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A Practical Guide to Marketing Automation for Small Businesses

by | Aug 14, 2023 | Marketing

Marketing automation for small businesses

Today, small businesses are constantly looking for ways to increase efficiency, invest in strategies with high ROI, maximize team outputs, and streamline working processes. 

96% of marketers use marketing automation tools to increase their conversion rates and boost their ROI. 

By automating, small businesses can save tons of time, effort, and money, which can be invested in other tasks. 

You might have questions regarding marketing automation for small businesses. 

  • What is marketing automation, and where should I begin? 
  • What can marketing automation do for my small business? 
  • What are some of the best marketing automation practices? 
  • Which tools can I use? 

Marketing automation is a huge topic, and there are many marketers out there who devote their entire careers to these systems, so I can’t cover everything here. However, I would like to share the basics so you can decide if dipping your toes into one of these systems is right for you and your business.

Marketing automation is not just for big businesses

Marketing automation software has been around for a few decades now, but things have changed since the beginning. No longer are these tools geared to the enterprise level, something that only the largest businesses with dedicated teams can implement.

New marketing automation software solutions are available to small and medium businesses, and the cost and ease of use has come down dramatically.

I’m not saying these tools are especially easy to set up or cheap, but they are now practical even for the smallest businesses and solopreneurs.

In fact, I would venture that it’s the smallest businesses that have the most to gain from automating their email marketing campaigns. That’s because they don’t have large teams of employees to take on marketing tasks. If these tasks are going to get done at all, then they probably need to be automated.

If you have a very small team (or even if you are the entire team), then read on and find out how marketing automation is a superpower you can use to rapidly scale your business.

What is marketing automation?

Simply put, marketing automation is a process that enhances your marketing efforts and increases efficiency. 

Marketing automation software reduces time-consuming tasks, allowing marketers to focus on more important tasks such as measuring KPIs and improving campaign performance. Marketing automation helps reduce the burden of repetitive tasks from marketing processes.

Most business owners vouch that automation tools have helped them roll out better campaigns that have fulfilled their unique business goals. Whether lead generation, social media marketing or traffic management, almost all operations can be automated.

Where do I begin

Marketing Automation helps businesses enhance the output from existing resources, thus helping them overcome the limitations of time, effort, and budget that small businesses usually have. 

It might become intimidating for SMBs to venture into the space of marketing automation tools at first. It will significantly change the working processes and operations, but it will be worth your time and effort. 

If you want to maximize the ROI from marketing automation tools to make the cut amongst many competitors, you need to have a concrete roadmap. 

If you are just beginning your marketing automation journey, here is how you should go about it. 

1. Define your objectives

Each business has different goals and objectives that they need to achieve. For you, it might be lead generation, building a better sales funnel, automating certain sales processes, or simpler things such as better analytics and reporting. Think about what is taking up an inordinate amount of your team’s time (or is simply slipping through the cracks) and set it in your automation sites.

2. Collaborate with all team members

A marketing automation platform is not a resource that will benefit only the marketing team. It will affect other staff as well. For instance, most marketing automation platforms are based off of a feature-rich customer relationship management (CRM) system that will also be used by sales and even operations teams. Make sure you loop in everyone in your organization to ensure a smooth rollout.

3. Get ready with customer data

Better marketing automation calls for better customer data segmentation to roll out personalized and targeted campaigns. A clear picture of the customer persona and user journey will help create an impactful marketing strategy. If your customer database is a mess, invest the effort in cleaning it up. A successful automation strategy depends on good initial data (and a dedication to keeping that data clean as your database grows).

4. Take things one at a time

When you first activate your marketing automation software, you will have access to a broad range of tools. You will want to get the most value out of your investment, but take a measured approach to avoid disrupting your processes. Look at your manual processes that are currently working, and try to focus on ways to automate the most repetitive and time-consuming tasks, such as follow-up emails, adding contacts manually to a database or spreadsheet, etc. Keep everything simple initially; allow time for the team members and the customers to get familiar with it before you go all out. There will be time later to start developing complicated workflows.

5. Monitor, monitor, monitor

Once your campaigns are up and running, the real action starts. Monitor your campaign progress continuously and track all the trends so that you can optimize and tweak certain bottlenecks at the early stage if there are any. Speaking from hard-earned experience, I can tell you that prospects don’t always behave the way you want or expect them to, and it takes careful monitoring to make sure your automations are performing as expected and not leading to unexpected outcomes or, worse, alienating your prospective customers.

How will marketing automation software benefit my small business?

All businesses have unique needs. Almost any business can benefit from automation because it increases efficiency and streamlines workflows. But small businesses have the following requirements to be met: 

1. You can reduce your operational costs and dependence on staff

All businesses today need to bring down operational costs significantly. Companies are constantly searching for managing human capital by including team members who can do more work within a shorter time frame. This is even more important for small businesses. 

The best marketing automation tools can help small businesses reduce their dependency on new hires. Once the automation strategy is set up, your business will be a bit more shielded from staffing vacancies and other issues.

2. You can finally standardize your operating procedures

Automation makes your campaigns and operations more consistent and accurate. 

Automating routine tasks standardizes the overall processes and style of communication, which can lead to a better user experience for prospects and clients. Just think, your standard operating procedures that you painstakingly created will now be followed to the letter, something that’s difficult to achieve when everything is manual.

Tasks such as creating reports and managing invoices can be automated, reducing the risk of errors. Eliminating costly mistakes helps save time.

3. You can target your ideal clients like never before 

Small businesses need to target their customers and audience accurately. With the help of actionable insights presented by marketing automation tools, small businesses can easily target the right audience. 

One of the major advantages of using marketing automation tools for small businesses is that it significantly helps lead generation. Small business owners can overcome the limitations of leaky sales funnels through automation tools. 

After targeting the right customers, automation tools also help small businesses to track and increase user engagement, and they provide reporting and analytical features to constantly monitor your performance.

Examples of tasks you can perform with marketing automation for small businesses

Okay, now that we’ve gone over some of the benefits of using marketing automation software for small companies, I want to turn to some specific examples of tasks you might automate.

  • Track your metrics: Automate tracking metrics and reports from blogs, landing pages, forms, chatbots, and emails. For instance, you can set up a dashboard that shows you your top-performing blog posts or the ROI of each of your top landing pages.
  • Segment your list: Using smart lists, you can perform database segmentation to deliver personalized communication to your clients. For instance, you can assign interests to contacts who visit certain pages on your website or click on certain emails, so you always have a list of which contacts are interested in each of the services or product categories you offer. This will help you reach each individual with targeted messages rather than simply blasting them with irrelevant information and offers.
  • Nurture your leads over time: Without automation, most small businesses just work leads as they come in and forget all about them if they aren’t ready to purchase. With automation, you can bring in leads and nurture them in the background over time, for instance, with a series of targeted emails. Your lead can choose to take the next step at any time without feeling any pressure from your sales team. What’s more, your leads will never fall through the cracks, even if they may be months or years away from making a buying decision.
  • Automate your sales process, too: Whether you do your own sales or have an entire team of sales reps, you can most certainly benefit from automating the repetitive tasks. The best marketing automation tools also incorporate the sales process. You can automatically assign leads to team members, schedule followup communications after you make contact, and track your deals from the first communication to the final “Closed Won” status.
  • Streamline your one-to-one communications: The best marketing automation software fades into the background. Your customers and prospects should never feel like they’re part of an automated process. You can send a sequence of triggered actions, such as emails, when a user submits a form on your website or speaks with a sales rep. These communications can feel like regular personalized emails.
  • Send welcome emails: Using even the free version of a tool like Mailchimp, you can send automated welcome emails to people who sign up for your newsletter. You can also automate greetings on special days and feedback requests to be sent via email.
  • Reap the rewards of retargeting: Anyone who has visited your site or put an item in their cart has already shown a great deal of potential. Don’t let them slip away. Instead, you can execute a list of re-targeted actions, like reminding customers about abandoned carts and sending emails specifically to subscribers who last interacted with you long ago. 
  • Make things easier for folks you already know: Often, web forms require customers to re-type their contact info, even though they’ve already interacted with your site before. Why not make your site smarter so it recognizes returning customers and prospects and never requires them to fill out redundant information.

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. I just wanted to give you a glimpse at the limitless possibilities of marketing automation and how much time and effort it can save you.

Which tool should you use? 

There is a dizzying array of marketing automation software for small businesses out there, and I can’t possibly cover all the tools here, but I do want to share a few of my favorites. I am going to focus on complete automation platforms here rather than more limited email marketing automation tools, like Mailchimp or ActiveCampaign. The main factors you will probably need to consider when choosing a marketing automation tool are these:

  • Features: Some tools are packed with features, while others take a more focused approach. For instance, some focus primarily on email, some also incorporate sales automation tools and a robust CRM. I recommend choosing a tool that has all the features you need now, but also look ahead a few years and try to imagine what your marketing strategy will require then. It’s fairly time-consuming to move from one marketing automation platform to another, and you don’t want to get locked into one you are bound to outgrow anytime soon.
  • Price: It’s worth spending some time to understand the pricing structures of any tools you are considering. Pricing varies widely and can be somewhat confusing, based on the features lists, the number of contacts you have in your database, or the number of people on your team, or even some combination of those things. Some automation software for small businesses offer a free tier that is quite usable, but you will certainly need to upgrade as your needs grown. In most cases, you will be looking at a recurring annual or monthly fee rather than a one-time fee. Some platforms require some form of paid onboarding. If you are absolutely on a budget, then you can probably eliminate some of the more expensive options, but if you take the long view and have some flexibility, then let the features be your guide.
  • Compatibility: This factor has improved greatly in recent years, but it’s still worth examining if a platform you are considering integrates seamlessly with your existing technology stack. There are usually workarounds when a formal integration doesn’t exist, but why make things difficult (and expensive) for yourself?
  • Support: Pay close attention to the reputation a tool has for customer support. I recommend eliminating any software provider from consideration that has less-than-stellar reviews for support. You will undoubtedly have questions, and you want a responsive and friendly support team at the ready.

With all these factors in mind, here are a few platforms I recommend for small businesses.

Hubspot Marketing Hub dashboard


Hubspot has grown over the years into a marketing automation juggernaut, capturing nearly 40% of the market. It’s the platform I use for my own business, and it has one of the most feature-rich offerings on the market. Hubspot offers five “Hubs,” such as Marketing Hub and Sales Hub, which allow you to pick and choose the features you want, or you can pay for the full suite, with which you can tackle just about any automation task you can imagine. Hubspot is a popular choice for small businesses dipping a toe into automation because it offers a very serviceable free version that includes its excellent CRM. However, to unlock most of the automation tools, you will need to purchase the Professional tier of the Marketing Hub. Because of the long list of features (you can even build and host your company website on Hubspot), it’s easy for newbies to get overwhelmed or not take advantage of everything they’re paying for. And speaking of paying, Hubspot is the priciest software on this list, starting at $800 per month for Marketing Hub Professional.

I recommend Hubspot for: Small businesses with substantial annual revenue that are looking for a comprehensive solution. It’s complicated enough that you will want to hire a consultant to set it up for you so you can get the full value from it.

Pipedrive screenshot of Deals dashboard


Unlike Hubspot, which encompasses a wide array of functions, Pipedrive’s focus is more tailored to sales teams. That said, it also offers powerful marketing automation tools as well, and you can get them without the eye-watering prices of Hubspot’s Professional-tier products. Unlike Hubspot, Pipedrive doesn’t offer a free version, but their most basic plan is only about $15 per month, while a more robust plan that includes marketing automation is around $30 to $50 per month. You’ll also probably want to choose some add-ons that let you generate leads, track web visitors, or build marketing campaigns, which can quickly add around $100 extra per month to your subscription. Add-ons aside, Pipedrive still represents a good value in my opinion, and I like the user-friendly design.

I recommend Pipedrive for: Budget-constrained small businesses that are looking for a more streamlined approach to marketing automation and sales and customer relationship management. It’s sort of like Hubspot but is a little leaner, less expensive, and perhaps less overwhelming. I’d still recommend hiring a consultant to set it all up.

Ontraport deals dashboard screenshot


If Pipedrive is like a pared-down version of Hubspot, Ontraport is like a friendlier version of Pipedrive. It’s a software that is geared toward smaller businesses that are hungry to grow. It may not have all the features of Hubspot, but I think Ontraport does a great job of making its features easy to use. While there is no free version, marketing automation is built in to all their tiers. Once you add some users and contacts, pricing reaches around $300 per month, which will probably be somewhere in between Hubspot and Pipedrive for you.

I recommend Ontraport for: Small business owners who are less concerned about having every feature and more focused on ease of use. With its $900 one-time “Done-with-You Training,” this is probably the only solution on this list that you might consider attempting to set up on your own.

Ready to supercharge your marketing campaigns with automation? 

We hope this post has helped you gain clarity on marketing automation software. It is a superpower for small and medium-sized companies if used correctly. After choosing a marketing automation software according to your business needs and setting up your automations correctly, you will almost certainly experience significant growth and free up your employees from performing repetitive administrative tasks.

We’re here to help

Marketing automation can be difficult to set up by yourself. It helps to have someone on your side who understands your requirements. At Electromagnetic Web, we are experts at recommending and implementing a marketing automation strategy. We are happy to help you pick out the right tool for your business and set it up correctly for best results. Please feel free to get in touch if you would like to discuss your options.