Deep Roots, Strong Branches- How to Find a Marketing Automation Platform That Grows With You

Let’s face it, resources are limited and money doesn’t grow on trees. Some of the biggest challenges that marketers face are the cost of programs and the infrastructure needed to support multi-channel communication in this digital age.

Throughout my career, including my current role as a Solutions Consultant, I’ve seen how many business decisions sacrifice long-term functionality for a short-term gain in cost savings. Many marketers out there are making similar decisions, in which features and functionality are ultimately weighed against platform cost.

As part of a ‘wait and see’ or ‘grow into it’ mentality, the total cost of ownership for a less sophisticated marketing automation platform can hide below the surface. In this blog, I’ll walk you through nine short-term and long-term considerations that you should incorporate into your marketing automation evaluation to find a solution that grows with you:

Short-Term Considerations

1. How quickly can your team get up and running on this solution?

While any new solution has a learning curve, the marketing automation platform that you choose can greatly impact the time it takes for you and your team to get up to speed. As you’re evaluating a marketing automation platform, it’s worth asking about the platform’s track record for bringing users up to speed quickly and the average time for getting campaigns launched. All new tools take time to learn, but leading solutions take onboarding seriously and invest in local resources with expert marketing backgrounds to help your team with the implementation.

2. Can this system clone entire programs, campaigns, and forms?

Sometimes, the presence or absence of the most obvious features of a platform is a telling sign of how successful and efficient your team will be when using it. The ability to clone previously developed programs, campaigns, and forms is a huge time saver and also helps cushion for human error. These are important features for accelerating your time-to-market, so it’s important that your platform can support them.

3. Can you easily build audiences and workflows side-by-side?

Many marketing automation platforms require users to build audiences (segments) and responses (workflows) within different screens. Having to switch between multiple pages to configure audiences and workflows is not only time-consuming, but it indicates a potential breakdown in the logical architecture for consistently matching target audiences with relevant communications.

Instead, look for platforms that place audience definition side-by-side with campaign and content execution–ultimately allowing you to adjust the qualifying criteria and flow within the same stream-of-thought. Additionally, complete marketing automation platforms leverage a consistent pattern for building audiences across the entire system, which reduces the amount of time needed to execute campaigns, expands the effectiveness of centralized data, and improves the consistency of your program results.

4. How easily can you incorporate other best-of-breed solutions?

For most marketers, it’s likely that marketing automation platforms are only one part of your marketing tech stack. Its acts as the foundation and connective tissue for interactions between your content and assets, driving opportunities and conversions forward within the customer lifecycle. Whether the length of your purchase cycle is in minutes, hours, weeks, months, or years, the ability to integrate best-of-breed tools for web design, e-commerce, social engagement, retargeting, data-cleansing, and more is a sure way of making sure that your marketing techniques are making the most impact, without having to completely redo your marketing strategy–both now and in the future.

Long-Term Considerations

1. Will this platform centralize all of your core marketing needs over the next three to five years?

In my customer-facing role, I’ve encountered many marketers who spent the first year implementing a basic platform, then find that in two or three years’ time, they wish they had chosen a different vendor to begin with. Many of our customers express that they quickly reached the maximum value of their previous platform and had to spend the next few years working with serious limitations. Taking the time to evaluate the best short-term and long-term solution can prevent this situation.

2. Will you be incorporating multi-channel marketing?

All stages of the customer lifecycle–from brand awareness to advocacy–are becoming more closely intertwined with personalized content through multiple communication channels. Your ability to build out multi-channel marketing side-by-side with other campaign elements is an important factor in maintaining program consistency, while reducing the strain of executing campaigns. By thinking ahead to your future channels of communication, you can save both time and money trying to incorporate these objectives later on.

3. Does this platform have a history of marketing innovation and being forward-thinking?

Innovative marketing automation providers are continually adding new features and staying up to date on the latest capabilities in digital marketing. Many platforms attempt to be everything to everyone, yet the core purpose of a marketing automation platform should be to connect and deliver high-value marketing interactions. Innovation impacts the modern marketer in a number of ways: it keeps your team on the front line of communications, it lowers the cost of marketing over time, and it enables powerful programs through highly organized and accessible information.

Moving into the start of the next decade, marketers who can truly leverage the knowledge supplied by buyers actions and interactions will be able to own the customer experience and distinguish their brand as industry leaders. Similarly, marketing automation providers that stay innovative, helping to connect and deliver the most relevant communications, will be the best partners for producing results.

4. What kind of ongoing support can you expect?

Long-term platform experience is heavily tied a marketing automation company’s commitment to answering questions and providing support on an ongoing basis. Ask about external customer support evaluations, accessibility to specific account managers assigned to your account, and company investments in industry knowledge experts. Regional support that is internally sourced shows a company’s commitment to speaking your language and helping to solve real-world business problems.

5. Is this platform capable of growing with your data management strategy?

In your initial evaluations of marketing automation platforms, you’re often looking for features, functions, and triggers that support your short-term needs. But it’s important to consider today’s needs and tomorrow’s needs when making a final decision. Going back to the point about being able to incorporate multiple channels, “good-enough” solutions are very email-centric and may not be able to consume interactions with mobile devices, personalized banners, e-commerce activities, or custom records.

A great way to look at the long-term depth and breadth of different marketing automation platforms is to define a multi-channel marketing strategy and ask your potential vendors to build out a sample campaign that acts on a wide variety of interactions and delivers a wide variety of responses. Sophisticated solutions will allow both interactions and responses to be built with continuity and simplicity.

All of the questions above ultimately help you understand whether a marketing automation platform is scalable and reliable, two things that are critical to business growth. They ensure that your investment in marketing automation today will sustain and support your marketing initiatives of tomorrow. Carefully review the short-term and long-term functions and requirements of your implementation to ensure that your platform has strong roots that will continue to support results and happy employees now and into the future.

What other questions do you ask when you’re making marketing investment decisions? Share them in the comments below!