Marketing Automation – Facts meet Fiction – A practical guide for SMBs

 

Of course you have heard about Marketing Automation, who hasn’t. It’s that wonder tech that - as the name suggests - does all your marketing automatically for you. Or does it? The truth is, even the most advanced solutions need human input. Quite a bit actually. So before you tell your CEO that HubSpot, Marketo, Act-On, Pardot or any of the other players will replace your marketing team while quadrupling your productivity, let’s do a little reality check.

What is Marketing Automation?

Marketing Automation refers to software platforms designed for marketing departments and organisations to automate repetitive marketing tasks to increase efficiency while reducing human error. To qualify as ”Marketing Automation”, a product should be able to automate things like email, social media, etc. allow dynamic prospect segmentation and have built-in functionality to contact prospects/customers after specific actions or periods of time.

The main purpose for Marketing Automation solutions is to help generate, capture, nurture and hopefully convert leads. Some come with their own CRM (included or optional), all have ways to integrate with other existing CRMs. You probably recognize some of the logos below.

What is Marketing Automation used for?

On a most basic level, Marketing Automation is commonly used as an email marketing and lead management tool. A prospect takes an action on your website which acts as a trigger for an automated follow up. Prospect contact data is stored and the tool starts building a lead record based on communication, interaction and other traceable behavior.

On a more advanced level, a well set up Marketing Automation is more of a growth engine that delivers personalized content, is engaging, helpful and an incredibly valuable addition to your marketing to sales process.

Mid-range and high-end Marketing Automation platforms often include lead scoring tools, allow you to build beautiful landing pages with powerful calls-to-action and track prospect activities. Some include workflows that your sales team will love, such as real-time notifications based on prospect behavior.

Your marketing team will appreciate that many of their daily tasks can now be managed within one tool (social media management, advertising, blogging, collaboration and more). The latest and greatest Marketing Automation technologies already started implementing artificial intelligence that help with predictive analytics and hyper-personalized content delivery.

What is needed to get going?

Glad you asked! Some cool features usually come out of the box (think reporting capabilities, certain templates and forms etc.) that require no additional effort other than adding small snippets of code to your website script.

However, in order to get the most out of your marketing automation, a lot of thought, work and time will have to get into the preparation, execution and maintenance of the program. Marketing Automation is not just another project on your plate and not a one time gig either.

If you want personalized content, someone will have to write it. If your CTAs (calls to action) include case studies, white papers, interviews, podcasts, events and so on, you guessed it, someone will have to create and run those.

Unless there’s an eCommerce self-checkout at the end of your marketing and sales funnel, people will have to manage your chat, answer incoming calls and close deals.

You probably also want to have a project champion in place who ensures your content strategy as well as marketing automation utilization, digital marketing strategy and road-map remain on track.

I would recommend having an accountable program owner who keeps an eye on KPI’s and has regular conversations with stakeholders (CMO, Sales Director, but also Marketing Automation vendor/success manager).  

There are hundreds of tools to choose from (see graphic above), so you may want to set aside some time to define your business goals first and then pick a software that fits your needs, not the other way around. Look for a solution that is scalable, one that grows with your organisation. One that integrates with some of your existing productivity tools, analytics, surveys etc., and one that plays nicely with your CRM.

Need to create landing pages? Custom CTA’s? Brand monitoring, competitor analytics, advertising integration would be nice, right? How about targeting prospects that visited your page? Calendar sync anyone? Yep, some Marketing Automation solutions will let you do some or all of the above.        

If you read this far, it’s probably time to let you know we would be delighted to help you pick the right technology. As an independent agency, we (Peregrine) have no bias towards or against any tool. What we do have is quite a bit of experience from working with clients who included different levels of Marketing Automation in their tech setup. Contact us for more information.

What does Marketing Automation cost?

The investment depends on a few factors, including your overall ambition, company set-up, team, contact count, marketing channels etc. Many providers let you do a free trial (but do not expect too much from that, it will only give you a small glimpse of what is actually possible).

And when you try to calculate the cost, you may have to include less obvious expenses such as external consulting hours, employee salaries and in some cases some tech upgrades before program launch. If you have an in-house marketing team that can create marketing material, great. If not, you will have to include external creative help in your overall calculations.

The more advanced solutions will come with annual subscription models and not insignificant on-boarding cost. Price may increase depending on the amount of contacts in your database and/or the amount of emails you send on a monthly basis. Some will charge for regular and/or ad hoc consulting time with customer success managers (well worth it in my opinion).

Ok so really, what does it cost?

Simple email automation starts at around SEK 500 a month, more sophisticated enterprise solutions will cost a couple hundred thousand SEK a year. Do your research. Price should always be a consideration, but do not underestimate the value of great support.

A great starting point to compare solutions are services such as 2 Crowd or Capterra. Don’t just look at it from an added cost perspective though, the reality is you will see some ROI decently early and some cost savings right away (a comprehensive Marketing Automation software can replace some of your 3rd party tools such as social media management, SEO tools, advanced analytics tools, CRMs, email marketing, live chat, and more).

When and why do companies fail at getting the most out of their Marketing Automation?

Generally companies that are unsuccessful with their Marketing Automation fall into one or more of the below categories:

  • Organisation not ready (e.g. human resources, underestimated scope, no structure)

  • Supporting material insufficient (content powers Marketing Automation!)

  • Strategy not ready (e.g. on site conversion figured out, but not traffic to site)

  • No marketing - sales alignment, unclear business goals and KPIs

  • Insufficient skill set of employees and/or inadequate organisational setup

  • Insufficient budget

Someone wise once said ‘failing to plan is planning to fail’. Same applies here. Marketing Automation is not something “that guy/gal in IT or Marketing will do in Q2 because the new CMO said so”. It’s a commitment, time wise and financially. It’s kind of a big deal. Do it right or not at all.

Companies who abandon Marketing Automation are the ones who underestimated the project or simply were not ready (speaking of ready - here’s a handy Marketing Readiness Assessment tool from Act-On).

I have also seen companies who barely scratched the surface of their Marketing Automation capabilities and painfully underutilized the available features. Don’t be that company. Designate a super user who is able and willing to invest in learning as much as he/she can about the technology and functionality.

<TL/DR> Recap

In the long list of software options that can help your business grow, Marketing Automation should be near the top. In the past decade, it has become one of the most in-demand tools for marketing professionals.

Companies of any size can benefit from it, but it is an investment that needs attention. For more high end tools, the launch will take weeks, if not months. But if done right, Marketing Automation deployment can bridge the gap between marketing and sales, integrate with various parts of your business, and increase your efficiency dramatically.

The landscape is vast and ever growing. Define clear goals and consider working with a partner that can help you design your processes, technology stack and organisational setup. Feel free to contact me with any questions!