Email Marketing vs. MA Solutions: Which is Right for Your Business?

It wasn’t long ago that many small-business marketers were deploying email marketing, but viewed marketing automation (MA) as a tool for mid-size and enterprise organizations only.

Even though top-performers are five times as likely to use MA than other organizations, the thinking was: This technology is just too expensive for the little guys. It requires too many dedicated people to be a cost-effective solution for a business with less than 250 employees. After all, smaller companies don’t have the resources to dedicate the staff necessary to implement and manage MA, nor can they feasibly cover the steep licensing fees.

That used to be the thinking. But it’s definitely not anymore.

Some of today’s marketing automation technology is well within the reach of many small- and medium-sized businesses, affordable pricing plans, no IT resources, and incredibly powerful core capabilities.

It’s clear to us that the modern marketing automation platform can be a great option for more companies of all sizes. Still, it’s not the solution for every single one. If you’re considering transitioning from using a stand-alone email marketing solution to a more powerful marketing automation platform, it’s important you understand the advantages and disadvantages of making this step.

For most small business marketers, email marketing serves as the core component of their outbound marketing strategy. Yet, while email continues to be a powerful tool for these companies, a range of other technologies have established themselves in the marketing arsenal, such as web analytics, landing page hosting, paid search, CRM, and social media. Although the majority of smaller marketing programs use at least a few of these tactics, these functions generally are not integrated.

Unfortunately, fragmented technologies create a number of challenges for small business marketers that can have detrimental impacts on the business. Among them are:

  • disparate data;
  • constrained resource bandwidth;
  • reduced support for multiple interfaces;
  • overlapping functionality;
  • copious licensing fees; and
  • lack of consistency in customer experience quality.

The result is usually an inability to analyze and optimize the customer experience across multiple channels. In short, disparate data equals lost opportunities.

Unified Data

Email marketing tools are primarily designed to be good at one thing: email. But of course, most customers don’t interact with companies using email alone. Multi-channel engagement is a core differentiator for marketing automation. MA provides native functionality from multiple back-office marketing systems, resulting in one system, one interface, and one source of marketing data … in short, unity.

Although email can be viewed as something of a multi-channel tool itself ‒ it can integrate links to a website, mobile views, or social media within a message, and it can provide personalized engagement through dynamic data fields, list segmentation, and multivariate testing ‒ it has many limitations. For example, tracking and measuring performance after an email has been sent is next to impossible without an integrated multi-channel system in place.

Most companies, no matter their size, need one system that manages and tracks behavior across multiple channels ‒ a system that encompasses all the benefits of email, but with linkages to track and aggregate ongoing cross-channel customer engagement. That’s where marketing automation comes in.

Sales and Marketing Harmony

Email marketing is, as the name suggests, largely a tool for marketers. Customer relationship management (CRM) is largely a tool for sales. The disparity of the tools and accompanying business processes has traditionally divided marketing and sales functions in many, if not most organizations. Because marketing automation tracks marketing engagement across multiple channels and it aggregates prospect and customer behavior in a centralized database, it enables the sales organization with a powerful source of information. This helps bridge the divide between marketing and sales.

Taken a step farther, with MA, prospect engagement can even be monitored and assigned numeric scores (known as lead scoring), allowing marketing to track and automatically notify sales (inside their CRM) of highly qualified prospects. For small companies this means that overtaxed sales staff can dramatically reduce the amount of time spent qualifying opportunities as they enter the pipeline; sales can focus instead on closing short-term revenue and driving increased profitability.

Marketing automation combines all the benefits of an email marketing solution along with integrated capabilities that would otherwise need to be cobbled together using various standalone technologies. By combining most functionalities in a unified platform, MA serves the needs of both the marketing and sales departments and ultimately has a greater impact on the business as a whole. In smaller organizations, it’s even more crucial that marketing and sales work together to bond both the buying and sales cycle and maximize revenue for the organization. MA becomes the glue that links the different components

related to marketing and sales engagement. It also drives accountability by providing visibility into pipeline performance and business outcomes.

Take a look at this infographic to learn more about the capabilities of email service providers vs. marketing automation.

Points to Consider

If your company is considering moving to a marketing automation system, think carefully about your needs, your proficiencies, and your resources before taking the plunge. Here are some essential factors you should weigh before making your decision.

  • Email usage. If your organization is heavily using email marketing capabilities to segment lists, personalize campaigns, and improve performance through A/B testing, then you are quickly reaching a diminishing return on investment. It might make sense at that point to migrate to an integrated tool that makes it possible to optimize customer engagement across channels and allow marketing to take charge of qualifying new leads before they get passed to sales.

On the other hand, if your organization sees no need to customize or optimize email campaigns, then it will be unlikely be able to leverage the features of the MA tool and see a significant return on investment. In that case it’s probably better to stick with the email solution.

  • Content creation. Content is the fuel that powers a marketing automation tool. Targeted content needs to map to all stages of the customer buying cycle to start generating a return on investment. It’s also necessary to develop new content over time to use in nurture marketing campaigns and to maximize the value of marketing automation. If continually creating new content is too costly and resource-intensive for your small business, deploying MA is probably not the right decision for your company.
  • Staffing requirements. Companies that implement an automation platform should expect to have at least one person trained on how to configure the tool for lead scoring, email marketing, landing pages, and campaign execution. The person will also need to interact with both sales and marketing, and will likely need analytical skills to hold both departments accountable for performance. Because MA works best in a collaborative, not siloed, environment, it’s important that sales is engaged early and often and clearly understands lead scoring rules to make sure that alerts and routing are worthy of their time and efforts. Make sure you have sufficient personnel to cover these tasks before investing in MA.

For further guidance on deciding whether you’re organization is ready to move from an email marketing system to a marketing animation platform, take our interactive quiz.

Choosing Marketing Automation: 2 Must-Haves that Predict Success

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