A recent roundtable discussion, conducted by analyst firm Software Advice, noted that smaller companies are indeed driving the growth of marketing automation, particularly for software-as-a-service (SaaS) platforms. Industry executives from Hubspot, Genoo, and Infusionsoft dissected, among other things, the reasons why.
"All of the changes in how people shop and buy level the playing field," said Greg Head, Infusionsoft CMO, in the roundtable. "No longer do you need $100 million marketing budgets to get the word out to lots of people."
Yet while social, mobile, and other online marketing channels offer SMBs large opportunities at relatively low costs, they can likewise come with large amounts of data and related management tasks. The business value of all those likes, follows, email addresses, and other digital ore isn't promised--it's determined by what you do with them later.
Lauren Carlson, customer relationship management (CRM) analyst at Software Advice, points out that few SMBs start out with automated marketing processes. Rather, they typically use a hodgepodge of software and tools to handle individual functions. They might manage contacts in Outlook, email marketing with something like MailChimp, social media with a monitoring tool, and sales leads with yet another service.
"Before they know it, they are running four disparate systems that work great individually but are completely disconnected," Carlson said via email interview. "Marketing automation brings all of this functionality into one system."
Another potential benefit of automation: Consolidating and reducing mental and actual clutter from the marketing side of the house. This can save time and, done right, improve marketing results.
"Have you ever tried to get in touch with a small business owner? They are some of the busiest people I know," Carlson said. "Bringing in marketing automation is extremely helpful because it enables them to streamline and automate their marketing tasks."
Or, as Genoo CEO Kim Albee said in the roundtable discussion: "Now I've got technology doing the work for me. I'm not as crazy and I can focus on other things. And that is small business gold right there."
But while "automation" sounds easy, getting there--and getting results--requires good planning. Carlson offers these three tips for SMBs to consider before taking the marketing automation plunge.
1. Clean and organize your data. "Before switching over, you want to make sure that you have the best data possible," Carlson said. "Get rid of duplicates. Make sure all the information is accurate. This is particularly important when you are switching from multiple systems to one."
2. Take it one step at a time. "Build a roadmap that illustrates how the transition will happen. If you attack it all at once, you are setting yourself up for failure," Carlson said. "Instead, set a six-month goal for full implementation, with milestones along the way.
3. Speak to sales. "One of the biggest benefits of marketing automation is that it makes it possible to truly align sales and marketing teams," Carlson said. "When setting up the marketing automation system with rules for the buying cycle and lead nurturing stages, get the sales team's insight to ensure that your marketing efforts are supporting and in line with the sales team."