May 16, 2017

How to Use Marketing Automation for Lead Generation

by Digital Marketing Institute

Feel pressed for time? With targets to meet and objectives to achieve, time can be one of the biggest bottlenecks to your business’s growth.

Marketing automation -- the process of using software to automate some aspects of your lead generation and marketing process -- gives your business the ability to produce better results for your lead generation and nurturing without the time investment of traditional outreach and sales.

Just a few years ago, marketing automation was new technology and wasn’t widely used. Over the last 10 years, a huge number of marketing automation platforms have appeared, aimed at everyone from bloggers to large enterprises to market more effectively while saving time.

Most businesses have taken notice. According to EmailMonday, 49% of companies already use marketing automation. Marketing automation usage is closely correlated with business success, with best-in-class companies 67% more likely to use a marketing automation platform.

In this guide, we’ll cover the basics of using marketing automation to efficiently and affordably generate leads for your business, helping you free up time and reach your targets without the usual stress, workload and urgency.

What exactly is marketing automation?

Marketing automation involves using software to automate many of the marketing and lead gen tasks that you currently manage yourself.

The most common form of marketing automation is email marketing automation. Using software like Drip, ConvertKit or Infusionsoft, you can automate your entire email marketing process, from the initial opt-in and follow-up sequence to behavioural email.

This means that when a potential customer opts in to receive your emails, you can send them a sequence of messages designed to increase their interest in your product or service, then adjust your emails automatically based on their behaviour.

Each campaign you run is controlled by an automation workflow -- a series of rules you create to control what content the recipient receives and the actions they need to take to receive it.

If a customer makes a small purchase, your marketing automation software can automatically add them to a “buyer” list and send them content that’s designed to encourage them to make a larger purchase, sign a service agreement or complete any other objective.

If a customer visits a specific page on your website, you can add them to a specific list and send content related to the subject in which they’re interested.

In a sense, marketing automation lets you respond to customer behaviour the way a real person would, letting you automate your marketing efforts while keeping your marketing as relevant as possible for every prospect.

You can even use marketing automation to identify your top prospects and include them in sales reports.

The end result is a more effective marketing process that produces leads on its own, giving your team more time focus on big picture tasks like converting leads into customers and growing your business.

How to use marketing automation software as a beginner

As a beginner, the most effective way to use marketing automation for lead generation is with a simple content-to-email workflow that warms up readers and uses a specific piece of content to qualify them as prospects.

Below, we’ve created a sample marketing automation workflow, broken down into steps:

Step 1: Encourage readers to opt-in to your email list

If you already have a website that receives traffic from search or social media, the best way to build your marketing automation list is to capture email addresses from your readers by giving away content.

There are several ways you can do this. The first is to offer a lead magnet, like a free report or eBook. ConversionXL does this by offering a free guide to conversion optimisation for readers that opt in to receive email content:


Another option is to repurpose your existing content as a reason to opt in. ConvertKit does this by offering all of its blog posts as downloadable PDF files:

ConversionXL repurpose existing content as a reason to opt in to their email marketing automation.

Step 2: Deliver on your opt in promise

Once a user opts in to receive your emails, it’s time to start a conversation. The best way to do this is to deliver on your promise and send the content you offered as part of your opt in form.

Here’s the email ConvertKit sends after a reader opts in to download a post in PDF format:

Here’s the email ConvertKit sends after a reader opts in to download a post in PDF format.

Step 3: Offer extra content to identify highly motivated subscribers

One of the simplest ways to make your sales efforts more efficient is to spend less time on low-interest subscribers and more time on highly motivated, interested prospects.

To do this, you need to identify the subscribers that have the strongest interest in your product or service. An easy way to do this is to offer a second helping of content and use it to separate warm leads from people that just aren’t ready to become customers.

When a subscriber downloads the extra content, you can use an automation workflow to move them to a new list. For example, software like Drip lets you automatically segment subscribers into separate lists using simple yes/no automation rules:

Use an automation workflow to move subscribers to a new list.

Step 4: Give warm leads to your sales team

With your warmest leads identified and segmented automatically, all that your sales team needs to do is follow up with the subscribers download your extra content. Most marketing automation software will even notify your sales staff of new leads, letting you follow up quickly and easily.

Step 5: Warm up cold leads and re-engage

The final step in this process is to gradually warm up the rest of your subscribers.

Unless you have a highly motivated audience, most of your subscribers won’t choose to receive your extra content right away. However, you can warm them up over time by sending interesting, helpful email content before re-engaging weeks or months in the future.

Examples of email marketing automation done right

The email marketing workflow above is a great option for beginners looking to get started with marketing automation. However, as time goes on, there’s a good chance you’ll want to branch out and improve your results using a variety of different approaches.

Below, we’ve provided examples of great email marketing from both small and large companies, with an explanation of why each approach is so effective.

1. Nissan’s maintenance reminder emails

Most car companies generate a significant amount of their profits from maintenance - a service that’s highly dependent on customers following their vehicle’s service schedule and coming back to the dealership at the right time.

Nissan records the purchase date of each car sold in a customer database, they can follow up automatically using email marketing automation.

Because Nissan records the purchase date of each car sold in a customer database, they can follow up automatically using email marketing automation to remind customers when their car is due for maintenance and generate leads for its network of service stations.

Do you offer a recurring service to your customers? If so, scheduling automated emails based on the date a customer bought your product or signed up for your service is an easy way to re-engage and fill your team’s schedule.

Campaign Monitor’s guide to inspiring B2C marketing automation includes this and other great examples of business-to-consumer marketing automation done right.

2. Coursera’s recommended courses email

Coursera, which provides online courses from some of the world’s top universities, knows that the key to great customer relationships is engagement. To encourage users to sign up for new courses, Coursera’s marketing team uses automation rules that draw on customer behaviour.

Coursera, which provides online courses from some of the world’s top universities, knows that the key to great customer relationships is engagement.

The email above, which was delivered to Zach Watson at, recommends courses from Coursera’s product lineup using data from about courses a customer has viewed, tried or purchased in the past.

If you offer a variety of services or sell a large catalogue of products, you can use this approach to re-engage customers and generate sales leads. All it takes is a single automation rule and a snippet of code on each of your product pages.


Email sent by Airbnb to improve engagement and win back a booking from a customer.

3. Airbnb’s excellent behavioural email

Jimmy Daly of Vero shared a great example of a behavioural email sent by Airbnb to improve engagement and win back a booking from a customer.

Like the behavioural email from Coursera, this email uses automation rules to re-engage with customers based on their past behaviour. While some recipients will ignore the email, others might click on the link and make a booking, all without any human interaction.

Just like the Coursera example above, Airbnb’s approach is easy to replicate using a simple automation rule and any marketing automation software.

The best marketing automation software for beginners

The marketing automation software marketplace has grown at a tremendous pace over the last five years, making it easy to find great quality tools designed with your needs in mind.

Below, we’ve listed several of the best marketing automation tools for beginners, most of which are available either as a free trial or with an inexpensive monthly usage fee.

For small businesses

  • Drip is a simple but powerful marketing automation toolkit designed specifically for solo entrepreneurs and small, growing businesses.
  • ConvertKit is designed for bloggers and content marketers, with one of the best user interfaces of any marketing automation platform.
  • Vero is an event-driven email marketing automation platform that’s perfect for software companies.
  • MailChimp is a freemium email marketing automation platform that includes a range of pre-built automation workflows.

For mid-sized businesses

  • Infusionsoft is one of the most powerful SME marketing automation tools available, but it has a steep learning curve and requires the purchase of a training package.
  • ActiveCampaign is another powerful marketing automation platform designed for SMEs and startups.

Related posts:

Recommended reading

Want to learn more before you add marketing automation to your toolkit? Our What is Marketing Automation? blog post lists several techniques that you can use to build a successful marketing automation campaign.

You’ll also find a lot of value in our 4 Simple Ways to Nurture Your Customer Relationships post, which shares simple but effective techniques that you can use to develop stronger relationships with your prospects and customers.

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