As many of you know, I have a handful of amazing strategic partners - I truly believe that #TogetherWeAreStronger and that by sharing each other’s expertise, we are able to both offer our own clients the very best service possible, as well as continue to grow ourselves through these rich professional peer relationships. This month’s guest blogger, David Bradley, is one that I’m very proud to feature. I generally try to keep my blogs relatively short and to the point in an easy to digest format, but this topic requires a little bit more so I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did when he first sent it over. Just a disclaimer (in case you’re interested)…my preffered email platforms are MailChimp and ActiveCampaign, and while I have had experience with ConstantContact and some of the other platforms, these two remain my favorites for the very reasons David so eloquently describes here.
Automation is coming to the workforce. It will displace current jobs, change the path of humanity, and have a drastic impact on our economy as we know it today. Some are excited, others are scared.
In the marketing field, automation is already here. It has been here for years. And what’s important to know is that it provides efficiency and productivity benefits while still requiring human elements of creativity and strategy. Jobs are not being displaced, but they are changing. I’d like to share with you how automation influences marketing and its role for a small business.
How Automation Has Transformed Marketing
The most simple and relevant element of marketing automation is with email marketing. Almost every business has used email communications, and if not, you have at least been on the receiving end countless times.
In the past, if a new prospect connected with you, you would have to rely on your monthly newsletter to inform and educate them. Or your sales team would manually reach out to kick off a relationship. There’s a degree of randomness with this, and we always prefer predictability over randomness when we have performance in mind.
To counter this randomness of broadcast emails, auto responders were introduced. Now, when someone becomes a prospect, a series of tailored emails can be sent to them on their own individual timeline. You are no longer communicating with the masses; you’re communicating one-on-one...automated.
The Widespread Impact of Marketing Automation
Email is a simple example I love to use because honestly, small and mid-sized companies continue to struggle with following best practices and implementing logical, effective automation series.
Another element of marketing automation that is underutilized and yet extremely powerful is the tagging feature. Simply implementing in your automation tool a tagging system that appropriately identifies individual contacts based on characteristics or behaviors they display can be an effective way to segment the audience.
You can use tags to create a market segment, for internal organization, and to start or stop automation sequences. For example, you may have tags that note different contacts based on interests, customer types, prospect types, or where the lead came from. Now, instead of needing dozens of lists, you can have a master contact list and still segment appropriately.
From segmentation comes further ability to deliver highly targeted, relevant messaging. We are in an age of marketing saturation, so relevance is vital to successful communication.
These are just a few uses of marketing automation. Let’s look at a few common marketing automation platforms for small business.
Marketing Automation Tools Small Business Owners Need To Consider
Finding the right technology to support your marketing is a case-by-case situation. I explain the decision making process in the next section below, but first, I wanted to highlight some of the most common platforms and share my thoughts.
Likely the most common email marketing platform for small business, MailChimp has some automation features. You can set up workflows and have automated campaigns sent to prospects.
However, I do find the automation limiting. If all you anticipate doing is sending broadcast emails (weekly, monthly, ad hoc), then MailChimp is an okay choice. It is user-friendly and commonplace enough that it integrates with almost any other technology. If you really want to get into marketing automation, pass on this.
Despite my best attempts to, I can’t find much good reason to recommend Constant Contact. It’s inferior to MailChimp and more expensive. And I already am not fully recommending MailChimp.
This tool has had a strong hold of the email marketing space for a number of years with more technical grounding than MailChimp. If you are in affiliate marketing, this platform can make sense. However, for automation, it becomes too complicated by needing add-on tools to fully execute automation on Aweber, so I would pass on this as well.
I love ActiveCampaign. If I had to blindly offer one MarTech communications platform to any small business, I would recommend AC with most certainty that the recommendation will be successful. Here’s why.
ActiveCampaign offers a rich set of features that never limit you on what you can do. The only limits they set are based on what monthly plan you select, but even their “Lite” package has all the automation features 95% of small businesses need.
The tool is fairly user-friendly and they continue to evolve the platform so that it will become easier, more flexible, and more useful. I’m impressed by the changes made and their focus on quality while maintaining costs. This has helped their user base grow, meaning that it can also integrate with most other tools because of its size in the market.
Best of all, it starts at only $9 per month, so it is an economical choice. Don’t be fooled by the price though; similar tools easily go for 10x and 20x the price. Higher level plans also include a CRM feature, which can replace your current CRM tool if you wish.
Similar to ActiveCampaign, Autopilot offers a rich set of features at the right price. It is a growing, user-friendly platform.
As it exists today, Autopilot’s one drawback is having fewer integrations than a tool like ActiveCampaign, MailChimp or Infusionsoft does. This occurs simply as a results of market size. As their user base grows, so does the demand for cross-platform integrations.
If you would like a sophisticated platform to grow with, try this one out.
Ontraport is a tool that has evolved in the last few years. Despite a long history in automation, it is not until more recently that it has become increasingly user-friendly and fitting for small business, in my opinion.
With more ease and simplicity, and retaining depth of features and options, Ontraport is a strong marketing automation technology today.
Infusionsoft is one of the most powerful marketing automation tools in existence for small business. It is also sometimes referred to as “Confusionsoft”, so that warrants consideration...
If you have someone who can be dedicated to understanding and fully leveraging Infusionsoft on staff, it could be a fit. You need to determine if the breadth and depth the tool reaches is necessary and worthwhile, or if it will be more time wasting. In general, I find ActiveCampaign to be more economical, easier to use, and just as powerful for small business needs.
Through an incredibly thorough and voluminous content marketing strategy, HubSpot has become a household name in marketing technology. Based in the Cambridge area of Boston, Massachusetts, they have grown their business by combining quality software, attentive customer service, and education-centric marketing.
Does that mean it’s the right fit for you though? For the majority of small businesses, I would say no. While HubSpot is excellent in many ways, it can quickly become expensive and does not provide much additional value to its customers that you can’t get from other quality platforms.
How To Select Your Marketing Automation Tech
Finding the right marketing software comes down to a decision making process that needs to incorporate a number of factors: ease of use, adoption, integration, costs, and features.
Ease of use: Depending on the technology you have now and who will use this technology in your organization, you will have different capabilities and options on what tool makes the most sense. One of the most significant factors in adoption is how easy it is for the tool to be used.
Adoption: Aside from ease of use, adoption also relies on how well you can see the technology fitting into your organization. Make a clear case on its use case and you will have an easier time getting your team to use the software.
Integration: The other technology you use -- your website CMS, your CRM, your landing page builder -- needs clean integration with the marketing automation tool you select. Being able to connect the tools and transfer data across them easily is a vital element.
Costs: Economic choices need to be considered. This is part software fees and part training fees.
Features: More isn’t always better. Identify the features offered across a few leading platforms and identify what you need now, what you may need in the future, and what you don’t need. Try to select the tool that relative to others gives you more of what you need now and much of what you may need in the future. Don’t award points to features that you simply don’t need just because it sounds like a “cool” feature.
When you narrow your findings down to a few options, select two or three that you can test for a week. Go through your normal activities like creating emails, setting up automations, and testing the tagging function. Integrate it with your other tools. After a week of use on each platform, you should have a good feel for what is the right fit.
David Bradley is the managing director of Bbg, Inc., a digital consultancy offering training and advisory services, helping clients to identify and implement intelligent approaches to communicating with customers via digital, mobile and social.