A small business is not a little big business. I know for certain that most small business owners who have investigated CRM and marketing automation tools feel completely overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by the options. Overwhelmed by the costs. Overwhelmed by just trying to understand these complex systems and how they can make them work for their business. Here’s the truth that most providers don’t want to tell you: CRM and marketing automation tools are not for everyone.

What is a CRM?

Most people tend to think of a CRM as a piece of software that they use to manage customers in one way or another. I think that Salesforce defines it much better than that (yes – I stole this straight from their website):

CRM or Customer Relationship Management is a strategy for managing an organisation’s relationships and interactions with customers and potential customers. A CRM system helps companies stay connected to customers, streamline processes, and improve profitability.

Damn! That is so good and right on the money – for large organisations. Most small businesses lack the internal skills to utilise a CRM to its full potential and can’t afford to hire external help. Reality is that unless a small business owner has the time and motivation to go up the learning curve themselves, any CRM is little more than a digital decoration for them. They can’t and won’t use it in a way that exploits its true potential.

What is Marketing Automation?

Many marketing automation systems go hand-in-hand with a CRM. I give full credit for the following definition to myself!

Marketing automation is software that is designed to automate repetitive marketing tasks. At its best, it removes human emotion and error from the marketing process and takes prospects on a pre-defined journey towards becoming customers. 

There are a ton of companies out that there that build and host marketing automation platforms. By necessity, all marketing automation platforms are quite complex. Some are easier to understand and use than others. In spite of what the various vendors of these platforms will tell you, none of them is easy to master. Even experienced geeks move quickly to overwhelm when confronted with one of these babies for the first time. There is a reason for that. It’s genuinely overwhelming.

Like with CRM’s, most small businesses lack the internal skills to deal with marketing automation platforms and cannot afford the kind of help that specialises in taming these unwieldy beasts.

Lack of Marketing Skills – The Primary Barrier to Entry

When I said that some platforms are easier to use than others, I meant to say that by investing some time and effort many small business owners can (and do) learn to use Hubspot, ActiveCampaign, Mautic or one of the many other applications available. Unfortunately, learning where to click and where to drag and drop something is a long way from being enough. Users need enough knowledge of marketing – plus a heap of other geeky skills – just to make it effective for them. Here’s a list of some of the basic skills you’ll need to know in order to be successful as a DIY user of one of these kinds of platforms.

Webmastering: Virtually all platforms require some degree of integration with your website. Anything more than something simple and you’ll need a webmaster or programmer to take care of it for you.

Database Management: CRM’s are databases. Aside from just importing data, you’ll need to work on custom field creation, segmentation, tagging and any other number of issues.

Form Design: Marketing automation platforms are designed to capture leads and push them into your CRM at the same time triggering a marketing process. Forms are at the heart of that process – so you better know how to design and integrate them with your web pages.

Landing Page Design: Most marketing automation platforms allow you to create landing pages. These are special pages designed to capture leads or get visitors to pursue a pre-determined course of action. Building them is part art and part science. You better know how to do it.

Copywriting: Do you know how to write persuasive copy? Between building landing pages and writing emails for automation sequences, you’d better develop a good grasp of this skill. Otherwise, you’re probably wasting your money even using a platform like this.

Graphic Design: Appearance means a lot. Good layout and design contributes positively toward the overall user experience on your pages and can mean the difference between capturing a lead, or the visitor leaving your page with you empty-handed. 99% of people need outside assistance with this.

Campaign Creation: Campaigns are the core of marketing automation platforms. This is the nitty-gritty stuff like deciding when a prospect receives a particular email, or when you switch them from one kind of campaign to another. It’s an expert speciality all of its own.

Automation Sequencing: Should a prospect get an email right away when they make an inquiry and what should it say. If they open it, how long before you should send another email? What if they don’t open your email – how long should you wait before emailing them again – or should a text message go out instead? Welcome to automation sequencing.

Point Scoring: Point scoring allows you to track and score a prospect’s journey, allowing you to know the ideal time to reach out to the prospect as they warm up to the idea of dealing with you. That’s right – another skill you’ll need to learn!

By now, you should be getting the idea that using a CRM and marketing automation platform is no picnic. It’s easy to see why most small businesses that start using this technology soon quit in sheer frustration.

Use Cases for Small Business

We’ve stepped through some of the negatives. Now it’s time to step through the positives and look at use cases for CRM and marketing automation tools, for small businesses. Here are the basic criteria that I personally like to apply.

Does your business have a high value, extended sales cycle?

Many businesses sell high-value products and services and have sales cycles extending from weeks to years. Luxury cars, cosmetic dentistry and fertility clinics are some examples of businesses that often meet these criteria.

Does your typical customer have a high lifetime value to you?

Orthodontists, chiropractors and accountants are good examples of businesses that extract high lifetime value from typical clients. Think about if your business falls into this category?

Does your business have a lot of “other” products or service to sell to customers?

Maybe you have many products and service that you can sell to existing customers. If this is you, then marketing automation can very likely become a highly profitable part of your business.

Does your business have the internal skill-base to use this technology properly?

Maybe you have full-time marketing staff on the payroll. Maybe you know a lot about CRM’s due to prior work experience. Maybe a lot of things! Being able to take care of even a few things can mean big savings when running a marketing automation platform.

Does your business have the money to invest in exploiting this technology?

Do you have $10,000 to throw at this immediately and at least $2,000 (probably more) each month to keep it moving correctly? If you don’t, there is a better than good chance that marketing automation is not right for you.

Where to Get Help

There are many businesses out there that advise on and sell CRM and marketing automation, so help is reasonably easy to find. Good help is another thing entirely. My advice would be to work with a business that uses marketing automation themselves and practices what they preach. That’s the only way they’ll have the kind of insights required to know what a customer really experiences. I can assure you that marketing automation is both infuriating and rewarding. I know that because I’m one of those people who practices what I preach. Happy marketing!

This article was originally published at TonyGavin.com