15-Point Marketing Automation Platform Purchasing Checklist
Ever since digital marketing began commanding an ever-larger share of the overall marketing pie, interest in marketing automation systems has grown. There’s a steady proliferation of tools, plugins, apps and platforms that promise to ease different aspects of a marketer’s life. There are around 10 major functions for which marketers use technology and tools everyday:
Without a unifying force, this tide of marketing technology can be a monster to manage. That is where marketing automation comes into the picture. “Martech” tools combine the functions of multiple marketing tools into a single integrated platform and help channel marketing efforts in a deliberate, focused manner.
But we all know that the average marketing automation platform does not come cheaply. So before you take the leap and get tied down with a new marketing automation platform, go take a quick — no, careful — look at this 15-point checklist.
With the myriad of features these tools offer and data points they collect, it is easy to lose sight of your business and marketing objectives, which could be anything from lead nurturing to customer retention.
Will the platform you’re evaluating enable you to track the right metrics in pursuit of your strategic goals? What is the time frame within which you realistically expect to achieve them?
Ease of Use
A marketing automation platform is something your marketing team will be (or at least supposed to be) using all day, every day. Make their lives easier by familiarizing yourself with the user interface of the platforms you’re considering. Are they intuitive and easy to use? Do they require extensive training to get familiar with? Do they offer simple drag and drop interfaces to build important marketing elements like email newsletters, lead forms and so on?
Collaboration and Shared Workflows
Your automation implementation will need inputs from multiple members of your marketing team. Check how the platform under consideration allows multiple users to interact in real-time and at what scale. See if it lets you design workflows that let your team collaborate, annotate, and edit each other’s work, while of course maintaining version control.
For instance, email-marketing-turned-full-automation platform GetResponse lets marketers design complex campaign plans with a drag-and-drop workflow builder while playing out different scenarios along a typical customer’s journey from awareness to purchase:
Trial by Use
Almost all Software as a Service (SaaS) platforms offer 15- or 30-day trials. Don’t skip the trial period under any circumstances — including assurances from the vendor’s sales team, multiple demos, raving testimonials or verified references. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Try the platform on for size: Get familiar with how it works and see if it really does all it claims to do. You don’t want to be tied to an annual contract for such a critical piece of your marketing stack if it doesn’t do much for your specific business.
Reviews and Customer Feedback
Lend a patient ear (and eye) to what existing users have to say about the product. No trial run or demo can compare to living and breathing the product in real-time with extensive usage data in multiple scenarios. Websites like G2Crowd and TrustRadius offer reviews from verified users of various software solutions, giving you the opportunity to get an unbiased idea of what to expect from the platform you’re considering.
Deep and Wide Integration
A marketing automation system is intrinsically linked to nearly your entire marketing stack. Check if your marketing automation platform integrates well with your key marketing tools, preferably via Application Program Interfaces (APIs). Vendors offering open APIs also allow Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) to create custom add-ons that plug in to the core system. A dependable marketing automation system connects with the best-in-class Martech tools including Salesforce and Google AdWords in order to integrate multiple functions such as customer relationship management, data intelligence, social media marketing and Web publishing into the ecosystem.
Zapier is the undisputed king of integration at the most basic and individual level, with quick linking to help your apps share data, simple triggers that pass information through workflows (called “zaps” — what else?) and the capability of building processes easily with minimal coding.
Personalization and Segmentation
Did you know that 74 percent of users get frustrated when Web content and promotions have nothing to do with their interests? The solution, as I’ve cried time and again, is personalized communication tailored to each customer’s needs and preferences.
A marketing automation tool must have the ability to manage multiple customer lists and segment them based on criteria that matter to your business. Good platforms even offer the ability to serve real-time, contextual messaging to website visitors as they interact with different elements of your site.
A one-size-fits-all automation platform does nobody any good. Check the level of customization the platform offers you. Can you build custom reports that reflect metrics that matter to your business? Does it allow you to pick and choose modules that you’ll actually use, instead of paying for a lot of bloatware you’ll never touch? Can you personalize the interface with your own branding so your users have a consistent feel?
Every good marketing automation platform worth its salt will allow you to create access lists and set permissions that define what each user (and device) can and cannot do. If the platform you’re considering does not offer this basic functionality, maybe it’s time to shop around a little more.
Testing and Experiments
One of the fundamental rules of marketing is to first test your idea with a representative sample before unleashing it on your entire audience. Your marketing automation tool should allow you to design and carry out A/B tests, multivariate tests and other experiments with your emails, landing pages and lead forms to achieve the most optimal settings.
Google Analytics’ Content Experiments and other such tools use complex algorithms such as Multi-Armed Bandit testing to create experiments and use winning variations. Don’t forget to ask your Martech vendor how you can automate and implement tests across multiple channels.
Analytics and Reporting
Check if your marketing automation system can track, measure and analyze the interactions your users have with your marketing communication. A good platform not only has its own reports, but also offers integrations with analytics suites like Google Analytics that provide cross-channel data. And an excellent platform will reveal critical hidden data that change your perception of customers, while making it easy to visualize these insights and thus act on them quickly.
Having a mobile app is a sign of a platform that is mature and forward thinking. Especially with today’s hyper-connected consumer, you need the option of getting into your marketing automation platform even when you’re not at your desk to make edits or respond to queries.
Support and Onboarding
Check to see how the platforms propose to transfer your data from your existing systems to the new platform. Ensure there’s no data loss in the process. Also understand in advance how hands-on their onboarding team will be to help you set up your systems in the early stages. If there’s a steep learning curve with the platform, does the vendor offer a dedicated account manager who’s available whenever you run into an issue?
Above all else, check to see that the platform offers continued customer support even after the initial setup phase. Believe me, when there’s a real crisis on hand with your marketing campaign, you do not have the luxury of waiting till the vendor’s customer support team returns to work after Christmas holidays.
End-to-End Customer Lifecycle Management
Forgetting about a user once he or she buys your product or service is a surefire way of losing any potential repeat business you might have gotten from your existing clients. Pick a marketing automation tool that can follow a user from the time they’re a lead to a prospect, a marketing-qualified lead (MQL), sales-qualified lead (SQL), customer and finally, a loyal, repeat customer. It should be able to set up nurture streams that continue to engage with your users long after they bit the bait and bought your products.
With the recent widespread adoption of automation tools, the majority of marketers seem to think that automation is worth the price:
Price is usually one of the first things we tend to check before considering any purchase — especially considering perpetually limited marketing budgets. But I’d advise you to put this off until the very end, when you’re confident that the platform you’ve evaluated and chosen is the one.
That doesn’t mean you blindly pay the asking price: In your investigation, check whether you’ll be paying a one-time fee, a recurring monthly fee, maintenance or renewal fees. Do you spot any hidden costs like setup and administration fees, contract termination fees, etc.? Will your subscription costs vary based on usage? Some tools, while being great in every other way, charge you an extra fee for every analytics report you build over and above their minimal free insights. Others charge you for pulling full data or logs through APIs à la Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that set billing meters spinning when you use all of your allotted bandwidth.
Whew! All of this may seem like a lot of things to consider before making a purchase. However, the flexibility and versatility of your marketing automation platform will determine how far your business will be able to spread your marketing wings. With stakes that high, a little extra due diligence before closing the deal can mean thousands of dollars in incremental revenues for years to come.
Rohan Ayyar is the regional marketing manager for India at SEMrush. His blog, The Marketing Mashup, covers digital marketing from the perspective of B2B, B2C, lead generation, mobile marketing, SEO, social media, content marketing, database marketing including predictive analytics, and conversion rate optimization. In addition, he'll look at emerging marketing technology and how marketers can use it. Reach Ayyar at firstname.lastname@example.org.