Marketing automation tools offer compelling results for all sizes of businesses.  Many small businesses have started to put in place some simple campaigns to take advantage of these tools and generate qualified leads from their websites.  However, even with the best of intentions, it’s easy for small businesses to spend precious time and resources on this new set of tools without ever getting a return.  Let’s take a look at why that can happen.

Marketing Automation has added some powerful leverage to attracting, identifying, and qualifying potential new customers through a variety of online and email tools working together to track activity.

However, for many businesses, marketing automation tools are a nightmare for their organization and they are probably better off taking advantage of some of the features companies like Constant Contact offer.

Why is that the case?

Building Skill

As with any sophisticated set of tools, they require some education about how to use them: like when certain features are best employed, how to pick the right one for the challenge, and how do you actually put it into place.  In the case of marketing automation, that education is about building skill: you really need to be using the tools on a regular basis to remember what you’ve learned and to build on that knowledge.  It’s a little like learning a new language – use it or lose it.

Creating Content

Much has been written about creating content.  Marketing has changed and for any marketing done online, content is a requirement.  That includes blog posts, infographics, plain graphics, quotes, diagrams, tweets, Facebook posts, photos, articles, and case studies to name just a few.

Marketing automation requires even more content that’s fresh to entice people to click through emails and download content pieces they wouldn’t otherwise get.  That’s so the marketing automation tools can track their activities to determine if they are the right kind of customer for you to take action in selling them something (that’s a VERY basic explanation of what can become an extremely sophisticated process).

So, you’ll need to have the resources to both create content for your blog and social media, but also additional valuable content to put into your marketing automation campaign.

Setting Up the Funnel

Marketing automation at its most basic level is really just a series of emails with links that send people to web pages with links.  Every time someone clicks on a link, that sends a signal to a list about what that person is clicking on.  That’s all it is at the core.  Then you can add all kinds of bells and whistles to track activities, to score them, to kick off new emails and offers based on the scores, etc.

Think about all that – it takes some time to figure out what sequence to create (called a campaign) and for how long (some people set up sequences that last a year with a few branches off them in addition to the main sequence).

Not only that, you need to think about what offers or content to put in front of people so that if they click on it you have some idea of what that might mean about their interest (both the level of interest and the topic).  That takes time to do that for just one email, one piece of content, in one campaign.  Now add that up so you have 12 main pieces (if you’re only making an offer via email once a month) PLUS you have other branches off that main sequence if people are interested in different topics related to other products or services you might be qualifying them for.

Scoring and Following Up

If and when you’re successful with getting people interested in your offers by using marketing automation, you will need to follow up to actually earn revenue.  That may mean just making a purchase offer as part of your campaign – that’s what Amazon does when it makes suggestions based on your past purchases or sends you an email about something you might be interested in.  If you’ve got an ecommerce business like that, marketing automation may be a good choice.

However, if your business is about in person sales, then all the automation in the world is still going to require a way to follow up in person or on the phone to get the sale.  That means making sure your scoring highlights the best lead prospects over time so you’re focusing on the best ones when you call them.  Scoring is another challenge in assessing what it means when someone clicks on something or if they don’t click on something.  How important was that action in categorizing them as a lead?  Do they get 1 point? 2 points? More? Do you take 1 point away? Or 2?

Then you will need to be tracking all this so you can follow up – the faster you follow up, the more likely you are to close a sale.  How fast?  An hour is good.  I’m betting that’s a big shift for a lot of small businesses that aren’t just waiting around for good scores to come in from online activity so that someone can take some action.  Probably you’re business running the business.

Bottom Line

Marketing automation is pretty cool – a fabulous tool for all kinds of businesses to dramatically increase your leads or purchases.

The problem is all the time, resources, focus, and people required to really become expert, feed content into it, develop campaign strategies, set up the funnels for the campaigns, and track the statistics to take advantage of the results.  While the monthly cost to a marketing automation vendor may be only a couple hundred dollars per month, the cost in people resources to make it produce value for you can easily be 10x that cost, per month!

In contrast, a simple email strategy still has one of the highest conversion rates of all our current marketing tools.  (Email is a centerpiece of marketing automation for that reason.)  Using a provider like Constant Contact to make offers, deliver valuable content, track links, and follow up can be a significantly more cost-effective way to engage with your market and nurture people into becoming customers.  AND you are far more likely to develop expertise with a simple email interface and actually get the content and offers out to your customers than most marketing automation customers are.  This is a big problem for marketing automation suppliers: their customers get excited about the service, sign up, and then get completely overwhelmed by the effort their organization has to make to produce results.  It’s a LOT of work.

So, until you’re ready to devote a day a week to your marketing automation efforts, stick to simple and effective email marketing to get your content out there to people who are interested.

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