Too Small for Marketing Automation? Think Again.

Until recently I’ve believed that Marketing Automation is really only applicable to larger enterprises – and even then, typically only successful in companies where there is real leadership commitment to seeing through a full transformation of the marketing function. But a couple of recent client engagements have helped me realise that the world is changing and that Marketing Automation can be deployed in smaller enterprises, especially those with tiny marketing departments. So what’s changed?

Simpler Marketing Automation Offerings & Partnerships

Firstly there are software applications that are targeting themselves at the small and medium enterprise space – ActOn, Pardot and Hubspot are probably the three most prominent ones right now (and new entrants are appearing constantly). While they don’t have the full sophistication of the large enterprise platforms such as Eloqua or Marketo, neither do they have the same level of complexity. From the perspective of a smaller business – I think a slightly more templated approach to things can represent a workable tradeoff and provides more than sufficient functionality.

More importantly these vendors are building partner ecosystems around their offerings. And those partners are learning that a simplified, standardised approach to automation can deliver value rapidly to clients as well as being a repeatable (and therefore profitable) revenue stream. But you need to be careful. Many agencies are starting to pitch that they have Marketing Automation expertise when really they do not. You don’t want to be their guinea-pig, so careful agency selection is required – ask to speak to clients of theirs and get to learn the pros and cons of their offering.

Of particular interest for smaller companies are the agencies that are starting to offer Marketing Automation as a service offering. In this case, the agency manages an instance of the software on behalf of the client. For a client with aspirations to contribute more to the pipeline, but without the necessary skills to implement a platform themselves, then this can be a cost-effective and swift way of getting programs into the market. And having proven the case for MA, most agency relationships will recognise that at some point in the future you may well want to bring the operation back in house, and will help you do so. But initially it means that they will maintain the software, program the nurture journeys, load the content and minimise the IT integration work at your end. Again there are always compromises in such an approach, but I’m sure we will see many smaller clients adopting this approach going forward. In fact I’ve worked with larger global clients where this approach has also been adopted in order to speed the deployment and mimimise the disruption

Be clear about what you need

Even a good agency will not understand your business and your objectives as well as you do. Get very clear about what you are trying to achieve and where marketing automation might help. If you have core marketing processes that are broken or incomplete, you need to be able to work on that before you start to automate it. By itself, MA won’t sort your targeting, messaging and relevance to your audience. But it can help provide insight into the journey of engagement that your prospects are travelling on with you, and it can help ensure that “no lead gets left behind” by helping you ensure chat you remain engaged with your audience. If you have a lead generation challenge, an inbound strategy formed around compelling content will help create new leads over the long term – but it’s unlikely to be a quick fix. So an outbound strategy may be a greater priority at the outset – but it will only create leads that sales will thank you for if the initial engagement drives further insights via nurturing with additional content.

Assess your Cultural Readiness

But that’s not to say that Marketing Automation is the right choice for everybody. I’ve stated before that the greatest obstacle to successful MA deployments is culture. If the marketing team isn’t already focussed on lead generation, lead nurturing, sales alignment, data quality, and customer-centricity – my recommendation would be to start to build a consensus around those areas first before embarking on an Automation journey. Fortunately, many smaller and newer organisations have more of a “green field” opportunity to build these elements into the core marketing competency from the outset – so for them MA may very well be a central part of the marketing design.

And finally, whatever size of organisation you are, I would still recommend that you focus on some basic truths:

  • Start Simple. If you’ve never developed a nurturing campaign before, don’t overcomplicate matters. Create something based on existing assets and minimise the complexities. You can get more sophisticated later, but initially it’s important to get some early experiences to learn from.
  • Be ready to get it wrong. The great thing about marketing automation campaigns is that they are easy to adapt. That’s a good thing, because you’re first efforts are very likely to fail! Actually one of the first early benefits that MA really provides is the transparency that allows us to see what’s working and what needs to be adapted.
  • Experimentation is key. Think from your client’s perspective. If you want your clients to engage with your campaigns, you need to offer them something they really want to engage with (!), and then build upon that initial engagement to provide them further value. So long as you think through your design from the perspective of your clients needs rather than from yours, you’ll probably be on the right track.
  • Be committed for the long haul. Don’t make the mistake of expecting immediate overwhelming success. One of the initial and unexpected learnings I got from my first deployment was that it allowed me to identify different elements of the marketing machine that need improving – your data quality, your content, your offers, your handoff to sales. Don’t be disheartened – keep pushing forwards and you’ll get the results you crave.

Let me know if you’d like to discuss further. Have you implemented Marketing Automation in a small business? What advice would you offer?

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