Marketing automation software provides marketers with a virtual playground of helpful tools for more targeted and effective digital marketing. But the ability to achieve better alignment between marketing and sales is a benefit that can’t be overlooked or underestimated.

One of the hottest buzzwords flying around the B2B marketing community in the past few years is marketing automation. But as popular as marketing automation software is becoming (the latest analysis from Frost & Sullivan predicts global software revenue will reach $1.9 billion by 2020), the term is admittedly nebulous, somewhat misleading, usually defined differently depending on who is asked and is often viewed through a marketing-centric lens.

Interestingly, Forrester Research prefers to use the term “lead-to-revenue management” and points out that marketing automation software was initially developed solely to “bridge a gap between lead generation activities and selling activities that are managed by a CRM system.” So one of the primary purposes of marketing automation, and no doubt one of its compelling benefits, has always been that it helps to connect what marketing is doing with what sales is doing.

Marketing automation bridges a gap between marketing and sales

As buyer behaviors have changed, the relationship between marketing and sales (or business development depending on your industry lingo) is changing as well, making the need for increased alignment and closed-loop communication absolutely critical. A successful marketing automation implementation can help align marketing and sales through increased communication and transparency, leading to better productivity and ultimately higher revenues. According to research from SiriusDecisions, B2B organizations with tightly aligned sales and marketing departments achieved 24% faster revenue growth and 27% faster profit growth over a three-year period.

Alignment is a big win for many companies, especially those with larger and more sophisticated sales and marketing teams.  Because let’s face it, marketing and sales have historically had an interesting relationship to say the least. Most organizations have experienced at least some level of dysfunction between marketing and sales, with them often operating in silos. Sales always wants to know what marketing is doing to contribute to the bottom line, and marketing has always had a desire to show that what they do actually does contribute to the bottom line. And marketing automation provides an infrastructure for better, closed-loop communication and can help bring down silos and help marketing and sales to actually work together.

Marketing automation provides sales teams real-time and actionable intelligence

One of the primary ways that marketing automation helps to align what marketing and sales are doing is by providing internal sales and business development teams with real-time, actionable intelligence on what prospects and leads are up to. Instead of being a black box, marketing automation brings sales up to speed on who is visiting your website, when they are visiting, pages they are viewing, content they’re downloading, emails they’re opening and clicking on and what social media posts are driving them to your website and landing pages. This real-time intelligence lets your sales rep have a much more targeted and relevant conversation with prospects and it can also help to shorten the sales cycle.

Marketing automation and CRM integration closes the communication loop

Most marketing automation software platforms have the ability to integrate with popular CRM systems, such as Salesforce, Sugar and Microsoft Dynamics. This is where the communication loop is closed and sales and marketing can achieve alignment. Integration provides sales and business development reps all that amazing sales intelligence­—every single digital action and touch point with both leads and customers—all inside their CRM console.

Handoff sales-qualified leads

Perhaps nothing annoys the sales team more than when marketing “leads” are passed over to the sales team before they’re qualified. So the ability to implement lead nurturing and lead scoring programs means that unqualified leads that might have been interested in your whitepaper, but are not ready to talk to sales (or even interested at all), are no longer automatically pushed over to your sales teams to waste their time on emails and phone calls. Marketing qualified leads (MQLs) can be nurtured until they cross a company-defined scoring threshold and demonstrate sales-ready behavior.

And one of the great things about integrating marketing automation and CRM, is once marketing and sales have come to an agreement on what defines a sales qualified lead (SQL), the entire process can be fully automated. And with tweaks to the lead scoring criteria, marketing can adjust both the quantity and quality of leads being pushed into the CRM and over to sales.

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Marketing automation can be more than just hype, more than just a shiny new tool for marketing and not just another line-item expense. Companies that have successfully implemented marketing automation are seeing the value it brings, the least of which is much tighter alignment between their marketing and sales teams.