Search online for “Marketing Automation”, “Autoresponder” or “CRM software” and you’ll find hundreds of vendors offering products from simple autoresponders to robust solutions that include everything but the kitchen sink. Here are three I highly recommend, having used each of them within my own business (Disclosure: I will get a commission if you buy through my affiliate link).
Aweber is an email only customer follow-up solution. It's an autoresponder. They are in their own class and there are many competiting autoresponders available.
1ShoppingCart is an ecommerce solution. It's designed for people who sell products or services and want to follow up with their prospects and customers. They also have a built in affiliate management system. So they have an autoresponder, affiliate management, and ecommerce system that's all integrated. So you can handle all of it from one system.
Infusionsoft has all of what 1ShoppingCart has plus it allows you a lot more flexibility and customization. You can move your prospects over to a client list seamlessly and automated. It's got what I'm calling a ‘smart autoresponder' and I haven't seen any other solution offering these features. You can make your follow up emails a lot more custom so that different prospects get different emails. Anytime you do this you stand to increase your conversion rates. So that means you could increase your profits for the same amount of visitors.
Here are some details about each solution to help you make your choice.
I think no matter what you're doing, if you've got an online component to your business you absolutely need an autoresponder. So at the very least you should get a subscription to aweber (or research and find another autoresponder that makes sense for you).
Whether you're offering a product, a service, earning through affiliate marketing or even through ads you display on your site, you really need a way to follow up with your visitors. You need a way to remind them about you. Even if you don't sell a product or a service, you can remind them about your site and that will increase your profits.
So you need to have a web form on your site with a way for people to enter their email address. With aweber you can store all the emails in their system and then send them follow up messages on autopilot. Or you can send out broadcasts.
That's a bare minimum solution for keeping in contact with your visitors.
If you're just starting out then this is a must. Tell people about your products or services, educate them about your site, or tell them when you've got new content up. Doing this will greatly increase the number of visitors back to your site and probably your profits.
Aweber is a pretty inexpensive setup. When you start getting a ton of subscribers then the price will increase, but at that point you should be earning more which will make it more affordable.
It's also very user friendly. And it works great.
If you're just starting out this is a perfect way to get following up with your visitors. A follow up system like aweber is as much a must have product for an online business as hosting is. So if you have a website, you need a way to follow up with visitors to it.
Even if you plan to have products or services and take payments, you can still get an aweber account for your follow up. You can put your customers on one list and your prospects on another.
That's the very minimum you should do.
You can run your payments through paypal without a shopping cart if need be.
Ecommerce Solutions + Advanced Features
Moving along though, if you're going to have products or services and you want a system that integrates everything then you should think about one of the other two products I recommend. Either 1shoppingcart or infusionsoft.
These products integrate an autoresponder with a shopping cart so when someone buys they can be added to your client list and you can follow up with them. You can also have a separate prospects list (or several).
Both of these solutions also have autoresponder-only options so you can take advantage of additional features (especially in the case of InfusionSoft).
1shoppingcart is less expensive and works pretty well as an ecommerce solution. I've been a long time user of 1shoppingcart and have used it exclusively for one of my online businesses where I offered a test prep training product. I ran everything through it, the affiliate program, ecommerce, and the buyers follow up sequence. I will tell you that since I already had aweber I put the prospect sequence on aweber. I don't know if they get better deliverability rates, but I had heard they might, so that's how I ran things.
So everything does was going through 1shoppingcart for that particular business except the prospect newsletter.
It's up to you, but I do know a few people who use 1shoppingcart who do the exact same thing where they run the prospect list through aweber anyway. You may not have to do that, but both of these systems are fairly inexpensive so it might be worth it to you.
So if you're offering a product or service or a suite of products or services and you want an inexpensive, easy to use system then this might be the way to go. It really is easy to use. It's dependable. I've run a lot of money through 1shoppingcart, recurring orders, one-time payments, payment plans, and an affiliate program and everything's been fine. It does a great job and again, is very affordable and easy to use.
If you don't offer a product or a service then I don't think 1ShoppingCart is a good fit for you. I think you'd be better off going with either Aweber or InfusionSoft.
Infusionsoft is the final rung in the ladder. It's the top of the line ecommerce/CRM system for small businesses. It is expensive, but it can really help you increase your income. The reason being is that it's got what I call a ‘smart autoresponder' built in.
Online business boils down to two things; traffic and conversion. If you've got traffic, then that's great. If not you need to figure out how to get it and how to get it ASAP.
Targeted traffic is best.
Cheap, targeted traffic is even better.
That's why so many people jump on the SEO bandwagon. The search engines can bring you targeted, cheap traffic for a long time to come if you play by their rules, which essentially means you need to provide their visitors with high quality relevant information.
Even if you can get free traffic to your site from search engines or any other means, each visitor should be treated like gold. These are the people who will be buying your products or services. And if you're trying to earn from advertising revenues, these are the people who will be clicking on your links and such.
The thing is, the better you can match people up with what they need and want, the better service you'll be providing them.
And that's why proper follow up is important.
InfusionSoft has a lot of features that will help you follow up with your prospects and customers (if you're offering products or services). You can easily segment lists, attach tags to a group of people, and really customize your email follow-up. It also helps you organize phone, fax, or physical shipment follow up. There are a ton of features available with InfusionSoft and I highly recommend checking out a demo of it if you're interested.
It's for people who are already making money with their business (I'd recommend at least a few thousand dollars a month) and who are earning through products/services, affiliate marketing, or collecting ad revenues (like Adsense).
Best Practices for Using Marketing Automation Tools
One thing about marketing automation software or CRM software is no matter what specific product you end up with, you can always find negative reviews. I do recommend the three solutions; Aweber, 1ShoppingCart, and InfusionSoft (Disclosure: these are affiliate links and I will get a commission if you buy from my link).
I currently use all three solutions to manage different business ventures and have used each of them for many years. But no matter what solution you choose, you can always find someone who's mad at one of these companies. Maybe they lost all their data, or the hosted solution went down right during a million dollar launch or something really bad happened and now they're angry so they write about it. I don't blame anyone for doing that, but you do have to take it with a grain of salt.
Spam laws are a little crazy and these companies have to adhere to them or they can lose their business along with the businesses of ALL their clients (so thousands of people).
So if they think you screwed up or are an actual email spam queen or king, they may shut you down.
Maybe you can get your account re-instated, but you may see some downtime while things are being sorted out.
Bad stuff can happen and while I don't think any of these companies would harm you intentionally, they've all got staff that are probably only being paid minimum wage. So if you've got a serious problem then you're going to be frustrated until your support issue can be escalated to someone who's got more of a clue.
That's just how it works.
All 3 of the companies I'm going to talk about are reputable. They've all been online for a very long time. So they aren't fly by night companies. They aren't scams. They've been there and done that and are still around.
But there are things you need to do to make sure you don't have bad stuff happen.
Here are my suggestions.
Always back up your data. These companies will tell you they have backups and that's great, but you should really go and do your own.
So every month or quarter, back up your email lists.
It's a real pain to switch autoresponders (even with a backed up list), but at least if you've got your database saved you can try to get things back up and running if there's a serious problem.
If you're taking a high volume of orders and you go with an ecommerce solution built into your CRM then you should have more than one way to pay.
So maybe a merchant account + paypal, or 2 merchant accounts. The point is you need a backup. That way if something messed up happens with your ecommerce solution, you could switch out quickly.
Sometimes even your merchant account can have problems and so having a backup there is a good idea. But also having a backup plan in case your ecommerce solution explodes is good too. You can always send people through paypal and skip your CRM if there's a big problem that takes a few days to fix. That way you're not losing out on those orders.
Never use their tracking for ads. 1ShoppingCart.com and InfusionSoft will let you track statistics on pretty much any link you want which is handy. So if you're running a Google Adwords pay-per-click ad then you can run it through one of these systems and see how many people clicked on it and how many bought. But now all your paid ads are running through your system.
I don't think you should use them for this. They aren't really ad tracking management solutions. If you want to track your ads, I think you should invest in some other software or a script.
I'm sorry that pushes your costs up, but I don't trust these systems for that. You'll have too much wrapped up in them. I'd put that somewhere else. If your account were to be put on hold for email issues or something unrelated then you'd be sending paid traffic to links that aren't working. So you'll be throwing money out the window. That's never a good thing (except for the pedestrians walking by).
All that said, I've never had my accounts put on hold (knock on wood). I've also never known anyone who has (or at least who would admit to me that they have).
I've just read a few horror stories, but that's it. And again, if you dig around you'll find a horror story with any and all of the big marketing automation software or autoresponder companies. Just make sure to backup your asset, follow email laws, and you'll have a good experience using these tools. They exist to help us automate many aspects of our business and can greatly increase your profits so they are well worth learning how to use.
BusinessBolts.com Recommends the Following Marketing Automation Solutions:
- Aweber is an email only customer follow-up solution. It’s an autoresponder that allows you to send out automated messages as well as broadcasts.
- 1ShoppingCart is an ecommerce solution. It’s designed for people who sell products or services and want to follow up with their prospects and customers. They also have a built in affiliate management system.
- Infusionsoft is an ecommerce solution including an affiliate management system + a ‘smart autoresponder’. It allows for far more segmentation and customization of automated follow-up. You can also get a trimmed down version with just the ‘smart autoresponder if you’re not offering products or services.
Please note that the links above are affiliate links and I will earn a commission if you decide to buy based on my referral (there is no extra charge to you). I’ve used all of the above systems. The BusinessBolts.com newsletter currently runs through Infusionsoft.