Without specialized tools, it’s virtually impossible for marketers to make sense of the customer and prospect data available to them. This is why most B2B organizations adopt marketing automation and related technologies.

Before CRMs for example, many companies tracked leads and opportunities in spreadsheets. Version control, file bloat and user error opened the door to conflicting information, slow processing times and irregular data entry, which made analysis painfully inefficient.

CRM software solves these problems and further increases the sales team’s productivity by centralizing many of the common tools and processes involved in the typical sales workflows. A sales person can mine data sources, send templated prospect emails, and update record information all in the same program!

In many cases, CRMs can also become a source of new, actionable data. Most CRMs integrate with email and call tracking software to automatically log sales touchpoints in the buyer’s journey. Record views, contact updates and task completions are tracked on a user-by-user basis, giving sales managers a view of team productivity, as well as a view of engagement among the different accounts. This data answers questions like:

  • Which accounts haven’t been worked in a while?
  • How many sales touchpoints on average lead to an opportunity?
  • Which accounts have non-responsive contacts and need to be updated?
  • How many outbound calls need to be made a day to reach our sales goal?

Framed this way, a CRM is basically a data management and productivity tool for the sales team.

Marketing automation technology serves a similar function for marketers. More specifically, marketing automation helps companies to:

Improve the efficiency of marketing operations

The most comprehensive marketing automation tools allow you to monitor and manage your marketing efforts all within the same platform. This enables the centralized collection of marketing data, so marketers can easily extract insights and optimize campaigns for improved results.

Data on email clicks, page views, ad impressions and social shares help to identify the best-performing channels and most popular campaigns. This information in turn informs the overall marketing strategy and budget.

It’s possible to collect data and execute on marketing plans in multiple tools:

  • there’s Google Analytics for website tracking
  • MailChimp for email marketing
  • Unbounce for demand gen landing pages
  • and the list goes on and on

However, it becomes harder to keep track of marketing activities when they happen on disparate systems. Using an all-in-one tool reduces the amount of data that needs to be transferred and makes analysis quick and easy, returning precious hours back to your team.

Gain a wider view of prospect behavior

An added benefit of an all-in-one marketing platform is that it allows you to track the lifecycle of a prospect from beginning to end. This gives a more ROI-focused view of marketing performance: It’s great to know which email marketing campaign resonates the most with prospects, but it’s even better to be able to prove which influence a purchase.

Though many popular marketing tools integrate with one another, they don’t provide the same quality of information as a well-built marketing automation instance. They just weren’t designed to be a hub for different kinds of marketing data. Marketing automation platforms are specifically designed to track the activity of a prospect from an anonymous website visit to a purchase.

With engagement occurring via outbound efforts and multiple digital channels from email to social to website engagement and more, marketing automation platforms help teams see their prospects more clearly and improve their experience.

Generate more qualified leads

Not only does marketing automation measure performance across channels, it also allows the different channels to interact. This is where the “automation” component comes in.

Marketing automation platforms can trigger actions based on tracked activities. For example, someone visits a webpage, fills out a form to download a piece of content, and becomes a known, “cookied” prospect within the marketing automation instance. The platform can then send the lead the appropriate autoresponder. Afterwards, it uses the data collected to segment him and add him to an industry-specific email drip whose purpose is to keep the brand top-of mind until he’s ready for purchase.

Every time the lead visits the website again, the marketing automation platform serves personalized content to incentivize him further. These messages can vary depending on where the lead is in the sales funnel.

By analyzing engagement data along with customer/prospect characteristics, marketing automation can act on opportunities to move individuals further along in the buyer’s journey.

Maintain sales and marketing alignment

This brings us to a key use case of marketing automation platforms: lead qualification and lifecycle management.

As marketers, our goal is to keep the sales pipeline full of fresh leads. If you’ve already achieved that—congratulations! Now the challenge is to help sales focus their efforts on leads that are likely to close.

Marketing automation allows marketers to assign a score based on the demographic and firmographic information gathered on a prospect.

It also scores behavioral activity, allowing sales to see not only which leads fit the profile of the typical customer, but which have been engaging with the brand frequently, flagging those that show intent to purchase.

This is especially important in the B2B setting where buyer lifecycles are longer. A solid inbound marketing plan can bring in a host of leads—some may not be viable prospects at all, others may be at the beginning of the buying process, or close to the end.

The behavioral and demographic scores assigned to these prospects can give a measure of where they belong in the lead lifecycle.

Marketing automation handles the scoring and then also moves the lead from stage to stage based on pre-approved thresholds. This prevents junk data from cluttering up the sales workflow. It also prevents leads in the preliminary stages who are first assessing their organization’s need from being put off by a persistent salesperson.

Marketing automation helps ensure that the right leads get to the right people at the right time. By collaboratively defining criteria and parameters, marketing can help sales to prioritize their efforts.

For many companies, the decision to purchase CRM licenses is a no-brainer. Many of them have realized similar productivity and data management benefits by adopting marketing automation as well. According to the 2017 Salesforce State of Marketing Report, 67% of their 3,500 global respondents have adopted a marketing automation platform, and 21% plan to in the next two years. But a martech stack is only as good as the people who build it and manage it.

With near limitless opportunities for application, selecting and shaping a marketing automation platform for your business can be intimidating. Finding the right platform to fit your business model and ensure adoption is a must for success.

Don’t force yourself to go it alone; consider collaborating with an experienced external advisor that has previously implemented a variety of platforms and understands the pitfalls to avoid.