Five of the Best Marketing Automation Tools for Small Businesses

The day in the life of a small business owner is likely full of endless emails, conference calls, meetings, strategy sessions, and the occasional lunch break if they are lucky. Before they know it, the day gets away. This is why business owners depend on marketing automation. A robust marketing software prevents marketers from having to spend their time taking care of repetitive tasks such as creating email campaigns, audience segmentation, gathering web analytics reports, CRM management, and social media management.

While the initial set-up of these features is essential and involves careful strategy, once they are ready to go, automation can make all the difference. According to a study conducted by Venture Beat, 80 percent of marketing automation users saw their numbers of leads increase, and 77 percent saw a lift in the number of conversions. So, what are the best tools to get started? Read on for the best-rated marketing automation tools according to the leading business technology review site, TrustRadius.

HubSpot

HubSpot, one of the largest and most popular inbound marketing automation tools, is said to be used by over 18,000 customers in more than 90 countries. Marketers can set up email marketing campaigns, create landing pages, handle SEO and social media management as well as a host of other tasks. Reviewers of HubSpot on TrustRadius praise the product’s easy-to-use interface, practical training sessions, and ease of uploading content and creating landing pages. However, the integrations are still lacking, and users did find it difficult to get the level of reporting and analytics they truly needed for social media campaigns.

Marketo

Mid-sized companies enjoy the multiple uses of Marketo. In addition to the typical marketing automation tools, Marketo also allows marketers to personalize websites and optimize mobile engagement. Where Hubspot is still working on expanding their integrations, TrustRadius reviewers are impressed with the number of software tools Marketo can connect to for automation functions. Creating and scheduling email automation is also quick and convenient to handle according to TrustRadius reviewers. On the negative side, many cited that the complicated user interface and overall slowness in data reporting can bring a bit of frustration to marketers who are always on the go.

Hatchbuck

If you are looking for some help in managing workflows, automated sales alerts, and numerous helpful integrations with a smaller but just as strong system, Hatchbuck may be the best option. Small businesses are known to favor this system in comparison to mid-sized and larger enterprises. Reviews by TrustRadius users conveyed enjoyment with the drag and drop email creator, fast customer service, and quick email automation services. TrustRadius reviewers are not too fond of the challenge in creating custom reports and feel the campaign creation process could be a bit less clunky and more straightforward.

LeadSquared

For those who do not have the resources or time to invest in a system like Hubspot or Marketo heavily but still want solid automation results, LeadSquared may be the answer. In addition to the general inbound marketing features, LeadSquared can also help with event and webinar marketing as well as social profile integration. TrustRadius reviewers liked the system’s value when compared to other products, the number of APIs available, and very knowledgeable support staff. On the other hand, users need to watch out for a less than satisfactory user interface, and the difficulty in setting up drip marketing actions.

The Wrap Up

Regardless of a marketer’s comfort with automation, the budget they are working with, and the level of help their team needs to implement marketing strategy; there is a viable option out there for everyone. Marketers just need to be sure they know the most important features they need to take care of repetitive marketing tasks and increase the overall marketing ROI.

Chanell Alexander currently resides in Atlanta, GA. When she’s not traveling and trying new restaurants in the Metro Atlanta area, she writes about the latest technology and tools for TrustRadius,

 

 

 

7 Ways to Measure ROI for Marketing Activities

In the dynamic marketing world, it all comes down to doing what works, not what other businesses are raving about. And you do not know what kind of approach bears fruit until you try it and measure its results. Therefore, marketers are under increased top-down pressure to demonstrate the value of their activities. Drawing this picture of success has nothing to with empty promises and big ideas and everything to do with facts and figures. Note that nowadays, there are tools powerful and diverse than ever. Thus, you cannot afford to forgo the opportunity to fine-tune your marketing efforts.

Revise the basics

In a nutshell, measuring ROI revolves around the process of quantifying the business impact of marketing. Of course, ROI stands for the ratio of net revenue and cost and marketers use various tools and techniques to link their campaigns to improved revenue and performance across different KPIs. There are many challenges linked to this equation that looks simple on paper. One has to determine the methodology for calculating multiple variables and then tie them to a tangible result.

Establish a basic formula

The first part is rather straightforward. You use simple arithmetic to subtract the cost of the campaign from its net profit. Next, you divide by the campaign cost to come up with ROI in its rudimentary form. Thus, the formula looks like this: ROI = (incremental Profit – Campaign Cost) / Campaign Cost. With advanced analytics tools of today, you can make short work of any calculation. It has really never been simpler to keep track of and report ROI. Alas, moving on, we face various obstacles.

Take a long view

The problems arise when you have to deal with marketing initiatives that have a longer timeframe. Then, the dollars-in vs. dollars-out formula falls short.  Take the example of content marketing campaigns, which usually stretch on for months. A single post does not immediately produce a sale or subscription. What drives sales is a stream of cumulative interactions that occur over a longer haul. To make it even more complicated, there could be a number of elusive and unaccounted variables at work.

See the big picture

Factors that often get overlooked are brand awareness, touchpoints, and customer lifetime value. So, let us start with brand awareness. If a company decides to measure it on a short time frame, it could fail to detect any ROI. Even if there are spikes in engagement right away, such as the increase in clicks and comments, it is hard to attribute it to revenue. That does not mean ROI benefits will not kick in later on. The takeaway is that one has to learn to look beyond immediate avail and set up the system for gauging ROI that builds up further down the road.

Play the numbers game

Do not fall for fads and focus just on digital marketing. The traditional school still does the trick and it is possible to prove it with numbers. For instance, in countries like Australia, inbound 1300 numbers are associated with lower, local-like costs. Many companies rely on them to come across as professional and also launch cost-effective marketing campaigns. Here, it is sentential to figure out the response rates see who most suitable targets are. You can evaluate factors like time and location, make inquiries and produce inbound call reports.

Cyclical and cumulative

The whole process of evaluating ROI is not linear as much as it is cyclical. Businesses that realize this are in a better position to quantify and optimize vital metrics and use them as early indicators of success or failure. So, if you really mean to elevate your marketing strategy, improve your ability to track and predict cumulative effects of marketing activities. Avoid the pitfalls of having a tunnel vision when driving traffic and converting it into sales. Employ metrics like customer lifetime value that forecast the total future value.

Attribution across touchpoints

It is of the utmost importance to keep an eye on main touchpoint and recognize how the shape the customer journey and influence purchase decisions. After all, it usually takes more than one touch to seal the deal. The only problem is how to relate separate touch points that led to the sale to ROI. The way to pull it off is via single-touch or multi-touch attribution. These methods refer to the branching of attribution across multiple touchpoints. They complicate the ROI calculation, but the alternative is relaying inaccurate ballpark figures.

For good measure

Every company wants to spend the marketing dollars where they count the most. Consequently, marketers are preoccupied with justifying the short-term and long-term effects of marketing spend on the bottom line.  They have to optimize ROI pursuit across different channels and touchpoints. So, if you mean business, account for every marketing activity that contributed to the tangible financial outcome. Gain data-backed insights to support the decision-making process. Grasp how a matrix of interwoven marketing efforts generates resonance, value, and traction in the long-term.

Guest author, David Webb, is a Sydney-based business consultant,online marketing analyst and a writer. With six years of experience and a degree in business management, he continuously informs the public about the latest trends in the industry. He is a regular author at BizzmarkBlog. You can reach him on Twitter or Facebook.

4 Ways Surveys Can Help Build Your Startup Company Strategy

Running a startup business is, in fact, quite difficult. Aside from trying to find a way to make it on the market, there are also a lot of challenges and obstacles startup owners face. It’s also quite complicated to fully understand whether or not your business idea will succeed on the market and if there’ll be any demand for your products or services. What’s more, startup businesses usually lack the sufficient funds to conduct extensive and thorough market research.

Luckily, where there’s a will there’s a way – and that’s conducting surveys. That way, startup owners can obtain the necessary information that will help them create a good strategy, without investing too many resources into it. In addition, you can rely on relevant data you’ve obtained directly from your target audience and potential customers. Simply put, you’ll be able to make more strategic and smart decisions. Here are a few ways surveys can help you build a startup company strategy.

Identifying your target audience

As mentioned before, startup businesses are generally not funded enough to conduct in-depth market research. You can assume who is most likely to be interested in your products and services, but you can’t know for sure nor do you know anything important about those potential customers. However, the key to success is knowing all there is to know about your target audience. Fortunately, surveying people doesn’t involve a hefty investment at all.

When creating a survey for your research purposes, make sure you include questions that will shed light on your audience’s demographics, overall interests, preferences and expectations. This will help you familiarize yourself with your target audience and understand their needs as consumers. That information will help you improve your products or services, so that you’ll have a better product/market fit for your startup. You can conduct the surveys both online and in person. Just make sure you analyze the data properly in order to extract vital information from it.

Tracking customer satisfaction

If you’ve started to build an online presence for your startup and also started making sales, it’s important to know how your audience perceives you so far. Customer satisfaction is essential for business success. The main reason is that if your customers aren’t happy, your reputation, bottom line and chances of success may drastically decline. That’s why it’s important to follow-up with your customers after interactions, sales and other activities.

Therefore, don’t be afraid to ask your customers for feedback. You can offer a simple incentive to your customers and ask them to participate in paid surveys online. That way, in exchange for their feedback, your customers will gain something of value in return. This will help you gain information that will assist you in improving your customer service and support. Not only that, but it will show your customers that you’re making an effort and that their opinions matter to you.

Testing products and features

Every business looks to grow and develop further by introducing innovation. Adding features to your products or services may be a good way to boost engagement with your customers, but it may also backfire if not done properly. If you want to add something new, it’s safer not to surprise your customers, but instead, ask them for their opinions. You can conduct a survey where you’ll describe new features to customers in detail and ask them what they think about it.

If your audience is generally pleased with the improvements, you can move on to the implementation stage. If not, you should avoid it altogether. That way, you not only show your customer that you care and that their best interest comes first when designing new features, but it also saves you time and resources on developing features that might fail from the start.

Assessing your marketing performance

When launching a marketing campaign that has a purpose of promoting your startup business and inspiring your audience to engage, it’s always a good idea to track important metrics and key performance indicators (KPI). However, without a general input from the customers themselves, you can’t be absolutely sure how well-received your marketing campaign actually is. It’s very risky to keep an ineffective marketing campaign running.

That’s why you should turn to surveying your audience once again. Ask for feedback on your marketing efforts and encourage customers to speak up. Make sure you ask the right questions, so that you can gather the most valuable information from the answers. Their feedback will provide you with information on how to improve your content, promotions and offers. In short, it will help you improve your marketing campaigns, so that they become more efficient in delivering value to both your customers and your startup.

It’s no secret that many startup businesses have difficulties maintaining their growth while trying to figure out the best approach to stand out on the market. That being said, surveys can be quite beneficial to startup owners, especially when they lack the means and the funds to conduct proper research. If you ask the right question from the right people, you’ll gain valuable information that will help you develop an exceptional startup company strategy.

Guest author, Raul Harman, is a B.Sc. in Innovative entrepreneurship and has a lot to say about innovations in all aspects of digital technology and online marketing. While he’s not enjoying football and great food, you can find him on Technivorz.com

Are Your Online Marketing Expectations in-line with the Truth?

For those of you who don’t know, I’m an on again-off again online dater. I work a lot at home… not into the club scene… don’t do blind dates… yadda, yadda, yadda. It’s a diversion for me – now.

But when I first started doing it, I was really into finding “the one.” My sister had just gotten re-married (le sigh), my ex-was on his way to the altar (ciao!) and I just felt like I wanted to be in the hand holding club too. I put on my very best law of attraction demeanor and went on an official soul mate quest.

Yes, I met someone great and we dated for a while. But the truth is that he was great for someone else, not for me. I’m a talkative foodie who loves to try new things. He loved to try new things, but wasn’t very talkative nor was he a foodie.

At the end of that spell, I came to a simple conclusion.

Sometimes you either have to alter your expectations or you have to move on. In that situation I chose to move on.

Expectations can you have barking up the wrong tree when you should be running down the mountain

Yesterday I noticed I was getting some traffic from the Warrior Forum so I stopped in for a brief visit. Apparently one of my readers had mentioned me as a press release writer. A good press release writer.

I popped over to say thanks and to explain how my service worked.

The person looking for a press release writer had previously hired someone else on the Warrior Forum. He wasn’t all that ecstatic about the work provided and was on the prowl again for someone new.

I explained that I write press releases for people who are looking for website traffic through Google News and other assorted websites. I don’t write them to catch the attention of an editor at The Wall Street Journal.

I relayed that if the person wanted true media attention they should ditch the press release strategy, build a list of journalists who covered his type of story and pitch them individually. That’s the most efficient way to get right to the source… and it works way better than sending out a press releases.

This is, in fact, what a lot of super expensive PR companies do. If they have a really good story, they don’t let a press release do the job of a well-tailored pitch. If I want bloggers to review a product, I don’t send out a press release, I email them personally.

Are your expectations leading you down the wrong path?

When I write press releases, it’s for traffic. Not for backlinks. Not for media attention. I want some honest-to-goodness click throughs. I want ebook sales. I want subscribers.

Do I get the backlink effect? Yes. As I relayed in the Warrior post, I have an affiliate marketing client I did 8 press releases for – 2 for each of his sites.

When the dust cleared, 2 of those sites had gained significant backlink juice from the press releases. Enough where they jumped to the first page in Google and in some cases to a top 3 position for a fairly competitive term. So indeed, press releases can be used for backlink power.

But to me, backlinks are a beneficial by-product of the release, not the main reason why I write them. I don’t find them to be as reliable for backlinks as I do for actual traffic. Resource and broken link building are the more effective ways to earn links, rather than trying to build them. Of-course, you need great resources, great content. Remember, when you do it at the optimal way, you’ll see following kind of inbound link graph (This is for Digital Renovators website, Halifax Website Design team):

I made it a point to stress these things when I wrote the sales copy at my new press release website. I wanted to avoid clients feeling like their expectations for backlinks or media attention weren’t met.

And that’s the purpose of today’s post.

Expectations in internet marketing often have a serious disconnect from the truth

In internet marketing, it seems like every tactic is usable for at least 2-3 different purposes. Take forums, for instance.

You can do research on them. You can ask and answer questions. Include your signature and you’ve turned your posts into an advertisement. You can get 1,000 forum profile links in hopes of spiking your backlink juice.

Yes, forums are used for several different purposes. But if you’re using them for marketing purposes, they usually work the best when:

(a) You participate on them, by helpfully answering other people’s questions;

(b) You include a signature.

Everything else (research, backlinks) is a beneficial by-product.

So when I see people get disappointed because they don’t get the positive backlink effect from forum profile links, I cringe a little. Their expectations are off kilter. Forum profiles can be used for backlinks. But that’s really not their intended purpose. If you use them for that purpose then you really can’t be disappointed when it doesn’t work out as planned.

No more than I can be disappointed in a guy who’s nice, but not a talkative foodie like me.

Understand the true purpose of the tools/services you’re using. If you’re using a tool for a secondary benefit, plan for the best possible results, but don’t expect miracles.

It’s a harsh, yet a very reliable metric for expectation joy in this business.

Written by Dahlia, blogger and eBook author.

How to Set Up Your Own Hair Care Brand

When you are setting up any business, you need to make sure that you have the basics in place before you begin. The hair care industry is dominated by several large businesses but there is still plenty of room for smaller businesses to enter the market, especially if you are planning to create organic products or have another niche in mind.

All industries go through particular trends and the hair care industry is no different. Keeping an eye on the trends is a good way to work out how to pitch your own products. For example, you might notice that there are lots of products using coconut oil recently and decide to join the fashion with your own coconut products. Alternatively, you could look at the current trends and find a gap to fill instead.

Product Design

The beauty industry – and the personal care industry by extension – is often all about marketing the best version of your customer to themselves. Your products are there to make them feel fabulous and look amazing and so the product needs to do exactly as promised.

Where most products just need to be functional, yours will also need to look and smell attractive to your customers to persuade them first to buy it and then to use it on their hair and body. Your product design may also be affected by the niche of the market you are targeting. For example, if you are going for the organic market, you may choose not to add colorings to your product or may only use natural colorings.

You should also think carefully about where your product is most likely to be placed in a store and how it will look on the shelf. This is important because your customers will have expectations based on where they find your product in store and will be able to make a comparison with other similar products.  This is where packaging comes in.

Packaging

Your packaging design is the most important asset you have to tempt customers to step away from their usual products and try yours instead. If you have poor packaging, it doesn’t matter how good the product inside is, it will take a long time to persuade people to try it. This means that once you have an idea for your product, you need to figure out what will be highlighted on the packaging to sell it.

Many shoppers don’t really think about what they are buying; instead, they work around the store picking up the things they usually get and are attracted to bright colors and interesting shapes much more than they are fancy descriptions. Knowing this should certainly impact the way you package your product and you should be able to describe your brand to a 5-year-old successfully.

Hair care products come in all different shapes and sizes but it still takes a good eye to identify the kind of bottle that will stand out for all the right reasons. This time last year, Dove, an international beauty brand based in the UK discovered that their 6 new bottle designs based on female shapes were an idea better left in the boardroom than transcribed to the store shelf. While their aim was to promote body diversity, they came across as patronising instead of motivating.

However badly the PR stunt went for Dove, what they did show was that a different shape could stand out a mile on the shelf. Perfume bottles are another great example of how this works and could be a good source of inspiration for your own design. Once you have an idea, talk to a company like C.L. Smith about creating a mockup and seeing how the design works practically as well as aesthetically.

Create a Business Plan

Now that you have your product and packaging, you will need to create a business plan to figure out how to progress your business. The perfect business plan is your opportunity to prepare yourself for the future and figure out what you are all about. Writing a snapshot of what your business goals are and how you plan to achieve them will really help to focus your mind and keep track of your progress.

Costings are certainly one of the most important aspects of your business. While mock-ups and samples can be quite expensive, ordering in bulk will often drive the cost per unit down – you just need to be certain that you will be able to sell everything you make. You should factor in all your expenses including office space, supplies, staffing, marketing and even basics like transport to ensure that you understand how much you need to earn to keep the business running.

You should also think about how you are going to fund your business to begin with. Setting up a service business might be quite a cheap operation (especially if it’s literally just you and a laptop) but running a business that sells products is much more costly to set up. Not only will you have all the costs above, but you won’t have any income just yet to cover those costs as you will in the future. You will also need to factor paying off your loans into your profit margins.

This is also a good place to start working out what your marketing strategy will be including costs and projections. Your marketing campaign at the beginning of your business will be very different to the campaigns you run when you are better established. With this in mind, you might like to run the costs of a few different ideas to allow you a more dynamic approach to your marketing strategy in the future.

hair3

Image Credit: Stock Snap

Marketing

The initial purpose of your marketing campaign is to raise awareness of your new brand. This means that rather than persuading people to buy, for now, you are just persuading people to have a look and get familiar with your branding. For most businesses, social media marketing is one of the best ways to do this as it allows you to target lots of people you think will be interested and encourage them to follow you in some way.

Competitions are a great way to encourage people to share your social posts and can be a very cheap method for raising awareness. For example, you might ask people to submit before and after photos of their hair after using your product to win a prize. They will then share their picture (with a related hashtag for your brand) and all their friends will see it. The more people you can persuade to join in, the more brand awareness you will achieve.

At this stage, the more impressions you can get, the better so you could also think about giving away some freebies. Samples are a great way to give people a taste of your product in the hope that they will like it and choose to buy more. Lots of hair care companies team up with magazines to distribute samples but you could also go to events or set up on a busy high street to get similar results. Just make sure that your branding and packaging is all recognisable so that your customer know exactly what to look for next time they go shopping.

Once you are a little more established as a brand, you can start shifting your attention from brand awareness to conversions. Content marketing is the ideal way to do this as it sits in the middle of the two giving you a chance to get in front of more people while persuading them to buy. Plus, it gives you an opportunity to show off your knowledge and establish yourself as a brand leader.

A blog is the easiest and most obvious way to start your content marketing and you should think about the kind of things that your customers will be interested in reading on your site. For example, they might like to know how to use your hair mask or whether cold water is really better than warm with conditioner. You could also create video tutorials that can be shared around social media – especially on Instagram. The more content you produce, the more likely it is that people will keep coming back to your site and the more entrances they have too.

Setting up a hair care business and brand is never going to be easy in such a diverse and crowded market. However, if you have a great and original idea that could be just what the market needs, you should follow your passion and set it in motion.

Like any other business, the hair care industry requires plenty of research, detailed planning and excellent marketing to ensure that you stand out and get noticed. However, you will also need to have lots of flare and passion for this competitive industry and be certain that what you are planning to offer can’t be found anywhere else. It’s a tough ask, but if you get it right, the rewards will be amazing.

Build Your Bottom Line with These 4 Surprising Business Strategies

When it comes to tracking your company’s growth, very few numbers are as important as the bottom line. As a business owner, you should constantly be on the lookout for new ways to increase your bottom line without sacrificing your core ideals. Here is a quick look at four proven tactics that will boost your bottom line no matter which industry you are in.

Hire a Good HR Team

According to one recent study, companies are now spending more money than ever on litigation costs. There is no surefire way to completely protect your company from all legal troubles, but hiring a good HR team could help you avoid a wide variety of issues. Your human resources team can help you come up with a comprehensive plan to avoid expensive problems such as workplace injuries and unlawful termination lawsuits. They can also gauge employee satisfaction and reduce your turnover rates.

Focus on Cheap or Affordable Marketing

Traditional advertising mediums such as television and radio spots are still effective, but smaller companies don’t always have the resources for those types of campaigns. A strong online presence will allow you to reach millions of people from around the world at a fraction of the price. At the very least, your company must have an eye-catching website and active social media accounts. Those spaces will give current and future clients multiple ways to easily contact you if necessary.

Create a Knowledge Base

If you are losing clients because of inefficient support, then you need to work on a solid knowledge base. Depending on which industry you are in, your clients might benefit from any mixture of white papers, how-to guides, and online video tutorials. Creating that content and then offering it to clients for free will also reduce the amount of time that your employees spend on customer support. Those guides and videos are especially important if you are providing a product or service that has never been seen on the market.

Build Camaraderie with Team Meals

Many business owners are surprised to hear that corporate catering can be an extremely powerful tool when used properly. Instead of sending your employees off on their own to have lunch, you might want to consider scheduling at least a few communal meals a year. In addition to potentially receiving tax deductions for those meals, you are also going to boost your staff’s efficiency and improve company culture. Offering healthy meals can reduce sick days and increase productiveness as well.

No single growth strategy is going to work for every business, and that is why you need to test out at least a few different options. As you try out these various tactics, you should carefully track their success to see which are working and which can be left behind.

Guest author Hannah Whittenly is a freelance writer and mother of two from Sacramento, CA. She enjoys kayaking and reading books by the lake.

 

What is mobile marketing automation?

There have been a lot of new terms that business people, customer service representatives, and marketers have come to know over the last few decades. Take mobile, for example: Where once we used to be desktop or laptop based work spaces and free time, in the past few years mobile has re-made how we do nearly everything. And mobile has grown at a pace that few expected when it was first introduced. In fact, mobile-only users are now expected to top over 50 million in just a few years. That means those people may not even have a laptop, at all.

So marketers have to figure out how mobile users are different than other users, and marketers also have to figure out how to use automation when possible in order to make their more complex job easier. How do they do that? This graphic explains it.

What Is Mobile Marketing Automation?