Marketing automation can be intimidating to a small business, especially when most of the industry benchmarks are set by B2B enterprises with budgets the size of a small country’s GDP.

But marketing automation doesn’t have to be rocket science, and it doesn’t have to be an elitist technology reserved for the rich and powerful. There are scalable ways a small business can implement basic marketing automation without getting lost in the labyrinths of lead nurturing, retargeting, and predictive analytics.

For starters, get your objectives straight. Most small businesses use marketing automation to accelerate e-commerce, keep customers engaged, and encourage repeat business. These objectives should inform your decision-making process as you design campaigns and compare marketing automation vendors.


Choosing and implementing a platform is, of course, only the beginning. Every business goes through a period of adjustment during which they test new strategies to optimize performance. To see the fastest return and avoid common pitfalls, use these six marketing automation tips:

1. Automate as Much as You Can

Marketing automation is designed to help you scale meaningful, digital engagement for a large population of prospects. You obviously don’t have time to create and send targeted messages to hundreds or thousands of people. Let your software do as much of the work as possible. In a sense, you want to invest enough thought into the configuration process to “create a monster.” A helpful monster, that is.

Depending on which vendor you choose, your marketing automation platform (MAP) will give you a number of customizable tools and workflows designed to automate marketing communication according to your instructions. Common examples include:

  • Autoresponders
  • Transactional emails
  • Nurture tracks
  • Lead scoring rules
  • Rules-based or algorithmic personalization

To get started, try to set up a basic nurturing process by programming your system to send a sequence of specific emails based on prospect behavior and demographics. Even simpler platforms will offer some form of autoresponders to make this possible.

2. Segment and Personalize

It shouldn’t be surprising that your prospects and customers want to be treated like people. They want to feel known, valued, and respected, and will usually become stronger customers in exchange for these qualities.

When you craft automated emails, try to make them seem as un-automated as possible in terms of content and design. Check the ideas:

  • address your prospect/customer by name,
  • tailor product recommendations to purchase history and browsing data.
  • offer relevant discounts, coupons, or incentives,
  • provide free content targeted to specific customer segments.

Research by Experian indicates that personalized emails have 29 percent higher open rates and 41 percent higher unique click rates, on average. Here’s a breakdown by industry:


3. Keep it Simple

The design and layout of your marketing emails will vary depending on your products and industry, but it’s generally better to err on the side of simplicity. Save the elaborate HTML templates for occasional newsletters or “batch and blast” promotions, and stick with basic text emails and simple images for 1-to-1 nurturing. Similarly, don’t clutter your messages with half a dozen links and calls-to-action. Pick one CTA and make it obvious.

CTAs example

This email from Adorama, for example, has way too many calls to action.

Simple emails not only have a stronger personal touch, but they also work better across various devices and screen sizes. That’s no small matter, considering 66 percent of emails are now opened on a smartphone or tablet.

4. Track Your Metrics

As with any marketing initiative, it’s important to keep a close eye on performance. That means deciding which metrics indicate success and using reporting features in your marketing platform to track them.

At the very least, you should monitor how readers are engaging or not engaging with your marketing emails, but you can also use tracking codes to see what users do after they click on an email. Do they download an asset from your website? View a product page? Make a purchase? This information will help you gauge effectiveness and make necessary adjustments to content, layout, timing, frequency, and segmentation.

Here’s an example of an analytics dashboard from FreshMail:

freshmail analytics

5. Don’t Annoy People

There’s a fine line between persistence and annoyance. If you focus on relevancy, personalization, and timeliness, you can probably expect to see an open rate somewhere in the 20th percentile. But if you send emails too often, at the wrong time of the day, or containing irrelevant offers, you’re more likely to end up in the spam folder.

According to a 2015 study, 43 percent of subscribers would like businesses to email them less frequently. How often is often enough? Generally, you want to communicate with prospects and customers just enough to stay top-of-mind. Estimates for this can range from once or twice a week to once or twice a month.

An easy way to set the appropriate frequency for your audience is to monitor your unsubscribe rate, which should generally stay below 0.5 percent. If more people are unsubscribing, ease off.

6. Connect Your Marketing Automation with CRM

If you run a small B2B operation or any kind of business that drives revenue through coordinated marketing and sales efforts, an integrated system is critical. Connecting your MAP with a customer relationship management (CRM) database helps marketers connect campaign tactics with financial results and gives salespeople deeper visibility into prospect and lead intelligence. System integration also gives marketers the ability to pass leads to sales without manually exporting.

CRMs and marketing automation platforms communicate through an API (application programming interface). In some cases, this integration may be configured “out-of-the-box.” In other cases, you may need to do a little configuration. Check with your MAP vendor (or potential vendor) to see what CRMs they support.

To sup up

If you want to succeed at marketing automation, you’ll need more than a few batch-and-blast, self-promotional newsletters. True marketing automation is about matching relevant communication with your prospects’ needs, objectives, and challenges. With the right tools and a willingness to learn, your small business can expand existing relationships and turn more prospects into customers.

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  • Judy Caroll

    Hi Mr. Peterson

    I agree with you about integration of marketing automation into CRM Database. It will leverage the full power of marketing automation and also increase customer retention. Thanks for the tips.

  • BrightLivingstone

    Hello Aleksandr Peterson

    Hey its nice blog to read. i agree with you about tracking your emails part. its always good to practices to follow up your emails and get feedback loop. implementing tracking code to your email newsletter templates is easy now a days.