Is Automating Your Marketing Saving You Time, or Losing You Customers?


The modern marketer — or business owner, for that matter — has to wear multiple hats at any given time. There’s a lot of work involved and automation is absolutely necessary to maintain your sanity (and your work quality, too).

But as customers get more and more overwhelmed with information and more businesses automate their marketing, is there a tipping point where automation will lower conversion rates and profits? More importantly, how do you find out where that tipping point is for your audience?

There’s no doubt marketing automation is the way to go:

Automating your marketing is now considered a must-do for running your business — and for good reason. Companies that automate lead management see a 10+% revenue increase in 6-9 months and 44% of companies using automation in their marketing see a return on investment in 6 months, 75% within 12 months.

Quite frankly, one person — or even a small team — can’t effectively handle all of the marketing that comes with running a business without automating. There’s just too much to do, and it’s necessary to either automate or outsource (or both) to keep up. Automating is usually the first choice, because outsourcing is often more expensive and comes with its own issues (deciding whether to go local or international, learning to communicate in a way that speeds up delegating, overcoming any language barriers present, and so on).

But how much is too much?

The problem with automating your marketing is that you can seriously alienate customers if something goes wrong. Recently, Shutterfly had just such an incident, where they sent out a mass email congratulating the reader on their “new arrival.” Except that the email went out to plenty of people who had no such new arrival, including people struggling with fertility issues, and it upset a lot of people.

The Shutterfly example happened on a larger scale than most businesses will experience, but that doesn’t mean your marketing automation isn’t annoying people. I had a very annoying experience where I found myself in four or five email funnels simultaneously after buying a subscription and signing up for the blogger’s newsletter. I kept getting the same emails over and over again — in a different order and with slight time delay. I wound up canceling my subscription and unsubscribing from their newsletter because I was so irritated by the experience.

The especially unnerving thing about this is that, unless you mess up on massive level, people will quit your subscriptions or leave your email list and you won’t know why. After you’ve aggravated a customer or potential customer, they’re unlikely to take time out of their day to explain why they’re leaving.

In fact, on average, for every customer complaint, 26 other unhappy customers aren’t complaining. Most customers who are dissatisfied don’t complain, they just leave.

That’s good to know, but what exactly should I do about it?

In the early stages of your business, it’s a good idea to focus on high-touch marketing, sales, and customer service instead automating every single thing. Is it scalable long term? No.

But it’ll get you vocal fans much faster than providing run-of-the-mill service, which will pay for itself, given that loyal customers are worth up to ten times as much as their first purchase.

In addition, here’s three ideas for keeping things high-touch without spending all of your time on email:

1. You can systematize your personal touches without entirely automating them.

Author and entrepreneur Chris Guillebeau sent a short welcome note to every single newsletter subscriber for the first year of his blog, which amounted to about 10,000 people. The welcome email was based on a template, which didn’t make people appreciate it any less. When I asked him about the payoff, he said, “These actions (sending the note, then replying to any follow-ups) took a lot of my time… but the effort was totally worth it! I built real relationships with many of the readers, some of whom are still with me five years later.

2. You can automate some of your marketing processes and keep the rest high touch.

Jordhy Ledesma, CEO of Information Providers, was originally opposed to automating communication, but after testing, found that it’s increased his company’s sales by 60%. The best results overall came from a compromise: the agency sends out industry-based pitches (refined through A/B testing). After they receive a response, the process is taken over by a salesperson who works with the potential client one on one.

3. Last but not least, you can even automate the personal touches to some extent.

MailLift, an Austin-based startup, helps business owners increase their sales with handwritten letters. The letters are sent from local postmarks and include a high level of customization, including different writing styles based on the personality of the recipient. Working with one of their clients, they turned 47% of a list of dead leads into warm leads. Using a service like MailLift lets you provide a high-touch experience that isn’t quite so time consuming as other options.

How to tell where your automation may be hurting your marketing:

Once you have a solid customer base and your business is firmly in the black, you can scale back your time spent on personal communication. Do it incrementally, and use analytics to track social mentions, referrals, and inbound links. If you notice a sudden drop in those factors after scaling back, then step it back up again.

If you notice a more gradual drop over time, it could be the drop in personal touches, or it could be another factor — do a thorough review to see what else has been changed that could be the culprit. Over time, you’ll see where the baseline of service is that fits with your standards as a company and keeps customers happy & sharing your news.

Another option is to keep your marketing and service high-touch, and raise your rates accordingly. Research has shown that the majority of customers — 55%, in fact — would pay more for a better customer experience.

Above all else, make sure that you and your team are treating longer-term customers with respect and giving them more attention (and benefits like first access to new products). In the end, it’s more expensive to acquire new customers than retaining existing customers (five times more expensive), so the margin is high enough that you can spend that extra time with existing customers and still be saving money.

In short:

  • Automating your marketing is good, but should be balanced.
  • At the earlier stages of business, it makes sense to spend more time personally interacting with people, because that creates loyal, lasting fans.
  • You can also automate just one part of the marketing process, or use a high-touch automation tool (like handwritten letters) to save time.
  • When you step back your personal touches or add more automation, make sure you’re testing and tracking to see where it could be hurting you, and step back one piece of the process at a time to keep your tests clean.

About the Author: This article was written by Michelle Nickolaisen.

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