The SMB Marketing Automation Checklist for Software Selection

Despite this growth and popularity of Marketing automation, many businesses are still unable to fully implement it.

We’ve distilled the key ingredients for Small to Medium Businesses into a simple SMB Marketing Automation Checklist. You can use it to design your own RFP and save yourself the time, expense and frustration from selecting the wrong platform.

Why Marketing automation for SMBs?

Sales and marketing automation refers to combination of best practices and software to better market products/services, increase sales opportunities, compress time required to administer to those opportunities and achieve an overall gain in productivity. SMBs typically already have an operational breadth primed to be organized and optimized.

A survey by Regalix indicated the following as key benefits of marketing automation.

  • Improved lead management (86% of marketers)
  • Measurable results (73%)
  • Enhanced targeting & personalization (66%)
  • Seamless campaign execution & tracking (64%)
  • Increased productivity (62%)
  • Marketing and sales alignment (50%)

It is easy to see why more SMB companies are implementing marketing automation. MarketsandMarkets estimates that revenue of marketing automation platforms would grow to $5.50 billion in 2019, almost 65% up from $3.65 billion in 2014.

By using this SMB Marketing Automation Checklist as a benchmark, you can increase your chance of growing to the next level.

How to get the most value from the SMB Marketing Automation Checklist

You can use this article as a resource to design your own RFP and the SMB Marketing Automation Checklist might help to save the time, expense and frustration from selecting the wrong platform.

As you read the article weigh each element of the SMB Marketing Automation Checklist in terms of importance and relevance to your business. And do your best to visualize how the requests would play out if implemented.

Do not feel compelled to execute all items at once when getting engaged on a new platform – you can scale out over time. The list is quite extensive, but don’t feel discouraged, some of the items in the SMB Marketing Automation Checklist may not be applicable to your situation.

SMB Marketing Automation Checklist Section 1: Pre-Relationship – Vendor Assistance and Guidance

Low Cost of Entry & Friendly Obligations

SMBs new to marketing automation are most often deterred by cost and magnitude of contractual obligations. There are a few solutions that offer pay-as-you-go pricing in combination with an adequate level of marketing automation. Among other vendors, Makesbridge, SharpSpring and Act-On fit that description.

Most Desired Monthly Cost Range:
$150.00 – $1,200.00
Most – Preferred Contractual Terms:
Pay-As-You-Go or Month-to-Month

How openly helpful and well prepared a vendor is in welcoming you onto their platform is a strong indicator of future service. What follows is an important checklist that signal a smooth landing into your new marketing automation platform.

Free to test if the Marketing Automation software fits

You want at least 30 days on a system to confirm your comfort with the overall experience. This includes the user experience, what it takes to setup basic automation routines and the attentiveness of their support staff. For example, automated meeting requests need a week or two to bear fruit. And, you want to confirm it didn’t take too much effort to get the alerts rolling and the marketing automation vendor’s support team was happy to provide assistance in real time via web meetings.


Access to the tool and a prolonged testing period is a must for companies looking to move from simple mass-blasting platforms like MailChimp, Constant Contact alternatives, and other cheap email marketing software for SMB to marketing automation.

The testing period is even more important if you’re using Salesforce or other CRM because there are additional intricacies to test. For example – automating based on Opportunity status or specific attribute field; and the ability for front line sales staff to see prospect activity and manually control automation stream directly from within the CRM’s interface.

Free Setup, Guidance and Assistance

The vendor provides free help and assistance with getting started. If you don’t know where to start with setting up automation the vendor should provide discovery sessions to help you define productive marketing and sales routines. The goal is to get started. So begin with simple campaigns and processes, and don’t try to do everything at once.

Free Training and Resources for Your Users

A solid well-organized library of training materials is a must. The quality of training materials is one of the quickest ways to gauge the quality of the vendor. The training materials reflect the knowledge of the people who will be supporting you.

Training resources can include:

  • How-to videos,
  • Web seminars,
  • A knowledge base,
  • Campaign templates,
  • Mind maps.

Some vendors even offer custom videos to support specific use cases.

Experience with Platform Transitions

Familiarity and experience with moving customers from their old tool to the new platform are key. It can help smooth the transition and avoiding setup pitfalls. A ton of time can be wasted on understanding different terminology and drawing feature analogies during deployment.

You want a vendor that’s familiar with the platform you’re leaving – an email tool such as MailChimp, Constant Contact, Marketo and HubSpot because they can draw straight lines in your transition and setup phase.

The hairiest issue in transitions is dealing with automation routines that were already in place. If you have those, they need to be part of your SMB Marketing Automation Checklist. Your new vendor needs to help you avoid sending duplicate messages and pick up where the drip left off. Transitioning Lead Scoring can require experienced assistance as well.

Experience With Similar Business Processes

A seasoned support staff that has worked with SMB accounts similar to yours is a big plus. You’ll benefit from the valuable tricks, best practices and wasted efforts they’ve observed.

Here’s an added tip – when you’re in the evaluation stage, test the support rep by asking for advice or critiques on what you’re looking to automate. You want a critical thinker that won’t necessarily “take your order” and silently allow you to invest time and money while walking down the wrong path.

Accessible And Happy To Hear From You

Transitions into unfamiliar territory is uncomfortable and can even be intimidating. You may need a lot of hand holding at first and will be spending hours with your vendor over time as you dial in sales and marketing automation routines.

Therefore you want three critical things from the vendor:

  • A dedicated representative who gets to know your company, its challenges and objectives,
  • A person with a warm, professional and thoughtful demeanor and
  • A representative who puts your needs above their personal economic incentives.

A solid vendor treats you like an investment. You want to sense their understanding you could be with them for years and want you to call them when you move onto your next marketing gig.

SMB Marketing Automation Checklist Section 2: Templates That Jump Start And Guide Usage

Email & Mobile Templates

These are essential if you don’t have an in-house designer or have several message streams running at once.

Landing Page Templates and Forms Wizard

Landing pages need to be easy to create and have standard calls-to-action. Mobile and multi-device support is essential too.

Marketing & Business Process Maps


These are diagrams that illustrate common business processes and how to use and setup the system.

Watch out for over-complicated line diagrams that are hard to follow and even more difficult to implement. When getting started limit your focus to no more than three related events.

An example of three related events to automate:
1.) Contact purchases product.
2.) Trigger coupon email in three months.
3.) Trigger alert for customer care to call in three months.

SMB Marketing Automation Checklist Section 3:
“Business in A Box” – Integrated Operations Support

Integrated operations support is extremely important because it will lead to increased productivity and reduced costs.

marketing automation effectiveness

An hour saved per employee per month can return tens of millions in extra revenue and reduced labor expense.

And, in terms of effectiveness for sales teams you’ll love this stat – reports the odds of contacting a lead if called in 5 minutes is 100 times greater than if called in 30 minutes.

And that’s not all of it. When different roles engage and coordinate on a single sales and marketing automation platform, the platform can tell you how efficiently business is moving across marketing, sales and support.

How does a sales and marketing automation platform do this? They do this by providing customizable analytic charts on three key components – data synchs, target population counts, and automated action counts. All three represent the flow of business.

For example, you can see the number of Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) pouring into an information drip and the number of “3 Month Check-In” messages sent to customers that have been with you for years.


Secure Data Cloud Connections with Remote Data Researchers

Several businesses use outsourced data researchers to build contact databases – usually via LinkedIn and Xing. They call contacts for opt-ins, make an initial offer and generally append attributes to data.

These resources typically work in a remote call center and you need a platform that gives the benefit of integration without compromising data security.

Your sales and marketing automation tool should sweep your research teams’ contact databases in order to quickly add new contacts to demand generation streams.

In relation to this request, there is trending interest in synchronization with Google Docs spreadsheets. SMBs and especially Salesforce users, like the simple, cheap way to keep contact data flowing into marketing streams. Demand generation, targeting, nurturing and alerts to front line sales all benefit from the tight connection to remote researchers data updates

It’s Your Marketing Team’s Best Friend

The marketing team needs to be able to access, de-duplicate, intelligently combine and append contact data from different sources. A typical B2B marketer works with data from Google Drive, a CRM tool, LinkedIn and Facebook to conduct their campaigning. They need a single portal to work with the data, execute campaigns and compare results across several campaigns.

The ideal SMB marketing automation tool will have the following attributes:

  1. Ability to compile, aggregate and intelligently append data from different sources like their CRM tool, sales rep’s Google Contacts and data researchers.
  2. Mass email blast capability combined with high deliverability to generate prospects for frontline sales and follow up nurturing.
  3. Nurture drips and triggered campaigns
  4. Automation tools to setup automation for lead scoring, sales alerts and meeting requests.
  5. Campaign performance data across multiple channels.

Front Line Sales Access To Marketing Qualified Leads, Telltale Buying Signals and Pipeline Management

An effective front line sales team in SMB requires at least three features – access to contacts across multiple sales territories, real time activity information, and tools to organize call lists. Since one of your telesales reps may support an entire region or country; they must be efficient with their time.

The following are must-haves to run an efficient front line sales department:

  1. Real-time call alerts for when prospects hit your website or click emails.
  2. Real-time contact activity dashboards to keep on top of new prospects and companies visiting your website, submitting forms, opening emails and clicking emails.
  3. Real-time contact journey maps so they may engage in intelligent conversations about prospect needs.
  4. Automated and manual tagging to organize call-lists and bookmark individual contacts for the next follow up or advance them to the next step of the sales pipeline.
  5. Ability to manually add contacts into relevant nurture drips. Your frontline is rich with information about prospects’ needs, so give them the ability to manually override and manage the flow of automated information.
  6. Ability to easily customize 1:1 emails by dragging and dropping pre-approved collateral blocks into HTML emails.

If your team gets bonuses for demos and trials, they’ll love you for offering automated campaigns that reinforce and remind prospects of sales conversations.

SQL Highlights, Messaging and Address Book Synchs for Sales Reps

Road warriors want to be on the phone working deals and writing proposals. And they usually avoid their CRM tools entirely.
They also need a creative way to get their proposals shared to all prospect stake holders.

Here are the platform features that keep Sales Reps moving:

  1. An email or mobile feed of sales-ready leads.
  2. Automatically meta-tag each lead’s profile based on digital activity and attributes. Tagging gives the key talking points that outside reps need to prepare.
    There’s a key point here that’s overlooked by many companies – fleshing through Contact Journeys and digital activities is time consuming and the granularity of that information is better applied by Front Line Sales.
  3. Ability to easily customize 1:1 emails by dragging and dropping pre-approved collateral blocks into HTML emails.
  4. Ability to easily and securely socialize and share custom web page that contains all the key talking points. A dummy-proof html editor with connected access to drag and drop collateral blocks is a must-have to achieve this socialization objective.
  5. Ability to import contact data from Google Contacts.

Support for Support Teams with Insights, Tags and Toggles

Support teams are valued ambassadors of your organization, so it’s important they have immediate familiarity with prospect and customer goals. Sales and marketing automation tools provide insights that support staff require for a fast read on prospect and customer sentiment. And having a fast, short hand way to share their assessment of sentiment is a huge plus for the sales and executive teams.

Here are platform features that keep support staff focused on what matters most and facilitate bottom-up sentiment reporting:

  1. Full contact journey and tags are used as short cuts to inquirers’ interests.
  2. A sentiment meter, such as a thumbs up toggle 0 – 5, to document how well your company is faring with the inquirer.
  3. A flame meter toggle is used to prioritize call backs and cases.
  4. Comments and notes are important for records and sharing case knowledge.

Analytics Team & Executive Staff See What’s Working and Have Quick Checks on Overall Business Health

Number crunchers, business analysts, marketers and executives want ROI calculations to optimize spending. These roles also want analytics that provide simple KPI charts and immediate visibility into performance data.

And there’s an increase in companies asking for predictive engines that use customer data and response data to surface target market sweet spots and automatically optimize campaigns.

These commonly requested features go beyond simple campaign reporting:

  1. Custom executive dashboards.
  2. Custom data objects used to keep track of KPIs.
  3. Drag and drop charting tool to mash up business performance data. For example – view a timeline of cold call volume, mass emails sent, number of new trial users and new customers.
  4. Recommendation engines for target market segments and marketing message optimization.
  5. Standard time-period comparison charts of basic pipeline and business health metrics. For example – see the growth of MQLs, SQLs, Sales Call Attempts, Sales Call Connections, Demos Conducted, New Customers, Customer Ratings and New Customers Hitting a 1-Year Anniversary.

This SMB Marketing Automation Checklist is most useful if you’ve decided to take a close look at using marketing automation. Hopefully you paused more than once to consider your expectations and how the top requested items apply to your vision.

SMBs can be categorized as organizations that have between 10 – 200 employees and do $1M – $50M in revenue. This SMB Marketing Automation Checklist will have the greatest impact on companies in that profile because they are positioned to get the highest value from sales and marketing automation.

This article is the first of a four part series on the most popular requests in SMB marketing automation. Next time we’ll get into specific portal and marketing features.

About Jay Adams

Jay is Founder and CEO of Makesbridge, where he focuses on platform innovation and education for the company’s global subscriber base. Prior to founding Makesbridge, Jay was Vice President of Marketing and Business Development at; where his teams grew the company’s database from 5,000 to 2.4 million in under 2 years and promoted their music streaming and e-commerce websites.

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