The Case for Marketing Automation in Small Business and Start-ups

I earn a living as a Marketing Technology Consultant. Often, when I meet new people, I have to expound on that further. My explanation goes something like this; “I help technology companies convert prospects into buyers, by maximizing the value of their marketing resources, through the use of marketing automation tools and processes.”

Quite a mouthful, but let’s define a key term here.

Marketing automation refers to the software and processes that allow marketing teams to have minimal manual intervention, when running marketing campaigns. Ideally, the marketing campaigns are multifaceted, and include a diverse mix of both offline and online tactics. If you remember nothing else, just remember these three mighty words “minimal manual intervention“.

Large, global organizations now consider marketing automation an obligation. Many of them build whole centers of excellence around it, with streamlined marketing teams supporting field offices around the world. But you don’t need to be large to reap the same benefits. The barriers associated with these software implementations are myths that are easily dispelled.

Let’s Examine these Barriers More Closely:

1| Cost

There is no shortage of available marketing automation software on the market. The top tier ones, like Oracle Marketing Cloud (formerly Eloqua) and Marketo, could run in the tens of thousands per year (or more), and usually top the list of options for large, global marketing teams. These solutions offer more than just campaign automation. They have data management features, more API customization options, more third-party app integration, built-in reporting and more. For smaller businesses, there are several more cost-effective options, including Infusionsoft, iContact, Active Campaign and others. These options allow you to get started and migrate to top tier options as your business grows. Cost isn’t a barrier any more.

2| Large Marketing

You may think you need a large marketing team to support your marketing automation engine but you don’t. What you need is an owner, a self-starter who will shape its utility and efficacy. You also need a supporting cast of characters, including product experts, web developers, sales super stars and others, who will support your campaigns reliably. Sometimes your cast has more than one role to play. The CEO may double as the sales rep and the sales rep may double as the product expert. Whatever your structure may be, ensure your Marketing Automation Manager role is fully focused and dedicated. You will need it. In fact, marketing automation can work very well for small businesses. Remember those 3 mighty words I mentioned earlier, minimal manual intervention? Your small team can execute at a level that rivals larger organizations. The key is your star player, and their persistent drive to learn and apply the latest techniques in automated workflows and programs. Everyone on your team has to play their part!

3| Knowledge or Skills Gap

Another defense I hear is that there isn’t a person in-house who can take the ownership that’s needed. It can also be a challenge finding new people to hire, who already have the requisite skill set. This is where some creative problem-solving comes in. If you have someone in marketing with a strong interest and will to learn, allow them to transition into the marketing automation role full time. Obviously, the fact that they are familiar with your product and business processes is a plus. Invest some money in their training and support their growth.

If you’ve considered marketing automation in the past, or are considering it now, don’t hesitate. You really don’t have a choice if you think about it. Buyers spend most of their time researching business software solutions online. If you are not poised to take full advantage of this opportunity, you are losing money. Being small doesn’t preclude you from entering the arena.

So where do you start?

  • Document your top marketing challenges and shortlist a solution that fits your needs and budget.
  • Designate an owner, who will be your “go-to” and ultimately responsible for moving you forward. This person should have some experience and/or a propensity to learn new things.
  • Finally, make your mantra “minimal manual intervention”, and ensure your people, processes and methods emulate that concept.