I stumbled upon this question over on Quora the other day: “Is marketing automation worth it for small businesses in 2020 or is it just hype from software companies and wastes more time and money? What’s your experience that you’d like to share?”

I’ll move the question into the coming year: is marketing automation worth it for small businesses in 2021? (Let’s pretend that 2020 didn’t really exist — jk… mostly.)

It’s no shocker that I’m a big proponent for using marketing automation to help organizations reach their business goals. But at the end of the day, marketing is about one thing: ROI!

Yes, marketing automation is going to save you a lot of time and stress in the long run. Yes, it will improve communication and processes between your marketing and sales teams. Yes, it can contribute to revenue in a very, very real way.

But that all means nothing if you don’t get the Return on Investment. And there are some key indicators of whether or not you’ll be able to achieve ROI for your small business using marketing automation.

1. Have ample time and team to manage your marketing automation platform.

This is a HUGE one: Marketing automation will not be a good fit for your business if you don’t have the capacity to manage it.

There is a level of set-it-and-forget-it that’s possible with your set-up, but a truly comprehensive digital marketing strategy requires tuning and upkeep. If you have one marketer on your team and that person is already overwhelmed with the amount on their plate, you might struggle with getting the ROI that you’re looking for.

2. Focus on your KPIs.

Every business has different metrics that matter most to them; for us, as a SaaS business, we’re focused heavily on churn, Monthly Recurring Revenue/Annually Recurring Revenue (MRR/ARR), and Cost of Acquiring a Customer (CAC). If you’re a nonprofit, maybe you’re focusing on Year-Over-Year Donor Growth or Donation Size. In healthcare, you might focus on the number of Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) generated a month.

Whatever your industry and whatever your metrics, you should be focusing on them, especially when it comes to your marketing automation platform.

What matters the absolute most to your business? How can you use your marketing automation platform to directly contribute to better performance in those key indicators? What processes in your funnel are the clunkiest and could benefit the most from automation and systemization? Focusing on those is a sure-fire way to garner success from your marketing automation implementation.

(P.S. You read more about how to use marketing automation to help open up bottlenecks in your funnel in our resource, People, Processes, and Bottlenecks.)

3. Choose a company that cares about you.

We often say that choosing a marketing automation platform is like entering into a legal partnership: you can back out if you need to, but it’s a bit of a pain and will come with some headaches. It’s common for us to hear this from our customers that switched from another provider:

I thought it was going to be awesome, but then we got charged for basic features we thought were included. We tried to reach out to support, but they took a week to get back to us and we could never reach a live representative. We went through all this time and hassle to migrate our emails, landing pages, and CRM integrations and in the end, we had to switch again.

This is the last thing on earth we want for you and for our customers. Choosing to work with a company that cares about you and your organization will create a lot less headache and heartache in the long run. We wrote all about this in our Marketing Automation Buyer’s Guide, where we outline the 10 concrete steps to purchasing the right marketing automation platform for your organization, but really, it makes a world of difference to work.

Some things to look out for when looking for marketing automation as a small business:

  • Price transparency. As a small business, the last thing you need is unexpected costs. Work with a company who is completely transparent about their pricing and won’t nickel and dime you for more features.
  • A Best-in-Class Customer Success (CS) Team. When you’re working with a small team with limited time and/or resources, your CS team may very well become your best friend. Always ask what the vendor will do to train you and how they will continue to support you even after your onboarding period. Do they push you towards documentation or do you get live calls?
  • Free Trial. Another way to prevent entering into a bad partnership is to give the relationship a test-run. Does the platform offer free trials? Do you get unlimited access to your CS team? Are you allowed to try out all the features and see exactly how your CRM integration works? The earlier you find out the quirks of a platform or company, the less of your resources you’re wasting on a company that won’t be a good fit for you.

Choosing a company that cares about you and will really guide you through the implementation and onboarding periods


So, is marketing automation worth it for small businesses going into 2021? YES! Yes, it is. Make sure you have all your Is dotted and Ts crossed and you’ll be square to improve communications between teams, generate leads, and drive revenue.

To your success!

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Sarah Augustinsky

on the books: digital marketing specialist — more commonly known as: sass master extraordinaire