A new study on SMB adoption of marketing automation tools, commissioned by marketing automation firm ActiveCampaign, describes the progress from using email marketing (a requirement to participate in the survey) through CRM to marketing automation.

The report of the survey’s findings asserts that marketing automation is the next area where SMBs will invest in marketing technology, based on the premise that SMBs have been training themselves in online marketing using email marketing and are now poised to “graduate” to more complex marketing technology. Fear of complexity has been a major factor in holding SMBs back from adopting new marketing technology.

The survey, conducted in September, featured 310 responses. Respondents were required to be those who oversaw marketing at their small business (defined as 1,000 employees or less). The respondents needed to have an email marketing solution in place. While in many ways very different, the ActiveCampaign study does touch on some of the themes in the LSA’s Tech Adoption Index research and advisory service.

The survey asked those who don’t use marketing automation software why this is the case. Cost was the single most common response at 33%, followed by lack of familiarity at 25%.

The survey found a link between the number of marketing professionals on staff and the progression a company followed from email marketing through to an integrated martech stack (even though the term “martech stack” was lost on many of the respondents). As one would expect companies with fewer marketing specialists on staff follow a more cautious approach to using marketing technology.

Companies with one marketing pro on the team are more likely to choose CRM over marketing automation (24% vs. 14%). For companies with 10 or more marketers on staff, use of marketing automation software rivals that of CRM, with 58% using marketing automation and CRM usage reaching 74%.

Looking at total employees the trend is similar, with solo entrepreneurs using just one marketing tool and often underusing what they have. For example 29% of solo entrepreneurs say they have an email marketing solution but never use it. SMBs with 100-499 employees use multiple tools with 41% using four to five different marketing tools. Marketing automation adoption appears to kick in for real at around 10 employees, where adoption doubles to about 30%, rising to 50% in companies with 100 or more employees.

Some of the findings of the ActiveCampaign survey track with findings from LSA’s Tech Adoption Index, which recently completed its second wave of research featuring 1,000 respondents from small businesses ranging from 0-5o0 employees.

The TAI measures small business adoption of cloud tools for back office functions like payroll, invoicing, payments and supply chain. The TAI also measures adoption of online or cloud tools for marketing/advertising (which encompasses marketing automation) and explicitly CRM.

The LSA will be issuing reports soon on the latest TAI findings. A quick look at the fresh TAI data shows us the following datapoints related to the findings from ActiveCampaign study:

  • CRM adoption overall is 17% for the full sample in the latest wave of TAI data, with adoption reaching 20% for companies with at least 10 employees.
  • Email marketing was the No. 3 paid channel among TAI respondents, at 37%, following only websites (58%) and social media advertising (43%).
  • When asked why they didn’t use cloud tools for back office, TAI respondents most commonly cited inertia, with 39% of those not adopting cloud tools agreeing with the statement, “I am comfortable using what I have today.”

It’s important to note the differences in sample size (310 vs. 1,000), as well a requirements for participation. ActiveCampaign required respondents to have an email marketing solution in place (even if inactive), while the TAI did not require this.