If you’re doing business in 2015, the term marketing automation has likely made its way into your vernacular—or at least your inbox. But unless you have a comprehensive marketing department, or a service provider who specializes in it, you’re probably not making full use of marketing automation as a time- and money-saving tool. If you’re like a lot of small businesses, you may even be fuzzy on exactly what it is. This brief primer is for you. Marketing automation is an umbrella term that refers to the process (and its technologies) of turning prospects into customers in a way that’s data-driven and standardized. Marketing campaigns are automated, and usually channeled through email, social media, blogs, and websites. That automation allows your marketing staff to spend fewer resources on moving prospects through the sales channel, while speeding up that process. Data gathered during this process is useful both in the journey to a particular conversion, and for future marketing and even product planning. Marketing automation typically has three components that work together: Intelligence/Analytics At this phase, prospect activities—for instance, who clicked what link in an email, or used a particular search term—are tracked and analyzed, allowing campaigns to be more highly-targeted to a prospect’s interests based on their behavior. Prospect-Campaign Automation Here, prospects are categorized based on the analysis of their interests gathered in the first phase, and then presented with marketing messages and campaigns that target that particular interest. This is where you’ll see marketing components like shopping cart reminders, and those uncanny Facebook ads that seemed to know what you were thinking earlier in the day. Workflow Automation Marketing campaigns activities can be creative and exciting, but they can also be tedious and labor-intensive. Workflow automation allows marketing staff to automate repetitive processes, like campaign budgeting, file approvals, brand asset management, campaign scheduling, and other internal activities. The field of marketing automation isn’t new, but for many years it was used primarily by larger organizations with the budgets, staff, and expertise to purchase and use those tools. In recent years marketing automation has been gaining traction among even small businesses and entrepreneurs, thanks to more accessible and affordable technologies, and an increasing number of digital marketing agencies offering it as a one-stop service.