What is marketing automation software?

Marketing automation software is designed to help marketers capture leads, develop relationships, and move prospects through the sales funnel at scale. This includes several categories of functionality: email, social media, web marketing, multi-channel marketing, and analytics. Marketing automation is an out-of-the-box method for harnessing customer data from multiple sources and developing marketing strategies and tactics that work across different mediums.

While marketing automation does automate some processes, this software doesn’t turn your brand into a robot. Marketing automation lets you scale your efforts to build relationships with multiple prospects across several different channels and provide them with a consistent experience despite their differing interests or needs. And when you properly segment your audience, this technology actually allows you to build more meaningful relationships with your prospects by providing them with content that’s relevant to their interests.

Best marketing automation software by company size

Enterprise SMB
Eloqua Infusionsoft
Marketo Hubspot
Pardot Salesfusion
Silverpop Act-On

Common marketing automation features

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While CRM and MA software are inherently different, they do share some features. MA software is essentially more specialized, but can appear as a subset of CRM platforms in certain cases.

Regardless, common features do exist for marketing automation tools, and can be classified in the following ways.

1. Email marketing

Email is one of the oldest forms of digital communication, but remains extremely effective. Although consumers have grown somewhat jaded to email marketing due to marketers’ past and continued abuse of the medium, email remains one of the most effective means of communicating with your audience. This makes it an excellent starting place for marketing automation.

Email functionality is one of the core components of what marketing automation vendors offer, and every decent platform should include features that allow you to send emails en mass to segmented audiences. More advanced platforms will send triggered emails after prospects take certain actions, such as filling out a form or downloading a piece of content. Marketers can also use these tools to create, edit, and embed forms on their website that they can use for lead generation and email outreach.

Basic marketing automation email features

These features should come standard with most solutions. Use them as a checklist when doing a basic marketing automation software comparison.

  • Segmentation and batch emails: All marketing automation vendors include platforms that allows users to send emails en mass to segmented groups of customers. Templates and a native email design are also common features. These functions make your marketing efforts more personal if you use them to send segmented and targeted emails.
    • By segmenting your prospects and communicating with each group in a way that’s relevant to their interests, you build trust. And as a key benefit, one Mailchimp study found that segmented campaigns had a 14 percent higher open rate than non-segmented campaigns.
  • Behavioral trigger emails: A behavioral trigger email sends designated content to prospects if they take an action on your site such as downloading content or completing a form. Follow up emails offer your audience reassurance by confirming that their action was noticed by your organization and that you are currently in the process of responding to their request. While most email marketing tools and MA platforms have the ability to trigger automatic emails, 43 percent of marketers don’t use these tools, which leaves a lot of room for newcomers to the tools to take advantage of their benefits.
  • Forms: A form creator gives you the freedom to build and edit your own email marketing forms. The tool provides code that you embed on your website pages, and the information the user enters will show up in the marketing automation tool. This code lets you collect email addresses and other lead data from visitors in exchange for content, promotions, or an email newsletter.
  • Mobile Optimization: Most people check email on their phone, so ensuring that your email content is readable and just as eye-catching on a phone as it is on desktop is essential. Most email and MA tools have made the switch to mobile optimization, letting you view an email in mobile and desktop view before sending.

Advanced email marketing features

These features offer users more advanced functions, and may not be found in every MA platform.

  • Dynamic Personalization: Personalization of marketing emails has come a long way since we first started making different lists for different types of customers. Using dynamic personalization, marketing automation tools can pull pretty much any type of customer information from your CRM or contact list to build a tailored email. These tools use dynamic tagging to select, match, and include content in the email. Marketing teams often use dynamic personalization to send mass emails while still keeping a personalized feel for the email.
  • Split Testing: Synonymous with A/B testing, this email tool lets you run different versions of the same email campaign to a test audience, analyze which version of your email has a better engagement rate, and even automatically send the best performer to the rest of your list. Teams often use split testing to find the best subject line, content, design, send time, or to test pretty much any element of the email you can change.

2. Lead Nurturing

Lead nurture is a feature offered by some of the best marketing automation software tools. It helps companies track, segment, and communicate with leads in order to convert them from a prospect to a paying customer. Here are the basic and advanced lead nurture functions found in marketing automation programs.

Basic lead nurturing features

  • Lead Database: Similar to a CRM database, a marketing automation lead database offers an in-depth perspective on prospect behavior. It tracks common data such as customer behavior on your website, engagement with your email campaigns, shares and likes on social media, and conversations with marketing, sales, and customer service. A lead database may also communicate with the company’s CRM and will share the lead score with relevant integrations.
  • Drip Campaigns: The main form of nurturing new leads toward a sale, drip campaigns send content to prospects to build trust in your organization, expand brand awareness, and offer right-time content. Set up a drip campaign by choosing the content pieces that move leads through the funnel, and the drip campaign will send that content to the lead based on time, lead actions, or other triggers.
    • The best drip campaigns are set up as a logical progression from one action to the next. Did your prospect download a content asset from your website? The next step in the drip campaign is to follow up with an offer regarding that type of product, or with even more content about that same technology.
    • The most common drip campaigns run through email, but many of today’s marketing automation tools can also incorporate social media and other channels.

Task and Alert Automation: Most SaaS products include task automation, alerts, and notifications as standard features. These tools cut down on the manual processes and amount of memory juggling that goes into paying personalized attention to leads. As automation becomes more commonplace, it becomes more widely used, helping teams complete


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