Marketing automation is a term we always hear and maybe even use, but do we have a clear idea of what it really is? We know that it’s a tool or tactic to streamline a part of the sales and marketing cycle. We know that it has something to do with communications.

But what is it, really?

Here’s how Wikipedia defines marketing automation:

“Marketing automation refers to software platforms and technologies designed for marketing departments and organizations to more effectively market on multiple channels online (such as email, social media, websites, etc.) and automate repetitive tasks.”

Still not that clear. Hubspot explains it as:

“Many marketing departments have to automate repetitive tasks such as emails, social media, and other website actions. The technology of marketing automation makes these tasks easier.”

A little better, but still a bit fuzzy.

We found that marketing automation is essentially a method for streamlining inbound and outbound marketing activities.

The purpose of marketing automation tools

Marketing automation tools make tactics around inbound and outbound marketing easier and less time-consuming by doing much of the administrative work – the heavy lifting – for you. That way, you’re able to focus on the strategy behind each activity and reaching your business goals.

The activities centered around educating your audience are referred to as inbound marketing. Inbound leads (leads being potential customers or subscribers) are ones who come through your content, blog, social, email newsletters and google organic search. You’re passively attracting leads through strategic tactics geared towards solving their problems or answering their questions.

Outbound marketing – which is similar to sales – is more direct. It’s the act of identifying your leads, finding their contact information and reaching out to them directly.

Marketing automation tools will identify who your leads are, find their contact information and determine the appropriate type of message and vehicle in which to deliver it. These tools are programmed to do all of that for you so you don’t have to do it manually.

Some tools also determine the optimal timing of these messages, what to say at different stages of the relationship and report on which marketing campaigns are returning the most value. For outbound specifically, marketing automation is a lot like drip email campaigns, but for leads rather than customers.

6 services to get you started

Now that we have a much clearer idea of what marketing automation is, let’s explore the six best tools for automating your outbound marketing and sales messages. Note: these tools are specifically geared towards small-to-medium sized businesses and enterprises.

1) Lead Genius

LeadGenius is a SaaS company offering “mastered customer research and outreach” services. They put a focus on data and human-generated research to help you close deals with lasting customers and revenue. The program helps you target new opportunities from your existing data, identify qualified prospects and nurture your prospects into customers through direct engagement (aka emails).

Cost: Plans start at $2,999 / month

2) RevBoss

RevBoss helps SaaS companies with their outbound sales. Specifically, they develop a custom sales prospecting strategy, messaging and a plan that best addresses your business goals. They then take care of the software deployment to generate a prospect list and handle conversion communications, delivering weekly updates and reports.

They say they’ll build an outbound sales process in less than two weeks, compared to up to six months if you were to go through the process manually.

Cost: Plans start at $2,000 / month

3) Hubspot

Hubspot uses real-time marketing data to provide relevant, contextual marketing experiences to every contact in your database. The program’s workflows are built around your marketing goals to nurture your leads at just the right time with just the right content.

Beyond sending emails, you can use HubSpot to send internal notifications, score leads and personalize the content on your website to each viewer. Like the other two, Hubspot also provides tools to help you build your list.

hubspot-marketing-automation

Cost: Plans start at $800/month

4) Pardot

Pardot is the Salesforce B2B marketing automation software. Like the other tools listed, Pardot will help you generate leads, create targeted messaging and grow your pipeline.

One thing it does offer that the others, at least, haven’t explicitly offered is an ROI calculator. The calculator shows you the return you’re seeing from specific marketing campaigns so you can pause and iterate on the ones not working, and invest more in the ones that are.

pardot-marketing-automation-roi

Cost: Plans start at $1,000 month

5) Act On

Act On boasts itself as marketing automation for the real world. The program is built to manage the entire lead-to-revenue lifecycle from attracting new prospects to building brand advocates. It will help automate both inbound and outbound strategies and tactics, from inbound services such as SEO audits and landing pages to outbound services such as lead nurturing, list management and tailored emails.

Cost: Plans start at $600/month

6) Marketo

Marketo is geared a bit more towards larger companies and enterprises with a focus on gaining customers at scale with their marketing automation solution. Marketo’s platform focuses on learning as much as possible about your customers and helping them learn what they need to know about your product to meet their goals. They also offer inbound services, reporting and more.

Marketo

Cost: Plan pricing is unavailable and depends on your needs

Conclusion

By leveraging tools and services to manage some of the administrative work that comes with both inbound and outbound marketing, you’re freeing up time to strategize and explore other tactics. You’re using technology for what it’s meant to do: help you.

Knowing both inbound and outbound tactics allow you to boast yourself as a full-stack marketer armed with the knowledge you need to help companies build and nurture their customer base throughout the entire customer funnel. Go ahead and give one of these programs a trial run and see what results it has for you and your clients. 

Need help getting started? Hire a freelancer with marketing automation experience to help. 

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Shannon Byrne

Shannon Byrne

Content Chief at CloudPeeps
As CloudPeeps' content lead, Shannon crafts words, creates strategies and engages our audience through content contributions, newsletters and more.