Customer relationship management (CRM) platforms and automated marketing platforms abound at the enterprise level, but most small businesses don't need the complicated—and expensive—features commonly found in such products. On the other hand, tools like Excel spreadsheets or other point-oriented solutions may not have enough horsepower to get the job done.
Automational—a platform designed specifically for small businesses—aims to address that gap by combining customer relationship management, email marketing, and marketing automation into a single platform. Automational was developed by the same company that created ClickDimensions, an enterprise-level marketing automation platform that works with Microsoft Dynamics CRM.
"We wanted to offer a more entry-level tool for small businesses," says Nate Kristy, vice president of marketing at Automational. Using ClickDimensions as a springboard, they removed some of the complexity and developed their own CRM product. "We combine key elements that help small businesses solve sales and marketing issues— particularly as they grow and become more sophisticated and more successful."
Automational walks you through every feature in the small business marketing platform.
Automational Review: CRM, Email Marketing, Automation
Unlike other marketing systems, which often focus on only one aspect of the marketing lifecycle, Automational combines three marketing elements—customer relationship management, email marketing, and marketing automation—under a single umbrella. The CRM functionality lets small businesses organize, monitor, and monetize customers and leads. You can link contact records and identify new opportunities. You can also track follow-ups and response tasks for every team member to ensure that nothing falls through the cracks.
Email marketing, a feature that's increasingly important in today's competitive environment, forms the second element of Automational's triad. "Email marketing is a must-have for small business," Kristy says. "Email marketing capabilities—such as newsletter campaigns and auto responders—are key."
Automational's drag-and-drop functionality makes building and optimizing new campaigns easy. You can quickly add images, text, and even social links to maximize engagement. A central dashboard lets you monitor metrics like open and click rates, and track and optimize email marketing performance.
You won't find marketing automation—Automational's third element—in many CRM platforms outside of the enterprise market. The platform lets you create automated workflows.
Automational makes creating new marketing campaigns quick and simple.
"If someone comes to your website and completes a form, you can send them newsletters or follow-up emails automatically," Kristy says. Automational also lets you structure additional automation tools for other customer actions, such as clicking on links you included in drip campaigns or email blasts. It can even add customers to marketing lists or tag them for more customized responses.
While each of Automational's three functions is an important standalone tool, Kristy says the system's power really pops when you bring those capabilities together. "It combines three key tools that small businesses need, all in one package," he says. The seamless integration eliminates unnecessary complexity, and it reduces the time businesses spend loading data into the system and extracting meaningful information out of it.
Automational Review: CRM and Marketing in the Cloud
Based entirely in the cloud, you don't need specialized hardware or on-premises to launch the Automational system.
"Gather your data together in a spreadsheet and make some of your strategic decisions offline first," Kristy says of the deployment steps. Small business need to decide such things as how they want to organize their data and which campaigns they want to run first. Added Alert UI 2015 – You can add alerts and track important details for every contact.
You can add alerts and track important details for every contact.
"Know your target audience, and bring your strategy and knowledge of your business to the product," Kristy says. From there, Automational guides you through the data importation process.
You can take advantage of the online support team—Automational calls them "marketing success managers"—to help at every step of the way. "People who are new to, or not especially familiar with, technology may benefit from guidance about onboarding data, or how to build a newsletter campaign," Kristy explains.
Every Automational plan includes initial training elements; which Kristy calls a huge hit with customers. "People like taking advantage of that resource in first 30 days."
Automational Review: Plans and Pricing
The company offers a free 15-day trial if you want to test drive the platform. Pricing for Automational starts at $100 per month, which supports two users, up to 10,000 emails each month, and 5,000 contacts. Kristy says it's a good starting point for businesses that want to step up from managing their CRM with a spreadsheet. Every plan includes personal onboarding support, while higher-tiered plans support more contacts and more emails.
Julie Knudson is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in technology magazines including BizTech, Processor, and For The Record. She has covered technology issues for publications in other industries, from food service to insurance, and she also writes a recurring column in Integrated Systems Contractormagazine.
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