About the author: Ivana is the publisher of DIYMarketers.com, where small-business owners get low-cost tools, tips, and strategies to do marketing for about $17/day. Her popular #BizapaloozaChat on Twitter teaches about 2 million small-business owners each week. She’s been a contributor to AMEX OPENForum and has appeared on MSNBC.
If you’ve been wondering how to automate your marketing, leverage your precious time, and put those dull and repetitive tasks on autopilot, start here.
In this article, you'll learn how to focus your marketing ideas into a single strategy and identify the most important software features to help you streamline your marketing process so you can spend your time closing leads and serving your customers.
Before you choose any kind of automation software, it's important to focus on three things:
Your customer's journey through choosing, buying, and using your product or service
The marketing strategy you'll use to attract and convert customers
What you feel most comfortable doing
These are the first steps of any good marketing campaign. If you map out your marketing processes, getting your ideal customer to choose your product or service will be a breeze.
In a recent GetApp survey (methodology at bottom of page), 70.5% of U.S. small-business owners and leaders said that understanding their customers was a moderate or significant challenge.
And yet, knowing who your ideal customers are and how they are most likely to find and buy from you is critical to choosing the right tools to automate your marketing. Here's how to map it out:
Step 1: Choose your ideal customer
Your ideal customer is the person who you want to help. Think of them as someone who needs your product or service the most, and will value it highly.
Step 2: Identify your traffic sources
Where will your ideal customers come from? How do they go about looking for your business, and evaluating your product or service? Traffic sources can include Google, Facebook Ads, seminars, conferences, and referrals.
Step 3: Create a pathway to your product or service
Once your prospects find your business and show interest, create a path for them to purchase your product. This path will likely include emails with informational links, product demonstrations, and calls with a sales person.
Step 4: Nurture the relationship
If they don’t purchase today, they may purchase later. Be sure to have a system in place to keep potential customers informed and engaged via email or social media.
Think of your marketing strategy as the vehicle that's going to bring customers to you. Don't even think about looking at marketing platforms if you haven't chosen a marketing strategy.
In the same GetApp survey, 77.4% of small-business owners and leaders said that they considered marketing strategy a moderate or significant challenge. That’s not surprising, because so much of the information about marketing strategies out there is confusing.
This is what a typical Google search for “marketing strategies” will give you:
If you were to take the time to group all of the tactics listed in top strategy articles like these, you’d find that they fall into three overall marketing strategies:
Content marketing is when customers find your business because of content you wrote, a video you created, or a webinar you gave. This is an inbound strategy; your business creates/publishes content, and customers find it and come to you.
Direct marketing is another phrase for direct selling. Direct mail is a form of direct marketing, as is face-to-face selling. You can also sell directly online through events such as webinars.
Paid advertising is when you purchase visibility in newspapers, social media, or even by sponsoring events or local organizations.
This chart breaks down both online and offline examples of popular tactics within these three marketing strategies to make it easier for you to choose the marketing automation tools that best fit your marketing goals:
After reading this chart, you’ve probably already identified the marketing strategy that works best for your business. Now you’re ready to start picking tools.
Only 11% of businesses surveyed by GetApp mentioned content marketing as a way to attract new customers. This is understandable, because content marketing is a long game. Creating great content takes time, money, and organization.
You’ll find that many content marketing tools have overlapping features. Your objective is to find a couple tools that will accomplish 80% of your content marketing activities. Here are the most important elements to cover:
This will most likely take the form of SEO software. These tools help you understand how customers find your products and services online, who you are competing with, and what you can do to rank higher on Google's search engine results page (SERPs).
Features to look for:
Find good long-tail keywords
See competitors’ organic positions
Track content performance
Look for a marketing calendar tool that allows you and your team to create, edit, and publish your content.
Features to look for:
Collaborative content calendar
Reporting and statistics
Integration with WordPress
How a tool pushes your content into the world is critical. Make sure the content management software you choose connects (pushes) to the social media channels your customers use most. Be sure to also look for a content management tool that integrates with your email marketing software. This way, you can send new content in your newsletters on a monthly or weekly cadence, or whenever you publish a certain number of posts.
Features to look for:
Promotion of every new blog post
Re-promotion of most popular past posts
Preview social media messages before sending
Customizable social media sharing schedule
The tools I use that incorporate all of these features are Semrush, CoSchedule, and Buffer. SEMRush helps you create high-ranking content so your ideal customer can find your business. CoSchedule is an all-in-one marketing calendar that your entire team can use to create, publish, and promote content across social media, as well as to your email lists. And Buffer helps you schedule and share content to your social media channels.
One of the biggest challenges busy small-business owners have is balancing marketing and sales activities with servicing existing customers. This back and forth between marketing and servicing can create a frustrating gap in cash flow.
Using an email marketing platform will help address this challenge. Here are a few features to look for:
A tool that will grow with you. Many email marketing tools offer basic features for free, allowing users to start with a free plan and upgrade as their business grows.
Contact forms allow you to enter emails manually or provide easy forms for prospects to complete on a landing page.
One-click integration will automatically add new leads from a lead capture form to your CRM and segment those leads based on interest.
Analytics to track the percentage of people who open your emails and click on enclosed links. This helps improve your emails so that more customers move through your sales cycle.
Personalized sending ensures emails are sent based on the recipient's time zone.
Tagging based on interest or link clicked so you can create a campaign based on what your audience wants to see.
Did you know that webinars are a great way to educate customers and sell your products or services? And you don’t have to do them live. You can use automated webinars and schedule live streams across platforms to reach your ideal customer and generate leads.
Make sure the webinar tool you choose offers some of these features:
Flexible scheduling and live webinars, so you don’t have to pay for two tools.
Text and email reminders so every lead you capture remembers to show up.
Custom commenting features. You can record a live webinar and then customize comments so it looks like it's happening live during future playback.
Payment options. If you sell products or services from a workshop, you can process payments within the platform.
Ability to live stream across Facebook and YouTube.
According to the same GetApp survey, 65% of small businesses find social media to be a moderate or significant challenge. This isn’t surprising, because while social media captures a lot of leads, it’s very difficult to regularly create and post engaging social media content.
The good news is that today’s social media tools don’t just schedule your posts, they can also help you create customized content for each social channel and schedule it.
When you’re looking for social media tools, focus on these features:
Schedule custom posts across social media channels. Each channel has its own style and requirements, and you want to be able to schedule custom posts in all channels from one tool.
Templates and copy. Look for a social media tool that provides templates and copy that you can use for inspiration and customize to suit your needs.
Ability to schedule blog posts across channels. This can save you at least an hour per day.
Capture and score potential leads. Some social CRM tools have the ability to pull an engaged lead from social media and place them in your sales funnel.
To create and schedule your social media posts, check out Buffer, Lately.ai, Canva, or PromoRepublic. To capture leads and engage with potential leads on social media, you can use a social CRM tool like Nimble, Hootsuite, or Sprout Social.
Don’t discount paid advertising as a solid lead generation and conversion strategy. If you hate selling and don't have the time or talent for content marketing, paid advertising is a great strategy.
Here’s what to consider when evaluating advertising tools:
Specific to your channel. Look for a tool that supports where you want to advertise, whether that be Google Ads, Facebook Ads, or both, for example.
Robust analytics. Check out the included analytics and conversion tracking reports. Make sure you understand them and can make good decisions based on the included data.
Optimization features. If you’re not an ad expert, look for AI-assisted optimization features to help you improve your ads.
With the right marketing automation tools, you can give yourself more time for the important things by setting up a system and workflows so these tools do most of the heavy lifting for you.
You'll be able to spend less time on administrative tasks while getting better results than before, because all those little decisions and actions are being made automatically.
GetApp conducted this survey in May 2021 of 601 small-business owners and leaders in the U.S. to learn how they are pivoting marketing, sales, and customer service following COVID-19. Respondents were screened for employment status, business size, and area of responsibility.