3 Marketing Automation Platforms for SMBs

Inbound marketing makes it easier for most businesses to take advantage of the web to drive business leads. Marketing automation platforms (MAP) is a relatively new area of expertise formerly open to large enterprises that has the money and resources to implement these complex systems into their already even more complex sales cycles. However, the need doesn’t end with large corporations. SMBs, particularly start-ups need automation tools to grow their business at a more sustainable and rapid pace in order to compete in the marketplace. In fact, the argument could be made that MAPs are even more critical to SMBs than to large corporations since they don’t have the time, money or resources to dedicate to acquiring and developing leads.

The good news is that there a few tools that SMB’s can utilize to help make their lead generation and sales cycle a little easier and more fluid. While they may not have all the sizzle of the larger platforms, they can provide a lot of value in helping you weed out the good leads from the bad. Additionally, less sizzle equals less complexity – an Achilles heel for most platforms that target the big guys.

To get you started, here are three tools you should evaluate today as part of your automation strategy that are specifically geared toward the SMB market.

Spark by Marketo

Spark is the SMB version of Marketo’s major league product. As one of the leaders in the marketing automation business, Marketo has built a strong reputation for its usability and effectiveness. Spark packages key functionality that automates email marketing so you can generate more demand through sophisticated lead nurturing using multi-step drip campaigns based on criteria you set. Spark also has lead scoring capabilities to help you focus on leads that are ready to buy and makes lead generation and capture easy with integrated landing pages, forms, and leading webinar platforms. Social media and ROI reporting are also part of the package.

Pricing: Spark offers a free trial. It costs $750 per month with no annual contract for 30,000 emails and unlimited nurturing campaigns. As your business grows, upgrading to their enterprise packages will cost you $2,600 – $3,600 per month, but by then the ROI on the platform will more than pay for itself.

Pardot Marketing Automation

Pardot offers similar capabilities around email marketing, lead nurturing, lead scoring, CRM integration, social media and ROI reporting. They recently added more social features to give marketers a better handle on how social media affects their lead generation efforts. You can pull in photos and other information into your CRM from Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter so you can build better prospect lists, schedule updates and track the ROI of each channel.

Pricing: Pardot costs $1,200 per month with no annual contract. You can save $200 per month if you commit to a year, but take a look at the other tiers as some of the social features mentioned above are not included in the starter package. When thinking long term, Pardot is prime contender. Forrester Research identified Pardot as the solution with the least expensive total cost of ownership.

Genius

Genius is probably the most affordable marketing automation platform on the market. Lead qualification and nurturing are part of the package and their ability to play back visits can help sales and marketing identify buyer interests. They describe it to be like Tivo for web visitors. Genius allows for social media tracking with their own URL shorterner that can be plugged into normal conversations just like bit.ly and others. You can create custom email and web promos that can be personalized for specific people or actions. Plus their integrated web chat allows you to more deeply engage with potential buyers when they visit your site.

Pricing: Genius has two packages – Small Business and Pro Marketer, but you’ll need Pro Marketer if you want to use drip marketing campaigns and automated lead nurturing and scoring. You can try both for free. When you’re ready to upgrade, pricing ranges from $50 per month to $330 per month.

There are dozens of marketing automation platforms on the market that have similar capabilities. The solutions mentioned above offer month-to-month contracts making them affordable solutions for SMBs and start-ups. Other solutions like HubSpot are great tools but require annual commitments. When designing your technology strategy, outline key features that are important to your business and compare against your requirements. Many times these decisions come down to price, but consider the long term benefit to your bottom line.

Three Questions to Ask When Selecting a Marketing Automation Tool for Your Business

If you’ve made the smart leap to augment your marketing technology with a marketing automation platform (MAP), then you’re probably trying to determine which solution is right for your business. There is no doubt that MAPs can be challenging and for small businesses it might feel like undertaking this task will add even more complexity and expense than you can afford. However, automating your systems is the best way to focus your time and resources in the right places so you can expand your business and provide better customer experiences.

To help you get started, here are a few questions to consider when selecting a marketing automation platform for your SMB.

  1. Does the tool help you capture, profile and score leads? Effective marketing will lead to increased traffic, but unfortunately some of that traffic won’t buy any of your products or services. Therefore, you need to be able to separate the non-buyers from the potential ones before you waste valuable time in pursuit of a lead. MAPs allow you to go beyond simple lead capture via a form and instead, enables you to incorporate filters to help identify the most promising leads. By asking certain questions at the point of entry you can create categories of potential customers, rate their activity and communicate with them on a more personalized level until they reach a point where they are ready to buy, and warrant your undivided attention.
  2. Does the tool have email nurturing capabilities? Leads generally fall in two categories: Inquiry or Marketing Qualified Lead. Marketing Qualified Leads represent your ideal customer who has a need, a budget and is ready to buy. Inquiries are people who responded to your offer. They may be your ideal customer or one who has potential meeting some or all of the criteria but in either case, they are not yet ready to buy.  You’ll need to keep in touch with inquiries until they take certain actions that will prompt you to reach out. Email nurturing helps you achieve that goal by automatically sending triggered emails until which time they raise their hand to talk to you.
  3. Does the tool have robust reporting that links marketing activity to sales? The key to proving marketing effectiveness is proving the return on marketing investment. That means you need to link marketing activity to closed deals. A good marketing automation platform can integrate with a CRM like salesforce.com and provide with a clear view of the funnel.

The trick to any tool is to remember that it’s just that – it’s a tool. It won’t work miracles on its own. You are the driver of the information and therefore, it’s up to you to make sure that certain elements are in place around metrics and sales goals so you can accurately measure and analyze the data you need to make smarter decisions about your business.

5 Social Networks for SMBs, Startups & Business Professionals

In a previous post, I supported the rise of niche social networks. Below are a 5 social networks geared toward startups and small businesses. While some of the larger networks like LinkedIN or Facebook can be adapted and/or utilized for SMBs and startups, this list specifically focused on the entrepreneurial community and/or business professionals.

BizNik

Biznik is social network of entrepreneurs and small businesses dedicated to helping each other succeed. They help foster connections both online and in person in a collaborative environment. You can join for free or pay membership fees ranging from $10 to $24/month to get advanced features and visibility.

BizNik Social Network

Efactor

Billed as the world’s largest network for entrepreneurs, Efactor connects over one million people in over 185 different countries providing access to information on funding, ideas, expertise and exclusive offers from fellow business owners.

efactor Business Network for Entrepreneurs

Focus

Focus is a network of thousands of leading business and technology experts who are thought leaders, veteran practitioners and upstart innovators in hundreds of different topics and markets. Members can utilize this expert resource that combines Q&A, research and events to help them make smarter business decisions.

Focus Business Network

Startup Nation

Startup Nation is a online community strictly for entrepreneurs by entrepreneurs focused on helping business owners start and grow successful businesses.

Startup Nation Social Network

SocialCast

Create your own private company network with SocialCast for free. Here you can securely collaborate with employees, vendors, partners, agencies and customers.

SocialCast Private Social Network

Do you have a favorite business network that you’d like to share. Tell me!

CEO Blog Nation – Why I Started My Business

It’s a great question that Ashley Poulter from CEO Blog Nation posed and hopefully I gave a good answer. If you want to learn why and how Kaye Media Partners came about, read this post.

In addition to my story, you’ll also hear from several entrepreneurs on what inspired them to take the leap into entrepreneurship. You’ll read about companies like SlimDoggy, a company that tackles dog obesity; We Rock Toy Co that started with a portable/packable rocking horse made of 100% bamboo; and LuLu, the first app for private reviews of guys.

I hope you will take the time to read everyone’s profiles. It’s inspiring and you might just find a new service you need. Here’s a quick link to the article – Why Did You Start Your Business.

5 Tips on Generating Third-Party Content for Your Site

A reader asked me the following question: I am trying to move forward with my business but need to work on my website content. I was wondering what you thought about using problogger as a means to reach other bloggers to provide content on my site?

I am not familiar with Pro-Blogger, but if you want to generate content for your site externally, here are a few tips.

  1. Hire professional writers. Put out an ad for a couple of key writers who will be responsible for certain sections of your site. About.com does a great job of soliciting writers to contribute individual posts or serve as guides with greater responsibilities. They pay on a per article basis but also integrate a pay per performance model as part of their payment structure. You can do the same or chose the compensation model that works best for your business. Start with a job description. You want to be clear about roles and responsibilities from the start.
  2. Hire interns. If funds are low, you can hire a couple of talented interns who want to build their portfolio. Again, assign categories or sections so you can ensure diversity of content. You’ll still have to edit and manage the content, but at least you can get an influx of subject matter. When trying to source the number of writers you’ll need and/or how much work to assign each person, consider that you’ll need at least 1 post per section per week to get some traction– preferably 2-3.
  3. Solicit guest bloggers. Crowdsourcing your content is a great way to get enthusiasts about your industry or topic to contribute freely. Target influential bloggers in your industry, clients, and other raving fans and ask them to contribute. Provide some guidance or topic ideas. You can even repost content that they have previously distributed to expose great content to a wider audience.
  4. Curate third-party content. There is tons of existing content on the web. Use a content curation tool to help you gather and share that information on your site. For example, Storify helps collect social media content from across the web and integrate it within your web pages. Storyful serves as a news gathering platform and Redux helps curate video. For larger organizations, Curation Station is a tool specifically for marketers of large brands who want to collect, filter and disseminate relevant information strategically.
  5. License third party content. Creative Commons, for example, provides access to works that are licensed for third-party use. From photos to songs to text, you can freely use this as long as you give credit.

No matter how you approach content creation, focus on providing REALLY GOOD, RELEVANT and USEFUL material that will be valuable to the reader. If you do that, you will drive the traffic and spark conversion.

5 Reasons Why Hiring a Marketing Consultant Will Benefit Your Business

In my line of work, I am often asked the question “why should I hire a Marketing Consultant over a permanent employee?” I usually give the same answer; that it depends on what your goals are, because I really don’t see the decision as an “either/or” situation. Consultants can be hired instead of or in support of a permanent hire. However, the real question behind the question usually is usually revolves around cost.

First let me say, that there needs to be shift in how organizations *think* about marketing in general. If marketing is viewed as a cost center then all of your decisions will be based on spend, not value and that is a dangerous place from which to make sound, strategic business decisions. However, if you shift your thinking and view marketing as an investment, then you can focus on the things that count – value and ROI. That’s the stuff good business is built on. And with that, you can evaluate the true benefits that a well seasoned professional can bring to the table.

Below are 5 reasons why hiring a Marketing Consultant can benefit your business.

1. Get Instant Expertise & Experience

The primary reason for hiring a Marketing Consultant is to acquire a specific skill set either not possessed by existing staff members or not available to you due to time constraints. Some projects are very specialized or have a short life span in which case it may not be practical to train a staff member for short-term projects. On the other hand, start-up companies, for example, often need a high level of strategic support yet someone who can execute at an extremely fast pace. Other examples are:

  • Launch a new product or campaign strategy
  • Jump start the marketing department of newly formed companies
  • Re-brand your organization
  • Identify areas of opportunity and change
  • Lead major initiatives
  • Replace key members of your team on leave

2. Realize the Cost Effectiveness

Rates vary although seasoned marketing professionals command anywhere from $100-$150 per hour. While this may seem high at face value, you should compare consultant fees with the true cost of hiring a full time salaried employee. When doing your comparison be sure to account for your employee’s annual salary, benefits, office space, office equipment, travel, vacation, sick days, payroll taxes and training. The fact is that, an employee can cost 25-30% on top of their base salary per year, considerably more than a Consultant. When making the shift to a value based decision model rather than a spend based one, you may find that the return on your consulting investment provides a solid business case for your organization.

3. Achieve Seamless Integration

Consultants are experts at jumping into a project and jumping back out again. They are self-starters who know what questions to ask, are adept at what tasks to perform and know how to execute. More importantly, they are experts at what to leave behind so you can effectively track performance or transition over to one of your staff members. This is key when hiring Consultants as temporary hires for employees on leave or to run the marketing department while you look for the right candidate.

4. Obtain True Objectivity

The only gain for a Marketing Consultant is to see the project succeed. Therefore, although they may respect the political and historical positions of the company, a Consultant has no vested interest in them. Oftentimes, a Consultant is not even there long enough to appreciate the dynamics of the organization. As such, Consultants can bring a unique perspective to the project. He/she may be able to identify gaps in the original planning, suggest new ideas or revamp old ones from an objective viewpoint. To that end, you may accept or reject his/her ideas without worry about future performance issues. Remember that the Consultant’s goal is to succeed. Only then can he expect to be invited back for another project or use you as a referral.

5. Stimulate the Gene Pool

Marketing Consultants travel from company to company working on a variety of projects. As such, they are exposed to new ideas and technologies that can benefit your company. Some of their clients may have been your competitors and although they may have signed non-disclosure agreements, their wisdom from previous projects will benefit your organization. Additionally, Marketing Consultants provide access to wider breadth of talented professionals with specialties in  PR, design, technical writing, and more. This can essentially provide you with access to a whole marketing department that is available only when you need them and therefore, saves you valuable time and money.

The Bottom Line

In summary, the key here is to measure those dollar signs and access to true professional talent against the projected benefits of effectively running your business. It’s no different than the way you make all of your other investment decisions. The same should hold true for marketing.

5 Slideshare Presentations to Improve Your PowerPoint Skills

A colleague of mine is preparing for her first webinar and is embarking on the daunting task of create a PowerPoint presentation that will not only grasp the viewers attention, but leave them with something meaningful and relevant as a takeaway. She did all her due diligence. She wrote an abstract, gathered her notes and prepped her story, but somehow translating that into PowerPoint left her at a standstill. Her next move – ask Karen for help!

I wanted to provide some examples I ventured to Slideshare to conduct my search. As you can imagine, sifting through thousands of PowerPoints is not the best use of my time so I instead focused on locating “how to” guides, starting with one of my favorites – Death by PowerPoint.  The selection I provided to her is the same I am sharing with you – a collection of five presentations that show what to do and what NOT to do. If you have any others to share, please do!

  1. Death By PowerPoint: This is one of my favorites and was first introduced to me by a friend and colleague, Tami Forman. It tells a clean and simple story while providing a strong action plan on how to create your next presentation. It’s also available in other languages.
  2. Presentation Secrets of Steve JobsIf you are a serious presenter (or writer), get the book. This presentation however, is a perfect example of what NOT to do in a presentation. But, it does provide a good excerpt of the book. Think of it as PPT Cliff Notes (or Spark Notes as they are called today). Did I just date myself?
  3. Why Most Presentation SuckHere you’ll get simple and effective advice based on five main questions every presenter should answer.
  4. Steal this presentationThis presentation provides a more tactical view of how to create a killer PowerPointt. This is super helpful when you are actually in the process of creating it, not just thinking about it.
  5. You suck at PowerPoint: The subtitle is “5 Shocking Design Mistakes You Need to Avoid” so I think that sums it up right there.

The one thing that all of these presentations have in common is that you don’t need a voice over. When creating a presentation for a webinar, make sure you include information on the slides that enhances your verbal presentation, but is also comprehensive and useful enough for readers to find value without the benefit of your colorful commentary. It’s a delicate balance that is hard to achieve, but you can do it once you get the hang of it. Remember, practice makes perfect!

RANT to myself: I used the word presentation or some variation thereof about 16 times in this post. 

Four Pretty Neat Twitter Resources for Small Businesses

When I started my Twitter account way back when, I didn’t really peruse their company pages although I suspect it has grown significantly since then. After clicking around a bit, I found a few cool resources that can help define and grow your Twitter presence.

  1. Twitter has a guide for small businesses which details how to get started, how to engage your customers and grow your audience. You can download the guide here.
  2. In addition to the guide, American Express is running a promotion giving $100 in free Twitter advertising to the first 10,000 eligible card members, although I am not sure what the eligibility requirements are. Check it out here. Right now, they only have one level of advertising – Promoted Accounts – but you can be notified when they bring their other options online.
  3. Twitter also has a site called stories.twitter.com where you can learn how people did amazing things with Twitter. For a more professional perspective, check out their case study section.
  4. Lastly, I discovered a pretty neat tool that is not made by Twitter, but helps you increase your followers. It’s called Tweet and Get It. This service asks that the person follow you in exchange for downloading a file. It’s a great way to share content and build a steady fan base at the same time.