As a business owner, do you wish you could clone yourself? If only there were extra versions of yourself to answer every call, chase outstanding invoices and deliver ongoing marketing to our customer base!
If you’re serious about growing your business, there will come a time when you need extra help. For money management, this can come in the form of an accountant or bookkeeper. You may enlist the support of a VA to manage your calendar and handle phone calls.
For marketing, the good news is you don’t always need to hire a full-time person. A great deal can be taken care of with automation.
What is automation?
The term ‘automation’, when used in marketing, refers to automatically programmed content and communications you can share with your clients based on their actions.
Smart software now acts as your round-the-clock sales and marketing rep, speaking directly to your customers on social media, via email and/or with text messages from the moment they discover your business.
For example, when a customer requests a quote, they can fill out a form and the information they seek will be automatically generated and emailed to them. If they don’t then email to make a booking or purchase, your automation can follow up with them, without you being directly involved.
There’s not doubt automation is incredibly powerful but it can be overwhelming to get started. Until you know how to map out every step and figure out the back-end, it seems like too much work.
However, the beauty of automation is you only need to set it up once for it to reach pretty much every customer. For small businesses, this can be a game-changer.
The following guide outlines the steps you need for end-to-end automation, broken down into three phases. These will keep every client on a continuous journey with your business, even after they have made a purchase. Throughout the guide, you’ll see why automation is a huge part of the puzzle when it comes to driving your organisation past the 7-figure mark.
PHASE 1: LEAD GENERATION
The first three steps are all about getting noticed by your ideal clients.
Step 1. Master your message
First things first. Before you start automating, your business needs to be clear on its message, its values and the tactics it will use to appeal to its target audience.
This is important so every message you share is consistent and reflects your brand.
A brand document or style guide can really come in handy here. This doesn’t have to be extensive, just a few pages outlining your vision, mission and values, plus the tone of your copy.
Include a description of your ideal customer (aka avatar or persona) and add in some of the words and phrases which you would definitely or never use.
To clarify your message, ask the following questions about your business:
What makes us different?
Why do our customers love us?
Are we a budget or a premium provider?
What are five words to describe our products or services?
What values do we prioritise (e.g. innovation/honesty/friendliness/creativity/fun)?
What actions do we want our customers to take?
How do our customers feel when they use our products or services?
Why should our customers choose us over the competition?
Write your responses down and use them to form your brand guidelines. Keep this document somewhere central so your team and your marketing people can refer to it easily.
FOR EXAMPLE: A youth-focused brand can have fun using slang words, lingo and abbreviations in their communications. They can say “Thanks heaps for buzzing us!” instead of “Thank you for getting in touch”, which is what you would expect from a legal firm or dentist’s office.
Does your business have brand guidelines? Y/N
Step 2. Choose your channels
The internet is key to your automation strategy as most missives will be delivered online.
Few businesses need to be all things on all platforms. Select the social media platforms and tools where your audience is most likely to spend time. Focus on the one or two which will drive the most success, rather than spreading your efforts too thin.
When it comes to social media, there are tools which make things easier. Hootsuite, Buffer and others allow you to upload content in batches and schedule it to be posted at regular intervals. LinkedIn Helper can send personalised invitations to 2nd and 3rd contacts and build targeted mailing lists, among other things.
There are also tools like Missing Lettr, which will mine your blog archives and share evergreen posts on social media, making it easier to extend the reach of the content you create.
Of course, email is one of your most important communication channels. Find software to simplify and automate your messages so you’re not constantly spending time reaching out to your contacts. This will help you segment customer lists, easily create templates and set up ‘if this, then that’ rules based on how customers respond to your missives.
FOR EXAMPLE: BoostFIT Gym is a B2C business. It posts member offers and inspirational messages on Facebook and Instagram, using Hootsuite to schedule content. Members receive emails about recruitment drives and automated reminders about lapsed payments with the help of InfusionSoft and Xero.
Do you have a clear strategy covering the channels you use to reach your audience? Y/N
Step 3. Lasoo your leads
Once you have defined your message and started putting it out there, you need a way to grab information from your prospective clients (aka your leads).
It’s all well and good to capture attention on social media and via email but the next step is to bring your customers to your website and give them an incentive to take action. This is where landing pages and lead magnets come in.
Your lead magnet is something you offer your clients for free or at a generous discount. It could be free shipping with their first purchase, a helpful ebook or a pdf checklist.
A landing page is a standalone page within your website. It could offer a course, a special deal or a single product. The content on your landing page will sell the benefits your product or service provides to your customers and ask them to register, enrol or buy now.
If possible, capture interest in your lead magnet or on your landing page with a short term offer. Giving people a limited time to make a decision creates a sense of urgency and pushes them to take action. At the very least, get them to submit their first name and email address, which you can then use in your future marketing.
You’ll need everything running smoothly on the back end to deliver your lead magnet. Generally, a new customer entering their email address will trigger your automation system to send an email with a discount code or a link to the pdf of their ebook.
FOR EXAMPLE: Jim sells and installs woodburning stoves but things always go quiet for his business in summer. His lead magnet is 10 per cent off and free delivery outside of peak times, which he promotes on social media. Even if customers don’t end up buying, he can get back in touch to tempt them with another offer.
PHASE 2: SEAL THE DEAL
Once you have your customers’ information, it’s time to lock them down and SELL.
Step 4. Confirm your CRM
Your Customer Relationship Management tool (CRM) acts as a central hub for your customer relations.
This online software takes care of communicating with almost everyone who comes into contact with your business. Your CRM digitally standardises business interactions and has the potential to save you hours of time, while boosting your profitability.
At its basic level, a CRM allows you to save client and prospect client details, categorising them and recording where they are in their customer journey. You can keep information like phone numbers and email addresses, and also record what your customers are interested in, what they have purchased before and how pleased they are with your service.
Once you get to a more advanced level, your CRM can keep track of orders and be used to deliver quotes and order forms. You can use it to create landing pages, manage enquiries and give your leads a ‘score’ so you know how interested they are.
FOR EXAMPLE: Sunflower Florists use their CRM to stay on top of quality control and boost their positive Google reviews. After every order is marked as delivered, the customer receives an email asking them to rate their experience. Those who give an 8 or above are then asked to submit a review.
Step 5. Streamline your Sales Pipeline
Imagine if you could email every lead to see where they’re at and remind them that you’re waiting to do business with them.
With a well-planned and functioning CRM, everyone who shares their email with you after interacting with your website will be automatically included in your nurturing sequence.
You won’t have to lift a finger while your CRM tracks and manages opportunities, communicates with your prospects, sends links to helpful blogs and forwards quote reminders. This system can also let you know when it’s time to pick up the phone, should that be necessary.
When executed well, this approach makes your clients feel important. They won’t necessarily know you have automation at play and will get the impression that you really value their business (which, of course, you do!).
FOR EXAMPLE: Jenny’s formal wear business gets a request from a bride asking how much it will cost to hire six gowns for her bridesmaids. After sending a detailed quote, Jenny can request her CRM to send two follow-up emails, one of which links to a blog on how to choose the right colour for your bridal party.
Step 6. Keep up the conversation
While nobody wants their provider to simply take the money and run, the reality of being a business owners means you’re always looking for your next prospect.
This step in your automation roadmap allows you to complete the onboarding process and make your customer feel special by thanking them for their business. It can also highlight the natural next step in the process.
So many businesses fail to leverage the customers they already have. Considering the lower cost of acquisition, it makes sense to turn first-time buyers into loyal ones. Again, automation will do this without you having to lift a finger.
FOR EXAMPLE: Tresses Hairdressers emails a client when they book an appointment, getting them to share more information and asking if they’d like tea, coffee or mineral water when they arrive. After their treatment, the client gets an email saying thank you and an offer of $10 off their next cut if they book within 7 days. A reminder follows so they don’t forget and another email arrives six weeks later if they fail to book.
PHASE 3 LEVERAGE YOUR CUSTOMERS
Happy customers are key to finding new ones so use them to your advantage as part of your automation process.
Step 7. Communicate (it’s great)
Again, communicating regularly is all about making your clients feel special. The good news is you can do it without taking up too much headspace or time.
Regular communications include:
Newsletters and links to blogs sent via email
Special offers and discounts
Referral incentives (ask for introductions to other people your business could help)
Birthday messages (these can be sent via text as well as email)
Celebrating their anniversary as a customer
Remember, your client is the ‘hero’ of their own life story. Pander to their ego, make them feel special and let them know what a favour they’re doing you by working with your business. Craft your message so they are the good guy when they take action.
Not every email you send will be opened. That’s ok! Often the brand name in their inbox will be a good reminder that you exist. Your customer will think of you when they next need a service like yours.
FOR EXAMPLE: Terry’s Car Detailing offers a free wax and polish as a ‘customer anniversary’ bonus, which is automatically delivered via its CRM.
Step 8. Refer a friend
Word of mouth is the best and one of the most cost-effective ways to grow your business.
Your automation can take care of referrals by directly asking your past clients to help you find new ones. A way to do this is send a simple email which looks personal. Have it say something along the lines of:
Tim from Win More Clients here.
Just a quick note to say thanks again for trusting me to help you with your marketing so you can get more leads with less effort.
Just a really quick question: Do you have a friend or contact who may benefit from working with me to grow their business? I’d love to chat to them about how they can find more time in their day with the help of automation.
If you can introduce me over email, I’d really appreciate it!
Speak to you soon,
Don’t forget to thank your client if they respond.
FOR EXAMPLE: Karate High offers two free lessons to each student who brings a friend if the friend then enrols and pays for a full term. Every student is emailed with the offer after they have completed their first term, then twice per year after that.
Step 9. Instantly integrate
Nowadays, smart software can be integrated with similarly brainy platforms.
This means your CRM can talk to your accounting software, your website and your payment platform.
Once you have set everything up, it will be connected and able to share data for even more efficiency. For example, once a payment is reconciled in Xero, your CRM will send a request for feedback. An overdue account can mean your accounting team gets an automatic notification. You can even set up your connected platforms to message your team members when you get great feedback from a client.
When you’re ready to get more advanced with the way you use automation, you can track customer behaviour, see your sales results and quickly identify ‘hot’ leads, all from simple dashboards.
FOR EXAMPLE: Signs4U is a nation-wide noticeboard company with several sales reps on the ground. When one sales rep has too many leads on their plate, the business’s smart software automatically transfers the data to a rep who isn’t so busy. It is added to their task list without the need for any back and forth, meaning nobody is kept waiting.
Take the Steps to Success
Now you understand the steps to automation success, skip the heavy lifting and enlist the help of an automation expert.
Once they understand your goals and processes as a business, this specialist can map out your top-level automation journeys. You’ll get help creating lead magnets and landing pages, deciding on the best CRM for you and putting together email sequences to drive your clients down the lead funnel.
As everything takes shape, you’ll finally feel like there are two and even three of you, working around the clock to deliver your marketing strategy. This will give you time to focus on growing your business and delighting every customer.
Have you seen the Despicable Me movies?
These flicks are family-friendly, madcap adventures involving the ‘bad guy’ mastermind Gru and his team of yellow Minions.
I thought this crew could give a good example for my ‘Reverse the Pyramid’ concept, which takes a new approach to hiring and maintaining a base of employees.
You see, Gru is the criminal genius. He’s a master of dastardly deeds and has spent his life building his skillset. To help him create his machines and execute his criminal strategies, he has about a zillion underlings, who aren’t really capable of much other than buffoonery (they get laughs so it’s ok).
[So happy. So yellow. So ineffective.]
Despite his best-laid plans, Gru’s heists tend to go terribly wrong. As it is a kid’s movie, hilarity ensues. As a business owner, you’ve gotta wonder why he doesn’t get better help. He has put a lot of money into creating his base, supporting his minions and building tools of destruction. Is he really getting returns?
This brings me to my point about the pyramid.
Let’s take a look at the structure of a standard business.
On the first floor, you have the ‘minions’ who carry out basic tasks according to instructions. Generally, they do the same thing every day and there are lots of them.
Go up a level and there is a middle-management level of competency. These people are getting things done, relying on their intelligence and industry experience to do so.
Next is the ‘expert’ level, the money-makers, salespeople and the wheelers and dealers who are running the organisation. These people are under a lot of pressure to draw in the real money for the business.
And at the top, you have your ‘Genius’, your Gru-like mastermind (who is hopefully not evil). This person is driving the machine and is on the top income for doing so.
Most businesses around the world operate this way, allocating a small salary to general job-doers, who aren’t likely to generate income for the business. Wages go up in accordance with experience and those who contribute the most to revenue generation are financially rewarded for doing so.
It has been this way since the dawn of time but in today’s software-driven, tech-enabled world, I think it is time to reverse the pyramid.
What happens if…
Instead of having a fleet of low-paid minions who are doing the same repetitive task, are bored and who aren’t contributing to the business, why not flip the structure?
Look for as many genius-level people as possible to take on the responsibility of being decision makers and action takers. Increase the number of revenue-generating staff and you stand to increase the money your business makes.
A lot of businesses are bogged down by menial-task workers. The cost of these workers adds up and while they help keep things running, they may be preventing your business from running lean and producing higher profit margins.
Instead of your staff pyramid looking like this:
What would happen if it looked more like the following?
Those geniuses are the ones who are good at making money and providing real value to your customers. As HR expert Dr John Sullivan explains, “Hiring those who perform at a higher level will increase revenue — hiring a higher percentage of top performers (instead of average performers) over all of your openings will obviously increase your output. For example, if a superior hiring system selected more productive hires (i.e. new hires who produce 25% more on the job than the average worker), over a large number of hires, the economic value of that increased productivity and output would be significant.”
But what about all the work the minions are actually doing? You have a few options here, which doesn’t necessarily mean firing half of your team.
It all comes down to automation. Let’s look at Customer Care as an example.
The technology exists to affordably implement a chat-bot which can be the first point of contact for your customers. The script goes something like this:
Chat-bot: “How can I help?”
Customer: “What time are you open?”
Chat-bot: “We open from 9am to 5pm each weekday”
Customer: “Where is the closest location?”
Chat-bot: “Where are you located?”
Chat-bot: “The nearest office is at 23 XYZ Lane in Fyshwick”
Chat-bot: “Is there anything else I can help you with?”
Customer: “I don’t know if your business can actually solve my problem”
Chat-bot: “You can find more information on our FAQ page [LINK]. If you don’t find it there, I can arrange a customer service agent to get in touch with you.”
The majority of customer questions relate to the same general topics. By implementing a chat-bot, you can minimise your minion-style customer care team to those who are at a Genius or Expert level. They may not be directly generating revenue but their role in keeping customers happy it is still very important. By helping customers at an expert level, they’re helping improve retention and word of mouth referrals.
The benefit for these staff is they will be handling a wider range of enquiries and be more stimulated by their work, so they are more likely to stay on with the team. Your other customer care staff can be trained to do other things or you can gradually downsize the team.
Ways to automate your non-revenue generating tasks
Here’s a rapid fire of automation and outsourcing ideas, which can reduce expenses and help focus on revenue generation.
Skip the receptionist
There are plenty of software options which automate the response to inbound calls, reducing the need for someone to pick up every time the phone rings.
You can also look at outsourcing to a virtual receptionist who will only bill for the actual time spent on the phone. Your current receptionist can upskill into a role which is more focused on helping existing customers or focusing on sales and marketing.
Optimise inbound leads
This suggestion comes from Infusionsoft:
“With automation software, you can set up an internal form to be used when people call your main line. Enter the client’s contact information, along with any relevant notes, before using a drop-down menu to assign a sales representative to follow up. The form alerts the sales rep to contact the new lead. Meanwhile, the software sends an automated introduction email from that sales rep to the potential customer.
When the introduction email is sent five minutes after the form is completed, it appears that the sales rep sprung into action after learning of the potential client’s call. Your lead will be impressed by your customer service before the sales rep even starts working.”
This approach minimises the need for personal assistants, or for them to waste time on bad leads.
Automate social media posts
You don’t need somebody pressing ‘Post’ on all your social media feeds. Affordable software lets you program updates months in advance, and to several platforms simultaneously.
Again, you can hire or work with one Genius instead of a team of repetitive-task minions who cost your business money.
Upgrade your data tracking and analysis
Again, with the right software, you can free lower level workers from the tedious task of data-tracking. Implement this technology and you will instantly be able to see dashboards which show you daily, weekly or monthly progress and a range of statistics which affect your business.
Take this a step further and plug in to systems which respond to what’s working and take actions like automatically increasing marketing spend in this area.
Systemise customer communications
Your business should constantly be in touch with your existing customers but you don’t need several minions to do this. By setting up your CRM so you are regularly communicating with your customers, sales will come your way more easily.
Chase overdue accounts
Stop checking your bank account every ten minutes and set up your accounting software to send automatic reminders when an account is overdue. Most customers will pay after the first couple of friendly reminders, freeing up your accounts staff to stop chasing money and help you find ways to make more of it.
Similarly, set up notifications when a direct debit fails to go through and arrange to have it immediately followed up on by your accounting software.
With the above being said, this isn’t a completely black and white situation. You will of course require some non-revenue generating staff but it won’t hurt to see how automation and outsourcing can reduce the ‘fat’ which is sucking away your profits.
Do some calculations to check how hiring one extra ‘expert’ or ‘genius’ will pay off despite the larger salary. Reversing the pyramid is a multi-step process but is worth investigating and plugging away at to create a more productive, efficient and profitable organisation.
In the second Despicable Me movie, Gru (who has now turned good – how convenient) meets secret agent Lucy. Working at ‘Genius’ level together, they are able to get a lot more done to defeat the bad guys and emerge victorious.
[Bring in the Geniuses]
Us digital types live and breathe marketing technology to the extent that we sometimes fail to realise a lot of the lingo we speak is complete gobbledegook to other business owners.
We are so used to waxing lyrical about algorithms, click-throughs, PPCs and lead funnels that we forget these are terms which the rest of the world isn’t aware of.
First up – sorry if I’ve ever confused you with lingo and please pull me up if I ever go too deep into a subject without giving a proper explanation!
Second, let’s break down a term you’re bound to come across if you take the brave step of moving your business into the digital realm as part of a plan to cut costs and improve profits.
A/B testing is also known as split testing.
What is A/B testing?
A/B testing is also known as split testing.
According to a website called Optimizely, “A/B testing (also known as split testing or bucket testing) is a method of comparing two versions of a webpage or app against each other to determine which one performs better. A/B testing is essentially an experiment where two or more variants of a page are shown to users at random, and statistical analysis is used to determine which variation performs better for a given conversion goal.”
Get it? Perhaps not.
Let’s make it clearer.
You have two buckets of apples, one full of Pink Ladys and the other Granny Smiths. A lineup of hungry school children awaits (this is your target audience). You have enough apples for every kid to be happy, no matter what their choice
Line the kids up and get their pick of apples. Do they pick red or green? The apples which are selected the most are the ‘winners’ in these circumstances.
Given the choice of Pink / A or Green / B, eighty per cent of the kids grab a Pink apple, so it is a clear winner.
This is great. Good for you, Pink.
But now let’s try again. Scrap the Granny Smiths apples (who likes them anyway?) and offer a Red Delicious in its place. Now you have another A/B test but it is based on the assumption that children prefer sweeter, rose-hued apples.
You will probably find the percentage gap narrows. Perhaps the Pink Ladys are still popular but it turns out that given a choice of red vs red, 60 per cent of kids will go with a Red Delicious.
This is a very basic explanation of A/B testing but should help you get the drift. A test like this would show a school which apples they should order for the canteen so they have less waste.
The difference with A/B testing in the digital realm is you create two options and serve each one to your target audience at random.
For example, 50 per cent of your digital audience see a blue BUY NOW button, and 50 per cent see a red BUY NOW button. Track which button gets the most clicks over a two week period to see which colour is more attractive. From there, you could experiment by changing the shade or changing the placement of the button on the screen. Perhaps a bright red BUY NOW button which sits at the top left of the page is the ideal positioning.
Why do A/B testing?
A/B testing gives you actual data to work from. While design experts (known as UX / user experience – another term to get used to) have an idea of best practice, they aren’t relying on an exact science.
What’s more, you can gather data from user surveys but quite often a survey responder will give you an answer they think you want to hear, or one which will work in their favour (did you ever see an employee survey where respondents were happy with their current salary?).
As a result of your A/B testing, your website can be optimised for the best results from your customers based on their actual behaviour. This means you know from physical evidence what actions they take on your website and what they respond best to.
For most businesses, it is ideal to engage in regular A/B testing. Audience preferences and requirements evolve over time so what they want now may not be their ideal in two years time.
This method of online testing has the huge benefit of improving your conversions, your engagement and the amount of money a customer spends in a single transaction. Some companies find one simple change can deliver huge profit increases. Others compound a number of small changes for improved results.
How to do A/B testing
- The question
To get started with A/B testing, think of some of the big questions and areas of mystery for your business.
For example, Why are so many customers filling a cart but abandoning it? Or How can I get more opens on my newsletter? You may want to know the category of products which, when highlighted, are mostly likely to get a customer to make an additional purchase.
Tie your questions to key business outcomes, e.g. You want more sales or you want more enquiries.
2. The predicted answer
You also have to have a hypothesis. Something like: “If we change sales newsletter subjects to say “LIMITED ITEMS LEFT”, more people will open them.” Or “If I add a pop-up offering a ten per cent discount which springs up when a buyer tries to leave my site, they will stay and make a purchase.”
Your prediction could even be “If I change the colour of the ‘Contact Us’ button, more people will go ahead and do it.”
3. The test
Now you have to test your theory. There are several tools which will help you implement A/B testing and to track user behaviour and therefore the results.
You will have to work closely with your web developer, marketing team and designers to create the different options for people to be presented with.
Remember, your website users aren’t making a conscious choice based on A or B. They’re being given one option and taking action based on what they see.
Keep your tests simple so there aren’t too many elements and behaviours you are trying to measure.
Once your ‘experiment’ is live, give it a few weeks so you can get some consistent and ample data to work with.
4. The real answer
And finally, it is time to analyse your results. You may find that there’s a clear ‘winner’, or you may not notice a measurable difference between options. For example, some companies experiment with sending newsletters at different times of the day or different days of the week and fail to witness an impact on open rates.
If you do get a clear indication towards A or B, you can scrap the less effective option. However, be aware of potential flow-on effects. For example, that popup may improve sales results but you could then notice a drop-off in repeat visitors to the site.
Once you have completed your initial A/B test, you can make further tweaks, similar to our red/green, red/red apple example. There are always potential ways to improve your results and improve usability and customer satisfaction.
Different areas to apply A/B testing to your website and marketing
Some basic A/B tests to apply to your website include the font, the text size and the spacing, plus the headlines and CTAs (call to action) that you use. There are some tools which also allow you to add C and D to your A/B test.
Colours are another simple way thing to test which could have surprising results and make a difference to customer actions.
The location of ‘buy now’, ‘call us’ and ‘make a booking’ is another element of your website you can optimise through A/B testing for excellent results. Move your button up, down, left and right, and play around with colour and size.
You can test the wording, images and calls to action on Facebook and Google Ads. Perhaps a more motivating “Click to buy” is less effective than “Find out more”. A picture of a frowning face may beat a smiling one, and a frowning person holding an empty wallet may beat a frowning face on its own.
Similarly, the subject line you use in an email can make a world of difference. Does adding the client’s first name pique their interest? Perhaps you’ll notice better open rates if you ask a question in the preview.
You can use A/B testing to see if including videos make a difference to conversions from your landing page or if testimonials make people more inclined to buy.
Special offers are another item you can A/B test. Give half your customers the excitement of ten per cent off and the rest the option for a bonus gift with purchase.
Even the overall design of your homepage could be split tested. Do people prefer a lot of information or does a single image, opening line and call to action spur them to keep clicking?
So many questions! But remember to keep your business objectives in mind. You don’t have to engage in A/B testing just for the sake of it.
I hope this has clarified the purpose and benefits of A/B testing for you. While you may have a good understanding of what it is now, the fact is you’ll still need a hand to get it up and running! Working with a digital expert will help you conduct efficient A/B testing and they can then show you how to optimise your website and online communications based on the results.
Marketing automation is supposed to reduce the amount of time we spend on data management, and silently nurture leads for us. However, when things start going wrong,…