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What are marketing automation tools?

By Zapier • Published April 7, 2021

Marketing automation tools are software and apps that help people advertise, engage, sell, and retain new business online at scale. Instead of treating marketing like a mailbox you check every day to see if your latest campaign worked, marketing automation tools allow you to run campaigns, communicate separately with different types of leads, and ultimately hand them off to a sales team or encourage them to make a purchase—all without manual work.

Open your email inbox and you'll see examples of marketing automation everywhere. Whatever website you visited this weekend, the products you were shopping for are now reminding you to come back and make a purchase. If you went on a trip, you'll have emails from your hotel inviting you to leave a review. There aren't people sitting at a desk manually sending you these emails (or at least, we hope not, because that job sounds exhausting). A marketing automation tool is sending them based on your activity.

It'd be strange to be invited to review a hotel the day before your trip or get an email that recommended products irrelevant to you. Marketing automation tools use information about leads to send the right message at the right time—to hundreds or even thousands of leads at scale. You can run your marketing like this, too.

Why do you need marketing automation tools?

Marketing consistently across many channels is easier and less overwhelming with automation. Set it up correctly, and it'll manage itself. You don't need a lot of tools to do this right. In fact, you'll probably spread yourself too thin—it's best to pick a few and keep it simple.

Spreading yourself thin in marketing almost comes with the territory: It's estimated that about 60% of marketing spend is wasted. Very few businesses have that much money to burn to get the right leads.

Marketing automation can filter out lower-quality leads and help you respond quickly to high-quality leads.

"Marketing automation software acts as a gatekeeper for new leads or leads that are not 'qualified' for sales yet,” writes Maritza Henriquez for the CallRail blog.

With marketing automation tools, your marketing investment can be better spent on the people who are most interested in what you're selling.

Which marketing automation tools should you use?

Shopping for marketing automation tools is like shopping for a car. There's no one right answer or best tool—it all depends on where you're going. HubSpot, Marketo, Pardot, Autopilot, and ActiveCampaign are popular platforms for managing marketing campaigns, from setting up website landing pages to reaching back out to leads who went “cold”—those prospects who were once interested in your products or services, but who stopped responding.

Though these platforms are fantastic, your existing business tools can automate plenty of these functions, too. Marketing automation can be as simple as setting up a Zap between tools you already use. To get started with marketing automation, you need three key tools:

  • Forms and surveys to standardize incoming information about leads so you can automate outreach to them.
  • Email marketing to engage those leads and guide them toward making a purchase (without being annoying).
  • A customer relationship management (CRM) tool. CRMs, email, and forms work in harmony together like an engine that powers the rest of your marketing machine.

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