Marketing system automation enables you to adopt an integrated approach to generating, nurturing and converting leads into customers.

Marketing automation services can help you integrate all your marketing campaigns, from direct mail and phone campaigns to online and social initiatives.

They can provide you with insight-focused analysis of your lead management system, web analytics platforms, and other systems to create something that’s more than the sum of the parts.

Beyond the time-saving and efficiency benefits of automation, marketing automation enables you to focus on other areas of your business processes that are essential to any modern marketing department.

On average, only 20 per cent of leads is sales-ready when they first come in. This means you need a disciplined process – known as lead nurturing – to develop qualified leads until they are ready to buy your product. Done well, nurturing can result in 50 per cent more sales.

Before the internet and social networks, buyers had limited ways of obtaining the purchase information they needed, so the seller controlled the buying process.

But then buyers moved into the power position. They could access the information they wanted on their own online, anywhere and at any time. And they could delay engaging with the salesperson until they knew as much or more than the salesperson did.

The marketer’s job is far from finished once someone becomes a customer. The real value comes from retaining and deepening the customer relationship over time. This may include selling complementary products to the customer as up-sells, as well as customer loyalty and retention. Just like a real-world relationship, you need multiple tracks for each buyer's personality and buying stage that listens to how the customer behaves, and adjust accordingly.

In contrast, email marketing still works really well, but the world is changing. The inbox is crumbling like never before. Marketers have to deliver their messages in more formats to multiple devices. And their messages have to be more relevant, delivered more frequently, and still make it into the buyer or prospect's inbox.

A common misconception about marketing automation is that it is robotic communications and unwanted spam. The reality is that marketing automation, when used in conjunction with other tools, can deliver more dialogues that build relationships and engage buyers on their timetables.

Large companies have long found value in the technology, but it’s important to point out that marketing automation isn’t just for big companies. In fact, small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) make up the largest growing segment of the marketing automation technology space right now.

According to Focus Research Study: Marketing Automation, March 2011: “The majority of companies see ROI from using marketing automation within a year”.

It's every entrepreneur's dream to build and sustain a profitable business. But instead of growing their wealth, conquering new markets and getting new customers on board, business owners find themselves buried in a boatload of mundane and repetitive tasks that take too much of their time and energy. Top it off with personal challenges and you've got a recipe for burnout.

“Too much to do, too little time.” Haven't we heard of this a thousand times before?

While being hands-on and all-out is good – after all, it's your money and your lifelong dream that's on the line – you should make use of your time wisely because it is something that we can never have enough of. Why work extremely hard when you can work smarter instead?

Why Manual Processing Just Won't Do

Manual processing takes the fun out of doing business, by stressing people out with routine tasks. It is costly and slow, which could lead to inconsistent results and a high error rate. Regardless of industry and your workers' skills, it will take plenty of resources to manually key in data, run reports and analyse them on a regular basis. Time spent on paperwork would have been better spent on customer-centric and employee performance management activities that can reap operational and revenue gains.

Fortunately, there is a way for businesses to reduce the inefficiencies and costs brought about by recurring and predictable manual processing: automation.

Automation is simply the process of improving and speeding up workflows and functions with the use of technology, coupled with a perceptive mind. It is the answer to the pressing concerns of today's competitive, demanding and complicated marketplace.

Companies don't have a choice but to find a way to do more with less, and with automation, they can achieve just that. Businesses might have a fighting chance after all. They can maximize resources, cut costs, improve business productivity and agility, and provide a range of other benefits that drive growth.

Because of these advantages that automation provides, it's no surprise that multinational companies such as Frito Lay, Cisco Systems, Emerson and many others have made it a priority.

What Do You Need to Automate?

If you're convinced that automation is for you, you should identify which areas of your business you would want to automate. Here are some that you should consider:

  1. Accounting and Inventory

Automated online accounting platforms can help ease accounting woes. For accounts reconciliation, invoicing, and expense claims creation, web accounting software such as Xero and FreshBooks can get your finances on track. For a minimal fee, they can also provide inventory management features to help retailers track assets and improve stock control.

Automating accounting processes keep clients, partners and vendors happy because you can stick to payment schedules and commitments.

  1. Data Analytics

Having useful information about your customers and what drives them to spend their hard-earned money on your business is paramount. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software or platforms are a big help in tracking and analysing important information – your leads, both existing customers and prospects, and their buying behaviours.

A CRM doesn't need to be expensive. You can always choose a platform that doesn't come with all the bells and whistles. Cloud-based ones are your best bet. They are equally as efficient compared with on-premise platforms but are more affordable. Most vendors offer CRM services on a subscription, and the costs vary depending on the number of users and enabled features. Among those vendors that offer smaller CRM versions is SalesForce. Their SalesCloud offering has a low starting fee for a basic CRM.

If your team is always in the field, choose a mobile CRM such as Insightly or SugarCRM. But if you need to connect with customers using social networking sites such as Twitter or Facebook, choose social CRM such as Nimble, Batchbook or BlueCamroo.

  1. Marketing

Statistics have proved time and time again that marketing automation tools should be a priority investment, and it's easy to see why. Not only does it save companies valuable time and boost engagement, but it also helps generate more business and revenue.

Marketing automation tools such as Ontraport are used to systematize and execute multi-channel marketing strategies such as email and social media. They trigger specific internal and external communications based on a predefined set of criteria. Companies can send thank you emails after a consumer buys a product, or send follow-ups upon seeing abandoned cart items, or run promotional emails with coupons for new social media followers. The primary goal is to help companies consolidate data and create triggered communications to sustain and even enhance customer engagement and relationships.

If you don't have any idea about which marketing automation tool to pick, you will be best advised to consult with a company such as Azanatek before taking the plunge. If the price is an issue, small businesses can choose simple email automation software such as MailChimp and Vero.

  1. Sales and Customer Support

In a study conducted by ClickSoftware, it was found that around 86% of participants would stop doing business with a company because of a poor customer service experience. Consumers want to feel important but this does not mean they want to be bombarded with data. When they ask for information, companies should be able to reply at the soonest time possible. And while customers say that price is one of the things that drives them to purchase a product, a satisfying sales experience is ultimately more important.

Customer service is a major element in the sales process. In fact, this “after-sales” engagement translates to either a churn or a repeat sale. To sales directors, it just means that businesses can no longer afford to make errors or deficits. Sales should be able to bridge the gap between the customers’ needs and the processes that fulfil those needs. But with the influx of requests coming in, such as queries from prospects, and service upgrades from existing customers, on top of managing sales teams, sales directors are bound to fail as customer numbers grow. The tedious task of processing everything without sacrificing anything would be impossible to achieve without automation.

These days, you don't know when a sale is going to be your last, so make sure you're on the right track by using solutions that help you streamline, automate and standardize your customer support processes. You can explore customer service automation programmes such as Zendesk, Groove HQ or Zapier.

Finally

In spite of the benefits automation brings, it's a surprise that some companies still rely on collecting data and running their business using paper-based and labour-intensive procedures. Aside from capturing intelligence data, automation can help repurpose content for efficiency and customization, as well as strategic and triggered content targeting. It's the only way companies can accomplish more tasks with less time, effort and resources.

If you want to get ahead and keep up with customer and stakeholder demands, it's time to adopt automation now. Wait a few years more and it might be too late.

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