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What you need to know about marketing automation

Oracle+Netsuite /

While marketing automation may present small businesses with untold opportunities to establish better relationships with their customers, SMEs need to be aware that automation can have its challenges – and they need to prepare for them.

Experts say SMEs need to keep in mind the possibility of privacy breaches, the amount of work that goes into creating the infrastructure to back up such a massive marketing effort, and knowing the limits of automation and when it can actually hinder your efforts.

“The risk lies in poor planning and privacy,” says Honda’s Andrew Pattison, who says the business has been able to engage customers and dealers by introducing automated marketing processes.

“We are concerned with risk involved in these things, particularly with laws like the Spam Act,” he says.

“We also have a philosophy where we want to respect the individual, we don’t want to damage the brand in the wrong way.”

However, the results are clear. In one instance, Honda’s Pattison says the business was able to help engage dealers with an online training portal by using automated campaigns, along with follow-up marketing based on whether the dealers had or hadn’t accessed the material. The result was a 300% gain in engagement.

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While Pattison says automation is about hitting the “right customer at the right time” he also says SMEs need to think about everything that comes before sending an email, or creating web pages with automation backed in.

“You need to think about your data structure, the content you put in and how it works,” he says.

“If you don’t have that, or the data isn’t maintained, or the data is maintained incorrectly then it can create bad experiences for the customer – that’s where the risk lies.”

“Businesses can sometimes be unaware of the amount of work that’s needed to run an engaging campaign, so even internal staffing can be a risk.”

Michelle Gamble, managing director of Marketing Angels, says the same – that preparation before a campaign is crucial to make sure there is the right mix of automated processes for convenience, but enough of a hands-on approach to ensure the customer feels connected to the entire process.

So how can it be done?

Take care of your data

When preparing for an automated campaign businesses need to ensure the data is treated as an asset – that everything is collected, curated, scrubbed and properly segmented.

“That foundation is pretty key in making sure that your data is accurate, and it’s going to be useful,” says Pattison.

Gather information beforehand

When tackling an automated campaign, Gamble says SMEs need to do their research and make sure the customers’ needs are known and known well. But the biggest issue is the simplest to tackle – what is the customer’s problem? Without a problem to solve, automation may be seen as unnecessary.

Gamble advises SMEs to talk to people who look like your target market, and try to understand their actions and decision-making process when they are on the buyer journey.

“What would help them before making a decision? What do they value when it comes to suppliers or products or services?”

Design the entire sales process

While some SMEs might be tempted to use automation as a gimmick, it’s important to remember that automation has its place within the context of a larger process. Leaving customers stranded won’t help you, even if you have the most advanced marketing tools in the world.

“Make sure you have processes and resources to deliver the content you need to pull people through the sales funnel and then follow-up to convert them,” says Gamble.

“Don’t fall into the trap of thinking it’s a completely hands-off process.”

Follow the results

Like any marketing tactic, the results will dictate everything. While some SMEs might want to simply consider integrating automation as a success, the real success comes when automation delivers actual results.

What’s the ROI, what’s the conversion rate look like?” says Gamble. “Where does your best cost of acquisition come from?”

These are simple metrics, but they reinforce the fact automation isn’t a gimmick – it’s part of a wider marketing strategy. In order to succeed with automation, businesses need to first understand their data, understand their approach, and then make sure the impact they have is a positive one.

“Start small, really nail something, and then scale it,” says Pattison.

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