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Buying Marketing Automation Software: A Best Practice Process

Marketing

So you’ve decided to buy a marketing automation solution. Now you need to select the right vendor for your company.

Of course, we think Marketo is almost always the best solution—yes, we’re biased. But here’s an unbiased process you can follow to maximize the chances you’ll buy the marketing automation software that is right for your company.

Step #1: Write down your goals for the project

To get where you want to go, write it down. Statistically, you increase your likelihood for success simply by putting your goals on paper.

Hard metrics may include:

  • More leads and/or better quality leads
  • Improved conversion rates
  • Reduced acquisition cost per Marketing-sourced lead, opportunity, or customer

Soft metrics may include:

  • Improved Sales-Marketing alignment
  • Better visibility into marketing metrics and ROI
  • Increased speed and agility to launch new campaigns and landing pages
  • Reduced time to pull reports

Step #2: Plan your timeline

Now, identify the steps you’ll take to get where you want to go. Remember, you aren’t ever “done” with marketing automation, so build time to evolve, adapt, and learn into your process.

Ask yourself, “When do I want to…”

  • Start the selection process?
  • Have detailed vendor presentations and demos?
  • Make my final decision?
  • Start implementation?
  • See first value?

Step #3: Identify your requirements

Remember, picking the right solution involves more than just picking the right technology.

Take action:

  • Review your administrative, integration, and technical requirements. What other technologies do you have that the system will need to work with? What level of integration do you need for your CRM—are leads and contacts only okay, or do you also need opportunities, custom objects, and so on?
  • Review our mega-list of marketing automation features. Verify you’ll get what you need today – and what you’ll want in the future.
  • Isolate requirements beyond technology. Who will use the system? How important is ease of use? What level of additional services, training, and support will you need? What it your organization’s maturity when it comes to things like process, skills, lead flow, and content — will you need additional help to get those into shape?
  • Turn the requirements into functional “scenarios.” Describe real-world marketing programs and processes you want to be able to run initially, and down the road.

Also, make sure to understand your requirements around ease of use, as well as power. On the “easy” side, it should be easy to get started quickly – buying marketing automation shouldn’t require a leap of faith on your part. Also, the tool should make it easy to accomplish marketing tasks faster. Marketers aren’t mechanics, so they shouldn’t have to spend time managing the machine. When a solution is easy to use, it frees up marketers’ time for more strategic and creative aspects of their job. Ultimately, easy is what drives flexibility and agility. When the solution is easy to use, your team can quickly turn ideas into implemented reality – so you get great results faster.

Of course, while you absolutely don’t want to deal with unnecessary complexity, it’s crucial that you make sure you won’t outgrow your solution either. Going too small or cheap—without aligning to your future requirements—is a clear path to failure. Think about how embarrassing it might be to select a solution, only to have to replace it later!

Instead, choose a vendor that is powerful enough to solve your real-world challenges now – and as you move up the marketing automation maturity curve. Ideally, your solution will let you unleash the power when you need it, but that power doesn’t result in complexity that gets in the way when you just need to get something simple done and out the door. As marketing automation David Raab says, “Plan for growth. No matter how carefully you define your needs, they’ll evolve in ways you don’t expect. You need a vendor that is likely to support future needs, whatever they may be. So look beyond for specific features for flexibility and a history of product improvement.”

Step #4: Assemble a team to choose and manage the solution

Make sure you cover both bases by getting sign-off from all stakeholders on goals, requirements, and potential scenarios—even Sales and IT.

Just make sure you avoid selection by committee. Typically, a voting approach doesn’t create the best decision process. While all stakeholders must accept your choice, Marketing and the primary users of the solution should drive the decision.

Step #5: Evaluate potential vendors against your scenarios

You’ll choose the vendor that best suits your needs if you follow these recommendations below:

  • Select vendors to evaluate. Ask each one to demonstrate how they would deliver your specific processes and scenarios. Alternatively, ask for a free trial of the solution being considered.
  • Scour the technology. Check all boxes to cover your administrative, integration, and technical needs.
  • Look beyond the technology. Evaluate each vendor’s ability to make you successful through access to best practices, community, consulting, support, and training.
  • Ask tough questions. The vendor shouldn’t have anything to hide. Make sure the vendors actually show you they have what they say they have in terms of functionality.
  • Avoid becoming dazzled by features that don’t deliver on your criteria. Focus on the process and business needs you identified in step 3. (That being said, it’s okay to update your goals as you learn about what’s possible. Just make sure it’s compelling enough!)

Step #6: Talk to references

Now it’s time to find out if your vendor can actually make customers like you successful.

  • Ask your vendors for references. Solicit others from your personal and social networks.
  • Look for references that are similar to your organization. Chances are, you’ll succeed with a particular vendor to the degree that companies similar to yours have done, so look for references that are similar to your organization.
  • Find out whether your situation is similar to theirs. If you do, you’ll drill into whether you’re likely to succeed with that particular solution as well. As David Raab points out, you need to ask more than “Are you happy?”
  • Don’t forget to ask about technical AND non-technical factors. How long was implementation? How much training and additional services were needed, if any? How did the vendor handle any problems that were encountered along the way?

For more, download our helpful resource, Critical Questions to Ask during Your Reference Call.

Step #7: Make a decision

The time has come. Choose the vendor that can best make you successful in line with the goals you create at the beginning of this process. While this does involve comparing subscription costs and contract terms, the revenue benefits you’ll enjoy when you achieve your goals are usually much more significant – so it’s best to choose the solution that will help you be the most successful.

Step #8: Get started

Here we go. You should already have a complete understanding of this part of the process, based on your initial review of the vendors. But just in case, look to:

  • Sync the platform with your CRM system. Alternately, you can load your leads and contacts directly.
  • Create email and landing page templates (or have your vendor help with this).
  • Set your email deliverability settings, including your DKIM and SPF records.
  • Set up your website. Implement DNS mapping for your landing page subdomain. Add tracking codes to your content management system.
  • Train your users in the system.
  • Build (or import) your first campaigns and programs. Work with your vendor’s enablement and consulting teams for best practices.
  • Press go. Then, measure and share the success you’re having.

Step #9: Review, optimize, and improve

There’s a lot that could be said here, given how endless your possibilities are when using marketing automation. Always keep in mind that success with marketing automation is a journey, and you’ll want to be agile and continually evolve and adapt how you are using the system as you grow more mature, get more content, develop skills, and so on.

But for the purpose of time and space, here’s short set of tips on how to approach this phase of your process.

  • Invest in the training and content you need to be successful.
  • After three to six months, do a check-up, and consider re-engaging with your vendor’s services. Evaluate additional services that could take you to the next level.
  • Engage with your vendor’s community to learn and share best practices. Suggest ideas for new features while you’re at it.

And there you go. I hope that by following this process you will find much success in your marketing automation journey.

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