How to Pick the Best Marketing Automation Platform for You

How to Pick the Best Marketing Automation Platform for You

So you’ve decided to purchase a marketing automation platform. You’ve read the studies proving its benefits. You know your company needs it.

Now, you just need to pick a marketing automation platform.

Obviously, we’ve got a favorite product in the marketing automation space. It’s a tool we’ve built ourselves and use every single day. But for the moment, we’re going to hold off on recommending our particular solution.

That’s because this guide is for you. It’s written purely to walk you through the questions you’ll need to ask and answer if you want to pick the best marketing automation system for you.

Note that we said “for you.”  Because what’s best for your competitors might not be best for you. The ideal marketing automation platform for your company will depend on many things. Like your company’s size, your database size, your CRM, and how sophisticated you want your marketing automation to get.

The solution you pick will also need to grow with you. That can be a big challenge. It’s one thing to find a solution you’ll be happy with today. It’s quite another thing to be happy with that same software solution two or three years from now.

But it’s not impossible. It’s not even all that hard. What looks like a very complicated decision can become quite simple once you’ve answered a few questions.

One last word before we jump in: A lot of this “pre-purchase homework” can be … less than fun. A bit tedious, in fact. You may already have a hunch about which solution you want, and you don’t really feel like slogging through any more specs to back it up. That’s understandable.

But stay with us. Doing your research now might be less enjoyable than just picking your favorite and moving on, but this is the groundwork that will determine whether you’re successful later on.

It might also (ahem) make you look very good once the solution is finally up and running.

What are your business goals?

This one key question should determine which solution you choose more than anything else. So think hard, consult with teammates and senior staff, and agree on three core goals for your new marketing automation initiative.

Don’t pick any more than three goals, otherwise your focus will be diluted. And try to pick one overarching goal. If at all possible, quantify it, too. For instance, “I want to drop my cost of a sales-qualified lead from $250 to $175.”

We know you think for yourself, but, just for context, here’s what your peers say their goals are:

Graphic showing survey results for most important objectives of a marketing automation platform.

Notice anything? There’s basically a three-way tie here. It’s between “increasing marketing ROI,” “optimizing productivity,” and “acquiring more customers.”

Each of those priorities has a lot of influence over which marketing automation package you’ll pick.

If your goal is increasing marketing return on investment, consider:

  • This new software can’t be crazy expensive, either on the front end or in recurring costs. If it’s too expensive, it’ll be even harder to improve ROI.
  • It can’t take forever to implement. Time is money. If you lose $100K in employee hours implementing this thing over the next six months, that’s going to all but cripple your ROI.
  • It can’t cost too much to implement. So, your existing CRM had better be able to talk to your new marketing automation platform ― without $50,000 in custom coding.
  • It has to have low per-user costs. You need everybody on your team to be able to use this thing.
  • The automation platform needs to be easy to use. You can’t afford to hire someone with crazy-advanced skills and a huge salary to manage the marketing automation system. You also cannot afford to spend hundreds of precious employee hours on training.
Graphic of Top 3 Reasons marketers are unhappy with their marketing automation platforms

If your goal is optimizing productivity, think about:

  • The issue of implementation time. Obviously, if it takes you six months to implement a marketing automation program, that’s not as productive as if you picked a platform that could be implemented in, say, three months.
  • Ease of use. If a system is very hard to use, or can only be used by one or two people, that’s clearly going to cut into your productivity. By a lot. It means you’ll probably have a bottleneck of requests going through that one marketing automation expert. That makes for poor productivity, but it also means your team is far less likely to use your fancy new software … which means they’re even less likely to get returns from it. Ugh.
  • How flexible is the system? This isn’t a productivity issue now, but it will be later. As you think about living with this new MA platform over the years, consider how easy will it be to update, change, or even tweak it. As you know, if there’s one constant in marketing, it’s change. Any new system needs to be ready for all those changes, including the ones you can’t foresee now.
How fast is fast? It depends who you ask, but most marketers seem to think that implementing a marketing automation system in three months or less is fast.

If your goal is to acquire more customers, ask these questions:

  • Can this new marketing automation platform help you reduce the length of the sales cycle? Don’t just say “yes” here ― get specific about which features of the different platforms you’re comparing will make that happen.
  • Can this new MA platform make it easier for you to track what’s really happening along the buyer’s journey? Again, don’t just give this question an off-the-cuff “yes.” Get specific. And if you can’t get specific with the information you have now, go back to each vendor and get an answer. Preferably, be shown by their team how your solution will work.
  • Is the platform good at helping you keep customers and expand their business? Getting more customers is good, but keeping more customers is even better. And getting more business from those existing customers? That’s the best of all. Can your new MA platform support loyalty marketing, or even do expand marketing? Find out before you buy!

Why ease of use and time to value are so important:

Of all the criteria mentioned here, the ease of use and time to implementation (aka “time to value,” or TTV) are the often the most important. That’s what Act-On discovered when they crunched the numbers from research by Forrester and G2Crowd. The webinar “Choosing Marketing Automation: Two Must-Haves that Predict Success” and our companion ebook outline that research and go into detail about how marketers can evaluate marketing automation platforms through that lens.

Ease of implementation also comes up in Ascend2’s survey. It was the #1 evaluation criteria, according to the marketers they surveyed.

Other relevant questions to ask and things to consider…

We’ve discussed the things that will be the pillars of your marketing automation system. But adding a few bells and whistles might help those goals, too. Things like:

  • Will there be support for your Account Based Marketing initiative?
  • Is it easy to make landing pages?
  • Easy to edit and test forms?
  • Easy to lay out emails?
  • Will you be able to integrate your social media efforts, too?
  • What personalization capabilities will you have (preferably beyond first name)?
  • How will this new platform help you align with Sales?

Get the answers to all of those questions for each of the marketing automation platforms on your shortlist. Write them out (or maybe post them on a wall). Step back and give yourself a few hours to see the big picture.

Usually, the right solution emerges pretty fast. It makes for a much easier decision, and one you’ll have far more confidence in later on.

Final Thoughts on Choosing the Best Marketing Automation Platform

A marketing automation platform is only as good as what you can do with it. If it takes too long to implement, or is too hard to use, or doesn’t give you the tools you need to accomplish your goals, it doesn’t matter how inexpensive it is. You aren’t going to get good results from it, and you’ll be wasting money in the long run.

That’s why it’s so important to do your homework up front when you’re shopping for a MA platform. It might seem like a hassle to ask so many questions initially, but that’s a small hassle compared to having to fight for a year to get your system set up … if you ever get it set up properly at all.

Back to you

What were your primary criteria when you picked a marketing automation platform? Leave a comment and tell us what you think.

Want to get a customized assessment of which marketing automation platform might be best for your company? Try our online assessment, “How To Pick The Right Marketing Automation Tool.”

Choosing Marketing Automation: 2 Must-Haves that Predict Success

About