Stepping Into Marketing Automation

How to get started with Marketing AutomationI don’t like being boxed in. I won’t say that I’m claustrophobic but I refuse to put it to the test. I like going in caves, but I like hiking in them, I avoid those that require me to squeeze through a narrow tunnel no matter how grandiose the chamber is on the other side.

I take this into my business life where I like to keep my options open. It’s not that I avoid commitments, I just like to test the waters before committing. I’m suspicious when a tool or service limits choices, now or in the future. I prefer open systems where I can exchange plug-and-play pieces over time as needs change.

This leads me to marketing automation. When possible I always prefer to take numerous small steps, testing as I go, rather than take one or two large steps. Before jumping into a full-blown marketing automation program I recommend a company start with a blog and an email newsletter if they don’t already have one. Add a white paper or two, when a prospect downloads one follow it up with a four email drip campaign, asking what they thought, if they have any further questions, and to introduce your products or services. Give it a little time and you can see what is and isn’t working. Then you’re ready to elaborate on it with marketing automation.[blockquote type=”3″]I always prefer to take numerous small steps, testing as I go, rather than take one or two large steps.[/blockquote]

Step in, gradually. If you’re aggressive and have the time or budget, gradually might mean a few months. For others it might mean a year or more. With this in mind I decided to look into HubSpot’s Basic product to see if it would provide a way for my clients to step into marketing automation.

Several years ago, a couple of companies back, I evaluated HubSpot for the small company I was running. It was a compelling story: an all-in-one platform that made inbound marketing technically easy to implement. At the end of the day we decided against HubSpot and integrated a blogging platform into the website we already had. There were three primary reasons we didn’t sign up for HubSpot:

  1. We did not have the resources to commit to the consistent content generation to achieve inbound marketing results.
  2. If HubSpot didn’t work for us we were uncomfortable with the pain of backing out of it.
  3. We had a web application integrated into our web site that allowed customers to design their custom product that we produced. Going all-in with HubSpot with our web site was not an option.

Fast forward to today. HubSpot now has a “Basic” option that claims to allow you to dip your toes in the waters of Inbound Marketing.

Hubspot Basic

I took a look at HubSpot Basic to see if it is something I could recommend or help clients implement. Here’s what I learned:

  • Cost is only $200/month.
  • The base price includes only 100 contacts, which is fine for testing or just getting started if you’re not importing a prospect list.
  • $600 required training.
  • It provides a blog, SEO support, and landing pages.
  • No marketing automation.
  • No CMS (Content Management System). This is only a blogging platform, not something you can use for your website unless you spring for $200 more each month.
  • No CRM integration. To do anything with your new prospects you’ll need to manually export them.

HubSpot Basic does not allow you to test the marketing automation waters. What it does is provide basic basic inbound marketing tools and provide a path to upgrade to more sophisticated real time marketing.

As a comparison, you can set up an inbound marketing program, complete with automated emails, using WordPress, Google Analytics, and an email service provider like MailChimp. Starting out this will set you back about $20/month or less in software platform costs. You’ll probably want to spring for $50 – $200 initially for a theme and a few WordPress plugins, plus some combination of time and money for implementation services depending on your needs.

The main thing that sets Hubspot apart is the integration of web site, blog, landing pages, email, automation, and analytics reporting. All of this in one package does make it a little easier to get started. For small companies this could be a good way to put a sophisticated marketing program in place, as long as you mind having the tool limit your website design, you don’t plan to have specific technical requirements or integrations with other systems, and are happy to let an easy-to-use tool define your marketing programs. You’re better off not getting locked into HubSpot if you have a strong creative team that drives your branding or if you have specific requirements for your website, or might in the foreseeable future.

Marketing Costs

One thing to consider is that the price you pay for your web hosting, blogging, email marketing, or marketing automation platform is just the beginning. You need to set aside time, if you have all the skill sets required, or time and money if you need to outsource some services, for:

  • Defining your strategy
  • Writing blog, landing page and email content
  • Graphic design
  • Technical implementation of web pages, emails, and marketing automation
  • Reviewing analytics
  • Refining your strategy

 

Moving on From HubSpot

Software, like anything, always requires compromises. Making something easy to use normally requires fewer options, reduced functionality, and/or locking you in to predefined workflows. It’s a fine balancing act when developing software services as well as making the buy decision.

A problem with HubSpot for many companies is that their ease-of-use comes from integrating the entire platform, and it is all proprietary to Hubspot. It works well for what it does but it locks you in. You can’t swap out your email marketing to a different provider, or change marketing automation vendors, without recreating your website and blog in another platform like WordPress. This can be such a big project that there is an entire cottage industry that has sprung up to help companies transition out of Hubspot into WordPress. See for yourself by checking out Blog MoversBlog Wranglers, or Thrive Internet Marketing.

Best case scenario:  Your business grows and you need to redesign your website to match the branding defined by your creative team, add specific user login features, migrate to a more sophisticated marketing automation system, or have any number of other new business requirements. Luckily business is growing so you can afford the project to move off of Hubspot.

Worst case scenario:  Your business hits a rough patch and you need to reduce costs. To eliminate the Hubspot monthly fees you have a BIG project to recreate your website and blog on a different platform at exactly the wrong time. Your only other choice is to have no website.

HubSpot does allow you to use WordPress as your website platform. This reduces the cost of importing your current website and blog into HubSpot and makes it easier to move off of HubSpot when you need to, but you lose the ease-of-use integration benefits, removing HubSpot’s most compelling advantage.

How to Test the Marketing Automation Waters

I can’t recommend HubSpot Basic for my clients. Several years ago when I first evaluated HubSpot Inbound Marketing was all the rage, but to be effective today you need two way communications with timely personalized messages based on prospect actions. This is the realm of triggered emails, drip campaigns, and marketing automation. While the full HubSpot product has solid marketing automation tools, the Basic offering is far less compelling than WordPress combined with Google Analytics for inbound marketing, and MailChimp for email campaigns or a cost effective tool like Act-On for marketing automation.

Contact us if you have any questions or would like to learn how you really can dip your toes in the real time communications that marketing automation provides. We have flexible solutions that let you quickly get started without large cash outlays or long term commitments.

 

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