Marketing automation has achieved mass adoption across B2C and B2B organizations with an average of 51% of companies using various marketing automation technologies. Today, there are more than 200 different marketing automation platforms available for small to medium, mid-market, and enterprise businesses. They range from industry leaders such as Marketo, Hubspot, and Pardot, to smaller email service providers such as Mailchimp and Constant Contact which have automation features added to their existing offerings.
Implementing a marketing automation tool is a big decision for any company, and there are many things to consider before signing a contract. To help you choose the right marketing automation platform for your business, I’ve provided all the information you need to know—so let’s dive in.
Why Do You Need Marketing Automation?
Every business will have their own reasons for acquiring a marketing automation system. To identify your company’s need, look at your current processes and define what business challenges you’re looking to solve using the technology. If possible, meet with key stakeholders from all departments including IT, Sales, Marketing, and C-level Executives to get a holistic view of how marketing automation will help meet company goals and objectives.
Some common marketing automation objectives for businesses include:
- Optimizing productivity
- Increasing marketing ROI
- Improving campaign management
- Improving database quality
- Acquiring more customers
- Measuring performance
- Aligning Marketing and Sales
Once you’ve identified the why, you’ll need to discuss how you’ll use the platform to meet those objectives. For example, how can you optimize productivity using marketing automation? One way is by creating templated programs for events that can save your team hours of production time. You can also refer to a marketing automation specialist, whose job is to create marketing automation strategies and successful implementations for your business, based on your specific needs.
Although you may not have all the solutions yet, gathering this information will help guide conversations with sales representatives from various platforms, since you’ll know what features are crucial for your business.
Who Will Execute Your Marketing Automation Strategy?
One component of a new marketing automation strategy that’s often overlooked is the who. Meaning, who will be involved in the setup, launch, and day-to-day execution of the strategy. Will you need to hire a new team member, contract projects out to a third-party vendor, or do you currently have the internal skills and resources in place?
Start by evaluating the set of skills available to your company. Getting a sense of the experience your team has with a marketing automation platform will help guide your research. Highly customizable tools require more training and resources, while less customizable products offer a simple user interface with pre-configured functionality and templatized programs. These programs don’t require as much training and resources. While you shouldn’t make your decision based solely on this factor, it’s important to have the resources conversation well before you start meeting with sales reps from different products.
What Features Do You Need?
Once you have stakeholder by-in on objectives and strategies, you can start comparing features across different platforms. G2Crowd has put together a handy interactive marketing automation features chart, where you can compare products against one another. Consider the features you currently have, would like to have, and features that are critical to business operations now and in five years.
Most of the items below are standard out-of-the-box features that any marketing automation tool worth its salt will have:
- Email marketing and landing page development
- Website visitor tracking
- APIs or app marketplace for third-party integrations
- Lead management (form capture, scoring, and nurturing)
- Centralized marketing databases
- Native CRM integration (Salesforce, Dynamics, etc.)
These standard features are a good starting point, but there are advanced features you might want to consider. Some advanced features come standard in certain products, while others can be enabled at an additional cost:
- Dynamic content generation (email, landing pages, websites, etc.)
- Account-based marketing
- Mobile marketing (optimization, in-app push notifications)
- Advanced reporting capabilities
- Predictive analytics for personalized marketing
What Questions Should You Be Asking?
Once you have your must-have features in mind, it’s time to dive into product research. Use G2Crowd for a complete list of marketing automation products sorted by business size, market presence, and satisfaction ratings.
As you begin researching different products, there are some things to keep in mind and questions you should ask when speaking with a sales representative. Some may seem obvious, but it’s never a surprise when I forget to ask a crucial question once I’m watching a demo.
How is the database pricing tiered?
B2C databases are traditionally much larger than B2B databases, and most platform’s pricing models are based on the number of contacts. Don’t forget to factor in data cleansing as well as database increases over the next few years.
Can it easily integrate with other software?
If you have a POS, custom CRM system, or other database that you’ll need to integrate, be sure to look at custom objects and the limit on number of API calls.
Do you have a CRM product?
If you need a CRM, certain tools like Hubpost and SharpSpring offer built in CRM systems.
Can I get a breakdown of all feature costs, both standard and discounted?
At this point, you probably have a good sense of the platform cost. Keep in mind that robust tools can cost anywhere from $2k-$5k per month, depending on the size of your database, number of users, and added features. Less robust tools can run a few hundred per month.
Take some time to think about your budget. Consider future price increases, since there is generally an increase during your contract renewal. Typically, signing a multi-year contract can save on those increases each year.
Ease of Use/Implementation
What is the timeline for an average implementation?
Understanding the scope of work and how long it takes to implement allows you to plan accordingly and set reasonable expectations with stakeholders. You should also ask if there are known or common issues marketers face while using the platform.
Training and Support
What is the onboarding process and what support options are available on an ongoing basis?
It’s important to understand the different support options you will have post implementation—those that require additional costs and those that are part of your subscription. For example, Marketo’s Marketing Nation offers a customer community as well as virtual and local user groups by city.
How many users are included and what is the cost to add additional?
Determine the number of users who will need access ahead of time. This should be part of your contract negotiation and will help avoid any unnecessary costs in the future.
What types of permissions are available?
Some organizations may need to limit access to certain areas of the platform. This could make product tools, privileges, or admin rights only visible to users who need it.
One thing I find helpful when setting up a demo is walking through real-life scenarios. Even simple things like building a landing page, report, or nurture program from scratch can you give valuable insights into product pitfalls.
Many platforms will also let you trial the tool so you can build campaigns, add the tracking pixel, segment data, and better understand the user interface. This is always a game changer for me, so if you have time, try interacting with the tool from your top choices for a few weeks.
And remember, there’s always wiggle room when it comes to pricing so negotiate, negotiate, negotiate.
With so many potential benefits of marketing automation, it’s no wonder it’s becoming the standard for businesses of all types and sizes. However, the lack of a clearly defined strategy can create barriers, leading to poor adoption and an ineffective implementation. Ensure your team’s success and make sure you have the infrastructure and/or planned resources to execute your strategy. Take the time to meet with your internal stakeholders to clearly map out your objectives and set expectations. Be thorough in your product evaluation, and don’t be distracted by shiny objects and un-needed features. Remember, your marketing automation tool should support your strategy, not guide it.