(This post originally appeared on Forbes)
Earlier last year a research firm predicted that the global marketing automation market would reach $8.42 billion by 2027, growing at a compounded rate of almost 10 percent per year due to the “rising significance of automation in marketing and sales to increase revenue and average deal size,” and the greater need to “target customers across multiple channels, and retain customers.”
The report also said that “small and mid-sized businesses will be the fastest growing segment over the forecast period” because among other reasons, “customer retention are some of the factors that are propelling SMBs to adopt marketing automation solutions.”
Really? Well, bring it on. Because right now the “marketing automation” offerings available to small businesses are disappointing, to say the least.
My small business uses a very recognizable, cloud-based, leading CRM application. And I do a LOT of marketing. But my marketing is limited and still way too manually intensive. Sure, we’ve connected our CRM system to our website so leads from forms and chats are imported. We’ve setup workflows so automatic emails go out when a lead is received and a task is assigned. But from there, the “automation” part of my marketing literally falls off a cliff.
Here I am, almost every day, sorting through my tasks and follow-ups. I’ve created some template emails to send, but only after I’ve checked on what the last task was done to ensure that the email is relevant. I add people to lists where they receive monthly or bi-monthly updates. I send emails, one by one, and then schedule another task. When someone replies to an email, I update my follow-ups. I do this because I want my prospects to feel like they’re communicating with me and not some bot.
This is my “automation” and rest assured, it is not very automated at all.
For example, I can’t send an email to a group of people based on individual prior conversations that looks like I’m just continuing the conversation and without it appearing to be an impersonal message. I can’t select a group of contacts based on their activities and prior conversations and tell my system how to communicate back to them via email. People are smart and can quickly figure out when they’ve been mass-marketed.
By the way, did you notice something? Everything’s email! What about social? I can’t engage en masse or continue conversations on social platforms like LinkedIn or Facebook right from my CRM system. I’m unable to send out groups of text messages based on prior interactions. I can’t even automate the process of placing phone calls or even a direct mailing of postcards. It’s all very, very manual.
Today’s CRM systems, particularly for small business, requires the marketer to do a lot of grunt work. These technologies are not smart enough to understand our instructions. They make us have to wade through individual actions. Their “campaigns” are merely just a bulk email sent to a list of contacts based on some data demographic and then routing their responses back to us. No, we need more.
We need our marketing automation to be able to truly leverage AI so that it can read and understand a prospect’s replies and then automatically carry on a conversation – as if it were me – both immediately or in the future (if that’s what the prospect requests). The software needs to figure out just how far in the future is appropriate for a follow up. And then the campaign engine needs to be smart enough to escalate a lead to me only after there’s been enough work performed to qualify it as a good lead.
Maybe bigger companies are doing this. They probably are. But this is the biggest problem with today’s marketing automation platforms: they require developers and advanced marketers to operate them. They are not easy to setup, configure, customize, adapt, integrate and maintain and therefore they’re out of the reach of most small businesses. And by the way, I’m still not overly impressed with the communications I receive from those large brands using those great marketing automation platforms. They usually come off as impersonal. They’re infrequent and inconsistent. They still die off prematurely and before I’m ready to buy.
The report mentioned above said that also driving the future growth of marketing automation software is “a desire to automate repetitive, monotonous tasks, such as email, social media, and other website functions; technological advancements around artificial intelligence (AI), data science, and analytics; and a desire to engage with customers through various channels, such as messaging, voice, and IoT devices.”
That’s good to hear. I’m glad the marketing automation industry is projected to grow and aware of these things. I’m excited to see what new offerings they have in store for small business CRM. I’m ready to embrace these new offerings because I really need them.
But, based on what I’ve seen so far, I’m not holding my breath.