Laurie McCabe is co-founder and partner at SMB Group, and specializes in conducting market research and analysis, as well as consulting on the SMB market and requirements of SMB users.

Q: B2B marketing managers have cited the most important criteria for a marketing automation system as (1) price, (2) product integration (e.g., CRM, social, web, mobile), and (3) ease of use, according to the Pepper Global, Marketing Automation Trends Report 2014. What would you say are the most important criteria and what should they be looking for first and foremost?

A: There is no one size fits all, especially when it comes to SMB. So just start with looking at your objectives what capabilities you need in the marketing automation solution. The bottom line is to match the solution to the way you need to market, and also that the solution will allow you to be flexible and adaptable as your needs evolve.

Ease of use is important. If it’s not easy to use, most SMBs are going to quickly get frustrated, because generally people in a smaller company are doing more than one thing; they don’t have as deep a specialization and they probably can’t devote as much time.

[While some experts say that price shouldn’t be a significant factor], the problem is that a lot of SMBs are cash constrained, and most of them are not doing any kind of formal ROI calculation. Realistically, if you don’t have the money for a Mercedes, you really shouldn’t be buying a Mercedes, so define something that meets your requirements, is flexible and is affordable.

The good news is that so many marketing automation solutions now are cloud-based, and that gives customers opportunities to do free trials. Furthermore, a lot of vendors offer monthly subscriptions options.

When you think about the average SMB, the top goals are attracting new customers, growing revenue, improving cash flow and retaining customers. Marketing automation is a very important investment for them, because it speaks directly to those needs.

Q: What do SMBs need to know in order to maximize ROI on content marketing investments?

A: Content marketing is the biggest challenge. You can automate a lot of things, but what you can’t really automate is content creation. Yet you need this content because it feeds every marketing initiative and it feeds that marketing automation engine, kind of like the fuel in a car.

SMBs need to figure out not only how to produce content in the first place, but how to repackage it more effectively. For instance, if you do an interview like just like this one, you could also have a podcast. You could take a 600 word interview and turn it into a slide, with three quick tips. You can re-use high quality content in myriad ways, extending your reach and touch points.

With marketing automation, you’re going to be measuring views and clicks, and engagement, and that’s really important because you need to see if your content is even getting traction with people. Is it getting them to engage? Is it pulling them through the funnel? The important thing is to maximize ROI on that content creation. You need to think up front, “How am I going to use this thing at least two or three different ways?”

Always remember, too, that it’s like the tree falling in the forest: if no one’s there, if nobody hears it, did it really fall? Well, a lot of social media is like that, so you can also re-tweet, re-pin and re-post things, because the odds that anybody saw it that initial time are probably pretty low.

Read more from Laurie’s Q&A — Part 2

Thank you, Laurie! Follow her @lauriemccabe or visit her blog.