Any experienced marketer knows that automation is one of the most important tools for driving customer engagement, with 80% of marketing automation users seeing their number of leads increase in 2015. But despite the clear benefits, some marketers have been slow to adopt the service, and with fully-optimised and affordable technologies increasing, automation can now become a part of every company’s marketing strategy no matter what size of budget they’re working with.

Email marketing is at the core of marketing automation. It has sometimes received criticism for being an over-used approach to managing triggered email campaigns, but it is far from just a quick fix solution for lazy marketers looking to send out company news and messages at the click of a button. Automation tools help to nurture and qualify leads, triggering immediate responses based on recipient behaviour which the software can track and interpret. The result being that marketers can connect with their customers through much more personalised, timely and relevant content. It’s this element of personalisation that has become an integral and expected part of the customer experience, and any marketers failing on this front need to step up their game.

We can look at some popular brands that have got it just right. BuzzFeed engages its customers with newsletters specifically catered to their interests, and it has reported email as one of the top five referrers of website traffic. The Swiss-based running company ON Running has also seen great success, with automated email marketing driving 20% of its online sales. ON collates data about its customers’ specific running habits, which it then uses to send automated emails reminding customers when they should start shopping for their next running shoe.

Marketers are united in wanting to take the manual effort out of sending email marketing campaigns to customers and prospects, while capitalising on the impact of these campaigns. Big brands have reaped the benefits: 60% of marketers at today’s biggest brands in the Fortune 1,000 use automation to deliver relevant emails. The problem is that the cost and complexity of marketing automation suites have historically been available exclusively to the Fortune 500. For many smaller companies, up until recently it hasn’t been feasible for them to adopt advanced marketing automation tools, as old tools were complicated and often required official and pricey courses and accreditation to use properly. As a result, reports show that only five percent of businesses outside of the Fortune 1,000 are using marketing automation, despite the fact that those that do are generating outsized leads, conversions and revenue.

In spite of technological advances, concerns remain around the cost of integrating automated communications into existing marketing and email campaigns. Almost half of senior marketers in a recent survey cited insufficient budget as the main thing holding them back from investing in the technology. However, this sentiment is out-dated and marketers would do well to refresh their knowledge and understanding of the market. Today there are plenty of email marketing platforms available that offer low-cost pay-as-you-go packages featuring fully-integrated, data-driven automation services at no additional cost to the base product. Moreover, small companies will generally have the agility and flexibility to implement automation software more quickly than at a larger company.

The benefits of email automation have been proven year on year, but many SMEs are yet to implement it. This is a huge missed opportunity. Automation is a crucial element of the marketing toolbox and today’s marketing automation tools are readily accessible to businesses large and small. As it stands, SMEs are underestimating the power of this marketing tactic, so it’s time they stopped turning a blind eye to the growing number of easy-to-use and affordable products and watch their leads increase as a result.

By Sateja Parulekar, director of product marketing at Campaign Monitor