SMBs Leap into Marketing Automation

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The need for more efficient lead management processes and customer insights, combined with advances in technology, is leading more small and midsized businesses to embrace marketing automation platforms, according to researchers. In a survey of more than 1,200 U.S. SMBs by research firm Techaisle, 36 percent indicated they are planning to use a marketing automation platform within the next year—more than double the current adoption rate of 15 percent.

The top five marketing automation components used by SMBs are email marketing, campaign management, message personalization, search engine optimization, and CRM integration. Most respondents also plan to explore Web lead capture, social media monitoring, and analytics.

They also expect to spend between $260 and $3,950 a month on a marketing automation platform and to appoint between two and 25 employees to use it.

This finding is in line with Gartner analyst Laura McLellan's prediction that by 2017, chief marketing officers will spend more on IT than chief information officers. McLellan noted in a Webinar that nearly a third (30 percent) of marketing-related technology and services are already purchased by marketing executives, and in 2011, B2B and B2C marketing budgets were almost three times as high as IT budgets (10 percent versus 3.6 percent).

Nearly half the survey respondents who have already adopted marketing automation said they can better manage their sales leads, 46 percent have seen an improvement in demand generation, and 42 percent have improved their marketing ROI.

The marketing automation space is becoming increasingly competitive as vendors strive to provide better features and services. Eloqua made its debut on the stock market recently with an initial public offering that raised $92 million, which it will use to reach additional customers and acquire businesses selling complementary technologies. Its rival Marketo bought Crowd Factory, a social campaign management platform provider, this year.

Gaining insight into customers' online behavior and automating marketing campaigns is a "huge advantage," according to Josh Johnstone, marketing manager at POS Portal, which specializes in hardware and software deployments within the payments processing industry and is a Marketo client.

One of the platform's helpful features, notes Johnstone, is the ability to send customers personalized reminder emails about past purchases and upcoming Webinars. The email open rate of POS Portal's "regular" email is 28 percent, whereas its personalized email has a 40 percent open rate, according to Johnstone.

It was also important for the company to use an automation platform that integrated with its Salesforce.com CRM system. Such integration is crucial, agrees Eric Rabinowitz, managing partner of Nurture Marketing, a Leadformix user and reseller and a Microsoft Dynamics partner.

"It doesn't matter which CRM system you use," Rabinowitz says, "but if you don't integrate, you're limiting the power of both your online marketing automation solution and your CRM system."

Another rule of thumb when implementing a new platform is to "focus on the business result you're trying to achieve," advises Debbie Qaqish, chief revenue marketing officer at the Pedowitz Group, a marketing and consulting firm.

"SMBs in particular have limited time and resources, so it's important to stay laser-focused on what you want to get out [of your marketing automation platform] and do one thing at a time," Qaqish says. "Keep it simple."

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