You might have heard the term “marketing automation” being thrown around.
The “automation” part sounds seductive. After all, who doesn’t want to automate parts of their business, not to mention marketing?
So what is marketing automation?
One of the major marketing automation vendors, Marketo, defines it as “a category of software that streamlines, automates, and measures marketing tasks and workflows.”
Marketing your business can often feel like a bottomless pit of work that sucks up your time. So the prospect of automating even a part of it certain resonates with busy entrepreneurs.
Let’s dig deeper into marketing automation for small businesses, the common pitfalls, and the best options for your company.
The Results That Marketing Automation Promises
Below is a typical scenario that many vendors advertise as demonstrating the benefits of marketing automation.
People are searching for tips on manufacturing widgets. They stumble upon your article on best practices for such widgets.
The article is so insightful that they start reading more of your articles on various aspects of the process.
After a couple of pages, a pop-up asks if they’d like to enter their email and phone number along with some details about their company. If they do so, they get a white paper on future trends in widget manufacturing.
When they do, a workflow is automatically fired off.
Your marketing automation software tracks which pages they visited and the details of their company before assigning them a “score.”
If they visited your pricing page, the software might give them a higher score.
If they visited your recruitment page, it might reduce their score. It would do so on the basis that they are more likely to be looking for a job than to buy from you.
Once they are in your marketing automation system, the software will send them the white paper automatically.
It will include a series of “nurturing emails” designed to educate them about your product or service.
As soon as a lead is scored highly enough, the software marks that person as ready for sales.
That way you can start reaching out to them personally. And you can do so safe in the knowledge that they’ve already been educated on your offer.
So far, so good, right?
The Reality of Marketing Automation for Many Small Businesses
In the scenario above, it can seem that the marketing automation software is doing all the heavy lifting.
You just need to sign up for a relatively pricey solution from Hubspot or Marketo. Set up the systems and watch the qualified, wallets-out, ready-to-buy leads roll in.
Unfortunately, that’s the expectation that many small businesses have when they are choosing a marketing automation solution.
The reality, however, is quite different.
Marketing automation software is great at managing incoming leads and sorting them.
It’s good at allowing you to focus on reaching out to the leads that are the best fit for your business.
But what most small businesses struggle with is getting those leads in the first place.
Great articles that get shared on social media and surface to the top of Google aren’t easy to write and promote.
You might have the best marketing automation software in the world.
But you’ll still have to put in hard work. It’s difficult to create and promote the type of content that your idea customers will eat up.Many small businesses invest thousands in pricey marketing automation software without seeing the corresponding return on their investments.Click To Tweet
The problem is that they are only getting a handful of leads per month. Marketing automation really shines when you get so many leads you can’t sort them manually.
In the worse case, these businesses might put their losses down to online marketing not working for them. Perhaps they even blame themselves for not making it work.
But the reality is that it wasn’t their fault. They were just sold the right software at the wrong time in their business stage.
What Should a Small Business Focus on Instead?
There are two areas on which small businesses can focus.
The first is to build an online presence that draws in people who fit well with their brand.
This means writing the type of content followers like to read and promoting that content in places users would typically visit.
Building your presence takes time and effort.
You’d be well advised to get some consulting from a marketing expert in your field to give you tips on the best strategy to execute.
In my experience, most small businesses struggle with finding marketing that works in their market. So if you can get this right, the next step of automating parts of your marketing will be much easier in comparison.
Establish your online presence and make sure you’re getting a steady stream of people visiting your site. Then you can start using lightweight marketing automation software.
You can either use software that is free or has a reasonable price to create forms people can use to sign up.
WordPress is a great option for small business websites. It is free, open-source software that is easily extendable with a huge range of plugins.
You can easily connect your WordPress site with a free Mailchimp account to start building up your list. Mailchimp offers some powerful marketing automation for a fraction of the price of the big names.
Another option is Drip.co, which offers very powerful workflows, lead scoring, and email opt-in widgets.
You also get 2,500 contacts for an affordable $41/mo, compared to the $800/mo that Hubspot charges for their plan including lead scoring.
In this way, you can easily build up a small business marketing automation system that can scale as your business grows.
Invest in the Right Software at the Right Time
You might still be at the stage where your website generates a handful of leads each month. If so, you’re probably best going with a low-cost marketing system. Choose one that is reasonably priced, is based on WordPress, and has a newsletter service.
As you start getting more and more leads, you can start to consider marketing automation heavy-weight software. Do so once you get to the stage where you get so many leads that it’s hard to keep track of them.
At that point, it’s smart to invest in software that will make it easier to sort and categorize leads while providing your prospects with the right information for their stage in the buying cycle.
The bottom line is: deciding whether to invest in marketing automation is all about finding the right timing for your business.
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