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Strategy

Your Road Map To Evaluating A Marketing Automation Platform

Serious marketers know that automation is the way to go, but the variety of tools out there is immense. Luckily for you, we're here to bring some order into your next important decision

Sarah Pritzker
February 16 2018

With 67% of leading marketers using a marketing automation platform, marketing professionals know that automation is the way to go. It speeds up repetitive jobs like sending emails and streamlines social media posting to make life easier for CMOs and marketers everywhere. But choosing a good option can be easier said than done. There are over 200 marketing automation platform (MAP) options on the market, so selecting the best one can be tricky. Overall, the best MAP operates according to the principles of inbound marketing to focus on each potential lead individually.

It takes an omnichannel approach to your marketing by assimilating all your marketing data and accounting for all your intersecting marketing campaigns. The first step is always to evaluate your own marketing needs and be clear about what you need from the MAP. Once you know which attributes are most important for your brand, you can use these eight factors to evaluate how well a marketing automation platform will perform.

#1 Features

Not all MAPs offer the same features or provide them on the same level. Some elements are almost universal in MAPs, such as email marketing automation, registration forms, lead nurturing, and online behavior tracking. While other platform components such as built in a/b testing, social media tracking, and multi-touch revenue attribution are only offered by select MAPs. One feature to look for is the ability to create natively responsive web-to-lead forms that either your website or MAP can host.

Some features to consider:

  • Content calendar
  • Mass email marketing
  • Lead nurturing
  • Landing page creation
  • Registration forms
  • Micro-segmentation
  • Social media campaigns
  • Event marketing
  • Data deduplication and cleansing
  • Triggered email
  • Account-based marketing for B2B marketers

#2 How well it meets your specific needs

It’s guaranteed that no single MAP can offer all possible features to the highest possible specification, so you’ll need to zoom in on the ones you need the most. One common concern for marketers is email marketing automation. This includes micro-segmentation tools, ability to personalize content on a mass basis, high level analytics, and a/b split testing. If you are focused on content marketing capabilities, you’ll want to evaluate the whether you can create content within the MAP, personalize content, and generate customer-driven content.

If your biggest concern is social media marketing, you’ll want to look for platforms that support social media monitoring, scheduling, and reporting. Check which social media channels can integrate with the MAP – are they the channels that are most important for your company?

#3 Integrations

Your marketing automation platform isn’t going to exist in a vacuum. Ask yourself whether this platform integrates with your existing CMS and CRM systems. It should integrate with your CRM in both directions so that your content marketing synchronizes with all your other marketing efforts. Many MAPs offer APIs that connect with all your other email, social media, and content marketing tools.

#4 Metrics and analytics

Does your MAP offer robust, unified reporting and analytics tools? Gathering lead data from across multiple channels, unifying and analyzing it is key to successful marketing automation. Ideally, you want to be able to gather data from all your campaign touchpoints – social media, email, web analytics, landing pages, etc. – and dig down to a granular level. Since there’s no single MAP that does everything, you might need to ask how easily you can fill in the gaps in data tracking and analysis.

#5 Usability

The best marketing automation platform in the world won’t be much help if you can’t use it effectively. Marketing automation can be highly complex, especially since it involves coordinating data from many touchpoints and collaborating across channels, so you need a platform that is easy to use. Look for an interface that is intuitive, neat, and easily scannable.

#6 Size

How many leads do you need to be able to support? You want an MAP that can support the weight of your database without paying for excess capabilities that you don’t need, and enough user accounts as well. You might be the only one managing your MAP or you could need a platform that allows multiple permission levels and many separate user accounts. A small sized company would be far more successful with a smaller and inexpensive platform, but would fail if it tried to navigate the large, multi-user software needed by a large corporation. Just don’t forget to allow for growth; choose a platform that can scale with you at least for the next few stages.

#7 Pricing

Pricing is often the key factor when evaluating a marketing automation platform. You’ll need to stay within your budget, which might force you to choose between a MAP with more features and a MAP with better analytics, for example.

When comparing MAPs, don’t just look at the price for the plan that you need right now; hopefully you’ll need to move up the price tiers as your business scales, so look for a platform that scales with you without unpleasant pricing surprises. Check out any setup and implementation fees and investigate the cost of ongoing training and customer support. You’ll also want to ask about the fee for exceeding your allotted number of leads. Ideally, the pricing structure should be clear and comprehensive without any extras left off the list.

#8 Training and support

Consider what you need to onboard the new MAP for your company. Does your chosen MAP provide the tools you need to smoothly incorporate it into your system? It’s important to ask how long the training process is and what kind of support the vendor gives you to adopt the system. Think about what level of ongoing support you need and whether you can get that from the vendor. A good marketing automation platform can save you time and resources, so scour the market, see which platforms will suit your needs, and jump on the automation train.

 

Marketing automation isn’t always straight forward. If you’re a novice and want to learn more or you simply need to brush up on your existing knowledge, this guide might be a good place to start.

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Sarah Pritzker

Sarah Pritzker is a marketing pro, always paying attention to -- and then writing about -- the latest marketing strategy trends. Then again, she also loves writing about finance, genealogy, and graduate school admissions. And then there's diamonds, travel, and healthcare management. Oh, and fitness. And food. You get the idea.

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