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How to Choose a Marketing Automation Platform

Posted Under: Digital Marketing
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How to Choose a Marketing Automation Platform

One of the initiatives I work on with our clients here at Convince & Convert is marketing automation vendor selection. Based on our experience in this space, here is the process we use to choose the best marketing automation platform for your business.

This is the first in a three-part series delving into the process for selection and preparation for CRM + Marketing Automation implementation.

Let’s start with the basics and define what marketing automation and CRM is.

What is CRM?

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) usually refers to the database of record for prospects and/or customers. They come in many varieties and specialized versions, so we use the term generically.

What is marketing automation?

Marketing Automation (MA) refers to the suite of tools and capabilities that allow for automated, triggered events including email, text messaging, variable content, lead scoring, conditional logic rules, communication workflows, etc. These two sets of capabilities, (CRM + MA) can reside in one all-encompassing platform or two (or more) systems that exchange data bi-directionally. There is no one-size-fits all solution. That’s part of the challenge in selecting the best systems(s) for your specific needs.

The combination of a CRM system or database of record and a process to automate marketing messages enables you to communicate based on individuals’ attributes, reactions, engagement and channel preferences. That a long way of saying, “Speak with individuals as individuals in ways that are most relevant to each of them.”

There is a key principle that everyone in the decision-making process needs to be aware of. It’s analogous to the four pillars holding up the roof to the whole CRM + Marketing Automation process. It looks like this:

Management has to be clear and committed to all four pillars to achieve success.

The Four Pillars of Nurture Program Success

Four Pillars of Nurture Success
Four Pillars of Nurture Success

Take a close look at that. If you remove, or even short-change any one of those pillars, the whole marketing automation is doomed to a sub-optimal outcome. This is to become the lifeblood of most organizations’ sales funnel and revenue. This is not the place to cut corners. Management has to be clear and committed to all four pillars to achieve success.

I can write a whole post just on data, and that’s super important. I’ll hold off on that for the second installment in this series.

The most important thing to remember when undertaking a CRM + MA upgrade is probably what not to do.

How to Consolidate and Improve the Entire CRM and Marketing Automation Process

For those who have some sort of system and tools cobbled together, where does one begin to consolidate and improve the whole process?

First, let’s agree we are talking about improving the whole process for everyone: the prospects/recipients, the marketers, the tacticians, and the management. When done correctly, everyone wins.

The most important thing to remember when undertaking a CRM + MA upgrade is probably what not to do. Do NOT go out and start looking demos of different systems. They all have shiny, wiz-bang demos and colorful charts and seemingly simply drag and drop GUIs, but that’s the wrong way to go about an evaluation. In fact, Trust Radius lists 130 individual Marketing Autonomation platforms! There’s no way anyone has the time to demo a meaningful number of those.

The Best Way to Demo Marketing Automation Solutions

The correct way to demo marketing automation platforms — the way that is far more likely to yield a successful outcome — is to do this:

  1. Document your current capabilities, break points, shortcomings, and limitations (this is your current state)
  2. Document the features and functionality you want to have in the future (future-state). It’s ok to stretch a bit here; you may not get everything you can dream of, but still look forward a few years.

This list of future-state capabilities should be comprehensive, but not necessarily exhaustive. More on that in a moment.

How to Evaluate Marketing Automation Solutions

Step 1: Add to your list of Features and Functional Requirements interview questions, including:

  • The number of reviews and cumulative rating score (G2, Trust Radius, Capterra)
  • Company size, number of employees, and how many are in customer service
  • Capitalization structure (VC funded, latest round, privately help, publicly traded, etc.)
  • Implementation time
  • On-boarding process: does it include data migration?
  • The underlying database product (Microsoft Dynamics, Oracle, Salesforce, or proprietary?)
  • Are there specialized products for your particular industry? (e.g., higher education, homebuilders, non-profits and fundraising, etc.)
  • And don’t worry about pricing at this stage. Don’t even bring it up. (More on that below)

Step 2: Next, filter through the list of candidate CRM + MA packages and develop a short-list of no more than 10. 

Step 3: With these 10 candidates, initiate the sales process with each, by:

  1. Scheduling a call with their sales rep to confirm if it is a candidate for your particular business
  2. Send over your list of functional requirements asking them to check the boxes and fill in any notes or explanations
  3. Schedule your first of two demos, 90 minutes (it’s impossible to do an adequate job in less time, and there will need to be a second demo when you get down to your final two or three).

Step 4: Evaluate the Solutions Internally for a Minimum of 3-4 Weeks

Now, this is going to take some time. In our experience, it’ll take two full weeks minimum to go through the dialog, checklists, scheduling the demos, follow-up questions, etc. And you probably can’t get 6-10 done within a two-week time frame if you and your team already have day-jobs. So candidly, plan on a minimum of 3-4 weeks.

Once you get to this stage of analysis, we’ve got some good processes that help streamline things. We built out a feature and functionality set of criteria and applied it against each candidate platform. Contact us and I’m happy to share those; it just doesn’t make for good reading here.

How to Choose Your Marketing Automation Solution

Once you get the short list down to 1 or 2 candidates, then what?

If it’s down to a list of one, your job is really simple. Anything more than one, and you’ll have to dig a bit deeper and tease out the differentiators. There are probably no non-starters by this stage, or they wouldn’t be in the final list. This is where talking with reference customers and price negotiations come in. And pricing models vary greatly. You should be prepared for multiple licenses, user fees including admins, marketers, clerks, or whatever they each name their seat and access level licenses, and some might even be fixed rate. 

We always ask for a fee structure covering each of the first three years. Year one is always the most expensive because migration and implementation services are usually all rolled up in that first year. So, three years gives a better look at annual cost of ownership. And it is a negotiation point. That the best reason to have at least two in your final list of candidates.

Part Two of this series: How to Collect the Right Data to Boost Your Marketing
We delve deeper into the importance of data, the four categories of data, and how this will cause you to rethink your CTAs and webforms!

Part Three of this series: How to Implement Marketing Automation
The implementation journey is about to begin. But you are not ready. There is a lot that can and should be done before anyone starts loading software onto servers! (or, in the cloud)

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