By Mark Grainger
If you have founded and are running a small or medium enterprise business (SME) then the chances are you’ve got your hands full. Running an SME and making it successful is more than a full-time vocation. It requires dedication, passion, boundless energy and more hours than there in the day. It’s also fair to assume that if you have any help with your marketing it’s not from a fully appointed marketing team. In fact, unless you have managed to bring in an employee or have an agency taking control of matters, you may have to handle marketing for yourself. Thankfully, the field of marketing automation for small businesses has gone from strength to strength in recent years, and can offer a viable way to relieve the stress of managing your marketing.
First of all, we should look at what exactly marketing automation is, and what marketing automation tools for small business are available right now.
At their most simple, marketing automation tools for small business are a group of platforms, software and services that streamline your marketing plan and actionable tasks. They do this by essentially taking command of repetitive or repeat tasks, allowing you to set up a chain of events that will be carried out automatically. This can include sending email newsletters to customers at a certain point in the week or month, posting to social media, and website actions such as publishing draft copy. Not only that, but most marketing automation solutions record useful data based on purchases and engagement, allowing you to create lists and customer profiles that can be acted on in different ways to suit different needs, often automatically. The majority of marketing automation tools for small businesses strive to be user-friendly, so you don’t have to worry about being lost or frustrated by a program that needs a high level of technical knowledge to operate.
So, that’s marketing automation for small businesses in a nutshell, but just what are the real-world benefits of letting go of your marketing and developing a marketing automation business plan?
Setting up marketing automation tools for small businesses can seem like a daunting task, but in fact it can be an easy process to establish. Small businesses should start on a small scale, rather than plunging head first into the most complex programs available on the market. Instead, start off your marketing automation plan by setting up an automated email system. Easy to manage, automated email systems often come with free trial periods or allowances, and will help you get into the swing of analysing the data to build a more effective and efficient methodology.
Starting with email automation will give you the confidence to move onto other areas that will benefit from marketing automation , such as social media, and discover the ways to optimize your posts according to the times of day/week your target audience is most likely to respond.
If you are allowing a marketing automation tool to take over some of the more regular and repetitive tasks, it stands to reason that you and your team will be able to focus on larger or more-pressing tasks. This can be especially vital for small businesses and SMEs that specialise in app development. SkinNinja, a free app that enables consumers to discover any health concerns around cosmetics, skincare and personal care products, is using marketing automation as a matter of course.
“SkinNinja matches world leading expert evidence (including The International Agency for Research on Cancer and The World Allergy Organisation), to over 200k ingredients across 800k products — the UK’s most comprehensive database,” explains Charlotte Morris, head of marketing at SkinNinja.
“At SkinNinja we’ve set up the basics around consumer behaviours in app and are beginning to roll out comms that are insight driven and require little to no human touch on our side. Using simple tools such as Zapier also sets the organisation mindset of ‘automate wherever possible’, and is having a positive impact on baseline metrics around productivity.
“As an app, marketing automation tools for small business are incredibly important. Everything we do is digital and as a small team it’s critical that we’re focusing on the big stuff and letting the machines do the work. That said, as a relatively small startup, we’re constrained by cost and don’t have access to the tools that we know are available. However, my previous experience at Skype means that I am able to build and future proof our marketing automation business plan and solutions. Small steps that free up even just 15 minutes are all steps that mean I get to work on the tough stuff.”
As you can see from Charlotte’s example above, marketing automation for small businesses can help to free up vital resources, enabling the team to focus their efforts elsewhere. On the flip side, however, if you are a very small business then having a marketing automation business plan can also save you money on staffing costs.
That’s not to say you should let any of your marketing team go in favour of using HubSpot, rather that marketing automation makes it less pressing to make staff acquisitions until later on in the life of your business, when you are sure that you can support them. The tasks that you could hire an entry-level marketer to carry out, such as social posting and handling your email marketing list, could easily be taken care of with free automated marketing tools such as Hootsuite and Mailchimp.
As a small business, you need to know exactly who you are marketing to. Knowing who your unique customers are allows you to generate sales effectively, and marketing automation tools for small businesses in turn allow you to reach those unique customers more easily.
It’s a system that is working well for Liveminds, a global qualitative research and marketing company based in London. Co-founded by Hugh Carling, Liveminds uses ‘behavioural recruitment’ to find market research participants by using Facebook data to give insights on real behaviour and interests.
“We create tracked links for our blog articles and schedule social media posts containing the links directly in HubSpot,” Hugh elaborates. “Each potential client reading an article on our website can complete an embedded HubSpot form to ask for a quote, download further information or subscribe to our email newsletter. These new inbound contacts are then automatically assigned a persona based on their job title. If appropriate they can also be added to a workflow which we schedule to send them useful sales and marketing content.
“Marketing automation has allowed us to save time and money by streamlining tasks, collecting a wealth of useful data and easily measuring the success of campaigns.”
You can’t understand just what level of success your marketing output has had without tracking certain metrics and returned data. You need to know precisely what was spent, how much time was used and what the resulting rates of engagement were (whether that be clicks, email opens or replies) to be able to properly evaluate any campaign or ongoing activity.
A small business with marketing automation can track expenditure, monitor response rates and collate data far more easily. What’s more, you can set your own parameters to create more detailed reports that show how and where your campaign was most successful (or otherwise). Once you have learned how to extract data for the day, month or year, you can easily transform those figures into actionable insights. These insights will map where you need to go next and what you need to do differently, helping you use multiple channels in order to increase revenue by cutting costs to processes that are not working as required or helping to form a new, more targeted marketing campaign with greater success.
With 2.2 billion Facebook users around the world, in 190+ countries, Hugh and the team at Liveminds have access to a huge range of potential participants, all of which require tracking of some sort.
“At Liveminds we use HubSpot to automate and track our marketing activities on multiple channels,” explains Hugh. “We can see which adverts, articles and social media posts bring in new leads and automatically assign each new contact a buyer persona allowing us to personalise the type of marketing content we send them in future.
Tools that enable and aid marketing automation for small businesses come with the added benefit of being multi-channel, or, as some refer to it, channel-agnostic. This channel-agnosticism means that you can automate actions and responses across the whole range of different marketing platforms that are needed to make your business successful, including SEO, social media and CRM tools. What’s more, you can choose to operate individual marketing automation tools for each area (such as Hootsuite for Social, SearchCRM for CRM etc) or bring them together under a single, centralized umbrella program such as HubSpot for additional streamlining.
Whilst we are still decidedly some time away from true AI being utilized in everyday marketing activities, marketing automation for business can already be extremely useful in driving down incidents caused by human error. The repetitive nature of many of the tasks that a marketing automation business plan can assist in means that carrying them manually often leads to a loss of concentration and easily preventable mistakes. It’s perfectly understandable, and a part of the day-to-day of business, but it’s a risk element that is easily removed with marketing automation for businesses.
Automating processes and documentation allows marketing automation tools to smooth the workflow, eliminating the need for a member of your team to be saddled with the more arduous tasks. You can even take things a step further, as more advanced software is capable of handling elements of budgeting and approval processes amongst others.
It has been reported that there is a 20% increase in sales opportunities from leads nurtured through marketing automation for small businesses. If you operate an SME,marketing automation will allow you to grow at a greater rate than if you were to rely on traditional, manual marketing methods.
The time and money saved are just part of the reason you will see growth with a dedicated outlook on marketing automation, but increased lead nurturing and tracking capabilities, as well as the ability to build detailed and relevant customer profiles, should not be underestimated. If you put your faith in marketing automation tools, then the increase in reach, savings, and measurement will allow you to really tailor your offering and outreach and return better results faster and easier.
Are you a small business owner who successfully implemented marketing automation, then let us know in the comments below.
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