Brian Larson

Marketing Automation Essentials for Small Businesses

#mpb2b Marketing Automation Panel

Do you know which companies are visiting your site right now? Are you able to automate your marketing messages to reach different audiences based on their behavior on your site? How about scoring leads to ensure your sales team knows who should make it to the top of their calling list?

If you find yourself answering no to some or all of these questions, you’re not alone. The scenarios above can be a reality for marketers, but this reality often requires an investment in marketing automation. While large corporations were predominantly the earlier adopters of this technology several years ago, small businesses are learning that the technology synchs with their business needs as well. And marketing automation providers are taking notice, offering solutions now geared to SMBs as well.

Today’s MarketingProfs B2B Marketing Forum session is led by marketing veteran Frank Days, and includes the panel of Lori Cohen, David Karp & William Toll. Geared towards small business with an emphasis on the key features, best practices and considerations that small businesses need to take into account when considering marketing automation, Days begins the session by validating that he has the right audience for the session. “How many in the audience are the sole person responsible for marketing at your company?’, Days asked. 66% of attendees raised their hand. Yep. It’s the right audience.

With Days directing today’s session with a series of questions for the panel, the conversion track begins with the important question ‘WHY’ marketing automation can be effective for small businesses.

Why Marketing Automation

Toll takes the lead on answering the question by focusing on the efficiencies marketing automation can create. According to Toll, “Marketing automation allows you to be more productive with your time” by automating many processes and allowing marketers to focus on creating the content and workflows that nurture their respective audiences.

Cohen concurs and backs that position with a statistic that varies slightly from source to source, but is highly compelling none the less. “80% of the buyers journey happens before they contact the company. If that’s indeed the case, our role as marketers is to provide information to our audience to help them along their journey.”

Really understanding that journey, supported by real data, and refining your marketing activities accordingly is where the panel sees the most value in marketing automation. But it’s not all roses. There is also misinformation and overstatements abound about marketing automation, and the panel is quick to define what it ‘can’t do’ as well.

Marketing Automation Does Not…

It seems that people often expect that marketing automation will move the clouds and suddenly reveal a marketing strategy. Karp explains that “marketing automation cannot form your corporate strategy. It can do many things, but your strategy needs to be sound and actually exist to get value out of the technology.”

Days agrees that “marketing automation cannot define your strategy for you. It can, however, compliment your existing strategy.”

So marketing automation is not a “strategy developer”. So what else can it NOT do? “It can’t train your sales and marketing teams,” according to Karp. Marketers and organizations need to own the responsibility of training, ensuring adoption and monitoring compliance.

When to Invest

On this point the panel agrees in perfect harmony, content is needed before any small businesses considers the investment. Or as Toll more eloquently puts it, “You need content before you even consider investing. It’s the meat to your marketing automation strategy.”

Imagine having the power of a tool that can tell you what content resonates with an individual and then offer the ability to serve them additional content to move them through the buying cycle. Now imagine that same scenario without the whole ‘content piece’. Not much going on.

The investment conversation brings us to the topic that the audience is eager to discuss: what features do small businesses need.

Key Small Business Features

Marketing Automation Musts Word Cloud

Let the record show that the panel, beginning with Cohen, caution that the answer ultimately depends on your objectives and your strategy. But Days persists, and the team hones in on several key features that they believe would be beneficial for small businesses. For more convenience consumption, those features are represented in the word cloud to the right, courtesy of

The panel believes that the CRM integration is maybe the most crucial feature, as it acts as the gateway to delivering the leads you worked to hard to drive to your sales team – who should be waiting with baited breath!

With, ‘WHY’, ‘WHEN’ and ‘WHAT’ covered, the session concludes with a discussion on ‘HOW’ small business marketers should leverage this tool.

Marketing Automation Best Practices

As Voltaire wrote (he might have even said it too, but I wasn’t there) “with great power, comes great responsibility.” This axiom certainly applies to marketers leveraging marketing automation. Cohen says marketers need to be wary of over-marketing, “don’t use marketing automation to shout. You can automate your campaigns, but that doesn’t mean blasting your target audience incessantly is a good idea.”

Increasing the frequency of messages or touchpoints does not necessarily equate to better results. Instead, the panel emphasizes the importance of timing. “When you contact leads is critical,” says Days. Adding that the single most important follow up tip he can give is to contact leads within 30 minutes of completing a form, ideally by phone. According to Days, “the need that drove them to complete the form is still top of mind.” What better time to connect?

Now that you have heard what the expert panel believes are some of the marketing automation essentials for small businesses, what do you think? What best practices or features would you add?

PoorSo SoOKGoodAwesome (4 votes, average: 4.50 out of 5)


  1. Avatar Charles Warnock says

    Great post, Brian. Maybe you can add some information on MA and CRM tools for small companies who are not yet up in the Eloqua / Marketo range.

    • Avatar Brian Larson says

      Thanks, Charles. The session was intentionally ‘platform agnostic’, but you bring up a great point that not all SMBs can absorb the cost of some solutions. Act-On seems to be getting more penetration with smaller organizations & I believe their price point reflects that.

  2. Marketing automation shouldn’t look like marketing automation to the site visitor, Voltaire didn’t say that, I did!

    • Avatar Brian Larson says

      Well said. Successful implementation and adoption of marketing automation should produce a better overall experience for your target audience. That and that alone should be the only ‘impact’ of marketing automation your audience feels.

  3. Avatar stefankrafft says

    I really do like this post and a fully agree that the time has come for SMB companies to take advantage of the technology behind it. The obstacle is, as you clearly pointed out producing relevant content. However I recommend everyone to get started right away even though they only have got one or two pieces of good content. Why? Because you learn will you´re taking your first baby steps in this field and that will give more knowledge about how your audiences respond to your content. From there it´s much easier to take the next step. There is one solution out there which actually allows Marketers to get started with Marketing Automation without any cost what so ever.

  4. Great article Brian.Marketing automation holds enormous potential for companies who understand and take advantage of it.

  5. Avatar Charles Warnock says

    Stefan, I will definitely check it out. Thx for the recommendation.

  6. Avatar Michael Bian says

    Interesting article one must adapt.