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Implementing an automated marketing tool can lower your overhead and net you substantial time savings. To maximize your ROI, look for software offering two automation capabilities. — Getty Images/Shestock

Marketing automation tools are software designed to streamline and automate routine marketing tasks, such as scheduling social media posts, sending emails, and tracking website traffic. Marketing is a business area well primed for automation: Oracle reports that marketing automation can reduce marketing overhead by 12.2%. As a result, small business owners who invest in marketing automation software can save time while generating a greater marketing return on investment (ROI).

What marketing tasks can be automated?

Marketing automation tools can perform a range of different functions, from the very simple — like scheduling social media posts — to the more complex. Ultimately, any marketing automation tool you select should handle the more tedious and complex aspects of marketing, allowing you and your team to focus on big-picture tasks.

"Marketing automation lets you implement a digital marketing strategy without having to manually press 'send' on each and every email, message, campaign, or post you create," wrote Salesforce. "Good automation tools help you identify your audience, design the right content, and automatically trigger actions based on schedules and customer behavior."

Some marketing automation tasks are designed to do one thing well, such as sending email campaigns. Other platforms perform multiple functions, such as lead generation and nurturing through conversion. Here are a few key tasks that can be automated:

  • Scheduling: Automate sending emails or posting social media content at the right time of day for maximum visibility with your target audience.
  • Retargeting: Automate customer engagement during the customer journey so you nudge customers toward purchasing.
  • Audience segmentation: Automatically collect customer data and extract key insights that your team can use to target messaging campaigns and discounts.
  • Personalization: Automatically pull customer data from your customer relationship management software (CRM) and other resources to make customer conversations feel unique and centered on each person's priorities.

[Read more: Is It Time to Automate Your Business? Here Are 18 Tools That Can Help]

Marketing automation tools can range in price from free to tens of thousands of dollars per year. There are options for every budget, so it's important to determine how much you're willing to spend.

What to look for in a marketing automation tool

There are dozens of marketing automation tools available, and it can be tricky to determine which features are most relevant to your needs. As you assess your options, start by considering what problem you need to solve.

"Consider which tasks take the most time and deliver the greatest value to the team. By prioritizing high-impact tasks, you'll get results and be able to demonstrate the value of your marketing automation software sooner," wrote Adobe.

With that in mind, ideally, you should try a tool with at least two automation capabilities. The more mediums a platform can automate, the more time it will save you in the long run.

Beyond automation capabilities, explore whether the tool integrates with your existing CRM, email marketing tool, and sales technology. Ease of use is critical when introducing any new technology. If the platform you're considering doesn’t easily sync with other systems at your organization or is too complex to understand, then it will be difficult to adopt (and may even add training costs).

Marketing automation tools can range in price from free to tens of thousands of dollars per year. There are options for every budget, so it's important to determine how much you're willing to spend.

Consider not only the sticker price but the total value of the tool. A good vendor should be able to provide an expected ROI to help you evaluate whether the initial cost will balance out with savings over time.

[Read more: 3 Key Tips for Automating Your Online Business]

Last, look for tools that have strong reporting and analytics capabilities. Again, you want to be able to verify that the tool is worth the cost.

"The best platforms offer reports that cover all the metrics a marketing team should pay attention to, as well as customizable and user-friendly dashboards to visualize that data and use it to inform future strategy," wrote Zapier.

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