Inbound Marketing Success Blog

Essential Small Business Marketing Systems

Posted by Andy McClure on Mar 14, 2017 8:16:40 AM

It’s easy to get lost in the ocean of small business marketing systems available today. With the proliferation of SaaS (software as a service) applications over the past decade, the amount of marketing sophistication available to small business owners is exciting -- and overwhelming.

Looking at their websites doesn’t always help either. Just as more small business marketing systems are available to you at lower and lower costs, tools to help THEM market those systems have become cheaper, easier to use, and more sophisticated. So a snazzy website and professional demo videos aren’t necessarily proof that the tool you’re looking at is well supported, widely used, and going to be around for your business over the long haul.

Ugh. This sounds complicated. What to do?

Whenever we (at Sherpa Business Development, that is) are faced with a challenge that seems complicated and overwhelming, we hightail it back to basics. If you’re considering new systems to help you organize and execute your marketing efforts, use this post to guide you as you sift through the options. The goal? to come out the other side with something that will actually make marketing easier to do, manage, and track.

First, let’s confirm what your small business marketing systems should help you accomplish:

  1. Nurture relationships with your existing clients and contacts
  2. Convert visitors to your website into known contacts that you can continue to market to over time, and
  3. Attract strangers to your website who have a problem your company can help solve.

Nurture Existing Contacts
A common mistake many small business owners make is to start all marketing thinking around attracting brand new leads. Certainly this is important for long-term success, but the fastest sales come from people who already know your business and your product or service. Not only are those sales faster, but the cost of marketing to that existing client or contact is much lower. Lastly, do we have to explain the notion that it’s easier to fill a bucket if you plug the hole in the bottom? Putting resources into keeping customers happy (and buying more from you) is almost always well spent!

Taking the time to put small business marketing systems in place to retain and maintain your relationships offers huge ROI. Whether you already have software in place (but aren’t getting the most out of it) or are considering new systems, address the following to make more money from the asset (contacts) you’ve worked so hard to accumulate.

What You Need: A CRM System That Will Actually Get Used

Just about all small business CRM systems have enough features to completely transform your business. Most of those features never get used and the value to the business is nil. Let’s help you choose one that will bring real value to your operation.

How to Choose a Small Business CRM System

  1. Start with the people you will need to keep contact information current and then add new contacts to the system. Are they often working from mobile devices? How do they come to have new contact information -- business cards? Emails? For example, a CRM system with a good mobile app, mobile card scanning features (or easy integration with a card scanning app), or both, may be important for the productivity of your team.
  2. Check out email integration features. We have found a key feature to be seamless, reliable integration with your existing email system. The most mature small business CRM systems include native integration with GMail / Google Apps and Microsoft Outlook. These features allow the user to easily add a contact or update contact details right from within the email window they are so often viewing.
  3. How about other integrations? As you’ll see further down in this section, the other essential piece you’ll need for proper contact and customer nurturing is an email marketing system. Are you already using an email marketing system you like? If so, check to see which CRM systems will easily share records with it. As a fallback, check out Zapier (software that connects your apps to work together whether they were meant to or not) to see if connection is at least available through that service. If you fall into the “budget” category below, then how well your CRM system integrates with an inexpensive email marketing option will be critical.
  4. Learn how easy it will be to customize. Look at case studies, video tutorials, or have a sales rep give you a live demo of how you can adapt the system using standard features. For example, will you be able to create custom fields and reports or develop workflows to match your existing processes? For a small company like yours, avoid more complex systems that require the help of IT personnel to adapt.
  5. Determine how mature and secure the company is. This is somewhat of a Goldilox judgement. You want a company that is young enough to be “born in the cloud” (in other words, they haven’t simply “ported” an old desktop application into a SaaS solution) but not so young that its feature set, integrations, user base, resources, and revenue hinder the system’s effectiveness and your confidence that they’ll be around in a few years.

Options to Consider
As we mentioned, the array of options are seriously overwhelming. Especially if you expand your review into industry-specific solutions, you are likely to come up with candidates that we haven’t listed. That’s ok. Just use the criteria above to judge their worth. Below are a handful of industry agnostic options at different price points to help you get started.

Budget (Free to $20/mo. per user)

Insightly - Pros: lots of users, customizable, mobile app, lots of integrations, Gmail and Outlook integration. Cons: boring interface 

Zoho CRM - Pros: component of a complete small SaaS application suite, including email marketing. Cons: born in the cloud, but built like it wasn’t

 Batchbook - Pros: mature, flexible, good integration with social. Cons: higher end of the budget price point

 HubSpot CRM - Pros: FREE, easy upgrade path if premium marketing automation makes sense for your org. Cons: light on features

 Pipedrive - Pros: good for salespeople. Cons: weak on other business operations features (like project management)

Premium ($199/mo. & up)

Infusionsoft - Pros: integrated system covering email marketing, automation, and CRM, good for ecommerce companies. Cons: more oriented around push than pull - Pros: widely used with lots of integrations also, it is only in this premium price point if you need several users. Cons: really built for larger companies and may require their IT to help. Note, if you’re serious about marketing automation, then Salesforce and its subsidiary Pardot may be for you.

OntraPort - Pros: integrated system of email marketing, automation, and CRM and eCommerce at a reasonable price Cons: can be overwhelming and/or overkill

What You Need: An Email Marketing System To Help You Keep in Touch
Managing contact information in a central system (CRM) will certainly help your salespeople be more productive in their follow up. However, the power of that database of prospects, customers, and partners is partially wasted if those people aren’t nurtured “en masse” through effective email marketing. Choosing the right tool for your organization is a little easier than a CRM system because their are fewer moving parts and fewer applications to evaluate.

How to Choose an Email Marketing System

  1. Determine possible uses. In addition to straightforward email broadcasts, what else might you want to do? Options include: promoting and managing events and automatically sending follow-up messages to new contacts.
  2. Check out integrations. As described above, integrating with your CRM system will be super helpful when it comes time to keeping your information in sync. Also, easy creation and integration of opt-in forms for your website is important.
  3. Look at included design templates. As always, we’re trying to keep things simple and low-cost. Starting with their included design templates, how easy will it be to customize the design and have it all fit with your company’s brand?

Options to Consider
In this category, there are a few big players with feature-rich, mature, and reliable systems -- it’s kind of hard to go wrong. Nevertheless, the more diligent you are with your review upfront, the longer you’ll be able to live and grow inside the system you choose.

Budget (Free to $15/mo. per org)   Premium ($199/mo. & up)
Mailchimp - Pros: very widely used and mature, free version that may suffice for a long time, lots of integrations, automatic follow up available as an add-on. Cons: no included event management

Constant Contact - Pros: event management included, some automation included. Cons: not free

 Vertical Response, Emma and others are quite similar



  Infusionsoft - Pros: broadcast email, automated follow up, and CRM in one system. Cons: price and complexity

 HubSpot Marketing - Pros: sophisticated workflows and traditional broadcast email as upgrade path from free CRM. Cons: serious price jump ($800/mo. and up per org)

 OntraPort - Pros: broadcast email, automated follow up, and CRM in one system. Cons: price and complexity



Capture New Contacts
Gone are the days when it was possible to put a “Join Our Email List” button on your website and expect to get anyone to do it. Now, a firm must make a truly compelling offer to earn that opt-in from a brand new visitor. In partnership with the technology we discuss in this post, you must develop that compelling reason, starting with an irresistible message. Below, we simply confirm for you what technology you’ll need, not what to say ;)

How to Choose Website Conversion Tools

  1. Confirm integration with your website platform.
  2. Make sure it matches you or your team’s level of technical know-how. Some are point-click / drag-drop, some require a bit of hands-on code tweaking
  3. Check out the examples or templates. Do you see some that match what you’re looking to accomplish?
  4. Compare to your budget -- this stuff adds up!

Options to Consider
Tools to help you compel visitors to opt into one of your offers range from plugins for your Wordpress website to integrated systems with good landing page features embedded, to separate subscription services that host your pages for you outside of your website.

Budget (Free to $99/mo. per org)   Premium ($199/mo. & up)
Wordpress plugins -from free to $39. Spokal, $49 per month single user (3 team members $99 per month, 5 team members $169 per month)

Lead Pages- Standard $25, Pro $49 (advanced $199 per month)

 Unbounce - $49 for 5000 unique visitors, $99 for 25,00 unique visitors, $199 for 100,000 unique visitors up to $499 for 500,000 unique visitors

  Infusionsoft or Ontraport- Pros: can create hosted landing pages. Cons: if landing pages is your priority, there are better options for less

 HubSpot Marketing - Pros: Pros: beautiful, simple hosted landing pages. Cons: serious price jump ($800/mo. and up per org)

Salesforce/Pardot as mentioned before but expensive for many small businesses


Attract New Visitors

Getting more visitors to your website is probably the biggest headache in this whole process for business owners. There are now over 1 billion sites on the web. So there are likely hundreds or thousands of sites competing with you to get that next visitor who has a problem your product or service could solve.

Just like it’s no longer sufficient to put the “Join Our Email List” button on your site, it’s no longer sufficient to publish pages and posts without a specific, tailored plan to get the right visitors to find your site. The marketing industry has converged on the term “inbound marketing” to encompass the whole process of getting found by prospects who are actively searching online for help, attracting them to your site, and nurturing them to become clients. The crux of that whole strategy is content that is relevant to that person at each stage of their buying process.

To help your team create, publish, monitor and manage the right content to bring you the right visitors, you’ll need tools.

How to Select Audience-Attracting Tools

  1. List the platforms where your target audience spends time -- blogs, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc. You will want to know how the tools you select will make it easier for you to publish and promote content.
  2. Prepare a list of search phrases you believe your target buyer would type into a search engine when they are looking for solutions. The tool you select should help you both refine and expand that list of phrases.
  3. Assuming you’ve selected your tools that will help you convert traffic into leads, zero in on audience-attracting tools that integrate or include those features.

Options to Consider
As I mentioned, attracting the right audience to your site is the trickiest of the 3 parts. Tools can assist in the process, but the lion-share of the effort will depend on you and your team to create compelling articles and other content that your audience will want to read or view.

We don’t cover how to create compelling content in this post. If you haven’t already, you may want to download are free report on the topic “How to Create Irresistible Messages.” While these tools can’t tell you how to create the content, they can point you to keyphrases worth focusing on and help you evaluate how well your pages are doing.

Budget (Free to $99/mo. per org)   Premium ($199/mo. & up)
Google Analytics - pretty ubiquitous. This won’t help you plan content, but is very helpful in seeing what content is working

Spokal- good integration with Wordpress allows you to plan content based upon keywords, share to social channels, and monitor performance




  HubSpot Marketing - the leader that everyone else is chasing. If you’re serious about ramping up organic traffic and earning leads through compelling content, HubSpot is the way to go

SharpSpring- interesting array of features (but lacking email marketing or direct integration with popular options like MailChimp, so tread carefully)

 Salesforce/Pardot or Marketo for small businesses with a bigger budget for marketing systems

So what to do now?

This may seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Tackle just the client nurturing tools for now. Maybe you have what you need, but just aren’t leveraging features yet or can start slow with an eval of one of the inexpensive options.

As you choose to implement new small business marketing systems, just be sure to leave your options open for integrating with tools that will help your organization convert new visitors into leads and attract a larger audience to your site. If you have questions, just give us a call!

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Topics: Marketing Strategy & Planning, marketing systems, small business marketing, marketing strategy