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Marketing Automation Can Help Startups Sell Like the Big Brands Using software to develop leads can be effective, but keep four things in mind when forming a strategy.

By Justin Gray Edited by Dan Bova

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

A startup is arguably most vulnerable in its growth stage. Technology is the key to minimizing growing pains.

Traditionally, software solutions were tailored to different business segments to create those rapid economies of scale. Now, marketing automation has become the lynchpin for established businesses and startups alike. It works because it allows startups to operate like much larger entities by placing accurate messaging in front of prospects and clients with a minimal amount of work.

After all, the last things busy entrepreneurs want to worry about during the growth stage are manually segmenting, batching communications and managing responses. With marketing automation, you can immediately bring some consistency to your sales process.

Related: Think Like a Company's Marketing Director

Of course, many startups run into trouble when they start thinking of marketing automation as a golden goose that doesn't require any work.

Here are three popular misconceptions about marketing automation you should be aware of:

1. It's a money machine. Marketing automation can't do anything on its own, it only automates the processes you tell it to. If you haven't established your buyer personas or completed your content mapping, revenue mapping, lead scoring and sales-alignment exercises, then you're not ready for marketing automation.

2. Results come quickly. Marketing automation is an education-based model, which means that it compiles automatically triggered messages based on buyer behavior, lead score and sales feedback. This process takes place over a long period of time, which means it's a long-term investment.

3. It will generate new leads. Marketing automation specializes in lead nurturing, lead scoring and process management -- not demand generation. In short, it takes the new names you add through pay-per click, search-engine optimization, content and third-party initiatives and warms them up.

If your organization passes new names directly to sales, marketing automation will actually decrease lead flow because it's adding a filter between new leads and hot leads.

Working with a consultant is a great way to ensure you're avoiding these pitfalls and getting the most out of your marketing automation investment.

Related: 5 Tools That Put Content Marketing Analysis on Autopilot

Build your marketing-automation plan. While avoiding these traps will elevate your automation process, you still need a plan in place. As your business matures, these plans may change, but luckily, marketing automation allows you to automate your sales operations down the road and enforce lead follow-up and account management.

Here are four things that you should keep in mind when planning your marketing automation strategy:

1. Think forward. Building for today and building for tomorrow are two very different things. Don't take shortcuts in the beginning if you want to be profitable in the end. Make sure everything will scale -- from naming conventions to lead life cycles. To build even the simplest of campaigns, you must understand where you want your business to go.

2. Add more cooks to the kitchen. Wearing multiple hats is common in startups, but it isn't sustainable. Bring on more contributors, but make sure you're planning for them from a skills and budget perspective, and evaluate your outsourcing strategy as well.

3. Write it down. A lack of documentation is the biggest reason startups fail at marketing automation. If all the knowledge exists only in your head, you can't effectively onboard someone, and you'll likely fail to scale your processes. Start putting processes in place now and documenting them as you go.

4. Ditch the get-it-done mentality. It's easy to prioritize speed over quality, but that will only end with an expensive cleanup later. Creating a long-term marketing calendar, conducting quarterly return-on-investment reviews, mapping initiatives and getting to a predictive model of success will allow you to create a strategy that will work over the long haul.

Marketing automation is here to stay, so it's time to start making a plan for how your startup will take advantage of it. Start laying the foundation for marketing that will scale with your company, and your business will experience a more seamless transition from startup to market leader.

Related: Bot or Person? The Customer Automation Conundrum.

Justin Gray

CEO of LeadMD

Justin Gray is the CEO and chief marketing evangelist of LeadMD. He founded the company in 2009 with the vision of transforming traditional grassroots marketing efforts through the use of cloud-based marketing solutions.

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