Oct 17, 2016

How to Hack Your Small Business Marketing with Automation

I have never met a business owner or marketer that’s not struggling for time. That's not looking for ways to be more effective in their businesses marketing. Yet when I mention the term ‘Marketing Automation’ or ‘Programmatic Marketing’ I see a look of utter bewilderment & feedback like “we’re not big enough for that”.

I’m here to tell you that it ain't just a big business tool, that marketing automation is an equaliser that aids you to build an inbound pipeline, amplify your marketing resources and to beat your competitors!

What if I told you there was a way to automate a massive chunk of your marketing activities? Want if I told you that there was a way to automatically:

  • Repurpose content to nurture leads
  • Prioritise leads & improve conversion time frames
  • Improve effectiveness of sales teams
  • Increase revenue & average deal size
  • Cultivate repeat sales
  • Boost customer lifetime value
  • Boost brand engagement

In this post, I’m going to help you understand marketing automation and show you which marketing tasks you should automate.


What is marketing automation?

Marketing automation is a process to automate marketing and sales engagement to generate more leads, convert customers and improve marketing results. To pare it down further, marketing automation is simply any software that helps you automatically complete marketing tasks.

Perhaps the easiest way to understand this is through an example:

Suppose you run an eCommerce store. A customer lands on your site, browses your deals and adds a product to her cart. However, just before she is about to finish the purchase, she feels that the price is too high and leaves the site. (Shopping cart abandonment rates universally hover around 68%).

This is where marketing automation kicks in. Right before the customer leaves the site, marketing automation software can:

  • Show the customer a pop-up with a free shipping coupon.
  • If the customer doesn’t convert, send an email with a 10% discount code and a pre-filled shopping cart.
  • If the customer still doesn’t convert, offer the customer an exclusive promo the next time she visits your site.

All of this without you even lifting a finger.


The Marketing Automation Workflow

At its very heart, marketing automation depends on a “If X happens, then do Y” workflow.

For instance:

  • If you publish a new blog post, then update Twitter with a link.
  • If a customer abandons a shopping cart, then send a discount coupon.
  • If a reader signs up for an eBook, then email a link to download the eBook.

These “workflows” can be incredibly complex depending on your funnel. You might have several different “if-then-else” paths depending on your customers’ actions (like the eCommerce store example above).

With traditional marketing, you’d need to do all this work manually. You would manually update your Twitter with links to new blog posts, dig through abandoning shoppers’ lists and then email discount coupons, etc. Marketing automation tools make this entire process automatic, fast and seamless.


Marketing Automation: Not Just for Big Companies

As a concept, marketing automation isn’t exactly new. Large businesses have been using it in some form for decades. What has changed is the accessibility of marketing automation software. What used to earlier cost $50,000 is now available for $500/month, especially at the lower end of the sector.

For small businesses, this can result in tremendous cost savings and improvements in marketing performance. Little wonder that interest in marketing automation has been growing rapidly over the years:

Marketing automation trends

Research shows that:

  • On average 49% of companies are currently using marketing automation. More than half of B2B companies (55%) have already adopted the technology.
  • “Best in class” companies are 67% more likely to use a marketing automation platform.
  • There are 11x as many B2B companies using marketing automation now than in 2011.

This still leaves the question: what are the real-world benefits of marketing automation for small businesses?

Let’s look at some answers.

Marketing automation benefit #1: Affordable pricing

Traditionally, vendors priced marketing automation on two factors:

  • The customer’s budget
  • The expected returns from the software

Since marketing automation was largely limited to enterprise customers with million dollar marketing budgets, the software was priced beyond small businesses. After all, $20,000/year for a software isn’t that much when you think the software will help the business earn an extra $50,000, right?

Due to the high adoption rate of marketing automation software by different businesses of all sizes, the cost has significantly gone down in recent years. According to a survey by VentureBeat, the majority of marketing automation users think it’s worth the price, with 47% saying it is “fairly priced”.

Venture Beat marketing automation survey


Marketing automation benefit #2:. Saves time

As a small business, you already have too much to work on with very limited resources. Take a look at this Ascend2 survey of marketing objectives among small businesses:

Ascend 2 survey

A powerful marketing automation platform can help you reach most of these objectives from a single platform, saving you time and money. In fact, according to a report by Adestra, 74% of respondents said the technology’s ability to save them time was its largest benefit.


Marketing automation benefit #3: Increase revenue

This is arguably the most important reason to use marketing automation software.

By automating your cross-sells, up-sells and customer follow ups, there is a good chance you will likely notice an increase in your customer lifetime value. When you combine this with better lead management and prioritisation, your sales activity will produce a better ROI.

● According to Nucleus Research, marketing automation drives a 14.5% increase in sales productivity.

● According to Gleanster, 77% of CMOs say that their biggest reason for using marketing automation is to drive up revenue.

● According to a survey by Pardot, marketing automation users have seen an average increase of sales revenues by 34%.

● According to a report by Forrester, B2B marketers who implement marketing automation increase their sales pipeline contribution by an average of 10%.   

A study by VB insight found out that 80% of businesses that have used automation have also enjoyed increased leads.

In one long-term survey of marketing automation results, 32% of companies saw an increase in revenue in less than 12 months of using marketing automation software.

Marketing automation results

The bottom line? Marketing automation saves time, increases revenue, and is actually affordable for small businesses.


What Should You Automate?

The question now is: what marketing tasks can you automate with marketing automation software? Depending on your software provider, your features and functionality may differ a bit, but the concept of marketing automation is universal. 

Broadly, speaking, here are a few things you can and should automate:

Repurpose content to nurture leads

Repurposing content essentially means finding new ways to recycle your content. After all, if you’re spending hundreds of dollars on a piece of content, you want to maximise your returns from it.

Think of it this way: when you publish content on a single channel, say, your blog, your reach is limited to the audience of your blog. There is no way you can reach people on YouTube or Slideshare with it. By repurposing content you can reach a new audience.

According to Curata, almost 60% of marketers reuse content two to five times.

Curata study

Here’s how you can use marketing automation to nurture leads with repurposed content:

Things you should automate #1: Send leads your top performing content

According to a study by Autopilot, sending customers communications every 2 - 4 weeks generates 200% more leads.

Autopilot survey

One way to automate this process is by sending leads your top performing content (by views or shares) automatically every few weeks. Brendon Burchard  from Experts Academy does this really well. He emails his latest video in the email with great copy and subject line.

Brendon Burchard email

Things you should automate #2: Convert blog posts into newsletters

I’m sure you already have a great list of email subscribers, but no matter how much they love your company there is a good chance they will miss a few of your posts. To counter this, consider turning your blog posts into weekly newsletters. You can instruct your marketing automation tool to gather your latest posts (via RSS feed), add them to a template, and send them out to subscribers.

To make the most of automation send the newsletter again to non-openers after 48 hours. This will likely increase your email open rate. For example, Mattermark sends out daily newsletters with all their latest posts. You can change the frequency of your newsletters according to what your audience prefers.

Mattermark newsletter


Prioritise leads & improve conversion timeframes

According to MarketingSherpa, 61% of B2B marketers send all leads directly to sales; however, only 27% of those leads qualify.

Marketing automation helps you prioritise and qualify leads based on the criteria you set. This, in turn, improves the quality of leads to your sales team. To do this:

● Create a lead scoring system: Start off by identifying prospect actions that lead to the conversion. For example, if your data shows that prospects who download whitepapers are 2x more likely to convert than people who read blog posts only - you would score whitepaper-reading leads higher.

● Assign points to leads: Assign point values to each action based on their web behaviour, buying pattern and product interest. For example, downloading an eBook is 5 points, watching a webinar is 20 points and reading a blog post is 1 point. Your marketing automation tool can do this automatically.

In this framework, leads that have higher points will have a higher chance of conversion. You can use this prioritise leads as well. Leads with higher scores go to sales, improving conversion time frames. But lead scoring must never be a static formula.  It’s critical to work with you sales teams to monitor patterns and ongoingly optimise your lead scoring rules based on actual lead results.


Improve effectiveness of sales teams

The lead scoring as explained above can help you identify high-value prospects and have sales contact them. But that’s not the only way marketing automation can improve sales effectiveness.

You can also improve effectiveness by nurturing cold leads.

Leads with low scores are clearly not ready to buy. According to Gleanster Research, this represents nearly 50% of all leads in a system. Instead of having your highly paid salespeople (yes much higher than us marketers) wasting sales time on them, you should send them marketing content to nurture them.

Here’s how Canva does it:

Canva email

Gleanster’s report also shows that nurturing such leads with content can turn 15-20% of them into sales.

You can set up a separate funnel for such cold leads and send them content based on their past consumption habits. For example, if a cold lead last downloaded an eBook on social media marketing, you can send them your future posts on social media to retain and peak their interest.


Cultivate repeat sales

Marketing automation can do wonders when it comes to retaining your customers and enhancing their lifetime value. Considering that it costs 500% more to attract a new customer than it does to retain old customers, repeat sales is more important than you think. Here are a few ways marketing automation can help you do this:

Things you should automate #3: Customise emails based on customer behaviour

Marketing automation can automatically email your audience based on their past purchases, web activity, email action and a bunch of other actions and metrics. When you know a customer has shown interest in a particular item or product category (based on browsing patterns or past behavior), you can send them recommendations accordingly.

Amazon does this exceptionally well. It sends you recommendations based on browsing behavior…

Amazon recommendations

...as well as purchase history.

Amazon past behaviour recommendations

All these emails are completely automated.

Related reading: Email Marketing for Ecommerce: 12 Lifecycle Must-haves


Things you should automate #4: Monitor social media mentions

Monitoring your customers on social media can help you identify new developments in their business, or new demands/desires.

For example, you might monitor your LinkedIn connections for job changes, new rounds of funding, or new product launches. When this happens, you can trigger an automated message congratulating them for the development. You can follow-up to this later with a personal message pitching your product.

LinkedIn Monitoring

Related reading: 5 Ways to Amp Up Your Brand’s Social Engagement (With Tools and Examples)


Boost customer lifetime value

Existing customers are far more likely to buy from you than a new prospect. Increasing customer lifetime value rather than growth of your customer base is not only easier but also much more cost-effective.

According to a research by Invesp, 44% of businesses have a great focus on customer acquisition rather than customer retention.

Invesp survey

Here are a few strategies that can help you focus more on customer retention using marketing automation:

Things you should automate #5: Implement automated upsells and cross-sells

An upsell is when you offer an add-on, related or upgraded version of the item that a customer is about to buy.

You can identify products/services the customers is likely to be interested in based on his current purchase. For example, Priceline pitches customers a car rental along with their flight tickets.

Priceline cross-sell

A cross-sell on the other hand, introduces a different product to the customer that is slightly related to their purchase.

For example, HSBC sends its retail banking customers an offer for a HSBC credit card.

HSBC Thank you email

Related reading: 23 Tactics to Create Urgency and Grow Your eCommerce Conversions


Things you should automate #6: Deliver better customer service

As per McKinsey, 70% of buying experiences are based on how the customer feels they are being treated. This is essentially a customer service problem, and marketing automation can help you here as well.

For example, by automatically tagging support requests, you can help reps respond to queries faster. A support request with a trigger word (such as “refund”) can then be sent to the relevant department. By sending post shipping product review emails to incentivise buyers to post reviews, you can not only build important product ratings but also capture critical opportunities to rectify poor experiences.


Boost brand engagement

You can take advantage of marketing automation to segment your audience based on their past behaviour and send them relevant content that they like the most.

For example, customers who’ve read more content on a particular service you provide should be sent new blog posts relating to those subjects. You can look at the loyalty scores such as Net Promoter Score (NPS) to identify customers who have not engaged with your brand in a long time and send them an offer specifically designed for them.

For example, L’Oreal sends out an automated response to people using its hashtag #beextraordinary.

Loreal brand engagement

Automation doesn’t mean “robotic”. With some clever copywriting, you can make automated tweets sound human (and funny). Take this response from Netflix:

Netflix social media automation

Netflix can easily set up an automation rule to send this response for anyone mentioning “mind blowing” along with #OrphanBlack.

Here’s another example of an automated email to customers who haven’t shopped from a store recently:

Piperlime dynamic content

These are simple ways to use marketing automation to boost brand engagement.


Do’s and Don’ts of Marketing Automation

You can do a lot with marketing automation that will likely increase your revenue. But despite the technology’s current level of sophistication, there are some do’s and don’ts you should follow.

Let’s start off with a list of don’ts:

  • Don’t think that an expensive marketing automation software is always better than the cheaper one. Sure, many expensive software do come with greater functionality, it is up to you to figure out if those capabilities are of any use to you to you.
  • Don’t assume that marketing automation will create content for you. This expectation may cost you more than you think. You marketing team needs to feed content into the automation software on regular basis.
  • Don’t overlook all the things that can be automated and what you could gain from automating a process. Automatically scoring leads, for instance, is often overlooked.
  • Don’t be a bot. Don’t automate things across channels without customising for your target audience. For instance, write a compelling message for each social channel that will attract readers to your blog post. Then you can use automation technology to schedule those posts for peak times.
  • Don’t execute your automation rules in real-time unless they are time sensitive autoresponders. If you have more than a page of rules that are set to run in real-time, you risk slowing down your entire system.
  • Don’t send canned emails. Marketing technology is sophisticated enough now that you can deploy personalised content at just about every touchpoint.


And here are the Do’s:

  • Do keep your marketing automation software easy and simple to use. A simple workflow that finds actual use is better than a complex workflow no one uses.
  • Do understand that marketing automation is a technology, not a strategy. It is just one of the tools that marketers use to achieve results.
  • Do set realistic goals and targets, like improving lead quality and increasing revenue in order to generate better leads.
  • Do work as a team - both within your company and with the resources provided by the marketing automation software.
  • Do create truly effective email campaigns with great content that targets a specific audience. This nurturing ensures each customer receives personalised message with relevant content creating meaningful conversations.
  • Do accelerate potential leads’ journey towards becoming a customer by interacting with them at each stage of the purchasing lifecycle.
  • Do target and segment your leads.
  • Do keep your database clean and easy to work with.
  • Do follow up promptly.



Marketing automation allows companies to streamline, automate and measure marketing tasks and workflows to increase operational efficiency and revenue. For small businesses, this can result in significant time and cost savings, along with better marketing results.

If you’re still on the fence about using marketing automation in your business, this post should help you get started.

Here are your next three action steps:

  • Identify your core marketing issues (email, personalization, capturing/nurturing/qualifying leads) and whether these can be solved through marketing automation.
  • Analyse different marketing automation tools to see if they fit your requirements.
  • Kickstart a simple automated marketing campaign.



Leave a comment