We, for one, welcome our new computer overlords.
You’ve already surrendered many HR and internal accounting tasks to the gods of automation. Should marketing be next on the list?
Well … maybe. Many of your peers have made the leap. Marketing automation software generated $3.86 billion in 2016 and is projected to earn up to $7.63 billion by 2025.
But what exactly is marketing automation, and how do the different providers compare? Is it a good solution for accounting firms? And, most importantly, is it the right choice for your firm? Read on to find out.
What is marketing automation?
Perhaps the best way to understand marketing automation is to take a look at its undisputed champion and standard-bearer–Amazon.
Amazon, to the best of our knowledge, has never engaged in traditional advertising. It’s never aired a TV spot, run a print ad, or even blasted out a humble email nurture campaign. Yet Amazon is one of the most powerful marketers on earth.
Rather than bother with traditional marketing, Amazon retains and upsells customers entirely through automation. Algorithms suggest products the user may be interested in based on purchase and search history. If Amazon’s software determines a deal might be of particular interest to a customer, an email is generated and sent her way.
Even as the user browses other sites, customized Amazon banner ads spawn along the way, offering him deals predetermined to pique his interest.
This type of marketing works for Amazon primarily due to two factors. First, and most obviously, the ads are entirely personalized. Nearly infinite variations of a single ad unit are created and delivered without anyone on the marketing team lifting a finger (or holding a focus group.)
The second is scale. Through automation, Amazon can deliver millions of ads to millions of users, all at a fraction of the cost of traditional marketing.
Now last time we checked, Amazon is not an accounting firm, and accounting firms are not Amazon. But the purpose of marketing for the two is still relatively the same–identify a lead, nurture the lead to turn it into a customer, nurture the customer to retain and upsell.
That said, the upper sales funnel of accounting firms and Amazon couldn’t be more different. Accounting firms need much more targeted leads, and need to nurture them harder–you’re asking your customers to invest in a line of service, not a $9.99 iPhone charger.
And therein lie the complications. Marketing automation isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for accounting firms, and may not be right for your firm at all. But we’ll get to that in a bit. First, let’s take a quick look at the different marketing automation vendors and see what they offer.
Comparing marketing automation providers
We’d love to just throw up a graphic of the Gartner Magic Quadrant for marketing automation here, but they’d probably sue us into oblivion. So how about a brief review of the findings instead?
Gartner identifies three providers as the top leaders with the most completeness of vision and ability to execute: way out front, there’s Oracle and Marketo. IBM finishes a distant third.
Salesforce and HubSpot occupy much less enviable spots on the quadrant, which we found surprising. Those are the two we’ve heard the most buzz about among accounting firms, so we expected them to rank higher on the list.
Salesforce gets high marks for its ability to execute, but it has yet to cross the line from “challenger” to “leader” in its completeness of vision. And HubSpot finds itself in the worst of the quadrants–“niche players.”
To be fair, HubSpot is the highest rated among that bottom group, ranked above a number of known players like SAP and Salesfusion. But we doubt HubSpot is touting its “best of the worst” Gartner ranking in its current marketing (automated or not.)
Is marketing automation right for accounting firms?
Many accounting firms and accounting-related businesses have found success with marketing automation, albeit with a number of speed bumps and caveats along the way.
Amanda Aguillard, principal, Aguillard Accounting, and co-founder, Bluewire Strategy Group, is using Infusionsoft to nurture her leads.
“It is a beast to learn, but it has so much functionality. It’s very easy to slice contact groups and to automate email campaigns. Via Zapier, we can connect it with other platforms that our firm uses,” Aguillard says.
Jay Kimelman, founder and CIO, The Digital CPA, admits he got off to a bit of a rough start in his marketing automation journey.
“We had some failures with the setup of Ontraport and the other front-end apps we were using, like HubSpot CRM,” Kimelman says. “In this case, too many apps was the cause. We are moving to Infusionsoft in an aim to simplify yet amplify our presence.”
But Kimelman is a believer in the potential of marketing automation, and is confident he’ll find results.
“We feel it is important to automate this process, as leads are looking for immediate response and do not want to wait,” he says. “Getting a response to a request in their hands will increase the likelihood of conversion of that lead. In addition, putting your information in front of that lead in a systematic manner will bring them back to your platform again, increasing conversion.”
And Blake Oliver, senior product marketing manager, FloQast, and author of the newsletter Cloud Accounting Weekly, is “deep into analytics with Salesforce and Pardot.”
“At this point, if you’re not using marketing automation, you’re losing out big time,” Oliver says. “It’s really important to be able to track where your leads are coming from and see them progress through the entire customer lifecycle. Otherwise it’s like throwing darts blindfolded.”
Is marketing automation right for my accounting firm?
Here’s our take: If you’re a larger or non-geographically-dependent firm, we’d definitely recommend you invest in marketing automation. It can greatly ease the burden on your sales department, allowing you to cast a wide net that will capture and nurture a greater number of leads at a faster rate.
If you’re a local or regional firm, you’re probably better off sticking to traditional marketing. Your competitors are likely making personalized sales pitches to your leads, and if you rely too much on automation, you might turn prospects off by sounding detached or indifferent.
But even for small and regional firms, utilizing some features of marketing automation will probably help your company grow. If you research the platforms carefully and resist the temptation to automate everything, you’ll find that marketing automation offers something for everyone.
As it grows more sophisticated, marketing automation will surely become an increasingly essential part of any accounting firm’s arsenal. Even if you’re not ready to invest, you should start looking into it now–or risk falling behind your competition.
No matter how effective your marketing, you won’t be able to land big leads without a strong staff of top-notch accountants. Get with Accountingfly now to start recruiting the best accountants on earth.