This is going to be a huge year for marketing automation at the SMB level.
In the past 18 months, we've seen Salesforce.com form its Marketing Cloud from acquisitions of Radian6 and Buddy Media, and Adobe form a marketing cloud as well. Marketo's purchase of Crowdfactory and Microsoft's acquisition of MarketingPilot are proof that vendors are beefing up their marketing software capabilities. These moves have primarily been aimed at attracting enterprise buyers, mainly because of the increased complexity social media has added to the marketing processes of the bigger guys. But SMBs also face a complex marketing environment, and vendors like InfusionSoft, Zoho, and Pardot are making moves to address the needs of smaller organizations.
Keeping Up With Customers Is Getting Tougher
Brian Clark, a content marketing expert, boiled down the marketing challenge to this: "Most people aren't good at old-style marketing, right? And now we are asking them to do new-style marketing. And while marketers think the Internet is the greatest marketing channel ever, people don't want to get pitched to in social channels."
Consumers are adopting technologies at record rates. Just as quickly, they are adapting their behaviors and expectations to take full advantage of this technology. So while marketing content is easier to create and distribute than ever, consumers are creating socially constructed boundaries that may be tougher to penetrate as time goes on. And more companies are seeing a need to figure out what's required to get marketing right.
As I see more SMBs looking to change the way they market to today's customers, I also see them taking advantage of social, mobile, and cloud technologies. Business models are being created using services from Amazon, Google, and other platform providers that couldn't have been built a few years ago. They're not only being built quickly, but in a way that they are able to adapt to rapidly changing customer needs.
This approach is increasingly being used to transition from transaction-based relationships to interaction-based relationships. Such a shift will hopefully lead to longer, more predictable relationships. And with many people gaining experience with cloud and mobile computing—along with vendors continuing to roll out capabilities—2013 should be a significant year in the development of interaction-based business models built on cloud platforms.
More Activity Calls for More Cohesiveness
Companies that want to connect with customers will need a much better handle on which activities they should execute, which segments should be targeted, and how to determine when a prospect might need a particular interaction type to move to the next phase in the cycle.
Companies like InfusionSoft have made it easier to create marketing sequences that are automatically executed based on data and activities. Zoho has added the ability to execute email marketing campaigns from the CRM service. HubSpot has integrated functionality from its Performable acquisition to connect all types of social/Web activity to a contact record to understand what drives conversions. And Batchbook has created an integration layer that makes it easier for customers to manage and execute MailChimp email campaigns.
Integrations provide other benefits too. LoopLogic, a video distribution platform, lets you send a video through MailChimp so you can track watching activity down to a named individual. Founder Scott Mitchell says people are more likely to click a thumbnail image to the video when it's in an email message. But more important, you can push people into different groups based on who they are and how much they viewed, enabling a more efficient relationship-building process.
SMBs must put themselves in the best position to create and extend relationships with today's customer. This calls for a new approach, and a business model that supports it. And it calls for them to get started now.
Brent Leary is cofounder of CRM Essentials, an Atlanta-based CRM advisory firm focused on small and midsized businesses. He is also the author of Barack 2.0: Social Media Lessons for Small Businesses.