Marketing Automation? Hype versus Reality

You might be hearing a lot about marketing automation these days, because I sure am. And, in fact, I’m starting to implement a marketing automation platform myself so let me share my trials and tribulations and cut through some hype.

First, what is marketing automation? Techopedia defines marketing automation as “the use of software and web-based services to execute, manage and automate marketing tasks.” Some of the leading providers of marketing automation software are Hubspot, Marketo, ActiveCampaign, and Pardot. The one I’m using is Zoho. It’s not the most common platform, but it’s affordable and feature-rich.

The Promise of Marketing Automation

Marketo promises: “From acquisition to advocacy, drive measurable results.” And Pardot says, “Create meaningful connections, generate more pipeline and empower sales to close more deals.”

Most marketing automation platforms promise to connect all the disparate parts of marketing programs into one seamless, manageable, measurable system of outreach, lead generation, nurturing and sales activity. They promise to link marketing with sales and acquire more new customers.

It’s a beautiful vision.

In this utopian marketing world, all marketing activities are managed through a single software platform. Campaigns get closely measured. Leads flow in, they get cultivated and the good ones are handed off to sales for the close. This is the vision that enticed me to implement a marketing automation platform for my business. I want a better system for identifying sales prospects, nurturing them and converting them into new customers.

The Reality of Marketing Automation

So now that I’ve started implementation of Zoho, let me share what I’m experiencing so far. Is the vision as beautiful with sleeves rolled up and the midnight oil burning?

My first step was to activate the CRM module. This is where all my contacts are stored so it’s the hub of the system. Getting my contacts into CRM was pretty easy. I just mapped the fields in my contact spreadsheet with the fields in the CRM platform and then hit “import.” Most of them flowed in fine but there was one field (“notes”) that had records for some contacts but not for all. This fields would not import even with the assistance of the Zoho team. Oh well. There weren’t that many “notes” anyway.

Next, I activated the Campaigns module which is one that controls email marketing activity. I set up a new campaign, and I used a template to build an email newsletter. Pretty easy. I also could have uploaded a pre-built HTML email into the system.

I then imported contacts from CRM into Campaigns to serve as my email list. Easy. But along the way, the system told me that I needed to “validate my domain” which meant that I had to go into the DNS records for my website and synch code from Campaigns with those records. I couldn’t make it work and needed help from Zoho support. It took them a while too and had to be kicked up a level to the technical team. Hard, and not fun.

Next, I created a form to embed on my website to collect new subscribers for my e-newsletter. My website is built in Wix and forms can be embedded using an iframe. Creating the form and embedding it took trial and error to get it to work properly for mobile users. It was not difficult technically, but it took a while to get the right design and functionality.

Setting up some simple marketing automation is part of activating this embedded form. For example, when someone submits their name and email address to subscribe to the newsletter, I can send them a custom email message in return. I can also automatically push these new subscribers from the Campaigns module over to CRM where they can get cultivated further with marketing campaigns. There’s a lot more than can be done with the marketing automation part of the system, but that’s as far as I’ve gotten. So let me share some conclusions based on my work so far.

My Experience using Marketing Automation

Setting up this system is not a small job. I would call it a medium-sized job. And that’s because there’s a pretty steep learning curve in figuring out how the whole system works. Afterall, this software system is designed to manage a very complex, custom marketing process, so there’s a fair amount of complexity in the system itself.

It takes a blend of skills. To activate Zoho and deploy the e-newsletter took many different skills. Marketing strategy skills to plan the whole campaign. Content development for the e-newsletter. Design for the email graphics. HTML knowledge to fix the embedded form. And IT skills to fix the DNS issue. So marketing automation is likely going to be a team effort for most companies.

Systematizing marketing is helpful. Once my new marketing automation system is activated, I’ll be using one, primary software platform, Zoho, to manage many marketing activities, rather than having to use a plethora. In a way, this platform embeds my whole marketing strategy into software. I like that and it’s helpful.

Content is still king. Marketing automation is just a management system for marketing ideas and content. If those aren’t strong, marketing automation won’t make up for that. In my case, if no one wants to read my e-newsletter, I’m sunk, despite this fancy platform.

This post was written by John Walker, Principal at J. Walker Marketing. Contact John directly to discuss your marketing challenges.

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