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By Simon Grabowski, Founder & CEO, GetResponse

Best-in-class companies are 67% more likely than others to use a marketing automation platform. Yet, automation – with all of its benefits – is often considered a tool for only the largest organizations. The reasoning is that enterprise businesses, with sizable sales and marketing teams and massive prospect volume, are more likely to require the technology to optimize operations and streamline customer conversations. Meanwhile, for smaller organizations managing fewer prospects and with leaner outreach efforts, marketing automation has typically been positioned as unnecessary.

Today, however, this is no longer the case. Increasingly, small and mid-size businesses are also turning to marketing automation. In fact, according to Gartner, 98% of all small business software buyers are shopping for automation software for the first time. And with new software being developed to make it more accessible and less costly, it’s not just for enterprise organizations. Here’s why more SMBs are turning to automation technology.

1. The Customer Journey Isn’t a Straight Line.

Regardless of how large or small your customer base is, the digital customer journey is more complex than ever. There is no straightforward path to purchase. Instead, shoppers are engaging with businesses across a growing and diverse set of online forums – from email to e-commerce to brand website to third-party review sites, and more – all at any given time. There are more touchpoints for marketers to manage. They also need to identify the most critical for driving a purchase decision to the next stage.

Of course, for smaller organizations already stretched thin, it’s virtually impossible to navigate this influx of interactions effectively – as well as the data created through each one – without some type of automated solution. Automation can not only map the customer journey from initial trigger to purchase, but also support tailored outreach across each stage to drive movement through the funnel. And as the number of channels continues to rise, adding even more complexity to the customer journey, the need to embrace automation will only grow among SMBs.

2. With Lean Marketing Budgets, SMBs Must Optimize Digital Spend.

SMB marketing budgets are comparatively small. Some 50% of SMBs spend less than $300/month on internet marketing, for instance, and the majority – 68% – handle all marketing in house. Rather than investing in a multi-person team or exhausting resources across channels, it’s helpful to lean on automation tools to drive down costs and optimize overall digital marketing budgets.

SMBs also can’t afford to waste time and money marketing to those who may not be interested or who never open emails. Likewise, small businesses need to avoid annoying valued contacts with irrelevant emails that may forfeit the opportunity to market to them in the future.

Given its ability to intelligently target customers based on data-rich audience profiles, marketing automation is a cost-effective way to optimize digital spend for SMBs when every dollar counts.

3. SMBs Need Less Junk, More Quality Leads.

By far the biggest challenge facing small-business marketers is quality lead generation. Not surprisingly, 60% of SMB marketers name lead generation as a priority over all other marketing goals. Marketing automation can be the positive intervention SMBs need, enabling more effective, responsive, and data-driven touchpoints with customers. This improves lead flow and quality. More and more SMBs want to invest in automation for this reason. In fact, according to a 2015 VentureBeat study, 77% of marketing automation users saw their number of conversions increase, highlighting an overall boost in lead quality.

So What’s Holding Back SMB Automation?

Yet despite the clear need for automation that works for small and mid-size businesses, there are challenges in driving its adoption among SMB marketers and organizations. Here are the most pressing.

  • Pricing: Many automation tools are also costly and rigid, forcing long-term payment contracts on customers that aren’t necessarily mindful of the way an SMB works. Some services also charge extra for a mandatory onboarding process. Others require a dedicated employee or team to operate and troubleshoot the software, adding another layer of labor, time, and cost.
  • Ease of Use: Most automation software was designed and built for larger organizations, then retrofitted to serve the SMB market. As a result, automation can be too technical, requiring extensive training and onboarding that is time consuming and cumbersome for SMBs, which need to move more nimbly. These types of businesses need marketing automation tools that are more visual, intuitive, and easy to use, without sacrificing the power and sophistication of the best automation software.
  • Success: Beyond ease of use, because automation is often developed first for larger organizations, making it difficult to use for SMBs and necessitating third-party support, smaller organizations can be challenged to deliver positive outcomes initially. With most automation services, without expert advice or dedicated team members, campaigns can suffer and sour SMBs from continuing to use services given costs and other resources.

The good news is that technology has responded to the challenges SMBs face to create new solutions for the way businesses and consumers behave today. There are now excellent automation options for small and medium-sized businesses – all in service of smaller organizations who can use sophisticated yet simple technology to achieve a “big-company” rate of return on its marketing investment.


Simon Grabowski is the Founder and CEO of GetResponse. GetResponse is the easy-to-use yet advanced online marketing platform with more than 350,000 customers in 182 countries.