One of the published findings from the Gartner 360 Summit in 2014 was the statement that "by 2020, 85 percent of customer relationships with businesses will be managed without human interaction." While technology is impacting on customer service and communications, the rise of 'marketing automation' offers the most compelling evidence that humans are starting to take a back seat.
Firstly, what is marketing automation?
According Smart Insights, the digital marketing blog: "marketing Automation enables businesses to automate tasks and workflows for the marketing and sales process, including prospect and customer profiling on landing pages, lead scoring, sending automated personalised emails and web recommendations to support lead nurturing and customer engagement."
Larger organisations are investing in 'Marketing Suites' that combine content management, social media, email, analytics and CRM within a semi-automated process. These can be costly to implement but the outcomes, in terms of more presonalised, responsive marketing that delivers customers or qualified leads without as much human intervention, are evidently worth it. An eMarketer report published this year revealed that 74% of marketers who use data-driven marketing say they have benefited from a competitive advantage in customer engagement and loyalty and 55% say they have increased revenues.
At the other end of the scale small businesses are struggling to keep up. A recent Gleanster study found that only 14% of SMEs rate themselves as advanced users of marketing automation and that, perhaps more tellingly, 90% of small businesses that haven't invested in marketing automation say that the primary reason is the expense.
Anyone who works in SME marketing won't be surprised by this; budgets are tight and time is even tighter. The question of whether the perception of automation being expensive is correct, though is worth exploring.
Email, for example, is one of the most popular marketing automation tools. Creating different mailing lists with a series of auto-responders aimed at nurturing leads through ever more tailored communications is often the starting point towards personalisation. This, combined with a systematic approach to web tracking and a smart CRM strategy, forms the backbone of many marketing automation systems.
Given that 95% of small businesses use email as a primary channel for communicating with prospects and customers and 75% believe email is the most cost effective option for personalising communications and measuring effectiveness, you would think it offers the ideal first step into marketing automation. Yet very few appear to be taking that step.
Why aren't more small businesses using marketing automation?
Earlier this year Our Social Times published a research report on digital marketing trends among agencies. Most of the small agencies we surveyed cited 'lack of time' and 'lack of money' as the primary reasons for not engaging in many new digital marketing activities and yet, we discovered, the root of the problem was often a lack of knowledge. I suspect that, to date, many SMEs simply haven't learnt enough about how to implement marketing automation.
I'll be exploring this question later this month in an online discussion Marketing Automation on a Shoestring. To kick-start the debate we we've created a useful infographic, below, which seeks to explain how small businesses can make use of automation techniques and processes. Enjoy!