What is Marketing Automation for Small Businesses?Marketing Automation helps small businesses scale and grow faster.

What is marketing automation? How am I supposed to use it in my small business and what are the benefits? How much does marketing automation cost? Isn’t marketing automation just email marketing?

Marketing Automation can seem complex and overwhelming. Especially, when marketers use jargon like lead capture, squeeze page, conversion rate optimization, or marketing and sales funnels.

These words (and many others) are in a list of words we apparently need to learn in order to understand marketing automation. Or, use in a conversation until to pretend we understand what marketing automation is.

An image search on Google or Bing for “marketing automation” will return an image like the following:

Marketing Automation diagram - Web Champs, Tulsa OklahomaDefinitely not the easiest thing to understand and implement if you aren’t a full time marketing professional.

Let’s boil the definition down to a simple-to-understand, and easy-to-begin-with understanding of marketing automation.

Marketing Automation is analyzing the parts of your business that can be run or completed without you, or an employee doing the manual work or processes to promote your marketing message.

After all, there are many pressures in growing and scaling a business. Marketing automation is a tool that can help a small business owner off load some of the repetitive tasks.

A business owner that automates some of his or her marketing or business processes, will gain several benefits. Here are a few:

  • Better compete with other businesses that are online
  • Reduce costs associated with scaling a business
  • Raise sales volume and profit margins
  • Create a predictable and sustaining system for nurturing and developing leads into customers
  • Retain customers and cross sell other products in which they are interested

Automation In Marketing Has Been Around Forever

The automation of marketing has been around forever. But, I’ll only go back to the early 1900s when marketing and automation started to take off in ways more common to us.

In the earlier 1900s the term “marketing” wasn’t used in the same way we use it today. Back then, it connoted the idea of farming, distributing and selling. For instance, a farmer would take his produce to a local market.

As technology advanced and industries started to grow, people began to specialize in different aspects of “bringing a product to a market.” The farmer that once grew crops and sold them at a local market, could now sell to a distributor that was able to transport faster and further because of automobiles and better refrigeration.

We also began to see that “markets” were no longer just a local farmer’s market. But a “market” could now be a place where anything grown, cooked, or manufactured could be sold.

So business owners started thinking outside the box.

Well, actually, they started thinking inside the box and created automatic vending machines. One of the first big accomplishments of marketing and selling something automatically was chew gum.

Automation of marketing and sellingWhen you think about it, automated selling of gum is a great idea.

You can take a vending machine and place it almost anywhere. It will work 24 hours 7 days a week, won’t call in sick and doesn’t need an hourly wage or lunch break.

It is continually marketing and selling; that is all it is meant to do and it does it well.

Of course, marketing automation has its limits and shouldn’t replace great employees working for your company. Instead, it should be used to help you and your employees do more of the things that actually lift your company to the next level of business growth.

So when you think of automating any part of your marketing efforts don’t get overwhelmed. The most important focus of marketing automation should be your strategy when starting out. I share a bit of the history so that you are aware that automation has been around for a long time and what makes it work exceptionally well is a good understanding of your product and your customers.

There are vending machines that sell hot dogs.

Hot dogs.

You probably haven’t seen many of them around, and for a good reason I’m sure. People love hotdogs, but they don’t love them served from a vending machine in the train station.

They like hot dogs served from a person that they can speak with and see.

What’s Needed for Marketing Automation?

I haven’t mentioned any type of marketing automation software thus far. Because my hope is to show you that the software is only a tool to help you automate the parts of your marketing that should be automated.

When it comes to marketing automation software there are few things that come to mind. Not all of these are necessary for each software platform to provide, because each business has different needs. The following are the features that most businesses may want from their marketing automation tool:

  • Landing page setup
  • Lead capture forms
  • Land management / Contact tracking
  • Social Media management
  • Marketing asset management (i.e., pdf downloads)
  • Email Marketing
  • Customer Relationship Management (CRM) integration
  • List segmentation
  • Campaign builder for drip programs
  • Lead scoring

There are different categories of marketing automation software providers, I like to view them in three somewhat distinct categories:

  • Enterprise level that does everything from setting up a landing web page to sales pipeline management.
  • Medium and Small Business vendors that do most of the same as the enterprise level, but may not handle large databases as smoothly
  • Email Marketing software with some features that allow for basic marketing campaigns and drip programs.

Here is a list of likely marketing automation software providers that you’d use. I’m assuming if you are reading this article you won’t be using Marketo, Pardot, Act-On, or Eloqua. A star(*) below indicates an affiliate link.

How do You do Marketing Automation?

There is a strategy that I use to help me focus on four things when implementing marketing automation for a small business. It’s the Plan, Play, Win, Improve strategy that I discovered.

Let me break down each area briefly and then use a concrete example with the strategy.


A long distance runner enters a race with a game plan. The game plan is a strategy that she’s gone over and vetted before the race. The runner has thought about her strengths and weaknesses. And also about the course that will be run and the best places to push hard or conserve energy.

Likewise, for any business to approach marketing automation there has to be a time of deep planning. During the plan stage, it’s important to have a specific goal and map out the desired steps needed to win a customer. There will be “easy-wins” and difficult processes to figure out how to automate. The goal is to end with a plan.


The focus of the play stage is engage in building the plan you created within your marketing automation software. If you jump into building out your marketing automation processes as an act of play, it will be much easier to think outside the box when you run into impediments.


Winning is all about the time you’ll get back, the increased sales you’ll make and the growth of your business by using marketing automation. By doing the very minimum of automating emails being sent out, or leads being generated you’ll win by saving money or time.


In order to get your “money’s worth” from your marketing automation software you’ll want to optimize everything that you can. Most tools come with reports, metrics, or analytics that show you how things are performing. I suggest giving most tasks you automate a month to run and build enough data before changing things.

As I mentioned earlier, marketing automation is a way to automate marketing activities in your business that you are manually doing. Don’t get too carried away with automating things that you aren’t currently doing. It can be helpful sometimes, but the “shiny object“ behavior takes over and you’ll find yourself automating things that don’t bring much value to your business.

So when you are in the planning stage, keep it to things that you can gauge whether or not it is actually saving you time. As you become more advanced, then start to experiment sparingly.

If you are looking for “how-to” articles, check out the following:

  • How to setup a lead capture form in Drip
  • How to setup a landing page with Leadpages
  • How to create a lead magnet delivery workflow in Drip
  • How to setup a good system for tags in Drip
  • How to create a lead magnet in under 15 minutes

Need help with your email marketing campaigns? Check out my free course Email Campaign Creation – 101