As most organization's marketing environment continue to become more and more complex and risk becoming disjointed marketing automation as a class of technology to help manage the growing complexity is indisputable. When launched and utilized properly, a capable marketing automation platform can help marketing and sales become noticeably more effective. Key benefits can include increasing efficiency, intelligence, and reach; more-so aligning marketing and sales; and enabling users to take targeted, real-time action.
The primary drivers of an organization’s decision to evaluate and potentially invest in a dizzying array of marketing automation platform offerings generally involve one or more the following considerations:
The critical need for sales and marketing reports that provide data for analysis, planning, and determination of return on investment.
The need to simplify the management and coordination of activities, such as marketing campaigns, channel management, reporting, and analytics.
The need to manage and coordinate multiple point tools such as email and webinar management applications, and/or the need to integrate such tools with contact management and CRM platforms and programs.
The need to manage lead generation, lead nurturing, and the transfer of leads to sales in an organized, time-sensitive manner that enhances conversion and closing rates.
The need to use time strategically: e.g., reduce the time needed to create and deploy campaigns, or respond to sales-ready leads in real time.
When you’re ready to research marketing automation...
Evaluate what you already do that can be automated and which point tools you already use that could be bundled into an automated solution. Consider which capabilities you’d like to acquire, and forecast gains (e.g. leads, revenue, speed, intelligence, efficiency) that could realistically be achieved by applying specific automation. Consider your organization’s culture as well; marketing automation is software that provides a structure and vocabulary for shaping strategy, culture, and brand, and supporting an enhanced relationship between sales and marketing. The right fit is critical to your long term success. When you’ve determined your organization’s objectives, requirements, and opportunities, gained buy-in from stakeholders and have the support of leadership, you’re ready to evaluate solutions and vendors.
With the help of others, we've pulled information from the top marketing automation providers to put together a checklist that will help you evaluate the most important features and key considerations.
1. System Integration, Tool Management, Automation, and Deployment
The ability to manage multiple tools from one dashboard is a must-have for most of our customers.
Does the system provide one platform to launch and manage email campaigns and other key channels of communication?
Does the platform manage and coordinate your most important point marketing tools?
Does the platform integrate with other programs already in use (e.g., CRM, webinar, social media)?
Does the platform automate common functions?
Can the platform schedule outgoing campaigns and automate deployment? Can it accommodate multiple schedules for multiple users?
Can the platform track behavior, incorporate activities, and interact with campaigns and content in real time?
Can the platform respond automatically to prospect behavior (e.g. pages visited, scores attained) with targeted messages?
2. Dynamic Database Capabilities
An enterprise-grade marketing automation platform should be able to create and easily maintain lists dynamically.
Can the database manage multiple lists? Can it create list segments based on behavioral or other attributes?
Does the platform consolidate all information (characteristics, behaviors, actions, etc.) about a unique prospect into one dynamic profile? Can sales and marketing share this information? In real time?
Can the database integrate with your CRM system, sharing data back and forth seamlessly and dynamically in real time? Does it share critical time-sensitive information with sales representatives via some kind of notification?
Does sales have the capability to enter and exit prospects?
Do your current processes need to be recreated, or can you adapt them as you move forward?
Commonly shared organizational needs and objectives when it comes to marketing automation:
Analyze marketing-sales campaigns; understand which lead to revenue short- and long-term
Shorten the time to create and execute campaigns
Ensure consistent branding and messaging across channels, campaigns, and platforms
Target specific groups with tailored content
Cultivate prospects not ready to buy yet
Deploy online forms to capture relevant data and furnish quality leads
Score prospects according to factors that lead to sales
Know who visits the website, see their specific actions
Provide reports; calculate the ROI of your marketing campaign
Realize time savings and cost reduction through improved efficiency
3. Content Capabilities
Automating content management makes content easier to use, reuse, revise, and share; it also keeps it updated and in sync.
The capability to quickly and easily create, reuse or re-purpose attractive, consistent, brand-compliant email, web forms and landing page templates, using only basic skills.
The ability to extend branding throughout campaigns in email content, sending addresses, auto-responders, landing pages, social media, and other touch-points.
The ability to populate emails with dynamic content beyond the Greeting field.
A library for templates, documents, forms, graphics, landing pages, branding guidelines, etc.
The ability to attach gated forms (e.g., requiring that a form be filled out before a download) to specific or all assets.
A way to control access to any piece of content in any library.
The ability to share content with partners, in or out of the platform. (And if yes, can you easily track submissions?)
Support for automated content deployment in response to actions.
4. Lead Generation and Management
Marketing automation’s ability to streamline and significantly enhance lead generation, management, and distribution is a key, anticipated benefit.
Ability to continuously build individual prospect profiles based on historical behavior and characteristics.
Ability to receive inbound leads and incorporate them into the correct lists, or dynamically update already existing profile data.
Ability to auto-respond to website and other inbound inquiries.
Lead scoring that assigns value to general and specific behaviors and characteristics, both online and offline.
List segmentation for campaign personalization and customization.
Support for longer-term lead nurturing, through drip/dialogue outreach campaigns.
Ability to set SMS and email alerts for types of contact from specific individuals and companies.
Ability to send qualified leads to sales in real time based on triggers.
A “hot prospect” list of sales-ready leads created by marketing that sales reps can view within their CRM program.
A way for sales to return leads to marketing for nurturing.
Support for customer community outreach (e.g. blogs, discussion groups, social networks).
5. Automated Programs
One of marketing automation’s greatest virtues is automating programs that would be difficult or laborious to do manually.
Drip marketing, in which you send a pre-written set of messages in a series applicable to a specific behavior or status of the recipient. Nurture marketing is a form of drip marketing. You should be able to create messages and schedule them for sending, create exit conditions, and enter new leads as a program is running.
Trigger marketing, in which some action by a lead (e.g. visiting a pricing page or downloading a document) triggers a response email.
6. Lead Scoring
Use lead scoring to set numerical scores for characteristics and behaviors that indicate sales- readiness. Scoring automatically analyzes which prospects are most desirable according to criteria you determine.
Can the platform score prospects based on both explicit (e.g., title, location, etc.) and implicit (behavioral attributes and actions) data?
Can you adjust existing metrics and create new ones?
Can you apply a negative score to undesirable characteristics?
Can you apply a time frame?
Are scores shared with the CRM database during dynamic sharing?
Can they be provided as a “hot list” within the CRM tool?
Email remains the cornerstone of outbound strategy for most companies. Your marketing automation platform’s email tool should include a robust set of capabilities, and integrate with other tools. Many companies begin with email and add other aspects of automation as their comfort level grows.
Creative capabilities that facilitate fast campaign creation, professional appearance, and brand consistency.
CAN-SPAM compliance (auto-add of unsubscribe footers, automated pre-test, etc.) High delivery rates, spam checking De-duplication of email target records auto-responder handling of errors (undeliverables, unsubscribes, etc.).
Personalization of outbound messages and auto-responses.
Personalization of “send to” and “reply to” addresses.
Ability to simplify user interaction (e.g., auto-population of registration forms).
Can templates be shared with the CRM platform so that sales has access without having to leave the sales platform? Do changes made in the marketing template automatically update in the sales template?
Can the system apply data dynamically, so that one email can carry differing messages for differing audiences?
Your marketing automation platform should support and augment your website, and can provide real value in lead generation.
Ability to integrate with Google Analytics and other analytics providers.
Web page tracking and multiple domain tracking.
Form creation that extends branding and captures useful information; look for the capability to auto-fill with information already provided by repeat visitors.
Progressive profiling: the ability to offer a succession of forms dynamically, appropriate to a prospect’s evolving status, to increase information gained.
Landing page creation with brand extension and the ability to use multiple URLs.
Captured visitor information automatically scored and channeled into the correct database.
Customized auto-responses that follow visitor ac.
Alerting capabilities, so that marketing and/or sales can be aware when specific visitors or companies are on the site.
Website visitor tracking reports that provide information on customers, and known and unknown visitors, including pages looked at. The ability to research an unknown visitor without leaving the program is a plus.
Real-time compilation of traffic and referring sites’ search terms, and the ability to monitor web page performance and peeks based on time periods.
Does the website tracking report integrate with the database in such a way that a sales rep can review a known user’s profile without leaving the report?
If you routinely offer webinars or plan to in the future, make certain your marketing automation platform of choice provides out of the box integration with a webinar provider.
The ability to schedule and run a webinar from the marketing automation platform.
Auto response to registration, and the ability to combine this The ability to track responses and add them to the database correctly.
The ability to tie email campaigns to the webinar to both generate attendance and to follow up in various ways to targeted groups.
10. Social Media
Many but not all marketing automation platforms allow prospecting and coordinated messaging and campaigns across an extensive list social platforms. Make sure your social outlets are included.
Easy setup of multiple accounts and identities on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.
The ability to post on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. without leaving the marketing platform.
Integration with bitly or TinyURL.
The ability to monitor and track organization-wide social interactions in one location.
The ability to easily search for key words and conversations relative to your product or company.
Easy setup and management of canned tweets and predefined searches.
The ability to tag potential prospects for further/later consideration.
11. Reporting and Analytics
Look for reporting capabilities that can meet the needs of your department, your internal and external partners, and the CXO suite. Reporting delivers numerical results. Analytics helps show you what’s working, and can help you determine where to focus or what needs adjustment.
Can the platform integrate data returned from disparate marketing tools (e.g. social media, website visitor reports, forms) and consolidate it into a single, prospect profile, etc.?
If yes, what are the steps involved?
Can the system deliver the reports you need?
Can the platform track prospects and report behavior in real time?
Can the system deliver aggregate reports in real time?
Can the system deliver reports in your preferred formats?
Can the data be accessed inside/outside of a CRM tool?
12. Ease of Use
If it’s too complex or hard to use, a marketing automation system won’t get used. Authentic usability is the result of building a platform from the ground up with ease of use as a key design principle; it reflects the vision and purpose of the vendor’s leadership.
CA clean, simple, intuitive dashboard.
The platform is designed in a logical manner.
The platform is relatively simple and pleasant to use.
The platform’s dialog and instructions are clear and without jargon.
If cloud-based, the platform has no significant downtime.
Capabilities you need right now, plus capabilities you can grow into – minus a lot of big features that you’ll probably never need.
13. Speed The Delivery of Marketing Campaigns Time is money; the ability of marketing automation to accelerate campaigns from concept to deployment is a key win. In addition, the ability to analyze prospect response and prioritize hot leads to sales in real time will enhance closing sales.
Automation of tasks that are now done manually; how much time and labor will you save? Consider what more you might be able to achieve with no increase in staff.
The ability to create and deploy a campaign from scratch in little time – without HTML skills.
The ability to reuse campaign elements and templates efficiently.
The ability for email campaigns to support webinars or other events eliminating duplicate actions, and track interactions around the event automatically.
The ability of the database to update a profile with new information, reducing the lag time associated with outdated data.
Automated lead scoring, to help sales prioritize time and activities.
14. Implementation and Integration
A complex marketing automation system can take a significant amount of time to implement and integrate, and may involve significant IT department resources.
The complexity of infrastructure deployment and administration.
Customary implementation times: Does it take the average customer hours, days, weeks, or months? Does your unique environment fit a common implementation profile?
Integration with other critical platforms; is it easy, or will you need to customize an interface? If so, will your vendor do it, or assist you?
The need for IT involvement, in both implementation and maintenance.
15. Training and Support
The more complex a system is, the more likely it is you’ll need extensive training and ongoing support.
facility and actually launch campaigns – weeks vs days vs hours.
Is there ongoing training to promote usage and best practices?
Is there an online customer forum and knowledge base?
Is vendor support paid or free? Is there a time limit?
How often are features upgraded or new features added?
Is there training available? Will it cost or is it free?
Will your team have access to live vendor support?
How quickly does vendor support respond?
What’s the vendor’s reputation? Talk to existing customers to gauge third-party credibility, and ask questions about time to respond, quality of service, reliability, etc.
The total cost of an automated marketing system can’t be accurately calculated until enough time has passed so that return on investment can be measured against acquisition and maintenance costs. That said, there are issues involved in the total cost of acquisition that can be calculated and weighed before purchase.
Base-product pricing; purchase or subscription; controllable, predictable factors.
Length of contract(s).
Availability and price of optional capabilities.
Administrative costs, including internal IT costs, support contracts, or consultants.
The potential effect on head count.
A Final Word
There is no one-size-fits-all “best” marketing automation platform. The 80-20 rule holds here: For most companies, the gains made through marketing automation are the result of basic programs executed very well. Adding layers of complexity may cost more money than is returned, and may well erect barriers to usage. The best choice is usually the platform that fits comfortably inside your organization’s resources and culture, helps you fulfill your current objectives while being scalable enough to meet your organization’s needs as it grows, and delivers enough value to compel your team to leverage every day.
Hope this helps. Please let us know if you think we've missed anything. More to come!