The phrase “marketing automation” is perhaps etymologically misleading and conjures unpleasant images of robocalls to your cell phone offering a free cruise, or your spam-filled email inbox cluttered with promotional offers. But that’s not what marketing automation is about.

While some may wonder how automation fits into a practice that requires creativity and authenticity, there’s no doubt the field of marketing automation has taken hold in the business-to-business world. Software companies like Eloqua and Marketo have helped spread awareness of this term and the positive results that many companies enjoy as a result of using it well. But if you’re still just a little bit foggy on what exactly marketing automation is, a piece on Ad Age explains it succinctly.

In the digital realm where every interaction with customers can be tracked and the results of each communication effort made are instantly rendered, marketing automation isn’t about taking the human aspect out of marketing your product or service. Rather, it’s about taking the robotic aspects out of the human tasks associated with setting up interactions with customers online. It’s about understanding the customer journey and setting up the right messages to be discovered when a new prospect reaches the right touch point.

Here’s three examples from Ad Age that simply demonstrate good examples of marketing automation:

  1. Reaching out to customers with personalized offers automatically. For example, a customer takes an action on a website and then receives an email with more information as a result.
  2. Tracking relationships. Instead of just hoping prospects are finding the right information about your company when they need it, marketing automation can help move them along the funnel and track exactly what content they’ve read and how much time they’ve spent researching your company. It’s a key thing to have if you want to make a sales call at the right time.
  3. Predicting what customers are most likely to buy based on historical data. A predictive analytics model can be a powerful aspect of marketing automation that helps determine what customers to focus on.