What kinds of tools are we talking about when we talk about marketing automation? Table stakes for modern marketing automation software includes:

Email marketing — building and managing personalized email campaigns
Social media marketing — crafting social media personas and guiding user experiences
Mobile messaging — using SMS, MMS, and push notifications to engage customers
Managing ads — aligning advertising across every channel

Don’t expect marketing automation software to craft dazzling copy and eye-catching visuals to bring those campaigns to life for you: Human creativity and a little elbow grease still carry the day. What you should expect from a good set of automation marketing tools is the ability to manage individual campaigns, cross-channel campaigns, and personalized 1-to-1 customer journeys based on those campaigns.

Most marketing automation software is sold as a platform — an integrated suite of tools with a feature set. The automation tools, and the specific capabilities of each tool, of course vary from platform to platform. That said, you can expect most marketing automation platforms to have tools and features to assist or automate the management of the following:

Get to know your prospects and what they’re looking for. Learn who they are, what role they play (for B2B marketers), what their pain points are, and how you can help. A common technique is to set up a lead capture page (that is, a landing page). Lead capture pages often ask visitors for something in exchange for a reward. For example, a user may be asked to enter her email address, zip code, and job title in exchange for a downloadable e-book or white paper, an entry to a sweepstakes raffle, or a promotional coupon or discount code.
Use demographics, behavioral data, and other prospect information to separate hot leads from “just browsing.” Route leads into nurture and drip campaigns based on their qualifications. Every company scores leads a little differently, but the main goal is to identify the most promising leads for your organization at a given time or for a given campaign. A lead score assesses the activities that a prospect has engaged with on your website, for example, downloaded a datasheet, watched a demo video, or filled out a contact form. A lead grade is assigned by demographic information, such as industry, title, company information, or market size. The combination of the lead score and grade will signal to marketing and sales who’s hot and ready to purchase, and who needs more nurturing via a drip campaign.
 
Use powerful lead generation tools to keep your pipeline fully stocked with high-quality leads.
Sending one-off emails every two weeks is not the way to nurture leads, especially in the long sales cycles of the B2B world. Automated nurturing lets you track engagement with your emails, website, and other properties, and use that data to drip-feed the right content at the right times along each prospect’s journey.
From A/B testing of messages to SEO and social listening, automated campaign management handles the gathering and processing of marketing data, so you can focus on strategy. From qualifying leads and managing nurture campaigns, to analyzing ROI data across multiple channels, automated campaign management systems allow you to design, deploy, and monitor marketing activities without having to manually tend to every last step in the process.
One product sheet does not fit all. Draft copy, design emails and social media posts, and craft customized assets, all within your marketing automation platform. Content management systems also handle tagging and organizing of assets for repurposing across multiple formats and locations, so that you only need to upload an image or an asset once, and it runs everywhere. A content management system within your marketing automation platform also makes updating assets a breeze: Replacing the existing file with an updated one ensures that images and assets will be up to date across all campaigns, no matter how old or recent, so that links and images don’t render broken.
A hot prospect just signed up for your newsletter? Great! Now create a new lead for them in your CRM. Let the software guide them into the appropriate drip or nurture campaign, send a welcome message, and track engagement. While you’re at it, let the software also gather behavioral data and alert your sales team when the prospect is active on your channels. Marketing automation platforms that integrate with CRM do the grunt work for you.
When your marketing is automated, it’s easy to capture tons of data. Let your marketing automation platform take the next step and crunch the numbers for you, yielding insights and alerts to help you tweak active campaigns and more effectively plan new ones. If your marketing and CRM are integrated, it’s also a snap to tie ROI directly back to campaigns and other marketing activities using closed-loop reporting.