What is marketing automation?

Marketing automation is an advanced SaaS software solution designed to automate, streamline, and manage marketing tasks and workflows across various channels without manual interaction. This technology encompasses key functions such as email marketing, behavioural targeting, lead generation, and personalised advertising, aiming to enhance audience engagement and increase marketing outcomes.


With marketing automation tools, businesses can target customers with automated messages across email, web, social, and text, helping marketers to meet the digital-first demands of today’s customers. Messages are sent automatically, according to sets of instructions called workflows. Workflows may be defined by templates, custom-built from scratch, or modified mid-campaign to achieve better results. It’s worth noting that workflow automation has become a key focus for marketers, with the recent State of Marketing report finding that 35% were making a strategic investment shift toward workflow automation. Of that group, 70% consider it to be a permanent change in direction.

Marketing and sales departments use marketing automation platforms to automate online marketing campaigns and sales activities to boost personalisation, increase revenue, and maximise efficiency. When automation is used effectively to handle repetitive tasks, employees are free to tackle higher-order problems, and human error is reduced.

Marketing automation software also helps with lead generation, nurturing, scoring, and measuring overall ROI on campaigns — especially important during times of economic uncertainty. The time- and cost-saving effects of automation increase as an organisation grows in size and complexity. Good marketing automation systems are designed to scale alongside your business.

What does marketing automation do?

In its most basic form, marketing automation is a set of tools designed to streamline and simplify some of the most time-consuming responsibilities of modern marketing and sales roles. From automating the lead qualification process to creating a hub for digital campaign creation, automation is all about simplifying a business world that is growing far too complex, much too quickly.

Marketing automation solutions let you implement a digital marketing strategy without having to manually press “send” on each and every email, message, campaign, or post you create. Good automation tools help you identify your audience, design the right content, and automatically trigger actions based on schedules and customer behaviour. Once your campaign rolls out, you can focus on other tasks and then analyse and tweak your marketing plan as results come in. An automated marketing strategy can save time and resources, driving revenue and ROI while you focus on growing your business.

The Big Red Group (BRG) experience marketplace has used marketing automation tools like Marketing Cloud to reduce seven email platforms down to two, and to engage customers with automated and personalised nurture journeys. For BRG’s Adrenaline brand, this has led to a 35% increase in click-through rates. 

Iconic Australian brand R.M.Williams is also leveraging the power of marketing automation tools to deliver highly effective campaigns. Marketing Cloud enables more targeted engagement through automated segmentation based on customer behaviour and purchase history, and allows for a hyper-personalised customer experience. Where once a customer would order a pair of custom boots and receive a call when they were ready, now they are taken on a journey through their creation.

While R.M.Williams is still developing its personalised marketing strategy, it has already seen a 5% lift in email revenue and a 176% increase in average order value from targeted email campaigns. Moreover, it has experienced a 65% increase in email deliverability and a 35% reduction in unsubscribe rates.

How do the best marketing automation tools work?

You collect customer data through many interactions: emails, website visits, app usage, social media, and so on. When collected and integrated through a CRM, this data helps create a 360-degree view of each customer.

From there, the marketing automation software does all the work: 

  • Streamlining segmentation and targeting processes to determine the right audiences, quickly and at scale 

  • Tailoring messaging to customers and leads automatically based on their profile 

  • Creating relevant and personalised messaging across email, mobile, social, web experiences, and beyond with a few simple clicks 

  • Delivering personalised experiences for your customers and nurturing leads at each stage of their journey efficiently and effectively

What are the benefits of marketing automation?

Prioritise B2C leads for improved ROI

Marketing automation can improve the efficiency of your sales funnel so you can identify and convert leads more quickly. With marketing automation software you can:

  • Automatically supply useful and relevant content to leads to develop trust and engagement

  • Trigger notifications when a prospect takes a particular action

  • Reach out with targeted, personalised messaging to the right customers at the right time

  • Automatically route well-qualified leads to your sales team

Taking the guesswork out of lead nurturing with analytics and real-time reporting enables you to more accurately measure the ROI on your marketing efforts.

Build valuable B2B relationships

Business procurement usually involves a longer process of building awareness and trust. Marketing automation tools can be used to:

  • Streamline a multi-stage procurement process

  • Develop trust at each stage of the nurture journey by using automated workflows to deliver relevant information and resources to the right people 

  • Take over repetitive tasks so more time can be spent developing the relationships that matter 

  • Trigger notifications at specific stages of the customer journey to ensure no opportunities slip through the cracks

70% of marketers who invested in their workflow automation view this as a long-term strategy shift*. Learn how marketing automation can benefit your business in our State of Marketing report.

What does marketing automation mean for the customer journey?

Customer journeys are the sum of individual experiences with your brand. With marketing automation, you can tailor every interaction based on customer data to create personalised, ongoing, seamless journeys through every brand touchpoint.

Marketing automation creates relevant content and messaging at scale across many channels. You can use it to:

  • Send email messages with dynamic content that is personalised far beyond sticking a customer’s first name in the subject line 

  • Integrate mobile messaging with your email and social campaigns through SMS/MMS, push notifications, and group messaging 

  • Generate digital ads that appear for the right person at the right time

  • Recommend the right products on your website for each individual user — automatically

With marketing automation, you can reach customers along their journey no matter where they are in the customer lifecycle — from acquisition to advocacy. Deliver timely, relevant content that reaches customers when, where, and how they prefer — converting prospects into lifelong brand advocates.

Fashion brand White Fox Boutique uses marketing automation tools to build the omni-channel journeys their customers demand. With Marketing Cloud Engagement, they’ve created over a dozen, including welcome journeys, win-back journeys, and abandoned cart journeys across email, SMS and social media. 

Marketing Cloud Personalisation helps personalise every touchpoint by including product recommendations and images tailored to the customer’s purchases and browsing behaviour. The result has been a 2% average click-through rate on personalised recommendations, a 2.5% average click-through on personalised website banners, and 5% conversion of those banner click-throughs. An abandoned cart pop-up has seen a 27% click-through rate and a 10% conversion rate.

How to choose your marketing automation platform

Investing in any new technology should present opportunities to improve your business — not make it more complicated. So be systematic when it comes to figuring out what you need from marketing automation and take into consideration the following crucial factors:

  • Your existing technology stack — does your marketing automation need to integrate with existing tech or will it replace a legacy system? What might be the impact of a new system on existing processes and how will you prepare for it?

  • Your business types and needs — do you have a B2C retail business or a B2B wholesale business? Does the marketing automation platform have the ecommerce capabilities your business requires?

  • Your customers — what are their browsing, shopping and communication preferences and how does the marketing automation platform support them? For example, does it track the progress of social media campaigns and analyse how your brand is spoken about on social media? 

  • Useability — how easily will your team be able to use the software? How much training will be involved? Does the software provider have implementation partners you can work with and on-going customer support?

  • Scaling your business — will the software grow as your business expands or will you have to further invest in add-ons or replacement software?

  • Pricing — what are all the costs involved and do they change as your number of users increases or your customer database grows?

How to implement marketing automation software

  1. Consult with your team. They have the best insights into what tools and setups work most effectively and where to look out for potential obstacles. They will be using the software so getting them on board with any changes will be crucial to the long term success of your marketing automation project.

  2. Once you’ve selected your marketing automation platform, it’s time to make an implementation plan. Work closely with your IT department and implementation partner to establish exactly what technical requirements must be met. This could include things like user permissions, data structure, how other assets might be impacted (landing pages, forms etc), and staff training needs. Your IT team can help ensure best deliverability protocols, subscriber tracking and security.

  3. Import your data and integrate it with your CRM. Ensure your custom fields and tags match up by test importing a few records before completing the transfer of data. Make sure your marketing automation tools are integrated with your CRM so you have a true 360-degree view of the customer at every point in their journey and can deliver the cross-department functionality that will help personalise and streamline the customer experience.

  4. Organise your marketing resources and assets for user-friendly access so your team can work efficiently and consistently across campaigns.

  5. Empower your team to use the new tools with appropriate resources,  training and onboarding. The success of your automated marketing campaigns will depend largely on how well your marketing team can use the software.

What are some best marketing automation software practices?

Here are some best practices to keep in mind when designing your marketing automation strategy:

  1. Define and present your goals. Use real numbers to justify your stakeholders' investment in a marketing automation platform.

  2. Collaborate with other teams. Your marketing automation strategy will touch several teams in your company. Get their input and buy-in before you begin.

  3. Create process visualisations. Use detailed diagrams of your marketing automation workflow to relay your big-picture objectives to your entire organisation — efficiently and effectively.

  4. Prepare for database segmentation. Consider your customer data. Think about who you’d like to engage and why.

  5. Prepare your content strategy. Build your content library. Create interesting, engaging, and relevant messaging designed to reach all stages of the customer lifecycle.

  6. Plan for a slow rollout. The world’s most successful marketing automation firms stagger their launches. Test early and optimise the next block of programs to give yourself the best chance of success.

  7. Analyse as you go. See what’s working and what’s not. Use some of the time you get back from automation to dig into the analytics and make the changes that will grow your business.

B2B marketing automation

B2B prospects and customers form a small, focused target market for the procurement process. This is usually multi-stage and part of an ongoing relationship of repeat business. 

Because buying decisions in the B2B sector generally take place over a period of weeks, months or even longer, lead nurturing is a much more extended process involving product education and awareness building.

The long marketing-to-sales evolution, combined with multiple customer research data points, makes marketing automation especially well-suited to the B2B environment.

With marketing automation, you can more accurately qualify leads, trigger follow-up workflows at specific points during the customer journey and create an automated flow of relevant educational resources including videos, webinars, and how-to guides. 

Commercial insurance provider BizCover is using Marketing Cloud to do precisely this by automating targeted messages at the right time to boost engagement. This includes twice-yearly emails to educate customers on the types of insurance available, as well as seasonal reminders to apply for flood cover. In addition, highly bespoke emails highlighting other insurance products relevant to the business’ profession mean customers don’t ‘set and forget’ but stay engaged with the products. Within three weeks of implementing this campaign in Marketing Cloud, BizCover saw 4% of email respondents looking at purchasing a new policy to cover gaps in their business insurance.

B2C marketing automation

The sales cycle for B2C, or consumer, marketing tends to be much shorter. Yes, building trust and loyalty are a long term goal, but the goal along the way is to deliver a simple and streamlined road to checkout. When a B2C customer is handed over to the sales process, they should ideally have familiarity with the brand and product, and a compelling impulse to make the purchase. Marketing automation can do the heavy lifting so that minimal or no involvement from the sales team is needed.

As with B2B marketing, but over a shorter time period, B2C marketing automation is often characterised by an automated email flow to build awareness and interest. Customer actions at specific points in their journey can trigger automated responses or prompts while customer history and preferences can ensure messaging remains personalised. 

The State of Marketing report found 82% of high-performing marketing organisations say customer experience is the key competitive differentiator. And given personalisation is critical in building great customer experience, marketing automation tools that allow targeted, relevant messaging are an essential part of the B2C marketing arsenal. 

Member-based hospitality group Norths Collective is leveraging marketing automation with Marketing Cloud to drive a more personalised customer experience across its digital channels. For example, it has set up automated journeys to welcome new members and engage them on their birthdays and when it’s time to renew. Between these communications, it sends more tailored messages and offers based on member personas. As a result email open rates have tripled from an 18% average to 56%.

Learn to scale your marketing automation efforts on Trailhead, Salesforce’s free e-learning platform.

Is marketing automation software easy to use?

Yes! Marketing automation platforms are all about ease of use. Create campaigns with a single click. Control all aspects of your digital marketing strategy in one place. Leverage simplified user interfaces and drag-and-drop functionality that’s familiar from other apps you use every day.

Automation makes it easier to manage every marketing task, from basic email sends to complex campaign management and data analysis. A few examples:

  • Schedule email sends, create one-off campaigns, and manage your subscriber base, all from the same interface.
  • Automatically run A/B tests of email campaigns to find the message that inspires the most engagement and conversation.

  • Define goals and measure everything: click-through rates (CTRs), timing, channels, conversions, and more. Evaluate progress and optimise on the fly, from any device.

  • Expand your view of customers beyond CRM into web analytics and e-commerce data.

Create connected customer experiences across your organisation.

Use marketing automation tools to trigger messaging automatically based on a central hub of your customer data. Your customer should see the same brand identity from all of your teams. With marketing automation software, your business can combine marketing, sales, and customer service to create one seamless customer experience across your brand.

Implement marketing automation software with Salesforce

Marketing Cloud’s suite of tools can help you leverage the power of marketing automation to build winning campaigns that improve ROI. Create omni-channel automated engagement, align your sales and marketing departments, optimise marketing performance with intelligent insights, personalise the customer experience with real-time data, create VIP experiences with loyalty management, and boost productivity by giving your marketing team more time to spend on higher value tasks.

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86% of high performing marketers say their organisation adapts its strategy and tactics based on customer interactions and engages customers in real time across one or more channels. (State of Marketing Report, 8th edition) Here are the tools to help you join the club.

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