Marketing automation for small business can be quite the fun subject, but, I have some bad news for you. Most of the information and guides on running marketing automation are designed for big Fortune 500 companies. It is almost impossible to implement a lot of the advice unless you have entire departments to assign to implementation.
The good news is that this guide is here to change all of that! Small businesses deserve to be able to leverage the power of marketing automation to super-charge their business growth. And there are a few key steps to help make that happen.
1) Get the right partner, someone that understands you
One of the biggest mistakes that I see with small businesses is that they try to wing it on their own. They rush to sign up for whatever marketing automation platform they see first. Only to be disappointed to find out that they’re treated as just a “software user”.
The answers from support are all automated, and if you talk to a human, they just give you canned pre-written responses regarding the software. You feel like you are absolutely on your own, and there is no one there to help you actually implement marketing automation in your own business. That is, they give you all of these “features”, but how do you apply them to your own business?
Worse yet, if you try and look at the tutorials, it is most often very generic stuff that doesn’t apply to your situation or business model at all. Either that, or it is hyper-complicated fancy automations that are only applicable to an enterprise situation. It is like the small business is forgotten and left to fend for itself.
The good news is that there is now a platform that cares. Enter Emercury. While we do work hard to develop all the fancy features, we see things differently. Our core belief is that we want to help you solve business problems, and the software features are just the tools we use to help you solve said problems.
This is why a lot of our plans include hands-on coaching and actual strategy sessions that go beyond “how to use the software”. This is where we can work with you, one-on-one to help you solve problems and automate stuff and save time, as per your own unique business. Consider booking a one-on-one demo to get a sense for this experience.
2) Decide to prioritize ROI and take it step by step
Look, marketing automation is super exciting. The first time that you discover all the cool things that you can do with automation it can become absolutely exhilarating. And it is very tempting to want to do everything, all at once, and build all kinds of super fancy automations and automate everything.
But here’s a key step I want to share with you, in order to ensure you get the best out of marketing automation for your small business. You have to stop and think about ROI. Not everything you do has the same return on investment in terms of time and effort.
Yes, once you’re done, you will have likely implemented every single cool feature that we offer. However, trying to implement everything all at once will not end well. Fortunately, the 90-10 rule applies to marketing automation, just like it applies to all areas of business.
Now, at this point all I want you to do is just to understand this idea about prioritization. So this key step is about “deciding” to do things in a gradual way. This means that you make it a mission to prioritize ROI. With such a strategy you start off by implementing the highest-ROI steps, and gradually add things over time, as it makes sense to do so.
But what are these steps, and how do you know what order to follow? Well, this is what the rest of the steps in this guide are about, so keep reading. They are ordered based on ROI, to help you implement this strategy.
3) Look at the key events and data-points in your business
Don’t let these scary technical phrases scare you. It’s not as technical as it sounds, but it does take some effort and thinking about how your business functions and what makes it unique.
The truth is that if you want to get great results from marketing, you have to first understand some key, basic marketing principles. And one of the most important ones is understanding the so-called “customer’s journey”.
This is a fancy term that just tells us that customers don’t appear out of nowhere on the shopping cart page and click buy. Same with a physical store. A person doesn’t magically appear at the cash register with the product in one hand and cash in the other.
There are certain steps (events) that lead a customer to this end point. For example the steps might look like this:
– They first see your ad on tv (a “see ad” event)
– Then they hear about you on the radio (“hear ad” event)
– A few months later, when they end up needing a product, they think of you, and drop by your physical store where they just browse (a “browsing store” event) and give their details for a giveaway prize (a “lead signup” event)
– Then 2 months later they see your email campaign about a Black Friday special, and click to see the deals on your website (a “page visit” event)
– Then they go ahead and buy some items from the store (the “purchase event”)
Do note that I skipped any possible touch points that might have happened between the signup event and the moment they decide to buy, for the sake of brevity, but I think you get the point. Those events in between might have included reading some of your emails which builds trust, or browsing your website which shows buying potential.
The reason that this is important?
Most sales are made over the course of time and it requires that the customer has many touch points between first learning about you, and actually deciding to buy your product.
As a small business, what makes you unique is that those touch points will differ based on how you run your business and what the “significant events” are.
When you do marketing automation, you are essentially automating the response to the different events. But also automating the marketing messages that are designed to take them from one step to the next.
So you have to actually know what those events are, and define them
But how do you do this? Well, without talking to you one-on-one, I can just give you some examples. Let’s start with some of the more generic stuff that applies to most businesses.
- Your mental model will definitely need to have a “gave email” event or step of some kind
- Depending on your set-up, the next events would be “confirmed email” and “finished the welcome series”
Now, this is where the specifics unique to your own business begin. If you run an ecommerce business, a big event for you is the first time they visit the e-store. So you would want to see that as a step in the customer journey.
Remember, we’re talking about just your mental model at the moment. The specifics to gathering, tracking and storing that data is something that requires further analysis.
Do you want to simply tag people who visit your e-store, or click on a link leading to the e-store? Or perhaps you want to store what category of product they went to look at? In that case you have some further analysis to do.
You would have to decide how to categorize and store this data. Do you want to assign a bunch of tags, or perhaps you want to have a “product categories interest” custom field? With Emercury you can do it either way. But it is up to you to decide what the important data is and how you want to categorize and store it.
It doesn’t matter if you store it inside of tags or custom fields. But you do want to decide what you want to keep track of and store. Do you want to store general categories like “men’s clothing” and “women’s clothing” or go even more specific?
This is a process
At this point, I am just asking you to start thinking about these things. Don’t expect to identify every tag that you will ever need to store. There is no need to try and identify all the possibly relevant data points in advance.
Now, it does help if you have someone to coach you, and with some of our plans we might help you figure this stuff out and make it easier. But even then, you won’t figure out everything all in advance before you even start.
It does help to start thinking in this way, and gradually identify these parts of the customer journey and make your mental map clearer as you implement the next steps. If you want more help with the specifics for your business, consider that strategy sessions are included in some of our plans.
4) Start by designing a simple autoresponder
This is a great trick that I share with most people. If you look at our advanced automation builder, you will see that you can create some very complex automations. You can branch things out based on different conditions, have multiple different parallel paths, go off of different triggers including website events and so forth.
However, for most of email marketing history, most people made their email marketing millions by just using simple autoresponders. This was the precursor to today’s automation builders. It is simply a feature where you define a series of emails, and decide when each one gets sent out. For example, on day 1 send this email, on day 2 send this other email, on day 7 send the third email in the series, and so forth.
The absolute truth is that I can take a master email marketer, give them a simple autoresponder, and they can beat 99% of marketers by only using autoresponders. Now obviously it’s even better if you can leverage the more modern and advanced automation features.
But it does not scale with complexity. So we’re circling back to that discussion about ROI here. If you produce an automation which is 10x more complicated than a simple autoresponder, you will not make 10x more profit. Does that make sense? You will make more profit, but the advantage is not linear.
So in that sense, I would say it is always better to create a simple autoresponder for your business using the automation builder. That is, define a trigger which fires when people join the list. Then drag in a “send email” module. Follow it up by a module that delays the next step by x days, and so forth, until you recreate a classic autoresponder.
The idea is that even though you have all of these other cool modules and triggers and conditions that you can use, you would want to resist the temptation to begin with. First get your autoresponder-like automation working well, and then you can grow it in complexity later on.
But why not use the autoresponder feature then?
You can also use our classic autoresponder feature if you want to. But the reason you want to do this inside of the advanced automation builder is because you can upgrade your automation over time. Basically you can take this autoresponder-like automation and add more advanced features to it so that it grows more complex over time.
5) Introduce data-gathering points
If you are happy with your smoothly functioning basic automation, you should start to notice some patterns. Perhaps you will notice some people are more likely to click on certain emails in the sequence than others.
This is all useful information that you can collect and organize as a business. Think back to the discussion we had above about data-points and events. If you look at how people engage with the different emails, you might say something like “hmmm, some people click on the email promoting a weight loss program, and others click on the link in the email promoting a fitness program”.
With that, you might go, “ok well, doesn’t it then make sense that I tag people based on this?”. For example you might have an “Interested in Fitness” tag and an “Interested in Weight-loss” tag. Then you would assign each one as it makes sense, based on how they engaged with which email in the series.
This is where automation really shines and I haven’t seen too many people talk about this. Most focus out there is about utilizing data in automations. That is, if a person has this tag, send this email, but if they have this other tag, send this other email.
What they don’t mention is that automations are the most efficient way to also collect those data-points in the first place. With Emercury this is quite straightforward. In this particular case you would simply drag-in the “add tag” module after each email where it makes sense.
In-between you would set a condition, where you check if they opened the email or not. With this you can make it so that they get a certain tag based on whether they opened an email.
6) Add branching for more personalization
But I often see people rush into it too quickly. There is a reason I put it as step 6. And that is because implementation adds some complexity to your automations.
In step 5 I recommended that you merely add conditions where people are tagged based on their actions, but they would still all get the same sequence of emails in the same order. In that sense, you still don’t offer a fully personalized experience.
If, however, you want to treat people completely differently based on their actions, you will want to study the different scenarios, and decide the different experience you want to offer to different people.
And when I say “scenarios” I mean how different people might engage differently. Some people might open certain emails, or not open them. And then, you might decide to treat people differently by sending different emails to them based on this differing behavior.
For example, if a person opens email 2, they are then sent email 3. If they do not open email 2, your automation sends them an alternative version of email 2 or a special offer, for example.
Or you can can create completely different paths
As another example, you might decide you want to completely split the automation into two very different branches after “email 3”. That is, from there on the rest of the sequence should look very different based on people’s behavior up until that point.
Let’s say that everyone gets the same email 1, email 2, and email 3. But after email 3 you put in a condition that checks if they have acquired the “interested in weight loss” tag by this point of the series. If they have acquired that tag, you then send them emails that revolve entirely around weight loss. Otherwise, you send them a general sequence of emails.
In specific terms, this means that you drag-in a tag-checking module after email 3. Then you create one branch of steps for those who do not have the tag, and another branch for those who have it.
And while all of this sounds cool, know that it can easily get out of hand where your automation can start to look like a forest of trees and branches. So it’s not something you want to rush into, or do too much of, too soon.
7) Consider splitting your automations up
Speaking of super-large automations that start resembling forests… There is a solution to this. If you do genuinely reach this level of personalization where you have a ton of different paths, consider splitting your automations.
The simplest way to do this is to replace the start of a new path with an “Add Tag” module. Let’s say that your automation checks to see if people open an email, and if they do, it starts an entire new complex branch. If they don’t open the email, it starts another very complex branch.
All you need to do is assign a tag for people who open that email, and create a new automation that triggers on this tag. Then, simply move the appropriate branch to this new automation. The same with people who don’t open the email, just assign a tag, and let a separate automation scenario house the complex branch.
This is going to make your life a lot easier than trying to house a complex customer journey and all possible permutations in one single automation scenario.
8) Add website tracking and events
As we are talking about marketing automation in general, it makes sense that we should talk about marketing across all channels, and not just email. Consider that Emercury is a full-stack marketing platform, and this is where key steps 8 and 9 come in.
However, there is a reason that I left these for the end. Think back to our early key step regarding prioritization and ROI. The absolute fact is that email still offers the biggest bang for your buck. And if you apply this philosophy where you focus on getting the 90-10 of easy profit, you would prioritize email marketing automation. And only then would you expand it even further and go full stack.
In terms of this, what we recommend to advanced users is that they first start leveraging the power of website tracking. With Emercury this is actually quite easy. You insert our tracking code into your website header, and we start tracking all sorts of things for you, automatically.
But it doesn’t stop there. The really amazing thing about this is that we have fully custom events. This is where you can define any action or behavior on your website as an event that can trigger automations inside of Emercury.
Now a special note, to prevent confusion
Earlier we talked about marketing events from a more general marketing perspective. So something like “customer walked into our physical store” is an “event”, as is “opened our text message”, as is “opened an email”. Now, you can actually classify events into types of events, based on what context they happened in. And in the case of “opened an email”, the type would be “email event”.
The reason I tell you all of this is that in marketing platforms the word event is used as shorthand for website events. So just as marketing recognizes “offline events” such as “walked into a store” or “text message events” such as “replied to text message”, we also have website events. These are things that happen on your website.
On marketing platforms however, “website events” are referred to as just “events”. This is because they are the default in online marketing, and everything else is seen as “the other type of events”. This might cause some confusion if you think about our earlier discussion about marketing events more broadly speaking.
This more general meaning of an event includes email events, physical location events, text-message events and yes website events. However only website events get shortened to just “events”. So when marketers talk about events, they often mean website events, not customer-journey events in general.
Facebook for example initially only supported website events. After introducing the ability to track “not-website” events, they had to come up with a category called “offline events”.
This is a bit of a misnomer, because it includes “all events that didn’t happen on a website”. Ironically enough, by that definition, an email open or reply is an “offline event” to Facebook, even though it happens online, but I digress.
Back to you
The fact that platforms don’t yet track every theoretical type of customer-journey event isn’t a bad thing, because it kind of forces you into high-ROI activities.
With a clever platform like Emercury, we actually track email events like opens and clicks and unsubscribes for you automatically. And this is actually the number one highest ROI type of event to track and base your automations on.
Website events take the second place, and we have full support for these at Emercury. And when we say fully custom events, we mean it! If it can be done on a website, it can be a custom event on Emercury.
A person goes to your pricing page and clicks the switch that changes to annual pricing? Well you can have an Emercury event like “Flipped pricing switch”. A person clicked to play a video? You can define that as a custom event.
And yes, all of this stuff is very fun and cool to play with as it allows you to personalize automations even further, based on things people do on your website. However, that is also its main disadvantage. People tend to rush into this stuff and overdo it before they’ve even built solid personalization based on the basics. And by that I mean automations based on things like email opens and clicks.
9) Utilize the power of integrations
Most advanced marketers these days utilize a stack of software. This just means that they combine multiple marketing tools to do things, instead of doing everything from inside one platform.
For example they might store their sales leads in Google Sheets, or book their meetings using Calendly. They could might their landing pages with something like Elementor, or capture leads with questionnaires built using something like Gravity Forms.
A marketing stack is the direct opposite of so-called “all-in-one platforms” which promise to do everything. What most marketers learn over time is that this is just a hyped up dream. Most such platforms are super-expensive and you basically pay for things you do not even need or use, because they try to do “everything”.
The worst part is that they do everything in a mediocre way. Let us say we look at something like building landing pages or funnels. An all-in-one platform might include a landing-page builder in one of their more expensive plans. But it will never be as good as a dedicated landing-page builder solution. In fact, they don’t come anywhere near.
And ironically enough, creating your own stack picking the best tools for the job costs a lot less than an all-in-one solution. You pick your own favorite form builder, your favorite landing page builder, and so on.
However, you need to integrate all of these things together with your core marketing platform. And this is where Emercury shines. We’ve worked really hard at creating a core marketing platform that focuses on the things that are best handled by your core platform. And then, we made it possible for you to integrate with all of your favorite tools for everything else.
To this end, we have plenty of native integrations with most popular tools out there, as well as full Integromat support. But we didn’t stop there, because we want to give you all of the integration power that you need. We also give you access to powerful incoming webhooks, and outgoing webhooks.
Bonus key: The steps are a generalization, here’s how to personalize them
I have a confession to make. Obviously these steps aren’t a law where you can’t even look at step 7 unless you’ve mastered steps 1 through 6. This is just a generalization based on my observations helping many small businesses grow faster by prioritizing ROI correctly.
However, with some of our users, I will sometimes suggest something straight out of step 9, while we’re still at the stage of building our basic autoresponders. Sometimes it does make sense. Most of the time it doesn’t.
However in an article I just have to generalize as I am not talking to you personally, one on one. But if you would like for us to have a chat one-on-one where I can see how we might be able to take your business to the next level, consider requesting a free demo while I can still do those.
Alternatively, at least go and grab yourself a username with our “forever free” offer, while we still have those. Lots of people in the industry are telling me it’s crazy to offer a forever free plan, so we might remove that option if they really twist my hand.
However if you grab your forever-free plan now, you do actually get to keep it, forever. And I repeat, this is not a time-limited free trial, this is a free forever plan.