Why your small business doesn’t need marketing automation.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve received a lot of queries from small business operators in regards to what I’ve heard described as ‘the darling of today’s marketing mix’ – marketing automation.

In theory, marketing automation sounds great for small business. After all, doesn’t it mean that a busy business owner can automate one of the most difficult and time-consuming parts of their job, and then sit back and watch the leads flow in?

Sounds like a dream, doesn’t it? But, here’s the thing. Dreams rarely stack up quite the same in reality.

While I have little doubt that plenty of businesses have achieved great success with marketing automation, it is important to understand that it is not the be all-end-all of marketing, and by no means should it ever replace old school marketing strategies.

Why marketing automation is a misnomer.

Frankly, the term marketing automation is somewhat of a misnomer. There’s nothing automated about setting up a marketing automation system that functions well, and it takes ongoing work to keep it working well. So, while parts of the job are automated, just as many parts are very hands-on.

Let’s break that down into what that workload may look like:

  1. Choosing the right system: There are dozens of marketing automation systems on the market. Your IT, web development and marketing teams will all have to work closely together to ensure you select a system that both suits your needs and works in tandem with your content management system.
  2. Feeding it with leads: Do you have an existing list of leads that you can start with? No? Isn’t that what a marketing automation system is supposed to create? Well, no, actually. A marketing automation system takes existing leads and helps you nurture them. Getting those leads in the first place is a separate job altogether.
  3. Setting up workflows: You’ll need to create lead nurturing workflows corresponding to your customer profiles, audience segments, lead qualifying paths. That could mean a series of e-mails, social media posts, newsletters, or otherwise. Then you’ll need to determine how you’ll implement lead scores. Does a lead get a point for opening an e-mail or for replying to it? Your workflow and lead scoring is going to depend on a strategy that matches specific customer profiles to targeted actions.
  4. Matching content to workflows: Then you’ll have to create the actual content for each workflow – blog posts, newsletter stories, and so on.
  5. Analysing the data: If you do all the other steps well, you’ll generate a whole lot of data about things like e-mail open rates, click-through rates, and ultimately conversion rates. This will give you actionable insights into what’s working, and what needs to change.
  6. Implementing changes: Based on the results of your data analysis, you’ll likely need to implement changes to your campaigns to ensure they’re hitting all the right points and converting as many leads as possible.

For a so called automated system, that sure sounds like a lot of labour intensive work. Many companies find themselves having to invest in training for existing staff, or even hiring new staff to cover the increased workload.

And then there’s the cost.

The upfront and ongoing workload isn’t the only issue with marketing automation systems. They also carry a pretty hefty price tag.

While many larger companies are now spending more on marketing automation than on traditional marketing and advertising, and are seeing the results, all too many smaller businesses say that budget constraints are preventing them implementing an efficient marketing automation strategy

What about high-touch marketing?

Let’s put all of this aside for a moment and think about the value of the human touch. In an increasingly competitive world, this is where small businesses can have the edge over the big guys.

Don’t ever underestimate the value in picking up the phone, attending events and sending personalised emails. Yep, when done right, these things still work.

And, when done properly, they can become your distinctive point of difference which is very important for a small business. So, don’t throw it all away by trying to jump on board with the latest mass marketing fad.

See my previous posts ‘How old-school marketing still rocks! …and why small businesses need to use it.’ and ‘Small Business Marketing: Point of difference.’ for more on this.

Author: Cameron McIver

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