Marketing Automation Tools: How To Find The Best Match For Your Business

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To cope with the veritable avalanche of data now generated by multiple digital channels as well as the proliferation of mobile devices, marketing automation platforms are rapidly growing in importance. B2B marketers face demanding market dynamics and ever-increasing ROI pressures. As a consequence, marketing automation is proving to be a solution to the need to manage the complexities of multi-touch consumer ecosystems.

Overview Of The Market

Undoubtedly, email marketing remains a core focus of business-to-business marketing automation platforms. However, this singular focus is rapidly being replaced by a need to offer integrated marketing functionality. Data must now be collected across multiple channels. Next, platforms must facilitate new campaign development and execution. Finally, analysis of ROI and ROI reporting must be addressed.

The overall goal is to offer marketing pros the capacity to build, follow, and manage digital marketing campaigns, and to properly follow leads.

For starters, almost all marketing automation platforms offer three core abilities: email marketing, tracking website visitors, and management of a central database. Beyond those fundamental capacities, there is substantial vendor differentiation. Extra tools that offer more advanced functionality vary. Some may be included in the initial price, while other features may be premium-priced.

Cost/Benefit Analysis

Almost any enterprise, regardless of size or sophistication, can benefit from the utilization of marketing automation software:

- Increase efficiency of marketing

- Generate more leads and leads that are more qualified

- Acquire a comprehensive, multi-channel understanding of prospect behavior

- Better align marketing and sales goals

- Enhance both ROI and lead conversion

At the same time, the successful adoption and utilization of a marketing automation platform is not without challenges and potential pitfalls:

- Implementation can be time-consuming and complicated

- A sophisticated platform is installed, only to have it ultimately used for email marketing only

- Resistance from sales/marketing staff may impede both the adoption and the efficiency of the selected platform

Selection of a Platform

There are myriad products to select from, so it is essential to identify a number of things in advance. First, the marketing processes that are currently employed should be thoroughly understood. Second, effective  metrics must be established to assess performance. Third, identification of areas of needed improvement is key. Accomplish these three things in advance and the successful selection of the best platform is far more likely.

Here are four steps to guide your organization through the process:

Step One: Assessment

First, there is the basic question — Does our company in fact need marketing automation tools? To answer that question properly, one needs to self-assess needs, staff abilities, level of management support, and budget.

These questions can guide one to answering that fundamental question:

- What exact toolset is required to meet our business’ unique needs? There is no “one-size-fits-all” solution on the market.

- What specific goals are there? The identification of goals requires that the right stakeholders be consulted.

- Does management support exist? A C-level executive should sign-on to support the endeavor.

- Does our organization have the required internal skill set? Maximizing ROI is fully dependent upon a willingness to adopt a new platform and to engage in the necessary training.

- How will success be measured? The better one understands the reasons for pursuing a marketing automation
platform, the easier it will be to set appropriate benchmarks.

- Has cost been properly established? The marketplace offers both all-inclusive tools and others that resort to a wide array of add-ones that can dramatically increase costs.

Step Two: Vendor Selection

To successfully establish which vendors to consider, create a list of all marketing abilities that your enterprise already has. Create another list of additional capabilities that are desired. From that list, a smaller list of “must-haves” can be generated. That last list is vital to the avoidance of a costly mistake.

Create a list of vendors that appear to be able to meet your needs and then contact them with your list of marketing abilities that are needed. Include a deadline for reply. Some businesses will choose to do this via a RFI/RFP process. Others should be sure to submit the very same list to all vendors to allow for later comparisons. Analyze responses to determine which 3-4 vendors should be sought out for demos.

Step Three: An Effective Demo 

After receiving RFP responses, arrange demos with the “short list” that remains. Doing so promptly will make relevant comparisons easier to accomplish. Then, assure that all potential users of the marketing automation platform are on the demo call.

There are key features to look for during the demo. For example, ease-of-use is critical. Any potential up-front savings can be quickly negated when the selected platform turns out to be inefficient or hard-to-use.

It is also vital to assess to what degree the potential vendor understands the unique marketing needs of your business sector. As the demo proceeds, look for the “must-have” features. Failure at this juncture may result in expensive customization later.

Here are some key questions at this juncture:

- How readily can this platform be integrated into our operations?

- What is the process for on-boarding like?

- How lengthy will the implementation process be?

- What training and support is included by each vendor?

- How effectively can the platform be fully adopted by our enterprise?

- How will the new tools be linked to stated strategies?

- How well do existing users employ full functionality?

- Is a free trial offered, at least for several days?

- Can the vendor successfully demonstrate the specific capabilities identified in the RFI/RFP?

Step Four: Reference Checks & Contract Negotiations

Prior to making a final decision, ask for references. Any marketing automation enterprise should have the capacity to supply at least several references. Ideally, a couple of these references will involve companies similar to your own.

When speaking with a reference, quickly establish whether the individual is in fact a primary user of the given platform. This is an ideal time to ask any questions that weren’t covered during the demo. Most marketing automation vendors will require a yearly contract. Once the vendor selection process has been completed, ascertain what is exactly covered in the contract. It is important to include specific detail about the nature of tech support to be offered.

Inquire as to the potential for added fees. Under what circumstances does the vendor charge extra? For example, does customization of the platform cost extra? Establish what the hourly fee is for engineering services. Is there a minimum charge? Inquire as to which partner firms, if any, are available to both install and then to integrate the new platform. If there is a possibility of mid-year hires, what will the cost be to train them?

As with any contract negotiations, asking the right questions up-front and getting the answers in writing is imperative. This approach will minimize surprises and unnecessary costs during the contract term.

A 30-something online marketing consultant living in Miami. After spending a decade focused on SEO, I branched off to architect a software solution to assist high-volume Amazon sellers in the automation and enhancement of their business, including automated ASIN identification, association and algorithmic repricing strategy. I can be contacted via LinkedIn or my blog.

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