Earlier this year, one of my predictions for the top five marketing trends of 2019 was that small businesses would find ways to make marketing automation work for them. After all, automation eliminates time-consuming and repetitive actions that suck up valuable hours in the day — things such as email campaigns, social media and managing your website and blog.
Still, there’s more to it than that. Automation’s true value is that it makes it easier to generate quality, personalized content and then delivers it to the right people at the right time. It also delivers easy-to-digest insights about which marketing activities work and which don’t.
Despite these many benefits, only seven percent of small-business owners plan to budget for marketing automation tools this year. At first, automation can seem too complex to adopt; it can appear to require too much time and too many resources to manage. Yet, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Cloud-based tools enable small businesses to take advantage of new technologies at a more affordable price than traditional, standalone enterprise solutions. They are also quick to deploy and easy to use.
The real challenge is that there are literally thousands of marketing technology (martech) tools to choose from. So, how do you pick the best options for your business?
Here are five questions to ask before making your investment.
Whether you’re considering a best-of-breed email automation platform, such as MailChimp or Constant Contact, or an all-in-one option such as HubSpot or Marketo, think about how each tool supports your wider business goals and who you’re trying to reach.
In the rush to address an immediate tactical need, this step is often overlooked.
For example, if you want to poll your customers online, a tool such as Survey Monkey (which you pay for month to month) can seem ideal. But beyond the need for a survey right now, little thought is given to the future usefulness of the solution or whether that function could be fulfilled by a more robust tool that combines survey capabilities with additional marketing capabilities.
All-in-one automation platforms offer many benefits. They are great for simplifying customer segmentation, email marketing and social media — all from a single interface. These platforms even include tools for building and managing your website, improving search engine optimization and analyzing your campaigns. Some even come with add-ons such as customer relationship management tools.
It’s a tantalizing option that can cut the time you’d spend searching for other tools to fulfill your marketing needs, managing separate subscriptions and dealing with multiple vendors.
Alternatively, you can build out your automation technology stack using best-of-breed solutions from different providers. These tools can address specific, strategic business needs, such as email marketing, social media, content marketing and more. They are considered best-of-breed for a reason – because they excel at their core competencies rather than trying to be all things to all people. According to the State of Marketing Technology 2018 Report, most marketers favor best-of-breed solutions (48%), compared to those who use all-in-one platforms (21%).
Best-of-breed tools are often a good fit for small businesses that lack the content generation resources and volume of customer data that really drives home the value of all-in-one platforms.
Of course, any best-of-breed solution also needs to be a highly thought out purchase that aligns with your business strategy and integrates with the rest of your martech stack.
Customer data is one of your business’ most important assets. Without it, you can’t be sure what products or services people have purchased, measure the effectiveness of your marketing or segment and personalize your outreach campaigns.
Whichever automation tool(s) you invest in, it’s critical that they are integrated — meaning data flows seamlessly among them, usually via an application programming interface or plug-in. This allows you to get the most value out of your data and build a complete picture of every customer interaction. For example, an email marketing tool that connects with the data in your social media assets allows you to connect and deepen your relationships with your email subscribers on Facebook, run retargeting ads and much more.
Integrating your best-of-breed tools also saves you money, so you can focus on purchasing what you need rather than investing in comprehensive all-in-one versions with features that you don’t use.
You should also consider how the investment moves the needle in terms of customer experience or the perception your customer has of your brand.
As you plan your purchase, ask yourself the following questions:
A final consideration is that any investment must support future business growth.
A big advantage of cloud solutions is that they come with free product upgrades, so you benefit from constant innovation through the solutions you already use. Still, there are other things to look out for, such as advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning, both of which are driving marketing technology to new heights in terms of customer profiling based on past habits and behaviors.
Another key factor in the future success of your implementation of marketing automation is employee education and adoption. Get the most out of your investment by ensuring your team is properly trained and that they share the insights gleaned from technology across the organization.
As you can see, there’s a lot to consider. As you narrow down your focus, read reviews. G2 Crowd is a great resource for software rankings based on factors such as ease of use, feature richness and user feedback.
Whatever you do, don’t overcomplicate your martech investments. Too many tools will introduce unnecessary complexity and will overlap and bloat into your tech stack. Start with the essentials — whether it’s best-of-breed software for email marketing, social media, content management and analytics or an all-in-one solution that offers different packages based on your needs — and grow from there.
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