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What is marketing automation?

Marketing automation defined

Marketing automation is software that automatically manages (and therefore, streamlines) the marketing processes within multifaceted digital marketing campaigns. This can include email marketing and social marketing, as well as live chats, website monitoring, and lead scoring.

What is marketing automation used for?

Marketing automation streamlines your digital marketing efforts, reduces human error, and helps you achieve better results. Instead of performing manual, repetitive processes, you’re able to focus on more strategic tasks such as planning and design, goal development, conducting research, establishing branding consistency, measuring KPIs, and more.

Despite email marketing automation being one of the first things that most people think of when they hear "marketing automation," this software handles more than emails. For example, marketing automation can streamline the following tasks:

  • Lead generation, nurturing, and scoring
  • Audience segmentation and targeting
  • Upsell and cross-sell activities
  • Customer lifecycle marketing and customer retention programs
  • Analytics and reporting to provide insights into what’s resonating with people, which in turn can help further optimize your marketing and content strategies (that is, tweaking the subject headings or send times)
  • A/B testing to see which headlines, offers, copy, or images work best

Marketing automation software also works to enhance and hold your customer data, improving customer profiles. You can use this customer data to tailor every interaction and create seamless, personalized experiences through every channel.

2021 Gartner® Magic Quadrant™ for B2B Marketing Automation Platforms

2021 Gartner® Magic Quadrant™ for B2B Marketing Automation Platforms

Learn more about Oracle’s ongoing innovations drive faster speed-to-lead handoff and increased revenue.

Types of marketing automation tools

Read ten different articles, and you’ll find ten different lists of what constitutes marketing automation software. And those lists can be as expansive or restrictive as you can imagine, based on the writers’ definitions of "marketing activities." Some lists lump operational systems for inventory management, pricing, distribution (for example, sales channels), revenue management, and competitive intelligence into the category of "marketing automation tools." With that said, here is a list of possible marketing automation tools.

  • Customer relationship management (CRM)—automates sales processes and manages customer, order, and product data, which can be used for marketing automation
  • Sales force automation—handles sales processes, manages data, and offers analytics
  • Email marketing—facilitates the setting up of web-based forms and auto-responses, as well as a variety of reports (clickthrough rates, open rates, nonsubscriber, and more)
  • Social media—automates many aspects of social media marketing including content publishing, scheduling, monitoring, and analytics
  • Workflows—removes the human element from business processes, including marketing processes
  • Lead management—automates the generation, scoring, and use of sales or marketing leads
  • Analytics—visualizes and identifies patterns in market and customer data
  • Pricing—automates many of the processes involved in setting competitive pricing (for example A/B testing or demand estimation) usually within an ecommerce environment
  • Digital advertising and promotion—refines and automates much of the ad creation process and bidding strategies across digital channels
  • Loyalty—automates key components in the promotion and administration of loyalty programs

As you can see, today’s digital marketing campaigns have a huge number of components. There are various solutions available, from point solutions that need to be integrated with other solutions to all-in-one marketing automation solutions that support several (if not all) of the tools and capabilities listed above.

Finally, marketing automation helps you read a prospective buyer's online behavior—digital body language—indicating what product or service they’re interested in and where they are in the buying process. Based on these observations, marketers can nurture the prospect throughout the sales process with high-value content.

As marketing shifts from bulk outbound messages to understanding and facilitating each prospect’s buying process, marketers need new technical capabilities. Marketing automation can guide the conversations, timing, and personalization needed to make the shift.

How does marketing automation software work?

In a nutshell, marketing automation works like this.

Step 1 Collect data about potential customers through website visits, app usage, newsletters, and other digital marketing interactions.
Step 2 Based on the data from Step 1, create relevant, useful content.
Step 3 Identify, target, and segment your prospect base.
Step 4 Design marketing campaigns using prospect segments to deliver personalized experiences across various digital marketing channels, including email, social, mobile, and chat.
Step 5 The software does its work. Customer actions and predetermined schedules trigger process workflows across various channels to lead customers down the sales funnel and/or nurture them until they become a marketing qualified lead to be passed over to sales.
Step 6 Analyze and track results. Find out what’s working and what isn’t. Adjust as needed to achieve greater marketing ROI.

How does marketing automation help marketers?


of marketers use marketing automation to minimize manual tasks

Source: Top marketing automation statistics

Marketing automation software replaces manual and repetitive tasks and makes processes more efficient. The software can take on the operational, process-oriented tactical work, allowing marketers to allocate more resources to strategy, content, and creative problem-solving.

With marketing automation, the most effective demand generation and lead management programs can be personalized with the right content and targeted to deliver the right message at the right time. Doing that manually would be next to impossible, given the complexity and sheer volume of components and details involved in today’s omnichannel digital marketing campaigns.

Benefits of marketing automation

Marketing automation provides a host of benefits to businesses of every size. It helps with prospecting, lead nurturing, customer acquisition, cross-selling and upselling, and many other aspects of digital marketing, and selling.

Marketing automation lets marketing teams do more with less. In fact, 63 percent of businesses expect that they’ll see benefits from marketing automation within 6 months of implementation. How can you maximize your benefits from your investment in marketing automation?

Here are some key benefits of marketing automation.

1. Higher conversion rates. When lead generation campaigns are handled through marketing automation, clean customer data makes it easy to identify and target the right customers, and the right offers are made to the right contacts. Thus, interactions are occurring with actual potential customers, which, in turn, boost the possibility of making a sale.
2. Stop wasting time on ineffective campaigns. Pull in opportunity and revenue data from the CRM system to gain complete visibility into what’s working and what’s not. Stop planning based on intuition. Use data to make informed decisions about marketing campaigns and allocate marketing budgets to those that will reap the biggest financial gains.
3. Keep everything in order. Marketing automation sorts out transactions, aligns activities, creates doable schedules, and aligns internal teams to achieve goals. It makes everything run smoother.
4. Increased employee productivity. With the right marketing automation solution, your employees can leave repetitive, manual tasks behind and focus on strategic issues, all while making their jobs easier, more productive, and more engaging.
5. Drive and optimize revenue growth. The unified customer data in a marketing automation system allows you to respond to your buyers’ signals with orchestrated campaigns that engage and convert. Then, revenue growth can be optimized thanks to the
  • Elimination of data silos between sales and marketing teams.
  • Ability to optimize the spend used for marketing programs.
  • Generation of more sales-approved leads faster.
  • Identification of key accounts and the ability to enrich customer information for better accuracy when scoring and prioritizing.
  • Improvement of campaign results through the use of clean and complete customer data across geographies and instances.
  • Ability to guide prospects through the buying journey by delivering the right messages at the right time through the right channel.
  • Capability to measure and manage marketing effectiveness at every stage of the buying cycle.
  • Successful identification of the most effective campaigns and go-to-market strategies.
  • Analytics that allow you to predict the revenue outcomes of marketing and sales efforts.
6. Improved customer retention levels. Marketing is not finished once a customer is acquired. Customer retention is just as necessary as customer acquisition. Marketing automation supports loyalty programs and provides upsell and cross-sell opportunities and other initiatives that build strong and lasting customer relationships.

Marketing automation best practices and capabilities

Marketing automation consists of cross-channel marketing software that customizes content and automates the targeting, timing, and content of marketing messages in concert with prospect actions and behaviors. But what capabilities should a marketing automation software solution contain? Here’s what you need to start.

  • Campaign orchestration tools for campaign creation, optimized deployment, and overall simplified campaign management
  • Segmentation and targeting tools that can utilize data from CRMs, web visits, and a variety of other sources to build, filter, and segment audiences and dynamically update target lists
  • Lead scoring and modeling tools that work across multiple campaigns and lines of business
  • Design editors to build responsive emails, landing pages, and forms without the need for IT or agency support
  • Tools to manage process workflows and content
  • Support for dynamic content that can adapt and personalize the messaging based on a variety of factors
  • Subject line optimization toolset
  • Account-based marketing (ABM) program support
  • Integrations that allow for the sharing of contacts’ marketing activities and account and profile data with sales, in real time
  • Native CRM integrations
  • Analytics/dashboards that provide insight for campaigns, emails, account analysis, and revenue attribution

When is the best time to invest in a marketing automation solution?

There are several questions you can ask yourself to determine if it’s the right time to invest in marketing automation. Are you creating and publishing good content? Is that content mapped to the buyer’s journey? Have marketing and sales aligned on where customer conversations end with marketing and begin with sales? Are you generating a steady flow of organic leads? Can you track your prospects’ body language across every touchpoint and marketing channel? Are you ready to start scaling your marketing efforts? If so, then it’s probably time to invest in a marketing automation solution.