Automation tools are essential for small and medium-sized businesses that are looking to scale. Nearly every business of this size is strapped for available hands to do the work that needs to be done. Automating tasks frees up your team to use their strengths to grow your business.
Before you can start finding out the tools you need, orienting your mindset around business growth will be the first step.
How To Think About Automation
1. Do you know your funnel?
When you’re thinking about sales and your business, a clearly articulated vision of what your sales funnel looks like is essential. The common template for this funnel goes something like this:
This is the primary lead generation portion of the funnel. Here is where you draw in customers through things like marketing campaigns and by appearing first in customer research.
Establishing trust and leadership is crucial at this stage, so you can utilize all sorts of creative stuff to bring in the leads. Social media, viral campaigns, organic search–all of these are potential options.
The discovery period is also often referred to as the interest stage, where a lead learns more about the company and the products that it has on offer.
This is one of the best points for brands to start developing a relationship with a potential customer, and nurturing through emails and 1-on-1 interactions is crucial to making the sale.
At this point, customers become experts on your brand, and are essentially potential customers that are almost ready to buy. Continue nurturing those leads until…
Your customer wants to buy, and you should focus your efforts in this section of the customer sales funnel to making the customer experience as seamless and easy as possible for them to make a purchase.
Your customer has made a purchase, and at this point in the funnel, you want to be ensuring that they’re getting their product in a timely manner and that it’s working the way it was intended, because then you can start to work on making them loyal!
Loyalty is the last thing to come. Customers that love your brand and its products will recommend it to their friends and family and purchase again. There are plenty of ways you can help boost loyalty, by offering coupon codes, reward programs, or engagement on social media.
When you understand this framework, and each point within your business where a customer interacts with it, you can start to brainstorm some pretty good automation ideas.
And, if you don’t like that funnel, envision your own. Define the life-cycle of your business, or think about a customer persona that’s the primary one for your business, and try to build a funnel around that.
2. Define your metrics
What are the metrics within your funnel that define your success? If you don’t know what metrics you’re looking to hit or track, try some of these:
Email subscribers are potential leads, plain and simple, and you can take them through the entire funnel!
Email open rate
If customers are not opening your emails, experimenting with more creative headlines might be in order.
Unique site visits
This shows how many folks are coming to your store site, but if you have a lot of visits and not many conversions to a sale, it might be time to do some deeper investigating.
Social media engagement
Keeping track of how and when your leads are engaging with you on social media, and the content of their engagement can give you a good perspective on your products. Don’t let this be the only driving marketing factor, however.
Knowing how many folks actually bought your products is always a solid metric.
Churn refers to the percentage of customers who stopped using your product over a set period of time. If you’re offering a subscription service, and your churn is high, looking at ways to bump that up can be a powerful methodology.
3. Get real about the customer journey
Once you have your funnel and metrics, you can start to get a picture of how customers travel through your commerce ecosystem.
Visualize that information for yourself and your team, so you can get a list or picture of the steps a customer takes on their way to a sale. That will help you determine the precise points to automate.
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4. Automation tools to build your workflow
There are numerous automation tools that you can use for your business, and many of them can slide right into your workflow. We’ll give you an overview of many of the options in a second, but knowing that there are many different tools that can help automate any aspect of your business is important.
You can automate your social media posting, your marketing workflow, and your online store experience, from inventory to accounting. Knowing all the possibilities will help you build the best workflow.
Automation Tools You Can Use
GSuite as an automation tool? Well, if you’re not using a cloud-based platform for managing spreadsheets, documents, presentations, and forms, you ought to.
The point of automation is to save time, and time spent emailing documents back and forth is a waste of time. If you aren’t using GSuite, this is the first place start.
Instant communication between your team is essential when your business needs to pivot on a dime, and a tool like Slack makes creating effective communication channels easy with a powerful feature set.
Plus, there are thousands of Slack channels for people who share interests, which can be a great way to expand your social reach.
Working on email automation and communication? MailChimp is the best game in town. Email templates, scheduling, campaigns and analytics, the platform has it all. If you’re running a weekly or monthly newsletter, this is the tool to get.
If something goes wrong with your customer journey, your customer service team is one of the most effective tools to keep you from losing customers and sales.
Automation tools like ZenDesk give your team the ability to manage customer data and issues, along with sophisticated help documentation, all from one place. You can even integrate it with a CRM for streamlined service along the whole customer pathway.
Buffer is a mobile and web-based application that helps users manage accounts in social networks, from Facebook to Instagram.
Scheduling and analysis is easy with support for managing numerous social accounts. Keeping everything in one place is a must with your social media management.
Like Buffer, Hootsuite is a social media management platform that supports Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube. Try comparing and contrasting both to see which one is more effective and useful for your needs.
Finding content for your blogs and social media channels can be difficult and time consuming. A service like Quuu will link your business up with content creators that are looking for an audience.
It helps you curate the right content for your audience and can be a powerful tool for time-strapped entrepreneurs. You can set up interests, the number of posts, and then manually or automatically have the content posted.
99 Dollar Social
If you’re looking for no interaction with social media at all, why not pay someone else to handle it for you?
99 Dollar Social will take over your social media marketing for just $99 a month. If you don’t feel qualified to handle your audience, this can be a great approach.
Managing a team, with all the tasks and projects that go along with the team can be a monstrous struggle. Trello is a fantastic tool to organize your team’s tasks and communicate expectations. Also, it’s great for just managing yourself too!
If you’re trying to plot out a workflow or marketing funnel like we described at the beginning, software like Tallyfy is a great way to facilitate that.
It’ll help you map out your business processes from a high level so you can keep track of everything from one spot. The team communication tools are nothing to smirk at either!
Basecamp and Asana are often compared, and for good reason–they’re both excellent management tools that make team communication and file sharing easy. One of the big differences is that Basecamp is a more powerful tool for creative teams that are going to be sharing lots of mockups and designs, but both tools can be effective for this, it really depends on your preferences.
SalesLoft is a sales management tool that helps business owners take a deep dive into their customer and sales relationships.
The software allows for sales email management, a dialer/messenger, cadence and automation controls, opportunity management, and conversion analytics and data. It’s a great tool that allows businesses to manage their communications with their prospects in a streamlined fashion.
Another fantastic tool with a gorgeous UI that’s great for managing outbound sales teams, Close will automatically sync your team up for converting in all sorts of different sales mediums and social channels.
It features many of the same tools as SalesLoft, Hubspot, and Salesforce, and it has an extremely low price point, making it perfect for small sales teams.
Hubspot is the venerable granddaddy of the all-in-one sales + marketing solution. It has traditional CRM features which enable you to track and control all of the contact points you have with your customers, while also giving you freedom to create landing pages and other marketing items as you evolve your sales funnel. Their blog is also an excellent resource for marketing tips.
Salesforce is one of the best CRM platforms around, and it packs in a lot of sales and customer management automation customization for businesses looking for a premium CRM service. It scales with businesses too, and it’s a powerful tool for many enterprise-level users.
Xero is a cloud-based accounting service that works with a variety of ecommerce platforms, so if you’re looking to integrate a full-featured accounting system with other business processes, Xero is a good place to start.
Xero helps you accept payments, manage assets, connect to banks, reconcile, and more.
QuickBooks is one of the oldest forms of software accounting, and the online iterations of it is an excellent piece of software that keeps everything synchronized across different platforms, as well as integrating with ecommerce stores like Selz.
Sage offers business accounting services that are cloud-based and cover more bases than just bookkeeping. They also have personnel management software and a powerful desktop client in addition to the cloud software.
For those looking for a more mobile or web-based accounting solution, Saasu is the choice for you. It packs in a ton of accounting features that are all accessible from a web browser. A great choice for small businesses.
MYOB has a large set of different products that will help you manage payroll, job tracking, as well as managing business across currencies. It also has an excellent inventory management system and there are different product offerings and pricing structures for different sizes of business.
Zapier is a tool for the DIY oriented out there, but allows for creative and interesting ways to automate business functions. Zapier allows you to build an automated workflow for regular tasks.
For instance, if you’re working with your design team on a product, you can build a Zap that automatically uploads the image you’ve attached to an email to Dropbox, and maybe even sends someone a reminder in a messaging app like Slack.
A free option, and a little bit more technical than Zapier, IFTTT lets you create workflows and automations in millions of clever and creative ways.