Why Marketing Automation is Critical for Growing Businesses in 2023

The Growing Need For Efficiency

In a recent appearance on the Software Spotlight podcast, we had a chance to meet with marketing automation expert Xiaofei Zhang of ActiveCampaign. This article will explore why marketing automation for growth is critical for expanding your business. Xiaofei is the head of platform and strategic partnerships at ActiveCampaign. Marketing automation platforms like ActiveCampaign have allowed businesses to streamline and optimize customer acquisition and retention efforts. As advertising and customer acquisition costs continue to rise, marketing automation is critical for growing businesses looking to scale profitably. As a bonus, these platforms help growing businesses provide excellent customer experiences.

As Xiaofei notes, “I think for any business that is looking to grow, a lot of the challenge is, how do they maintain an amazing customer experience and how do they manage their customers better?”

Michael Bernzweig of Software Oasis and Xiaofei Zhang of ActiveCampaign on a video call discussing marketing automation.
Michael Bernzweig of Software Oasis (left) speaks with Xiaofei Zhang of ActiveCampaign (right) about leveraging marketing automation for business growth during a 2023 Software Spotlight podcast episode.

Brief background on the rise of marketing automation

Marketing automation software emerged in the early 2000s as a tool to help businesses send more targeted emails at scale. Over the past two decades, capabilities have expanded to include analytics, campaign creation, lead nurturing, personalized content, and more. Adoption has grown rapidly as businesses realize the benefits.

ActiveCampaign itself exemplifies this growth story. Founded in 2003, the company operated on-premise software for over a decade before transitioning to SaaS in 2016. This kickstarted a period of hypergrowth, with ActiveCampaign reaching over 150 million in revenue and 800 employees globally by 2023.

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AI-powered marketing automation

Recent ActiveCampaign releases include an AI assistant for content generation and workflow automation. AI will continue transforming marketing automation. AI revolutionizes marketing automation with predictive analytics, personalized content creation, and optimization capabilities. As Xiaofei explains, “It's how we've actually, at ActiveCampaign, had AI features for a very long time.”

We believe that Marketing automation is the fuel that powers modern marketing. It allows growing companies to scale personalized marketing across every channel, understand their customers, and prove ROI - previously impossible things. Adobe sees the benefits of marketing automation as well.

Focus on owned marketing channels

Owned channels like email, websites, and social media are essential as platforms change algorithms. As Xiaofei notes, “Having owned channels, like email being one of those, is important.” Continuous optimization of owned assets is crucial.

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Benefits Of Marketing Automation

Increased efficiency and productivity

Automating repetitive tasks like data entry and report generation boosts productivity. Workflows streamline lead follow-up and engagement.

Improved customer experience

Timely, personalized, and consistent omnichannel communications delight customers. Marketing automation facilitates this.

Data-driven decision making

Robust analytics provide insights into customer behavior, campaign performance, and more. Teams can optimize based on data.

As Xiaofei summarizes, “I think for any business is not leveraging automation, they're still doing everything like manually. I think they are. losing a huge edge in productivity and efficiency.”

Identifying key stages and touchpoints

Mapping the customer journey involves identifying the key stages and touchpoints in the customer experience. As Xiaofei states, “Just really mapping out your customer experience, how do you want to engage with your customer in the most meaningful way?” Understanding the customer journey allows businesses to identify opportunities to engage customers and provide value.

Understanding pain points and opportunities

It's important to understand customer pain points in order to identify opportunities to improve the experience. As Xiaofei explains regarding ActiveCampaign's founder, “He really saw that pain points for like small business owners. And that led to this idea that he wants to create solutions that create a seamless experience for small business owners and also help them grow their business.”

Designing targeted campaigns for each stage

Businesses can use insights from mapping the customer journey to design targeted campaigns and communications for each stage. As Xiaofei says, “I think he identified this pain point in sales and marketing automation. A lot of those, just having a great solution can really help small or growing businesses solve that pain point, and empowered by the software, they can streamline their customer experience and grow better.”

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Lead nurturing, promotions, renewals, etc.

Customer journey mapping enables strategies like lead nurturing, targeted promotions, and renewal campaigns. Xiaofei highlights, “A lot of small businesses, they can have, they're solid products or services, but then you need to make people know about you, and that's how you grow. So I think he identified this pain point in sales and marketing automation.”

Optimizing based on feedback and metrics

It's critical to optimize the customer journey based on feedback and metrics continuously. As Xiaofei notes, “We actually do. Yes, we take customer feedback very seriously. And actually, as of earlier this year, we have officially formed our customer advisory board, a panel of our power users, and we meet with them regularly to talk about the roadmap and priorities and get their feedback as well.”

Start Small and Focus on High-Impact Campaigns

When first implementing marketing automation, starting with a few high-impact campaigns is best rather than trying to automate everything at once. Focus on campaigns that will have the biggest impact on your business goals, whether that's lead generation, customer retention, or something else. Once you have success with initial campaigns, you can expand from there. As Xiaofei said:

“I think for any business that are looking to grow or what we call like growing businesses, a lot of the challenge is, how do they maintain an amazing customer experience and how do they manage their customers better? So first of all, they can serve them better, but then… You can also grow over time, right? Cause a lot of times demand gen is a challenge.”

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Leverage Integrations with Other Systems

Integrating your marketing automation platform with other systems like your CRM, email marketing, and sales tools can help streamline processes and workflows. Leverage built-in and custom integrations to pass data between systems and trigger actions based on events in other platforms. This can help maximize the impact of your campaigns. As Xiaofei explained:

“So partners who build through App Studio, which is the developer tooling that we built. So that's how you build natively onto ActiveCampaign. So a CX app is an organic part of our automation builder. So you can use data from your partner app in the automation.”

Provide Relevant, Valuable Content to Subscribers

Use marketing automation to deliver targeted, relevant content to prospects and customers. Leverage techniques like dynamic content, personalized subject lines, and triggered emails to provide a tailored experience. Focus on creating truly valuable content that solves pain points and answers questions for your audience. This helps build engagement and loyalty over time. As Xiaofei suggested:

“You don't have to start from scratch, just write your idea and then, you know, push the AI assistant to generate a first draft for you.”

Monitor Data and Continuously Improve

Carefully monitor performance data from your marketing automation campaigns. See which messages and offers resonate with your audience and double down on those. At the same time, continuously test and optimize to improve results over time. Solicit customer feedback to understand pain points and identify new opportunities.

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Focus on Owned Channels in Addition to Paid Advertising

While paid advertising can help amplify reach, it also cultivates owned channels like email, website, and social media. Use marketing automation to nurture prospects and move them through the funnel on owned channels. This allows you to control the experience and mitigate reliance on any one external platform. As Xiaofei discussed:

“I think right now there's also a lot of discussions about like owned channels. So email as a marketing channel is something that you truly own yourself. You control your message, your email, your audience versus I think a lot of companies right now were noticing a lot of the big platforms doing algorithm changes.”


For growing businesses in 2023, implementing marketing automation is a must. ActiveCampaign's journey shows that the right automation platform can transform a company's ability to engage customers, drive growth, and scale efficiently. Important trends like AI and owned channels present new opportunities to maximize marketing automation benefits.

Try ActiveCampaign Free with no credit card required today.

Watch our edition of Software Spotlight featuring ActiveCampaign. Host Michael Bernzweig interviews Xiaofei Zhang of ActiveCampaign to discuss the Chicago-based marketing automation company's founding in 2003 and impressive growth. Zhang details how ActiveCampaign transitioned to a SaaS model in 2016, kickstarting tremendous expansion to over 150 million in revenue and 800 employees globally today.

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