The drive to make better use of limited time leads many small business owners to seek out new technology tools. Marketing automation (MA) software is among the efficiency-enhancing solutions that can help small business owners meet that need. Selecting the right platform takes a bit of legwork, but the results can be impressive.
What Does Marketing Automation Software Do?
First, it may surprise you to hear that MA software doesn't actually automate the marketing function. Jonathan Herrick, chief marketing officer of sales and marketing software provider Hatchbuck, says that marketing strategies are highly personal, which makes them tough to automate. "What marketing automation can do is automate those tasks and those things that help your business be a lot more effective."
Small business operators often face shortage of resources, which makes managing everything that goes into marketing a challenge. An MA platform can address many of those issues and help to "automate the processes that are necessary to communicate with your prospects and customers," Herrick explains. Marketing automation is one tool that small business owners can use to convert website visitors into customers—and those first-time customers into repeat customers.
Paige Musto, director of corporate communications at Act-On, a marketing automation solutions provider, describes MA as "the engine of your marketing efforts." It essentially gives businesses one place to manage the many activities that make up the marketing discipline. Musto calls it "a single platform to create, execute and manage multi-channel marketing programs and report on the performance and the ROI generated."
Small business owners gain a way to gather and examine information about how buyers are interacting with the company, such as which web pages they visit and which e-mails they open. The marketing team can then "segment and personalize communications and trigger them in real-time for more targeted follow-up, leading to shorter sales cycles and higher revenues in the long term," Musto says.
MA Software Features and Functions
The many MA solutions include a vast range of feature, which can be overwhelming when shopping for the right platform. Herrick stresses that it's important for small business owners to identify their company's needs before looking for a solution, as some features may be more closely paired with the requirements of larger, enterprise-level organizations.
"For the traditional small business, having an integrated CRM combined with marketing tools is really important," he says. This structure will help a small group tackle both sides of the sales and marketing functions. "They really need a tool that, first of all, helps them stay organized and that helps them track all of their contacts and leads," Herrick says of small business operators.
Another critical piece is the capability to capture leads from forms or perhaps from the company's website. With the investment many small businesses make in their online presence, it's important to maximize that platform. "The goal is to capture more of those visitors and turn them into prospects and eventual customers," Herrick says. He encourages business owners to look for an MA solution capable of harvesting site visitor data through lead capture forms and similar tools. You can then further segment those potential leads for additional follow up.
Musto says that business owners should look not only at the features and functions of potential marketing automation platforms, but also at "the breadth and quality of the MA vendor's partnerships and integrations." Because there are often few people available within a small business to oversee the marketing automation function, deploying a system that takes advantage of existing datasets and tools increases the team's efficiency.
"First-time buyers should base their decisions on competencies with the greatest immediate impact to their business," Musto says. Many small-business needs, she says, typically focus on tracking website visitors, CRM integration, and email automation.
A successful MA deployment should begin with buy-in from the broader team, such as sales leaders and others. "Despite the name 'marketing automation,' sales teams also rely the heavily on the technology," Musto explains. "Make sure that your sales team understands the value that MA can deliver, and work together to continuously optimize workflows and scoring."
It works best when small businesses clearly define qualified and accepted leads, for example, to ensure that everyone has the same expectations of the MA platform before the implementation of any new system even begins.
Interested in more information about marketing automation platforms? You can compare them here.
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 foodservice to insurance, and she also writes a recurring column in Integrated Systems Contractor magazine.
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