No one likes being treated like a number. In the same way that you’d get turned off by a brand that addresses you by saying “Dear Valued Client” instead of your name, your business will likely lose a handful of customers if you interact with them in a detached and impersonal manner.

Everyone knows that sending personalized, timely, and relevant communications win every time, but doing that at scale is difficult, especially if you’re a small business.

This is where marketing automation comes in.

When implemented correctly, marketing automation can streamline your customer communications and interactions, so you can connect with shoppers and grow your business without having to do a ton of manual work.

If you’re interested in automating your marketing efforts or if you’re already doing it in some way, shape, or form, the tips and examples below will help elevate your initiatives.

A note for our small biz friends: Don’t be intimidated by the term “marketing automation.” While things like abandoned cart emails or tailored offers and notification seem sophisticated, they’re relatively easy to implement if you have the right solution. There are several apps in the market that you can plug into your shopping with ease. You can use integrate these add-ons to your site, and let the software do the rest.

What is marketing automation?

Marketing automation refers to technologies and processes that enable organizations to manage, measure, and automate their marketing activities.

In the realm of SMBs, marketing automation platforms can help you do things like personalize your messages and optimize the timing of your communications. These solutions can also give you valuable data and insights around customer engagement, sales, conversion, and ROI, so you can measure your results and allocate your resources effectively.

Benefits of marketing automation

Why should you invest your time and effort in marketing automation? Consider the following benefits:

Save time

Marketing automation allows you to have a more hands-off approach to your campaigns. Rather than spending hours managing your database, segmenting your customers, or figuring out which messages to send to different shopper groups, you can free up your time to do other things in your business — like creating products or strategizing for the future.

Higher engagement sales

Relevant and personalized communications that are sent at the most optimal time leads to higher customer engagement. People are more likely to engage with your brand if they feel like your message resonates with them specifically or if you sent the right email at the right time.

All that ultimately leads to more sales and a healthier bottom line.

Tips and examples of marketing automation in action

Marketing automation comes in many forms. Here are the most common ones, along with examples of businesses doing them right.

1. Abandoned cart emails

You work hard to drive people to your website, so the last thing you want is to lose them right when they’re at the checkout stage of their buying journey. You can prevent that from happening by implementing abandoned cart emails, which are automatically sent to shoppers who left items in their shopping basket.

Here’s an example from Target which asks the customer if they’re interested in the product they’ve added to their cart, then nudges them to complete the checkout process.

2. Reengagement campaigns

Every business has “lapsed” customers, which are people who haven’t purchased from you in a while.

Part of maximizing sales from your existing customer base entails identifying your lapsed shoppers or those who are “slipping away” so you can encourage to have another look at your products or service.

Doing that, however, can be time-consuming and tedious, especially if you have a large or growing customer base.

It’s best to let your marketing automation platform do the heavy lifting here. Most solutions implement algorithms that can automatically detect if a customer is slipping away or starting to lapse. In some cases, the software will have you determine the time frame in which you’d consider a customer as inactive.

With the right setup, your system can automatically touch base with shoppers who haven’t engaged with your brand in a while (let’s say 3 months). This allows you to get back on the radar of your customers, and ultimately turn them into “active” shoppers once again.

Birchbox implements engagement campaigns using “We miss you” emails, in which the brand lists out the reasons why people love being part of the Birchbox community.

3. Relevant customer notifications

Wouldn’t it be great if you could give your customers a heads up whenever a product they like goes on sale or is back in stock?

Marketing automation makes this extremely easy. Whenever a customer opts-in to receive product notifications, your platform can automatically ping them about the items they’re eyeing, so they’ll be prompted to make a purchase.

Nordstrom does this by sending push notifications to its customers who’ve agreed to be notified whenever an item on their wish list goes on sale.

4. Replenishment reminders

If you sell products that need to be refilled or repurchased regularly, you can use marketing automation software to remind customers that it’s time to buy.

The cosmetics company Sephora does this well. When a customer purchases a product, Sephora automatically sends an email after a few months, to remind shoppers to replenish their stash.

5. Relevant product recommendations

You can usually figure out what shoppers are likely to buy next by looking at their previous purchases. Understanding your customers’ shopping habits will help you make better product recommendations.

And yes, this is something that your marketing automation platform can help with. You could set up the system so that it sends customers links to items they might like based on what they’ve purchased in the past.

We can see this in action in the following email from Bed Bath & Beyond, which contains specific product recommendations based on the shopper’s previous purchase.

6. Birthdays and special occasions

Give your customers the warm and fuzzies on their birthday (or any other notable occasion) by sending an exclusive perk or gift on their special day.

Have a look at this example from Curology:

Pro tip: choosing the right platform is key

Your marketing automation initiatives will only be as good as the platform you use. That’s why it’s important to select the right software for your business.

Here are a few considerations:


Marketing automation software can cost anywhere from less than $100 per month to well over a thousand, depending on factors like:

  • the size of your database
  • the features you require
  • the number of messages you send per month
  • ...and more.

When shopping around for a solution, have the above info handy, so you can quickly determine the cost of the software and whether or not it fits your budget.

Integration with your online store

Your marketing automation app should be able to “talk” to your ecommerce site. The key is to integrate the two solutions so your sales and customer data flow smoothly from one platform to the next.

Most ecommerce platforms (e.g., Shopify, BigCommerce, Squarespace, etc.) already have existing integrations with marketing apps, so be sure to check your solution’s marketplace to see what your options are.

Communication channels

For SMBs, the most common communication channels are email, SMS, and good old fashioned face-to-face and phone conversations. When choosing a marketing automation platform, see to it that it supports the channels through which you communicate.

Email is practically a given across all solutions, and SMS is an increasingly popular feature. So if you plan to send marketing emails and text messages, be sure to get a system that covers these channels.

But what analog communication? If you sell through a brick-and-mortar store, for example, can marketing automation help?

With the right integrations, you can certainly enhance in-person or even phone conversations with marketing automation technology. The key is choosing a system that can connect with your POS or retail management system so you can view your customers’ online and offline activities on one platform.

When in-store associates can view your customers’ purchase history across all channels, they’ll be more empowered to better serve shoppers.

So, which marketing automation platforms should you choose? As you can probably guess, the right answer to this depends on your needs. But here are the top solutions in the SMB market:

Time to automate your marketing

As a small business owner, you wear a lot of hats, and we’re guessing you could always use more time in your day. Do yourself a favor and start handing off certain marketing duties to an automation platform. You don’t have to take off your marketing hat completely, but you’ll save a tremendous amount of time and effort by automating the tedious tasks.