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Turbo charging SMEs with marketing automation

Lawrence Andrews
Marketing technology

Marketing automation can help SMEs outperform their peers and level the playing field with larger competitors. We provide real examples of it in use and explore why it should be a priority for SMEs in 2022.

What is marketing automation?

Marketing automation is used interchangeably for tools, platforms and solutions that enable marketing activities to be automated, measured and optimised.

They allow companies to market their products and services on multiple channels simultaneously, reaching a huge audience of potential customers.

When set up intelligently it can be used to generate and funnel high quality leads to sales teams; helping you sell more of whatever you are selling.

Marketing automation in action

OK, but what does it actually do? We explore 5 real life examples that illustrate its power and the the possibilities for B2B business.

Example 1: Initiating a conversation

Most people will have received emails or messages on LinkedIn from people trying to sell stuff. These are typically badly targeted and feel impersonal. More often than not these initial messages aren’t followed up. They are quickly forgotten by those that received them.

With modern automation tools and a more considered communication strategy you can now connect conversations across channels. As a first step connecting and attempting to initiate a conversation on LinkedIn. As a second step following up the same conversation up on email.

Reaching out on two channels exactly doubles the likelihood you are contacting them on their preferred channel. By communicating coherently across two channels you are challenging the assumption that the communication is automated and impersonal.

This is the real goal. Using automation tools intelligently you can convey the feeling of the human touch on a communication, even though it is actually automated. If you succeed at this your chances of initiating a conversation go up significantly.

Example 2: Maintaining awareness

An individual has demonstrated a signal of interest in your business (albeit a minor one!) by accepting your invitation on LinkedIn.

Rather than letting them forget all about you and your business you can design a content calendar for LinkedIn to maintain their awareness of your brand, product and services.

Once set up, your marketing tool can manage this on your behalf, automatically posting to LinkedIn and sharing content you’ve created.

This content should be designed to be interesting and valuable to your target audience. In general it should not be explicitly sales related.

We plan ours on a monthly cycle. That way we can set it up, turn it on and let it run. The rest of the month we can focus on other important aspects of our business.

Example 3: The self qualifying lead

The majority of your content should be genuinely free without any barriers in place to access it. Your most useful and valuable content however can be turned into lead magnets.  

A lead magnet is a marketing name for an item or service that is provided for ‘free’ in exchange for contact details. It allows you to capture new leads or enrich the profiles of existing leads who go on to access one of your lead magnets.

It’s a useful mechanism to capture new leads but just as importantly it allows leads to self qualify themselves without you having to do anything.

By providing contact details to access the lead magnet  they are raising their hand to say they are interested. From there you can follow-up with further content to try and develop your relationship with that individual.

Lead magnets are simple to set up and most marketing automation tools have the facility to create them.

Example 4: Nurturing leads

Marketing automation tools will help you capture more contact information by ramping up your marketing activity. But are they really leads? You’ve definitely expanded your potential audience but it’s what you do next that counts.

If your targeting is effective then each contact or lead should match the profile of a potential buyer of your product or service. This means they could buy from you. The real questions are will they, when will they, and how can you make sure it’s from you!

Understanding and influencing this is the art of lead nurture. Marketing automation tools give you the capability to execute lead nurture strategies at scale.

Consider that each unique contact should have at least a name and email address. Even with this minimal information you can send personalised emails.

By thinking carefully about an individual’s needs at different points in their buying journey you can connect multiple emails into a highly targeted series of communication.

Through good design you can match relevant content to these needs as part of each communication. By recognising behaviours or signals from your leads you can deliver these communications to individual leads at the time they are needed.

Even better is that an automated lead nurture doesn’t necessarily rely on content that you aren’t already using to sell your products and services. It’s just wiring it up in an intelligent way.

Example 5: Identifying ‘warm’ and ‘hot’ leads

If you are employing the strategies outlined in examples 1 - 4 you should already have a large number of leads and these leads will be at various points in your sales funnel.

The challenge now is how to hand off the right leads from your sales team. Hopefully by now you have too many leads to do this manually so how do you do it?

Most marketing automation tools have the facility to set up ‘lead scoring’. What this means is that the system recognises positive and negative signals from leads and uses this to assign each lead a score. The higher the score the hotter the lead.

This immediately gives you a clear criteria to prioritise a smaller subset of leads for direct follow-up with your sales team. The lead scoring criteria and criteria for follow-up can be continuously refined depending on the capacity in the sales team.

The beauty of it is when set up well, sales teams are only engaging well qualified and educated leads. Leads who are educated in the problem space, understand your solution and have a positive perception of your business and what you offer.

In other words, they are ready to be convinced. It’s then up to your sales teams to take them over the line.

Why marketing automation should be a 2022 priority

Drive more sales. Right now.

In our 5 marketing automation in action examples we demonstrate what marketing automation can do for your business in practical terms.

But let’s summarise in simple terms what marketing automation can do for SMEs:

  1. It can unlock a huge audience of potential customers
  2. It can get you more leads that you can directly market to
  3. It provides the tools to manage large numbers of leads simultaneously
  4. It enables you to funnel high quality leads to your sales teams to close

We hear a lot of businesses at this point say that they have neither the time nor the money to set this up. There’s a perception of complexity when it comes to marketing technology.

However, it is neither expensive nor difficult to set up. Our challenge back to them is always to tell us a good reason not to do it.

Steal a march on big business  

Whilst the same few businesses are lauded for their innovative approaches and market leading position, the majority of large companies are not that. Many are still stuck navigating long, complex, expensive digital transformation programmes.

They have recognised they need to change. Not even to grow, but just to maintain the market position they have built.

The principles of what they are doing is not complex. Instead the complexity lies in trying to unpick existing business processes, redesigning teams, and changing long accepted ways of working. Big companies are rarely set up for success. Individuals and teams compete for primacy often at the expense of the broader goals of the organisation.

That is an almost inevitable product of size but presents an opportunity for SMEs.  Leave them to work that out and in the meantime get your capability up and running and work to optimise it.

Focus on building your audience, sales pipeline, revenue and profitability. Close the gap!

Doing nothing is not an option

Marketing automation allows you to better target and personalise your communications with potential customers. Current studies show that only 51% of SMEs are using automation. They also show the size of the marketing automation industry is expected to grow around 10% a year to a size of $8.42 billion by 2027.

Everyone might not be doing it yet but they will be. Over the next couple of years the gap between automated and non automated businesses will grow. The experience they offer their leads and later their customers. The pure reach and effectiveness of their marketing activity.

Simply put, it feels like a choice right now but it's not really. Automation is critical to any business that wants to become a growth business or stay a growth business.