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With the advent of the internet and the rapid change in the media landscape, we have seen a shift in the way IT buying decisions happen.

The modern buyer believes in educating himself about the value of an IT solution and evaluates different vendor options much before your salespeople get to interact with him.

Hence, your role as a marketer has evolved from just demand generation to lead nurturing i.e. providing value across the buying journey.

Image Credits: Wordstream

The fact that you have accounts instead of individuals that are making IT buying decisions makes the whole buying process even more complex.

You have different decision makers who have different challenges and are in a different buying stage

How do you create individual nurturing paths for all of them and then find the right time for the salespeople to reach out to them?

This is where you need a Marketing Automation Platform

What is Marketing Automation?

According to Pardot, “Marketing Automation allows marketing and sales department to manage all prospect and customer interactions and create, deploy, and manage online marketing campaigns – all from one central platform.”

In simple terms, marketing automation is just like your sales team infused with unlimited resources and lots of intelligence.

How to build your Marketing Automation stack?

As the buying behavior has evolved, so has the Marketing Automation platforms.

From the early days of providing trigger-based email functionality, they are now offering a whole new dimension in the form of artificial intelligence and predictive analytics.

As with the number of platforms, we have gone from 150 in 2011 to 4000 in 2016.

How do you ensure that you choose the right marketing automation platform for your needs?

Choosing the right marketing automation platform not only entails a significant investment of time and resources but also impacts the productivity of the sales and the marketing team.

Here is a step by step process you can follow while building your marketing automation stack.

Step 1: Self-Assessment (Your current situation)

“All too often, people are doing it backwards. They are buying the technology and then asking what to do next. Technology is not a silver bullet without a strategy and a plan.”

Ardath Albee, CEO, Marketing Interactions

You need to have a clearly defined strategy in place before you pick a platform.

Assessment and analysis of what you are currently doing to engage your customers is a great starting point. This helps you pinpoint areas where technology can improve processes.

For example: If you are sending batch and blast e-mails to all your leads without segmenting them on their buying profile and stage, then the conversion rates are bound to be low. If you are manually doing the segmentation, and then sending personalized emails, then you are essentially spending your whole day in operational tasks.

Using marketing automation, you can send personalized emails to different buyers based on their past actions. This means increasing conversion rates while at the same time decreasing operational time.

This is where self-assessment becomes important.

For this, you need to ask the following questions at this stage:

  • What are the current marketing strategies that you employ?
  • Are you using lead nurturing?
  • What role does email play in your marketing strategy?
  • How large is your database?
  • How are you leveraging social media?
  • How do you manage and create your forms and landing pages?
  • What are the key metrics that you consider?
  • What are the other customer-facing softwares being used by the organization?
  • How do you manage lead handoff from marketing to sales?

Step 2: Goals and Planning (Your future goals)

Your organization might be planning to grow inorganically or diversify their offerings or open more customer touch points. In either case, the demands from a marketing automation platform would be different.

Again taking the above example. you might be sending batch and blast emails right now. In the near future, you also plan to build custom landing pages or spend money on Google ads or increase your social media activity or conduct some webinars.

In either case, the platform you choose would be completely different.

Hence, it becomes important to define the goals for your marketing automation platform. For this, you need to ask the following questions at this stage:

  • What ratio sales engagements currently result in a closed deal? What steps can you take towards better qualifying leads and improving the ratio?
  • If you are using a website for lead generation, how can you expand it?
  • How can you incorporate cross-channel marketing in your strategy?
  • What KPIs are valued by each department?
  • What are the short term and long term goals that you want to achieve with marketing automation?
  • Finally, who will take the ownership of the success of the platform?

Once you have answers to these questions, you will have a better idea of where you are and where do you want to go and how will marketing automation help you reach there.

Step 3: Vendor Evaluation

Once you know your current situation and future goals, it is time to evaluate the different vendor solutions. You can do that by requesting for demos or taking product trials.

While marketing automation platforms would differentiate themselves on a lot of different parameters, here are some of the most critical ones that you need to keep in mind:

Use Cases

Once you have understood your requirements, you can match them with the features offered by a marketing automation platform. The use cases might range from a simple email marketing and content marketing solution to a multi-channel campaign management, lead scoring, social listening solution.

You need to identify what all features are critical for your organization.

It is also important that you do not get carried away by all the functionalities provided by marketing automation platforms. You can have a basic system in place and then add advanced functionalities on top of it as the team becomes comfortable with it.

Price

It goes without saying that you need to evaluate the price of all the options that you have. However, while assessing the cost, you need to keep in mind all the hidden costs attached to the product.

Some platforms give you an all-inclusive cost while others might charge you exorbitantly high prices for additional functionalities or training or additional licenses.

Integrations

There would be two types of solutions that would be available in the market. One would be the point solutions offering only a single functionality while others would be full-fledged marketing automation platforms.

For example: A solution like Campaign Monitor would only be offering you e-mail marketing capabilities. However, if you want additional functionalities, you might want to opt for a solution like Hubspot.

Additionally, the solution you choose would also depend upon whether it can be integrated to your existing infrastructure or other softwares that you are planning to buy or not.

You might have subscribed/been planning to subscribe to a CRM software or a social media management software or a webinar software.

In either case, you need to evaluate both the possibility as well as the cost of integrating them into your marketing automation platform.

Customer Support

The success of your platform depends a lot on how easy it is for your team to use it. A lot of Marketing Automation Platforms have a learning curve attached to it. It takes some time to incorporate them in your organization’s day to day working.

Hence, a major feature which differentiates these platforms is the onboarding and learning support offered by them.

Flexibility

We already have started to hear a lot of buzz around predictive analytics and artificial intelligence in marketing. Marketo recently launched AI-powered content suggestions.

With marketing technology evolving at a critical rate, it is important to check the history and their current policies on continuous improvements and upgrades of marketing automation platforms.

Marketing collaterals

Nowadays, usually every marketing automation platform provides drag and drop e-mail and landing page templates which can be used by marketers to create content.

The difference lies in their quality, their relevance for your industry and how easy it is to customize them.

This not only speeds your marketing collateral design process but also enables you to follow the best practices.

Analytics and Reporting

Finally, it is extremely critical to look at the reporting capabilities of the platform. There are some platforms which provide advanced reporting capabilities which combine data from all the channels, scores the lead and predicts the next move whereas other platforms only provide basic campaign-level analysis.

Again it becomes important to define beforehand what are the kind of metrics you are looking for? Are you looking for campaign level analytics or are you looking for account level analysis? Do you want to customize reports? Are you also looking for anonymous visitor reporting?

All these factors play a big role in which platform you select.

Apart from the functionalities mentioned above, there are other things that you can look at such as workflow design, lead management, segmentation, campaign management, commitment levels and marketing management capabilities.

List of features to look out for in a Marketing Automation Platform (Image Credits: MarTech Advisor)

Conclusion

Marketing Automation space has heated up in the past few years which means we have new platforms coming up every few days. Assessing your current strategy and planning for future goals not only helps you in selecting the right technology but also ensuring its success.

Key Resources:

Buyer’s Guide to Marketing Automation Software from Trust Radius

Tool by Technology Advice to find the best Marketing Automation software

B2B vs B2C marketing automation What’s the difference