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Marketing budgets are rising in organisations across the UK, but with increased spending power come heightened expectations and a closer eye on ROI.

Determining exactly what budget is required for marketing automation software is therefore far from straightforward.

There is the initial ‘price tag’ to consider, of course, but the true ‘cost’ of marketing automation is not just the fee for the platform itself. If the technology is clunky, difficult or time-consuming to use, for example, it will be become a burden rather than a value-adding asset. But if the system is slick, intuitive and supported by a team of local marketing experts, a return will soon be recouped.

SLAs also offer an investment safety net as they provide a guarantee regarding the availability of the platform and its reporting capabilities. The last thing a marketing team wants is to invest in a platform that is always offline!

In other words, as the age-old proverb goes, if you buy cheap, you often buy twice.

But exactly how much should be spent on marketing automation?

Of course what is affordable for one organisation may seem far too expensive for the next, so decisions have to be made on a case-by-case basis.

There are a number of ‘free’ automation solutions available in the marketplace, which perhaps offer some support to microbusinesses who are dipping their toes in the water when it comes to lead nurturing.

These solutions can appear attractive at first glance because there is no initial charge for their use of the core products or services. However, these ‘freemium’ models can soon become very expensive because the basic functionality is often very limited – after all, these are not marketing charities. When marketing teams seek the extra tools they really need, the costs soon escalate as the ‘add ons’ are commonly charged at a premium price. What was an inexpensive solution at the outset can then become far from affordable in the long run.

Whilst certainly not ‘free’, there are some more sophisticated marketing automation platforms available on transparent ‘pay as you go’ pricing structures which lay out the menu of costs from day one.

Initial set-up fees are usually incurred for these solutions but with costs as low as £600 and competitive rates on email sends, such pricing models enable marketing teams to plan for – and stick to – the budgets they set.

There are also tiered options available, which reflect the depth of functionality purchased, with additional components able to be bolted on according to whether they are or aren’t required. This means a company pays only for what they need, and only when the technology is sweating – not when it isn’t!

Such marketplace variances can make it difficult to compare different quotes on a like-for-like basis. Many companies claim to offer marketing automation for example, but their offering is little more than email distribution.

The overall advice? Explore the market with an open mind, ask questions specific to the activity and goals of the brand concerned, and remain focused on these objectives. Fancy bells and whistles may appear attractive but the technology should be rated, pound for pound, against the use case.

If in any doubt, ask the vendor to build a business case which will ensure ROI remains in sharp focus. That way, the investment is made with total costs and value in mind, not just the initial outlay.