12 Things to Consider Before Choosing a Marketing Automation Vendor
Over the past few years, the price of marketing automation software has dropped, attracting thousands of small and medium businesses to platforms such as HubSpot, Marketo and Act-On. With the increased demand for marketing automation, the number of software vendors has also increased to a point where choosing the right software is overwhelming.
Which marketing automation vendor is best hinges on understanding your current processes, knowing how to measure success, and being able to identify where you are looking to improve.
In the rest of this post we’ll guide you through what you’ll need to consider to ensure you make a successful investment.
You must understand that marketing automation is an enabling software. That is, your platform is only as good as the strategy behind it. It’s only by understanding what you want to achieve from marketing automation, and mapping out processes, that you can select a solution which perfectly fits your requirements – and bring it to its full potential.
- Review your marketing plan
- Reconfirm the segments of your target market
- Document your marketing automation objectives
- Document buyer personas
- Map your buyer’s journeys
- Align your data with your objectives
- Align sales and marketing
- Map content to your buyer’s journey
- Draft your lead scoring rules
- Map your marketing automation campaign flows
You should also define what each campaign means to every invested department by asking: What will it cost? How will we track performance? How will we associate leads and opportunities with the campaign? Decide what matters, then find a platform that will measure it.
2. Critical Features and Capabilities
Nearly all companies offer the same basic capabilities for email, website tracking, and a marketing database. However, additional features vary.
Identify and prioritise the key capabilities you’ll need from a marketing automation platform. Do your sales reps need real-time access to marketing data? Then native CRM integration is essential. Do you have an established social media presence? Then social marketing management and integration will be important. Next, identify the core strengths of each system and align these to your own marketing needs.
While it’s good to double check that the solution includes all the features you require, it’s even more important to check that they offer them at the price tier that you’re hoping for. A lot of vendors only enable certain features, like A/B testing, to higher-paying customers.
As well as knowing how you want marketing automation to complement your current processes, you also need be aware of how you want the software to help you improve. Specifically, what goals do you want marketing automation to help you towards?
Do you want to improve the quality of leads handed over to sales? Or increase conversions at key stages in the buying cycle? Perhaps you want to improve visibility into the buying and sales cycles to optimise marketing engagement?
Choose a system that allows you to achieve these goals – and measure them.
4. The Future
One of the most common mistakes made when choosing marketing automation software is focusing only on what features you need now.
Many software vendors have tiered pricing, which can get very expensive as you require additional contacts and features – and migrating between software vendors can be complicated. As a result, it’s important that you choose a tool that’ll allow you to grow.
We advise that you map out the likely number of users, contacts, and features you’ll require in a few years time. With this information you will be able to get a clear picture of probable monthly costs over time – and whether you’re likely to outgrow your automation tool in the near future.
5. Inbound vs. Outbound
If your focus is on outbound marketing strategies, such as sending content or messages to prospects through email, then the type of software you require will be different to if you were focusing oninbound techniques, such as getting customers to find you via search, referrals and social media.
The HubSpot marketing automation platform does inbound marketing particularly well. For example, their keywords tool allows you to identify the keywords which will produce the highest Google rank for your content. Marketo on the other hand has an engagement program that is particularly good for nurturing multiple streams of prospects.
6. Company Size and Customer Base
Typically, smaller companies require a suite tool that is easy to learn and has a wide variety of features but only handles the most common use cases. Larger companies often seek out a tool that handles more complex use cases, but as a result, generally takes longer to implement and requires more training.
The requirements for B2B vs. B2C companies vary considerably. Strategies tend to be different and so automation requirements are different. Sales cycles, emotional buying behaviour, number of people in the decision process and the database size can all influence the software that will best fit your strategy.
Often the data that needs to be used to automate a marketing process is held in another system (CRM, ERP, image files, etc.). The number of data points and systems you need to integrate to can increase maintenance costs. Also, some marketing automation platforms integrate better with certain CRM systems better than others.
Be sure to choose a vendor that provides a fully supported integration with your CRM and that it has near real-time syncing. If you require any custom integration with the vendor’s API, you should have your developer read through the documentation to ensure that it does everything you’ll need it to.
While most of the major software vendors do a good job of offering an intuitive platform, some are better designed than others.
How important this is will depend largely on who will be using the software, and how much of an issue user experience is going to be for those people. The best way to see whether you’re happy with a platform is to ask for a demo, or look at screenshots of the user interface.
Make sure you come armed to any demos with your strategy for how you plan to use the software. That way you’ll be able to make a good judgement on the products fit with your business.
If ease-of-use is a primary consideration and you do not have an employee who will be a full-time user of the platform, then you are going to need a vendor which provides excellent training for new users.
If you’re a larger organisation that can afford, not only outside expertise, but also to dedicate staff to becoming full-time users, then you could probably go for a more powerful platform with complex, feature rich tools, but are more difficult and time-consuming to use.
11. Suite vs. Best of Breed
Based on your needs, you could purchase one software that has a wide range of functionality or purchase one or more best-of-breed solutions that focus on solving a specific problem. However, make sure you fully understand integration costs and any constraints.
Some marketing automation platforms are all inclusive, while others feature add-on tools and services that can significantly increase costs.
In addition to the cost of the software license itself, consider the costs of ongoing services and training, as well as the indirect costs associated with getting staff up and running on the new system. If you don’t have your own IT or design staff, be sure to find out how much these services are going to cost externally. For example, if the platform offers templates, find out how many, and how much it costs to customise template design.
There is not any “best” marketing automation platform. Organisations have unique needs and while there are certainly market leaders, there may be another option better suited for your company.
As we have explained, finding the right platform for your organisation requires a rigorous internal assessment of your business’s strengths, challenges, needs, and goals. Be diligent when it comes to researching and interviewing marketing automation vendors. Deploying a solution that perfectly fits your requirements will result in better productivity and greater long-term ROI.