A new report from HubSpot has revealed the top inbound marketing priorities for businesses over the next 12 months. As expected, converting contacts to leads and growing traffic to company websites remain high on the agenda, but this year’s priorities have a new addition – marketing automation.

The State of Inbound report reveals that 43% of marketers would consider marketing automation as a key priority, especially when it comes to inbound marketing.

With this is in mind we wanted to look at why marketing automation is more than just technology; why it has become so important and what role does it play in helping businesses meet their sales priorities.

Managing a multichannel world

Thanks to virtual reality, the internet of things, smartphones and digital and social media, marketing technology is enabling businesses to communicate with larger audiences more quickly, more powerfully, more often and in more ways than ever before.

Technology has led to an exponential increase in marketing inputs (the data we collect from customers online and offline) as well as an explosion in the number of potential marketing outputs (the channels available to us to distribute content).

Today, marketing is multichannel and always on, which presents a completely new set of challenges for businesses.

Being able to control marketing inputs and outputs is crucial in an omnichannel age. Marketing departments need solutions that can manage complexities of data, reduce workload, minimise error and increase efficiency, and this is where marketing automation can help.

A new way of working

Marketing automation is widely thought of as an intelligent set of online tools that manage your marketing operations in a more efficient, cost-effective way. While technology plays a significant role in marketing automation, it is only a small part of a much bigger picture. Marketing automation is a process – a new way of working that is agile, flexible and scalable.

Repeatedly we see that businesses implement technology without actually changing much else. It is important that people and processes align to this new world of faster marketing delivery.

Here are some key points and activities to consider if you’re looking at implementing marketing technology:

  • Have clear objectives and keep these in mind all of the time. From these objectives, you can make sure that every element you’re changing is directly linked.
  • Invest in discovery and planning, because if you jump straight in, you’re likely to come across challenges that could have easily been resolved from the beginning. Holding stakeholder workshops is a great way of getting different teams on board and removing silos.
  • Choose technology that will transform. We don’t know what’s around the corner, but by working with providers that offer flexibility, you will remain agile.

Aligning sales and marketing through automation

Marketing automation can help businesses grow sales. It allows marketers to gain a better understanding of its customers, improving communication and engagement and ultimately increasing sales.

Marketing teams must be involved in all stages of the sales cycle and customer journey from the very beginning. As HubSpot’s State of Inbound points out, it is ‘the handshake between sales and marketing (that) tends to produce the most measurable results.’

Organisations with alignment between the two are five times more likely to rate their marketing strategy as more effective, compared to those with misaligned marketing and sales teams.

Marketing automation at every level of the sales funnel

At the top of the sales funnel, looking at inbound leads, users interact with your external communications and it is a marketer’s job to ensure this provides a seamless experience for customers across all channels.

Data capture is an essential element of the sales and marketing process, as it helps to deepen relationships with sales leads and customers.

By using the data they collect both offline and online, marketers can use automation to provide highly tailored communications with customers, delivering a richer experience designed to meet the needs and challenges of a particular customer at a particular time.

A key sales priority identified by the report is reducing the length of time of the sales cycle (31%); again, automation can help with this. Once the marketing team has identified a prospect, by scoring, prioritising and nurturing sales leads, automation software can issue the information required to complete the purchase, helping shorten the length of the sales cycle.

Demonstrating the value of marketing activities

Proving the ROI of marketing priorities is a key concern for 42% of marketers. Our own work developing marketing technologies has proven that automation can reduce the costs of producing and delivering marketing materials by up to 20%. This allows marketers to accomplish more with the budgets they have. Automation rationalises marketing output, which frees up time for marketing teams to work on strategic projects, increasing their overall business value.

With the ability to help marketing and sales teams improve efficiencies and cut costs, drive sales through highly relevant customer insight, monitor budgets and track customer engagement, marketing automation becomes a very important investment for businesses.

It is no wonder that HubSpot lists it as one of the top five marketing priorities for businesses in the next 12 months and we would not be surprised if next year it made it to the top three.

State of Inbound 2016