Automation is as automation does: But what about innovation?
I get a lot of questions about marketing automation and marketing automation software, particularly for small businesses.
Working with SAAS, I'm often asked about building bots to automatically generate blog posts around keywords. Our clients from other specialty industries (like staffing & accounting) aren't quite as outrageous with their requests for automation, but there is definitely a departure between realistic expectations of what it can do and what it should do.
What is it that you're looking to automate, anyway? Lead generation? Nurturing? Both? Well, okay, I can speak somewhat intelligently about those... But let's talk about the question itself... the one that's on your mind, and that got you to click on this blog post to begin with. What is the best marketing automation software for small business out there?
Is it Pardot? Marketo? Hubspot? Infusionsoft? Constant Contact? Mail Chimp?
Now, as a Hubspot partner agency, I think it would be irresponsible of me and totally transparent to go down this road... like this, anyhow. Instead, let's look at what, exactly, you're trying to automate, why, and how it fits into the rest of your marketing strategy.
Each of these programs have their strengths and weaknesses, as does your marketing program and understanding of the philosophies that drive your decisions. All I can do is help fill in the gaps where I'm fortunate enough to have a little knowledge and experience, and hopefully empower you to choose the path that will result in the most sales.
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1. Social Media Marketing
Let's be clear: You should NEVER, ever, ever, ever, ever, EVER automate social media... Ever. Automation here is... well... cheating. It's not interactive or social in any way, shape, or form. It's easy to spot. And it's ruining social media.
No, what I'm referring to is scheduling, monitoring, and interacting through social media using tools that allow you to go farther with it, be more effective, and sort through the noise. Using specified tools for this SHOULD be a major priority in your automation efforts. After all, isn't the point of the big "A" to reduce the amount of time your staff or agency has to spend on marketing tasks?
There are a lot of great resources that fit this, both with the all-in-ones, and specialty programs that do nothing but. Again, I'm a Hubspot guy, so I am biased when it comes to the all-in-ones, but I have worked with the smaller programs as well, so let me make my case broader and focus on these two components.
All-in-ones do just about everything. The one-offs do not. If cost is the issue that's keeping you in the space where you're still piecing your digital marketing tools together like a quilted blanket, then think about all of the salary spent on bridging communication between the different platforms... the time spent sewing together analytics and logging in from one thing to the next.
We happily ditched our $120/year subscription to Hootsuite for the all-in-one that costs twenty times as much. Not that you'll spend $120/year on Hootsuite if you have more than one team-member that needs access. It's another $180 for each additional user per year, $250/year per user for the education (FYI, Hubspot only charges you once for this, not per user per month or year... just one time). If you want more than one report, it's another $600/year per additional report.
So, if you have 2 people working on social media, want them to know what they're doing, and want 1 additional report per month, you're going to spend $1,400/year (SOURCE). Hubspot is $2,400/year for the basic package (3 users, unlimited analytics, same everywhere else ($9,600 for the pro), $600 - $3,000 for the one-time training costs (the latter of which is like getting a Master's degree).
The point is, the all-in-one isn't as outrageously expensive as it seems at first glance... not when you're comparing apples to apples. Yes, it still costs more than a social media one-off, but we're barely getting started!
Get the guide to truly effective social media marketing
2. Lead Generation
I recently asked a prospective client how they are nurturing their leads. They responded with, "what leads?"
Mind you, they sought us out because of our knowledge of social media marketing, and although we're always happy to take on modular projects wherein our firm handles only parts of the marketing work, we still in good conscious have to ask the question of how leads are generated.
Usually, we are told that they are looking for social media to solve that problem. But how, exactly, does social media, on its own, generate leads, and how on earth can this process be automated?
We all know how the spam bots think... That by following them on Twitter or by being apart of the same group on LinkedIn, they are allowed to assert their spammy messages with fake (and usually messed up) personalization, and references to something wildly obscure (ex: "I love your tweets," or "I saw that you were in the same group, and after looking at your profile, blah, blah, blah, yaddi, yadda, hadkljasldfkj").
No, when I talk about leads, I'm referring to people that actually give a *hit that you and your business exist.
Automation here is easy. You put a content offer or something of value on a landing page behind a form that requires an email and name (like a newsletter, blog, or download) to gain access, then direct people there through social media distribution.
Now, your automation software should support this activity. It doesn't matter if I'm sleeping or awake, if we're open or it's a holiday. Leads come in at any point during the day, evening, or weekend. Period.
I don't mean to pick on Hootsuite, but I haven't seen any landing page or form development options on their add-on page, which is why the all-in-one is starting to become more reasonable sounding.
3. List Segmentation
Now that you have your leads, which were driven by scheduled posting and high-level interaction through social media, and gated content, wouldn't it be nice for your software to determine which lists they belong on?... automatically? Sure! And it's totally reasonable for you to ask.
4. Email Marketing
Okay, this is probably where you thought this blog post was going to start. Am I right?
Email automation is an easy to understand concept, because we've all been on the receiving end of emails that come at all hours, from people we've never heard of, and, again, totally misfired attempts at personalization.
But I want to actually help you stop all of that. I want to help you and everybody else stop spamming altogether. Automation doesn't have to result in unsolicited junk.
Like social media automation, this is about scheduling, but also, now that we have intelligence on the folks who have raised their hands as interested parties, and they were automatically divided into lists through our all-in-one (you've accepted this choice by now, haven't you?), we can email them through a formulaic, scheduled approach.
We use the momentum from recent activities to try and drive more, but when it fails, we move into a slower-moving drip campaign. Through your software, you should be able to identify opportunities to engage and lulls in the conversation, and adjust efforts AUTOMATICALLY accordingly.
Emails go out to our prospects every single day, but we only hit publish the one time (well, that and after we analyze their effectiveness and identify places for improvement). Your one-off like Constant Contact or Mail Chimp can probably do this, but now you have to add that cost to the other one-offs you subsribe to, and don't forget to include the salary dedicated to bridging communication.
Get the guide to effective email marketing
5. On-Page Content
How on earth can we automate something that's static, like a website? .. Simple... by giving it opportunity to change.
I say that your site should be able to automatically display different content depending on what device it's being viewed on, behavioral patterns from prior visits, and geography. Why not?
If your all-in-one or one-off option cannot do this, maybe the pasture really IS greener on the other side. I don't think Constant Contact or Hootsuite is going to be of much use here.
Like social media and email, SEO is really not something meant to be automated in the traditional sense. Google has made public delcarations to nullify spammy behavior and elevate those who educate. Yahoo and Bing seem to agree.
This is more about doing more with utilizing less salary.
Yes, you can get a one-off for this as well (MOZ pro or pay for the plugins through Wordpress), but now you'll have to find a way to integrate it with your emails & social media. If your SEO tracking tools are integrated with everything automatically, you won't have to reconcile or try to understand what's right in front of your face
7. Sales Alerts
Don't you want to know when your leads are hot? Obviously. Your all-in-one should be able to do this... like, through your CRM, or even emails or other alerts. Your one-off will only have view on a small portion of marketing behaviors.
So, I have a story.
I was talking to a prospective staffing services client. Actually, I was giving them a presentation through Webex, and I was sharing my screen with them, walking through Hubspot's different tools. I deviated a minute and talked about Sidekick, a free app for limited notifications ($10/user/month for unlimited). As I said the name, a little pop-up appeared on my screen stating that one of my other prospects was on my website.
They visited multiple pages, and with each one, there was a new pop-up. It was getting kind of annoying, actually, because every time I tried to move the conversation forward, a new page was visited, and the client stopped me to ask about it.
I can see when emails are opened, website pages are visited, forms are submitted, and documents opened... automatically. The lead just has to be assigned to me, and when I see hot activities taking place, I know it's time to call. Is it asking too much that your software do the same? How would live intel like that help YOUR ability to close the deal?
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Email campaigns are never-ending. Even if you're on a drip campaign and receive emails once or twice a month, the months don't stop coming... and it's nice to be able to have my system automically notify me when a drip campaign is running out of emails to send... or when a prospect has been surpressed from automation for a certain period of time, or when a campaign fails or succeeds.
Knowing what's happening internally makes me a happy camper, and, again, this kind of automation is going to free up a TON of resources.
You wouldn't know it by my skills with Excel, but I absolutely loath spreadsheets. They're cumbersome, confusing, and take forever to setup. The formulas, the formatting. It's a lot.
I'm a dashboard guy. I like the pretty graphs, and I like the fact that I don't have to run or export anything to see where things stand compared to last month.
It's automatic, as it should be. Marketing doesn't require some crazy algorithm or a leap of faith of ANY kind in today's digital world. Facts are facts, and when they're easy to read and understand, we all win.
If I'm running all of these other programs through my all-in-one automation software, analytics of this type should come naturally and automatic, don't you think? They do where I come from ;)
Want to see what an inbound marketing lead looks like? Hint: Yes, you do - it's about the analytics!
So, what's the answer? Marketo? Pardot? Infusionsoft? Hubspot? Something totally different?
That is totally up to you.
If you're running a small business, an all-in-one seems like the obvious answer, because you can do quite a bit more with less. Now, I have my reasons for choosing what I chose in that regard, but it wasn't because I let somebody tell me what to do for my agency. I let the marketing speak for itself, and Hubspot nailed it... for me. ;)
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