A successful business depends on successful marketing. However, if you’re not a marketer, your time is probably better spent building your products or services than building your brand.
Particularly if you hope to sell your business later on, a passive, streamlined operation should be the goal, as this will maximise the value of your website and make it an attractive acquisition for investors.
You could hire someone to do your marketing, but that adds to payroll and that’s someone you have to spend time managing. During the startup phase when you want to run as lean as possible, it’s best to outsource all or some of your marketing activities to an advertising firm, marketing consultant or agency. Even established entrepreneurs rely on outsourced marketing.
- Scalable - You can easily expand or reduce marketing efforts as the needs of the business require, from short bursts to year-long campaigns. Or, if things aren’t quite working out with one agency or individual, you can more quickly and easily change direction to another. Ability to scale is limited only by your budget, not the time and availability of yourself or other internal resources.
- Affordable - You don’t have the overhead or commitment of an in-house marketing person or department. Also, certain specialties, such as web or graphic design, can be outsourced offshore at lower labour rates.
- Expertise - Take advantage of people with an outsider’s perspective that have the industry knowledge, marketing acumen, design, production and writing skills to achieve your goals.
Most entrepreneurs probably want to focus on digital platforms, particularly if their products/services aim at younger demographics, who are characteristically inseparable from their smartphones. Digital marketing is a powerful medium to prospect for and engage customers because it is data-driven, highly accurate and measurable, and is particularly effective if your online content is optimised.
The added bonus is that digital marketing offers automated features that save time and drudgery, while also achieving accurate results. Which isn’t to say everything works by itself, but it does sort through vast quantities of data to generate leads, connect and communicate with customers, identify problems, determine and apply adjustments, all more or less without your involvement. What it doesn’t do is:
- Write a marketing plan or think for you
- Create brilliant, effective content
- Result in sales just as soon as data is loaded
In all probability you’ll still require the services of a firm or consultant to get the most out of your marketing automation investment. But it will still wind up costing you less in time and money than doing it all yourself. Not to mention being more effective.
What exactly is marketing automation?
Marketing automation is frequently confused with an email management system. Actually, email management is only one part of marketing automation, which covers multiple “touchpoints” (a Facebook like, a Twitter comment, a blog response, etc.) to search for potential prospects and then distribute customised messages to convert them to customers by providing the right content to the right person at the right time.
Basically, marketing automation is software that performs otherwise manual and repetitive tasks and workflows involved with:
- Generating and scoring sales leads
- Segmenting customers
- Developing a database of customers, potential customers and customer interactions
- Monitoring visitor behaviour to your website (e.g., pages visited, time spent per page and overall, downloaded content, etc.)
- Dynamically providing content targeted to individual customers and segments based on customer profiles, requests and behaviours.
- Creating, managing and testing multiple marketing channels and templates (e.g., social media, Twitter feeds, YouTube videos, mobile, email blasts, blog posts, SEO/SEM, etc.)
- Cross-selling and up-selling
- Testing, measuring and refining various marketing approaches and variables
Beyond eliminating the time you’d ordinarily spend planning marketing activities, marketing automation provides a range of benefits.
- Better ROI. According to a 2016 MIT study, use of HubSpot marketing software resulted in a 72% sales revenue increase within one year.
- Better reporting. More precise data to see exactly what kind of marketing is working, and what isn’t.
- Easy campaign creation and adjustments. Marketing automation software tools typically are of the user-friendly drag-and-drop variety similar to most document creation programs. Need to change something? In most cases, it’s a simple task that doesn’t require a lot of technical expertise.
- Efficient social media management. A single dashboard lets you post to and update multiple social media accounts at once.
- Multi-channel targeting. Send a marketing message through a variety of channels (e.g., email, Facebook post, text message) in one operation.
- Data-driven results. Eliminate the guesswork and more closely align what your business offers to what customers want to do with it, and when they need to do it.
What to buy
There are a variety of software packages scaled to the individual needs of an enterprise. They may also be integrated into larger Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems that include such functions as sales force tracking and contact centre tools. If you’re in the startup phase, you don’t have that many customers to manage yet, so a full blown CRM isn’t warranted.
Entrepreneurs and small businesses with limited marketing and IT resources are probably best served by cloud-based services with flexible, tiered pricing structures with month-to-month agreements. Key features to consider include:
- Range of analytic capabilities
- Targeting/segmentation features
- Customer data import/export features
- Future CRM integration
Whatever software you use, successful implementation requires careful planning. You and your marketing partners need to:
- Set strategic goals and objectives
- Document key marketing activities and processes
- Develop metrics, based on historical data and/or industry benchmarks
- Evaluate current website and social media content and desired improvements
- Develop a process to import data from existing sources
- Select content provider(s)
Up-front time spent planning ensures less time spent putting out fires later. Then you can focus on monitoring the results of your marketing automation and refining the processes to further improve lead generation and your sales.
Want to learn more about lead generation? Download our Lead Generation Survival Kit:
Thomas Smale (https://twitter.com/thomassmale) is a co-founder of FE International, which specialises in providing brokerage services for mid-market online businesses and is a leading advisor within the industry. They have offices in London and Boston and boast a team comprised of professionals from investment banking, strategy consulting and online entrepreneurs.