Marketing professionals are forever being swamped with snazzy new buzzwords and trends that are poised to transform marketing practices. This is especially true when it comes to CRM, which evolves and innovates at an alarmingly fast pace. It is difficult, as a result, to identify the tools and technologies that present real value, and that offer marketers tangible opportunities in the long term.

One of the trends that has undoubtedly come to the fore over the past several years is marketing automation, which harnesses both the intelligence and convenience that digital innovations have proven so effective at producing. Indeed, according to Hubspot, marketing automation has seen the fastest growth of any CRM-related segment in the last five years.

Put very simply, marketing automation is a term for the software platforms and technologies – designed for marketing departments and organisations – that enable them to more effectively market on multiple channels online (such as email, social media, websites, etc.). It also, very importantly, allows marketers to automate repetitive, costly and tedious tasks.

Marketing departments therefore benefit by specifying criteria and outcomes for tasks and processes which are then interpreted, stored and executed by software – naturally increasing efficiency (and reducing the scope for human error). While the approach was at first focused on email marketing automation, marketing automation has evolved to include a wide range of automation and analytic tools (with an emphasis on inbound marketing).

When used correctly, and by optimising content for specific audiences, marketing automation presents a massive opportunity for businesses of all sizes – and across sectors. Businesses need to ensure, however, that they have the right content to begin with, and are tailoring and packaging this content based on thorough knowledge of the target market.

In addition, the correct use of these tools requires buy-in from the entire organisation, and a firm commitment to what is essentially a marriage of marketing and technology. Indeed, as with any marketing and technology tool, it is only as ‘good’ as the people using it. This may require education and training, in order to ensure that the maximum benefits of marketing automation tools are being obtained.

We often see marketers only making use of the email functions, for example, and using a mere 10% of what certain solutions offer. This is due to the complexity of these tools, which is usually underestimated.

Given the stats, it is definitely worth the time and investment to understand what is on offer. According to a 2011 Raab Associates study, the B2B marketing automation industry coined $325 million in revenue in 2011.

This represents a more than 50% increase over the previous year, which had also doubled in revenue from the year before. The early adopters, according to Frost & Sullivan, are high tech and business services (marketing agencies), with financial services and retail following closely. Frost & Sullivan have also predicted that the industry will reach $1.9 billion in value by 2020.

“Future growth will be fuelled by the demand for marketing agility, actionable customer intelligence and ability to measure revenues on marketing campaign performance,” the Frost & Sullivan report stated.

Widespread adoption will be challenged by the usual resistance to new technologies, however, as marketing professionals rely on tried and trusted strategies. Research has revealed that only 33% of companies who use both CRM and marketing automation said the two integrated well, and only 64% of CMOs have either an informal or no process to manage their marketing automation.

Yet while it will undoubtedly take time for marketing automation to become one of the most attractive and streamlined strategies for organisations, it is clearly far more than just another fad.