Marketing Automation: 3 Things EVERY Small Business Should Know Before Buying

February 17, 2014

Marketing automation is starting to become a popular topic in small business circles and it’s not difficult to figure out why.

Automation addresses a fundamental — and sometimes crippling — issue that many small business owners and managers battle every day: limited staff and resources make it difficult to effectively manage a sales funnel. With marketing automation technology comes the potential to not only compensate for this shortcoming but potentially to make lead conversion/nurturing/management a competitive strength.

But before getting started there are a few things that every small business people should know. Here are my top 3:

 

1. Automation isn’t exactly “automatic”

In addressing this topic, it’s hard for me not to think of this goofy Allan Sherman song my parents made me listen to when I was a kid —they came from a generation that thought this sort of thing was high comedy, and now I pass that torture forward to you (skip to about 33 seconds in):


Marketing automation is NOT going to eliminate the need for human marketers or managers, it just helps them use their time better — a LOT better. The truth is that marketing automation is automated in the same way your car is automated — it makes the process of getting from my house to Target way more efficient but still requires a human to drive it. Of course, some people will say, “But that doesn’t sound very automated at all!” I’m guessing that Paul Revere or an American pioneer during the gold rush would feel much differently though.

2. Planning is the first and most important thing you can do

In just about any circumstance, it’s difficult to get somewhere you’ve never been before without some sort of map. Your first automation campaigns are no different.

Below is a sample campaign that I put together to use in presentations and demos.

 

b2b-map

 

Your flow charts don’t need to look this fancy — a hand drawn sketch on a white board or a blank piece of paper will work just as well.

PRO TIP: If you do your best thinking in front of a white board, make sure you snap a quick picture with your phone before you leave the room :)

The important thing is that you have a clear and concise map that outlines the goals of the campaign, the flow of the customer/client experience, and identifies the tools and assets that you will need to create in order to complete it. As an added bonus, when you are creating the campaign, a copy/printout of your chart along with a brightly colored pen or marker will allow you to check off items as you create them and help ensure that you don’t miss anything.

An automation software solution will give you the tools you need to create great experiences for your leads and customers and a profitable campaign for your business — but never forget that it’s a toolbox, not a handyman. Combining a simple campaign like this one with the tools in your marketing software will allow you to start creating ROI quickly.

 

3. Make sure you fully understand the implementation/setup process

Shopping for a marketing automation system is easy — most of the information you need is readily available online and you have the right to expect helpful and supportive salespeople to assist you no matter who you call. Buying marketing automation software is also easy.

But getting started with automation software can be difficult.

In many cases, the standard implementation time for a marketing automation software can be 4-7 months. That means that there may be a period of MONTHS, not days or weeks from the time that you purchase your automation software subscription until the time that you are finally ready to start realizing the benefits. Some solutions, like ORBTR, are designed to be implemented much much faster.

But regardless of the solution you choose, make sure you understand the implementation and setup process before purchasing, that you have a comfort level with that process, and that you know going in what you should expect and what internal/external resources you will need to allocate in order to complete that process in a timely manner.

Be sure that you also understand what your selected software provider’s definition of a “timely manner” is.

As with all things, successfully starting a marketing automation initiative is all in the details. With an understanding of the tools, some good strategizing and planning, just about any small business can start and manage a winning automation effort.

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