Marketing Automation Tools – The most important functions at a glance

We provide an overview of the main features of marketing automation tools

Marketing automation allows companies to launch highly relevant omni-channel campaigns with little effort. The range of functions offered by current software solutions can sometimes be overwhelming. In this article, we would like to explain the most important functions and their future significance.

Marketing automation is one of the biggest trends in B2C and B2B e-commerce business. It is now proven to have a major impact on lead generation and nurturing, as well as customer retention.

Although many marketing automation software vendors are trying to differentiate themselves, there is a lot of commonality between most offerings in terms of functionality. Some of these features have been in practical use by numerous companies for years, while newer, innovative approaches to marketing automation have yet to play too big a role in everyday business. However, these have the potential to further significantly improve the efficiency and effectiveness of marketing and help demonstrate omni-channel campaigns.

In this article, I would like to give a general overview of these core functionalities and, most importantly, outline what future significance they will have for use in practice.

This may be useful for you if you want to start using Marketing Automation in your company or are generally interested in this topic.

Data integration and Lead Capturing

Customer data already available in existing CRM systems and purchase data stored in the company’s ERP are the main source of input for marketing automation software. Additional customer data is collected on the website, in the web store, in mobile apps, directly in the store or via email. Unifying all these data points results in a 360-degree view of a customer.

Outlook: This is the foundation of marketing automation and therefore essential in the future, because data is the key to success here. However, 95% of companies still cite data access to existing customer data as a major challenge when trying to achieve their marketing goals (Gleanster, 2013). So solving this problem is a top priority.

Behaviour Tracking

Companies can not only capture initial registration data from their customers, but also track the actual behavior of their customers at the various touchpoints (such as website, online store, email, or social media) to learn more about their intentions, make patterns visible, and ultimately gather insights that can be directly translated into sales actions. All this is summarized under the term “behavioral tracking”.

Outlook: To differentiate themselves from the competition, companies need to personalize content and timing, and again, to do that, they need clear insights into customer behavior across all sales channels. The result, for example, is emails with up to 8 times higher open and click-through rates and 6 times more revenue generated compared to traditional campaigns (Experian, 2016).

Scoring & Profiling

To better understand your target audience, automated scoring and profiling classifies leads according to their potential and urgency, and also groups them based on buying behavior and engagement. The underlying algorithms can be influenced by the product lifecycle and the specifics of the industry in question.

Outlook: Scoring & profiling helps focus marketing investments on the most promising leads and customers, increasing ROI. To work with the right profiling algorithms, a lot of data processing needs to be done, this is quite a challenge for companies without dedicated resources. Marketing automation solution providers can help automate this process as much as possible and provide “turnkey” solutions if possible.


Segmentation and filtering based on various criteria allows companies to create and manage subsets of their customers, which in turn are suitable for marketing initiatives such as messaging or advertising campaigns.

Outlook: This functionality is also the “bread and butter” of marketing automation. The biggest differentiator between vendors here is ease of use and convenience in creating more complex segmentations.

As a rule, however, companies unfortunately do not use the full potential of segmentation, because behavioral criteria of end customers are often not integrated. Consequently, it is not possible to segment in this respect either, and this prevents truly targeted and personalized campaigns for so-called “micro-segments”.


Most marketing automation software vendors offer companies the ability to launch messaging campaigns directly from their solution through various channels such as email, SMS, social media ads or mobile push messages.

Outlook: Everything we’ve looked at in this article ultimately results in customer communications. It is the actual “action” that companies can take based on all learning experiences across all customer touchpoints.

The number of channels that customers can reach is constantly increasing and so is the clutter in these channels as they all vie for the consumer’s attention. For the future, it is essential to know which channel is preferred by each individual in which situation in order to remain relevant.


By creating workflows (workflows), companies can create automated, trigger-based campaign processes in the corresponding software solutions that are directly influenced by customer behavior in order to serve customers with (almost) 1: 1 communication.

Outlook: Workflows to create and control multi-channel campaigns are at the heart of marketing automation applications. Unfortunately, companies are typically overwhelmed by the complexity behind them, which in part leads to about 70% of them being dissatisfied with their marketing automation software (VentureBeat, 2015) and therefore in turn not fully realizing the marketing potential. It will therefore be crucial for vendors to simplify existing processes and deliver more best practice scenarios “out of the box”.

Personalized content

The delivery of personalized and thus highly individualized content is already supported by some providers. Content (mostly products) can come from the company’s content database or recommendation engine, or be created manually.

Outlook: It is becoming increasingly important to send highly personalized and thus highly relevant content. 74% of marketers say that targeted personalization increases customer engagement (eConsultancy, 2016). Meanwhile, while many companies succeed in sending personalized campaigns (in terms of timing and message character), they still do not contain the right detailed content to maximize conversion rates. The best way to solve this is to use automated recommendations, which almost always outperform editorial content in terms of click-through rates and revenue.

Analytics & Prediction

The term “analytics” is used in most marketing automation solutions to provide analytical views of a company’s business performance and the results of marketing initiatives that have been launched. Predictive analytics goes a step further and attempts to forecast future results based on historical data.

Outlook: Analytics, and predictive analytics in particular, are among the most hyped topics in marketing today, and for good reason. Companies need well-founded information to successfully manage their business. If this information can also “look into the future,” all the better.

However, many companies are still struggling with the basics and, in addition, performing data analyses is complex and resource-intensive. For this reason, providers are increasingly relying on predefined analyses, for example by automatically recognizing patterns and identifying bottlenecks. This enables decision-makers to react quickly and only have to invest additional effort when there is actually a need for action.

Third-party integration

Last but not least, marketing automation is a discipline that relies heavily on interaction with other systems. A key element of such software applications is therefore their integrability into data sources as mentioned in point (1), but also into other systems such as online store, campaign management, social media hubs, web retargeting.

Outlook: Similar to the “data integration” area, the connection of various third-party platforms is a basic requirement for marketing automation, which also forces vendors to keep up to date with general trends and integrate new partners quickly. All this with the consequence of offering their enterprise customers standard API-based integrations that are as easy to manage as possible. This is all the more true as 50% of companies state that the complexity of the various integrations is the biggest obstacle to the success of marketing automation (Ascend2, 2016).

Lauri Kurki hat mehr als 10 Jahre Erfahrung in den Bereichen Consulting, agiler Softwareentwicklung und Produktmanagement. Er ist derzeit Produktmanager für Cloud Services und Software as a Service bei Swisscom. Zuvor war er als Portfolio- und Produktmanager verantwortlich für weltweit genutzte Softwarelösungen in den Bereichen Digital Marketing, Marketing Automation und Human Resources.

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