Using automation tools can help to improve your workflow by automating time-consuming tasks typically done by hand, drastically increasing efficiency and productivity. Automation software spans the gamut, radically enhancing inbound marketing and sales processes. But there are hundreds of automation software companies to choose from, each with their own unique advantages and caveats, and there isn't a one-size-fits-all product on the market.
No, to discern the right automation tool(s) for your business you need a strategy. You need to know what your goals are and what tools are best equipped to get you there.
Here are 8 things to consider about automation tools before moving forward:
1) The cost
Automation solutions will vary in their cost based on numerous factors, including the features that they offer. Some solutions even have free versions, although these are typically more limited than paid versions in terms of their feature set. Some also include setup fees, which may include on-site training for your marketing or sales personnel. Be sure to read the pricing information carefully and consider your budget as well as how beneficial the solution will be (and whether it will be worth the cost in the long run).
2) The size of your company
It may not be necessary to automate absolutely everything if you're running a smaller sized company. In such a case, you should concentrate on what kinds of automation tools can really benefit your workflow over what tools simply make things more convenient. For smaller companies, the free or lower tier solutions are often a good fit, whereas larger companies have a greater need for automation due to the massive amounts of data being collected and the huge number of leads they may be attracting.
3) The solution's scalability
Scalability is very important if you're planning on growing your business. You don't want to pay for automation software that you'll outgrow since it will become useless if can't scale. This means that you'll have to invest in other software down the line. If an automation software is SaaS (Software as a Service) based, then you'll know that it's most likely scalable.
4) The user-friendliness
The more user-friendly a software solution is, the better. An automation software that's complicated will require that your team be trained how to use it. It means that it may take some time before you can effectively implement the solution as well. Not to mention that a complicated software may pose some issues even following training as your team gets the hang out of using it.
5) The customizability
6) The security
If you're using cloud-based automation software, you'll want to make sure that your data is secure. The last thing you want is to expose your business to potential data hacks as a result of unsecure software, which could leave business data as well as personal employee and customer data vulnerable to theft. Most automation providers have solid security, but will offer enhanced security for their more expensive plans.
7) The customer support
While most automation solution providers will have some kind of customer service, you'll want to make sure any problems that come up will be addressed as quickly as possible. Look for a provider that provides direct access to their customer support (such as via phone number and email) and that can be reached during the broadest possible hours (you won't want to wait over a whole weekend to have an important issue addressed).
When comparing different automation tools, remember that most major automation solutions do provide free trials so that you can get hands-on experience with the software before you decide to fully invest.
Automation features to consider
Automation tools aren't all the same. Some software solutions focus on certain features and may be missing features that you need. It's important to understand exactly what your company's needs are so that you can identify what automation solutions have the features that will meet those needs.
Marketing Automation Features
The following are some of the common features offered by marketing automation solutions:
You can learn a lot about your customers and your prospects through their actions. Instead of bombarding them with questions, let their actions do the talking. You can gather information based on what pages they're viewing the most, how often they visit your site, what content they engage with, and more. This information can be hugely beneficial to improving your site design, figuring out what marketing elements are working, and determining the quality of your leads.
Reaching out to prospects at the right time can be extremely challenging, especially when you're trying to keep track of many different prospects. Triggered communication features allow you to target prospects and customers based on their actions, such as automatically sending an email offering a free trial based on something that a lead downloaded off your site.
A significant part of your email campaign can be automated using list segmentation and drip campaigns. This allows you to send out more personalized content and makes it easier to effectively nurture your leads.
Personalize the user experience by using dynamic content, which allows you to automatically display content based on who is viewing your site. By using dynamic content, you can increase click-through rates as well as engagement.
Closed-loop reporting allows you to connect deals you've closed to the marketing efforts that helped close those deals. This allows you to calculate the individual campaign costs at any time, thereby making it easier to calculate your ROI.
Sales Automation Features
The following are some of the common features offered by sales automation solutions:
Instead of assigning leads to your sales team manually, lead assignment features allow you to do so automatically using an auto-rotator tool that distributes leads based on various criteria, such as geographic territory.
Using the data collected by marketing automation tools, such as visitor tracking, you can score your leads based on the actions they've taken. Sales personnel can then more easily identify leads that are ready to convert, making them more productive since they won't waste time on leads that still need to be nurtured or that are of low quality.
Customize what data you want to be displayed and set up your reports to be automatically updated and sent out whenever you want. This eliminates what is a time-consuming task while also eliminating errors often involved by putting together reports manually.
Automated scheduling makes it easy to find a time to meet with prospects, eliminating the back-and-forth of trying to schedule a convenient time for both parties as well as eliminating scheduling mistakes caused by miscommunication.
Marketing automation software solutions
The following are just a few examples of some of the more popular marketing automation tools out there:
HubSpot is an industry leader when it comes to marketing automation. They're known for their prebuilt workflows and user-friendly workflow creation. Using Hubspot marketing automation also allows you to access basic CRM and sales tools without having to pay additional fees; however, as a whole, HubSpot is more expensive than other options.
MailChimp is one of the best email automation solutions out there. They're particularly useful for smaller businesses due to the many plans available at every level (they even have a free plan) and the abundance of how-to materials they provide. They also boast many third-party integrations.
Pipedrive is a CRM solution with a simple but intuitive interface that's easy to set up and use. Using Pipedrive, you can customize web forms for multiple pipelines; however, it's more suitable for small and mid-sized businesses.
Sales automation software solutions
There are many sales automation software solutions to choose from. The following are a few popular sales automation solutions:
SalesForce is one of the best sales automation solutions on the market and offers a huge selection of advanced features and customization options. Its dashboard feature allows you to view contacts belonging to everyone across your organization along with each contact's activity history, open activities, saved emails, and more.
Signatures are often needed in the sales process, and getting them in person can slow down deals. DocuSign allows court-accepted electronic signing of your documents and includes features such as a tagging system, reminders, expirations, audit trail certificates, and more.
ACT! lets users manage their sales by adding contacts, sending email distributions, managing appointments, and synchronizing with Microsoft Outlook.
In addition to running one of the top performing marketing CRMs, HubSpot's free and premiere versions of their CRM both lead the marketing in sales automation and personalization features. With the free CRM, email automation and segmenting workflows comes baked in, but of course, with the paid version, you will unlock a treasure trove of features that will revolutionize your sales process.
Automation solutions can greatly benefit your marketing and sales efforts -- if you know how to leverage them to suit your specific needs. There are countless automation software tools out there and we can help you identify which ones will work for you. Find out more about automation in general by downloading our eBook, which goes into greater detail about the subject.