Selecting a small business marketing automation software is, by no means, easy. There are so many options that would confuse a marketer. You end up wondering –

  • Will it provide all the features of marketing automation that my business needs?
  • Will I be able to use all the features of marketing automation software?
  • I have CRM. Do I need a marketing automation tool?

Add to that – small business owners and marketers work on a restricted budget.

So, they not only do they have to meet the marketing needs, but they also have to please the accounts department as well.

How is a marketing automation platform better than CRM software?

marketing-automation

You might think it’s a crazy idea to plug a sub-section about CRM software when talking about marketing automation platforms. If you are a CRM loyalist, you may find it useful.

The main goal of CRM software is to manage the sales pipeline – other functions are just add-ons. If you look at the architecture of a CRM, it has a database and most modules simply interact with it through queries.

Modern CRM software has outgrown this definition to satisfy some needs of the marketing department. At its core, CRM software is not designed to automate, well, anything!

If you want to send emails with dynamic content, you can’t do that with a CRM. If you want to A/B test your emails, you can’t do that with a CRM.

Likewise, email-based lead nurturing is not possible in most CRM software, but it remains a very important marketing function. You can’t just expect all your leads to hand you their money without due diligence at the first instance.

I can go on and on about the insufficiency of CRM software and the need for solid marketing automation.

Keeping these shortcomings of CRM software in mind (and before you close this page), let’s move on to why you should think of automating your marketing.

Tips for selecting the best marketing automation system

Complete Marketing Automation Software

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The field of marketing automation is an ever-expanding ocean. In my last article, I discussed how the number of marketing tools has grown over 3000% in just 7 years. Companies often need a dedicated resource just for selecting the required set of marketing tools.

Many businesses do not have the time, money, or people to select a marketing automation tool. So, naturally, they look for an all-in-one marketing software.

Understanding the services of a marketing automation tool empowers marketers to make informed decisions.

This post is intended to educate on how to select a small business marketing automation software. We will be talking about what features you can expect when you shop for marketing automation. We will also include some tips to help you compare small business marketing automation software.

In the end, we will also introduce you to some of the most comprehensive marketing automation software in the market.

Features of marketing automation platform (MAP) you should be aware of

Marketing Automation Features

You must use these tips to create a list of what marketing automation features you exactly need. Then use it to compare different marketing automation software for small businesses.

These features come from experience and research on the marketing automation tools landscape.

Progressive Profiling

Progressive Profiling

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Who doesn’t want free material, right? Yet, because it’s a free resource, people don’t want to spend much time acquiring it. Studies have proved that reducing form lengths increases conversion rates.

No customer wants to spend time in filling the forms. Visitors on the web are notorious for their reduced attention span. It is obvious that these visitors will close the page if you ask them to fill a 9-field form for a free e-book.

Progressive profiling puts this principle to work. It enables you to build a customer’s profile over time by asking for fewer details than a full-fledged information form.

If users like it, they will come back to access the asset or may access other assets via your site. When they do, you can ask them for more details in another short form. Over time, this system has the potential to become an indicator of lead maturity too.

Tip: Check if a marketing automation platform supports progressive profiling. Also, see how many details it captures how many passes. Does it have inbuilt capabilities for multi-stage, conditional opt-in forms?

Targeted Email Campaigns

email personalization

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The personalization of emails helps improve open rates and click rates. It gives a favorable start in the purchasing pipeline and the landing page can pick up from there.

The first step in email personalization is the segmentation of your email list based on common factors. This list of factors can be anything you want – geography, behavioral, demographic, and others.

This personalization helps you get closer to your customers. This will result in an immediate increase in email open rates and conversion rates.

Tip: Social logins (Facebook, Twitter, and Gmail) gather tremendous amounts of user data. Check how smart a marketing automation tool is by checking how they use social data.

Integration of all Three – Website, CRM, and Marketing Automation

Digital Development Ecosystem

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An integration of marketing automation with website and CRM completes the lead development ecosystem. It allows extraction of robust insights about customers. All systems hold complementary information about the leads.

When combined with website activity tracking, we can leverage the power of marketing analytics.

Tip: Ask the sales team for your marketing automation platform about how deep is their integration with website and CRM. Basically, you should get answers for what data it uses from the two, and how it uses them.

Visitor Activity Tracking

Visitor Activity Tracking

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Data mined from social logins can be combined with visitor activity tracking data gathered from the website. Once you get to know exactly what the customer is interested in, you can segment your email list even further.

This is one of the most powerful ways of personalizing your emails; it’s almost a guarantee of good conversion rates in your emails.

Tip: Make sure your marketing automation platform tells you about every visitor’s journey from the first page to the exit page. The more stats they provide, the better your segmentation will be.

Real-time Sales Alerts and Automated Lead Assignments

Sales and leads

Sales teams need to have a pulse of each customer. Website and email activity tracking can help observe the customer’s journey from a fresh lead to a paying customer. Customized email alerts and cold calls can reduce the time of this journey.

Automated sales alerts are set up by the sales team to tip them off to customers that are close to making a purchase decision. Some marketing automation tools also automatically assign qualified leads to your sales reps.

The qualification criteria must be ‘customizable by the company’ and not the tool, itself.

Real-time alerts should also have a screen of customer information right next to it. A quick reference after the assignment provides the salesperson with enough information. It increases the chances of closing the sale quickly.

Tip: A good marketing automation platform should allow customizable sales alerts. It helps your sales team use their own expertise and not rely on the tool to boost sales.

Lead Scoring and Lead Grading

Lead Scoring Grading

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The lead score indicates how far the customer has traveled in your sales funnel. The lead grade is for fitment of your product with the customer’s profile. Both are complementary scores – not interchangeable.

The idea is to know customer’s intent and fitment to the product. This is one of the most common marketing automation features. A better, more accurate lead quality is better for the conversion rate of all types of sales approaches – cold calls, emails, landing pages, etc.

Tip: Customization is the rule of the law here. Make sure your marketing automation platform enables customized lead scores and grades.

Lead Nurturing

lead-nurturing

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It’s obvious – no one would just open their wallets and give you their money. The efficiency of sales reps is severely affected if the lead contact is not ready to make a purchase.

In a typical sales channel, a persuasive email campaign follows lead capture.

This is called as the multi-touch email campaign with a series of emails sent to the lead’s email. The purpose is to educate and persuade the user about the product. As the user clicks the email, he interacts with your marketing ecosystem. His lead score increases as moves further into the sales funnel, closer to a purchase.

You can customize your emails based on the lead score. This way of a “drip email campaign” helps save time; sales reps can focus only leads that are highly likely to convert.

Tip: An efficient marketing automation platform should include several drip email campaign templates.

Forms and Landing Pages

Forms-Landing-Pages

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Nobody wants to fiddle with codes, lest they make an error that breaks down their landing page. Some necessary requirements for a landing page feature in a marketing automation tool:

  • Several customizable landing page templates that can be ready to deploy within minutes
  • Customized landing page content for each visitor
  • Unlimited A/B tests, analytics, and optimization capacity – one landing page design is never enough!

Readymade customizable templates help eliminate all these problems. They can also dramatically reduce time-to-live for these landing pages.

Tip: Your marketing automation platform should let you customize landing page contents. This customization should be according to the lead’s buying stage, location, and other attributes. Some of the best ones even allow you to customize CTA and opt-in form content. All this translates into improved conversion rates.

Dynamic Content

Dynamic Content

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The customer is the King. Why not give the king what he wants?

Question is: How do you know what the King wants? Marketing automation has rather sophisticated ways to help you execute customer personalization.

You have to select the values for a lead score/grade, location, source, geographic location or any other attribute. After that you select the dynamic content you want to display for a group of leads matching set criteria. You will also select the location to display the dynamic content for these groups – website, forms, landing pages, or emails.

Thus, dynamic content lets you set a customer-specific version of the content on different digital assets of your website.

Higher personalization means better reliability for the visitor. This is a powerful opportunity for a small business marketing automation software to boost conversion.

Tip: Look for a platform that takes personalization beyond lead score and common text attributes. A smart way of to personalize is to mine data from website activity tracking, and deep analytics. It helps uncover powerful optimization opportunities.

Closed Loop Reporting

closed-loop-reporting

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Marketing these days is no more a blind investment. By “blind investment”, I mean Marketers can’t just get money for “branding and awareness”.

Marketing today goes a lot deeper than these two words. One must be able to back up the investments with solid return-on-investment (RoI).

How does marketing automation help you calculate RoI?

Marketing runs campaigns and collects a set of leads. These leads are recorded in the database and sent to the sales team to follow up. The sales team will rely on marketing team’s efforts to bring in the leads.

All types of leads generated by marketing go to sales without any identification. Sales are usually not aware of how the lead was acquired in the first place.

Through closed-loop reporting, a small business marketing software associates each lead with the closed campaign. With this, marketing team gets to know which channels and which campaigns worked the best. Regular analysis of this data by marketing automation can give insights into campaign performance as well.

Thus, marketing automation facilitates the calculation of absolute return-on-investment of your marketing campaigns.

There is a secondary advantage too. Marketing team’s efforts for lead capture are also counted; sales don’t take away all the credits for closing the lead.

Tip: When selecting a marketing automation platform, ask a detailed explanation from the sales team about this. Ask them exactly what kind of insights into campaign performance will be available.

Surveying marketing automation software currently in the market

When it comes to features of a marketing automation software, there are many essential ones and few are “luxury” features which may be available if you are ready to pay the price.

There are a plethora of marketing and CRM tools in the market and more are getting launched every month.

Which features are suitable for growing your own business? Which tool gives you these features within your own budget?

It’s hard to find one tool that fits with your companies unique business needs and budget allocation.

To evaluate them on merit, you must not only be aware of what is marketing automation, but you also have to move past the glossy marketing copy and get real information about those tools.

Here are some of the more popular tools in the marketing automation sphere to get your research started.

1. ActiveCampaign

It lets you go beyond email marketing with subscription forms, list segmentation, conditional email content, and split testing. You can nurture long-term business relationships with your leads using email marketing.

It also lets you:

  • design your own automation funnel
  • understand how customers navigate through that funnel
  • relieve any bottlenecks across their path to purchase to move them faster down the funnel.

Apart from tracking leads, you can also attribute the source of leads on each record. Their CRM is automated for helping you assign deals to your members and help them close deals faster.

Overall, ActiveCampaign is affordable, intuitive, and innovative with a responsive support team.

2. HubSpot

(Source: leadg2.thecenterforsalesstrategy.com)

HubSpot has held its strong position in the market because of its consistent branding and its own content marketing efforts. If you are a small business, you are going to love HubSpot. Its analytics are really powerful and the overall UI is very intuitive and easy to understand.

Which is why it is surprising that they have a $500-$3000 onboarding and training fee (depending on the plan you buy). HubSpot is expensive to get started and gets even more expensive progressively as your email list grows.

Their free plan offers an email list with few marketing automation features for limited use only.

For its professional plan (having some decent marketing automation features), you would have to pay $12,600 to get started.

3. EngageBay

We, at EngageBay, have realized the needs of the small business and their budgetary restrictions. We have devised a tool that bundles marketing, sales, and service automation features for an affordable price.

EngageBay’s Sales-optimized CRM allows you to break your sales pipeline into stages, helping you create a kanban-style sales board for multiple sales pipelines. Deals on each pipeline can be assigned to individual team members along with tasks they need to execute on their deals.

You can also score the leads and create email sequences to nurture your brand relationships using personalized emails.

It also provides a full suite of marketing automation tools with workflows and A/B (Split) tests to help refine them. Email performance and customer activity analysis are also part of this module.

With EngageBay, your customer service team doesn’t have to compromise on internal efficiency to appear more approachable and friendly to your customers. Our Service Bay has incorporated the Flywheel concept to ensure your customer remains at the center of concern for your Customer Service team.

You can send them canned responses and group service tickets. The service automation features will help fasten the service cycle for smaller teams facing large ticket volumes. They can finally focus on the most important customers and only the tickets with high impact severity.

What really sets EngageBay apart from other marketing automation providers are our customization modules for email and landing page design.

While most email and landing page designers enable drag and drop of design elements, the actual design of each new section takes a long time with planning and approvals within the team. Our designers raised the standards further.

With Enagagebay, you won’t be wasting important hours (or even minutes) of your day designing customized sections for your emails and landing pages. You will simply choose from one of the in-built section templates and click to insert it at the selected position.

EngageBay Email Customization

Section Templates to customize a new template in an email (w/EngageBay). Similar options also available for landing pages

And as you can see, even the section templates are divided into categories based on types of section content.

We have customized pricing plans that start from a little over $7 per user/month to just over $47 per user/month for our all-in-one solution. If you are a solopreneur looking for a reliable, all-in-one sales, service, and marketing platform, EngageBay’s pricing offers the best bang for every cent of your marketing budget.

To find your most suitable plan, head over to our Pricing page and customize your plan according to your own individual needs.

4. GetResponse

(Source: getresponse.com)

With regards to Email Marketing, GetResponse provides campaign setup with email templates and autoresponders. It also guarantees:

  • optimized times for email delivery for every customer
  • time zone customization for sending times
  • a dedicated department for ensuring high email deliverability.

GetResponse marketing automation package includes scalable workflow templates, dynamic segmentation filter, and automated workflows for retargeting of contacts who abandon their carts. Any action taken by a lead or a customer on the website is tracked and affects its lead score.

They also provide code-free and mobile-optimized landing pages, with a guarantee that you can build deployment-ready landing pages in under 30 minutes.

With GetResponse, you can even setup flexibly-timed webinar registrations and send email reminders to your participants. With their webinar app, users won’t have to interface with additional software outside of GetResponse.

After a 30-day free trial of GetResponse, expect to pay anywhere between $14/month to little over $1,500/month.

Their basic plan provides all of their email marketing features for first 1,000 contacts. You would need an upgrade if you want webinars, landing pages, CRM, or marketing automation.

5. Ontraport

With Ontraport, you can grow your email list with landing pages and lead capture forms. You will also have strong email marketing and SMS marketing features.

Ontraport users also have access to its marketing analytics and interactive tracking capabilities with comprehensive and accurate data. You can use these insights to enrich the marketing experience for all the leads in your funnel.

For efficient landing page design, Ontraport provides drag-and-drop designer and a large library of pre-built templates for landing pages, icons, buttons, and forms. Ontraport’s pages can also be personalized with dynamic content.

Ontraport’s pricing plans are expensive when compared to other marketing automation tools. Their basic plan starts from $79 per user/month and has an upper limit of 1,000 contacts. Additional users come at $47 per user/month. There are no tiers in terms of features i.e. all plans have all of their features. Their pricing plans are differentiated based on their service offering.

Their most expensive plan (Enterprise plan) allows for 5 account users at $497 per month.

Conclusion

Small businesses often make the wrong choices when selecting a marketing automation software, but they need not. Marketing automation software for small businesses includes several top-of-the-line features. It gives a better knowledge of the customers’ profile. This enables better personalization and higher conversion rates. We can then apply this personalization to different communication channels.

A small business owner may waste a lot of money and time trying out different marketing automation products. Thus, we recommend a look at all-in-one marketing software for small businesses.

To learn more about email marketing here are a few resources to check out: