November 2, 2014
Marketing automation is an enticing and misleading phrase at the same time. Who doesn’t want some magical marketing machine that automatically brings in new leads and turns them into customers? The reality is that it doesn’t take much to get your first automated marketing workflow started, but takes lots of fine-tuning and proper timing to get it perfect for your startup.
The Marketing Automation Landscape
Marketing automation is most often associated with tech-centric B2B businesses with long lead cycles, but B2Cs and non-profits use it as well. Essentially, marketing automation software brings together separate, but related pieces of the digital marketing landscape into one well-oiled machine so they all work better together. This means combining email, blogging, forms, lists, and call-to-actions into cohesive online campaigns. Companies such as Hubspot, Marketo, and Parot are some of the biggest names in marketing automation.
Do Startups Actually Need It?
For the first couple of dozen form fills on your website or offline leads coming in, it’s best to reach out and talk to them yourself. Paul Graham of Y Combinator said to “do things that don’t scale” in the early days, and he’s right. But when you’re starting to respond slower and slower by hand while you focus on your core product, that’s when potential customers get forgotten and opportunities are missed. Running a lean startup requires every technical advantage possible, and marketing automation is a critical tool that improves the feedback loop.
When to Introduce the Machine
The time to embrace a marketing automation platform depends on every company. Introduce too early, and you’re spending time and cash on a distraction, introduce too late and you’re playing catch up and missing out on critical growth.
The more popular enterprise platforms are expensive, so you’ll want to introduce it at a time that your company is comfortable to afford the expense. At the same time, it’s a good idea to introduce the software and learn the intricacies while you have fewer customers to make mistakes with. As your customers grow, your early lessons will scale with it.
Humans are Still in Control
Marketing automation does not mean pointing to a page on your website, clicking a button, and waiting for the machine to work. At the beginning there’s a learning curve, and you’ll put more effort into it than you’ll get out. Eventually though, the rewards will be 2:1, and then even more.
Although the campaigns are automated, there needs to be a human touch in there to be most effective. The written emails and messaging needs to be just as relevant, and just as sensitive to their needs as if you were doing everything by hand. At least for today, the marketer controls the automation.
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