In order to scale growth, a startup must find ways to automate manual processes. Startup founders and their marketing teams are stretched for time. With such high stakes in play at early stage businesses, leaders need to find efficiencies wherever possible. Fortunately, tools and technology will help.
Marketing automation isn’t a strategy by itself, and it cannot replace human creativity, design, and data-led decision making. But it can improve data quality, optimise communication channels, and deliver content to the right people at the right time.
Let’s examine the advantages and drawbacks of marketing automation, and look at how startups can employ it smartly…
A quick definition
Quite simply, marketing automation refers to the use of software (often web-based, but not always) to automate manual marketing tasks. Probably the most common form of marketing automation is the automation of email. A recent Informi article about email marketing outlines the principles of an effective email campaign, and gives you an idea for which tools can help.
As Alyssa Rimmer writes for HubSpot, “marketing automation allows you to nurture your leads through the entire buying process, delivering highly-targeted, personalized messages that address their specific barriers to purchase.” The primary goal for digital marketing is to drive revenue for a startup. In order to drive as much revenue as possible, you need to scale activities but keep them customised and targeted.
The advantages and drawbacks of marketing automation
There are far more advantages to using marketing automation than drawbacks. That said, common pitfalls cause startups to burn through cash and annoy audiences. Let’s take a look at the advantages and drawbacks of building automation into startup marketing…
✓ Freeing you up: By automating repetitive tasks, you can focus on areas that make an impact. A great example is social media marketing. If you schedule a baseline of posts in advance using a tool like Buffer, you keep volume and consistency up across the week. This frees the marketing team up to strategise or gives them the chance to dip into the channels for more personal engagement and customer service.
✓ Provides clarity and oversight: If you do it right, marketing automation forces you to take a strategic view of the customer journey and marketing funnels. The process of implementing marketing technology will clarify blockers and uncertainties, and shine a light on where to improve knowledge of customers.
✓ Efficient lead generation: Marketing automation can generate high-quality leads at scale. By nurturing prospects across touchpoints automatically, a startup can fill the pipeline with less of the legwork. According to Giselle Abramovich on CMO.com, marketing automation drives a 14.5% increase in sales productivity. More than half of all B2B companies are using marketing automation at the moment.
× Too much data: Data must intertwine with intuition to improve decision making, but it’s important to not allow data to become the end-goal. Numbers shouldn’t distract from the aim of solving customer problems and adding business value. Furthermore, effective marketing automation needs good data hygiene. 50% of those who have a marketing automation platform list data hygiene as their biggest challenge.
× Unforeseen complexity: Tools like Campaign Monitor, Autopilot, MailChimp, and ActiveCampaign are all easy to use at the basic levels of functionality. But as your startup scales, you will need integrations with CRMs and complex automated journeys based on triggers. These integrations often need developer or technical skill sets, or at least some experience of integrating marketing tools.
× Crippling choice: There are over 7,000 marketing tools on the market right now, and this is growing every month. How can you possibly navigate through this confusing landscape? Each tool has its own set of features and functionalities; some more specific than others. Some integrate with others easily, and some operate in an impregnable silo. The choice can be overwhelming.
Final advice: How to avoid marketing automation pitfalls
As my Kurve colleague Jonathan wrote in his guide to better marketing automation, you need to allocate 60% of your time on planning and technical integration, and 40% of your time on producing content and building automation sequences. If you jump past that first strategic step, you are set up for failure.
The way to build automation into startup marketing is to not jump head-first into a solution without perspective. With such a buzz around all the different B2B SaaS products on the market at the moment, it is tempting to see marketing automation as the solution to all of your problems. Firstly: marketing automation is only as effective as the strategy behind it. Secondly, not all tools are built equal.
It’s common advice to choose a tool that will scale with your business. Of course, this makes sense. But it’s also a legitimate approach to choose a tool that you can chop-and-change as your startup scales. There are indeed two things you should never do: sign up to a long-term contract on a tool that doesn’t scale, or sign up to a long-term contract on a costly tool which is overkill and more than you’ll ever need.
Above all, you need to keep the prospect or customer at the heart of what you do. Remain human, and take a personalised approach. Poor execution on automated content strategy (including live chat and chatbots) will alienate your audience and damage the return on investment (ROI) for marketing automation tools. Focus on the customer journey and build an automation strategy to power growth.