If you’re evaluating whether or not a marketing automation tool is right for your business, the following question may have come up at some point in your research process: “how does a marketing automation system differ from an email service provider (ESP)?”
Sure, they both handle your email marketing, but what does marketing automation have to offer beyond email? How does it enhance your email marketing efforts in ways that a traditional ESP may not be able to?
To help answer these questions, we’ve outlined a few of the major differences between the two tools below.
1. Email 2.0
Let’s start with the basics. With a traditional ESP, you are still able to send to targeted lists, set up campaigns, and track your email performance like you can in a marketing automation system. The difference is that marketing automation allows you to track your prospects’ activities beyond email. For example, let’s say that a prospect receives an email from your marketing team, clicks on a link in that email, and proceeds to click around various pages on your website, including a pricing page. They then fill out a form to download a white paper and request a demo. All of those activities are tracked in real-time with a marketing automation tool.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. If we return to email marketing, marketing automation offers an additional functionality that many B2B marketing and sales teams find critical to their success (and their partnership with each other), and that’s lead nurturing. Lead nurturing allows your marketing team to send automated, targeted messages to buyers over time based on particular triggers, such as a specific time interval (“send an email every 12 days”) or actions taken by your prospects. This is particularly handy over a longer sales cycle to help educate buyers to a sales-ready state.
2. Automated lead qualification
A second difference between marketing automation and an email service provider is that marketing automation offers lead qualification functionality in the form of scoring and grading. This allows marketers to automatically qualify the leads that are being sent to sales based on criteria that matter to your business. Starting with a lead score, marketers can identify the leads with the highest level of interest. A score is determined based on your prospects’ activities — including how they interact with your emails — but also how they interact with your brand online (filling out a form, downloading a white paper, etc.). A lead grade, on the other hand, is determined by your prospects’ demographic information, such as a job title or industry. Just like in school, the closer your lead’s grade is to an “A,” the closer they are to fitting your ideal prospect profile.
Combining a lead score and grade can tell your team which leads should be at the top of the list for follow-up, making it easy for your sales reps to prioritize their time.
The automation abilities of a marketing automation tool go beyond lead nurturing and qualification. Here are a few examples of ways that you can customize each prospect’s path through the buying cycle based on triggers in your automation tool:
- If a buyer is looking at pages on your website that are specific to a certain product, add them to a list for targeted follow-up about that particular product.
- Increase a prospect’s score if they click on a certain link on your website or in your email.
- Set up triggers that will automatically assign leads to sales reps once they reach a threshold score.
- Send a “We miss you!” email if a prospect hasn’t been active in six months or more.
- Customize your website content to display dynamically based on who is viewing your site. For example, if a buyer works for a company in the manufacturing industry, display a callout to a case study featuring a company within that same industry. This is called dynamic content.
Read about more ways you can automate your marketing in this article.
4. Landing pages and forms
While an email service provider will let you create and design custom email templates, the landing page and form-building capabilities are typically limited or nonexistent. If your company is trying to ramp up your lead generation efforts, you’ll find a greater benefit in being able to build landing pages and forms that match the look and feel of your site, so that you can collect leads by gating content on your site.
5. Add-ons to meet your marketing needs
Every company is using a different mixture of marketing tactics and mediums to meet their goals, so every company’s needs are different. While some companies rely heavily on webinars and event marketing to generate revenue, others are more focused on impacting their buyers through content, email, and social media. The great thing about marketing automation is that it can become your one-stop-shop for all of your marketing needs. With content tracking and storage, social media engagement tracking, webinar connectors, event marketing connectors, and more, you can house all of your once-disparate tools within one system.
How do I know if marketing automation is right for me?
If you’re still not sure which system will better meet your needs, take a look at the bullets below, which provide a concise outline of pain points that can be solved by a marketing automation system. If you notice that several of the following apply to your business, it might be time to consider a marketing automation tool:
- You have a long sales cycle that requires multiple touch points with your prospects over time
- You want greater insight into how your marketing campaigns are performing
- You have big marketing dreams, but are limited by a small team or a lack of resources
- You have a niche target audience, or sell to different demographics that require very targeted messaging
- You have great content, but are having trouble distributing it
- You rely on more than email marketing to drive revenue
- Your sales team has difficulty identifying the right leads to follow up with
- There are significant tensions between your sales and marketing organizations
Still unsure? Try taking Pardot’s interactive Guided Tour for a spin, and get a hands-on look at the campaign-building process from start to finish.
What other ways do marketing automation tools differ from email service providers? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!