8 Best Practices for Purchasing Marketing Automation Technology

When shopping for marketing automation technology, many marketing teams dive into the vendor selection process because they’re trying to fix a big problem in their current process or to set the stage for rapid expansion.

But before choosing a marketing solution, it’s important to do more than define the problem or outline the overarching goal. You should also examine every process you want to improve in the present as well as the challenges that might arise in the future.

Choosing technology can be challenging

The thing is, marketing automation technology is changing and evolving all the time. Purchasing marketing automation technology is more problematic than shopping for some other technology, like a piece of accounting software. You know what an accounting system is supposed to do today and what it’s likely to need to do tomorrow. You know what the problem is, what to look for, and you have a specific list of functions you need it to do.

Marketing automation technology, on the other hand, is often put in place by companies that have never done the kinds of processes they’re trying to improve. A company that wants to move from email marketing to marketing automation may be motivated by all the research that documents the success of advanced programs such as lead nurturing, lead scoring, or website visitor tracking. These programs typically are too complicated to do by hand; they can be complex and have a lot of moving parts.

This usually means that the company making this upgrade has not done such a program before, and is trying to figure out their new process at the same time that they’re implementing a new technology. Plus, many marketing and sales teams seeking new technology don’t have a specific checklist of requirements. In fact, they aren’t always certain about what they’re trying to accomplish.

That’s why defining your business goals is the important first step when it comes to purchasing marketing automation technology. What’s the best way to do that?

Let’s take a look at eight best practices outlined in the white paper When Marketers Buy Technology: Issues, Obstacles, and Solutions by David Raab, an expert marketer and principal at Raab Associates Inc., as well as a consultant, speaker, and analyst. These steps will put you on your way to finding marketing automation technology that will meet the current – and future – needs of your business.

1. Define your business objectives.

The search for marketing automation technology often begins with a need for a specific marketing program, like email nurturing campaigns or search engine optimization. You need clear definitions to assess the value of the proposed project and any dependencies on it. Any goals associated with the acquisition of new technology should be expressed in specific, measurable terms such as, “We want to achieve a 20% increase in sales qualified leads” or “We need first-page ranking on Google for a particular term.” That way you can track the results and understand what success looks like.

2. Outline your system requirements.

Detailed system requirements are essential to an efficient selection process. So if you’re looking for a technology to support an email nurturing program, you can quickly figure out that the solution you need should include database or CRM integration as well as some kind of list management, a system for designing the program flow, the ability to send emails and create landing pages, a lead scoring mechanism, analytics and reporting, and a way to pass nurtured, high-scoring leads to sales.

marketing automation technology

3. Consider several marketing automation technology vendors.

Once you’ve built your list of requirements, you’ll discover that there are many features that can be found in every product. You’ll also discover a few that are a little more rare, but vital to your goals. That will help you narrow down your search. Once you’ve got a shorter list, you’ll want to look at the website of possible vendors and search for trustworthy insights from analysts and software users.

While you may have a large number of options, pick out your critical factors. Know what you must have, and what you can compromise on. This information should help you narrow the list down quickly.

4. Keep your original requirements in mind.

What are you trying to solve for, again? In the email nurturing example, you might create a list of requirements (such as database or CRM integration, email and landing page creation, and so on) and then see how well each vendor can demonstrate their capability in these areas. You may want to create a formal scoring matrix to compare vendors and keep track of functionality for each requirement. Focus on the features that matter to you in order of priority.

5. Look beyond features.

If you find several products that meet your needs, it’s time to look at factors such as customer support, training, industry experience, underlying technology, and financial viability. Look at the training opportunities, service level agreements, and professional services available. Consider the company itself. Are they continuing to improve their product? What’s their churn rate?

You should also want to talk to references and look at case studies from relevant industries. If the vendor doesn’t have references or success stories from companies that are similar to yours, you might wonder whether they have the experience you need.

6. Plan ahead for deployment.

If you’ve planned out how you’re going to use the solution, you have a strong head start on planning for the training, program development, and process changes you‘ll need to get up and running. Sticking to these plans will ensure a smooth transition.

Some of the most common problems with implementing marketing solutions are centered on data quality and integration with other systems. If the marketing system is especially large or complex, you might want to consider a pilot project or phased deployment.

7. Define your long-range plan.

Most marketing programs rely on seamless connections across channels to deliver the best possible customer experiences. This means that marketing systems must be connected with each other, directly or through shared data, content, and decision platforms. Marketers and IT departments must work together to create a strategy to make sure that the technology supports their goals for all the departments involved.

8. Consider your organizational context.

As you go through the process of vendor selection, keep in mind the attributes of your own organization. Does your team include someone with experience with marketing automation technology? How open is your company to change? How successful have complex changes and technology adoption been in the past? What are some of the lessons learned that can be applied to your deployment?

Companies with limited experience using advanced technologies are likely to struggle with new marketing systems. You may need to proceed slowly and continually get buy-in across teams in order to have the best chance of success.

Finding solutions, assessing vendors, creating requirements, evaluating systems, and getting buy-in across the company can take time. Even well-organized companies that are open to change can be resistant to making a decision in the process of purchasing marketing automation technology. The risks of choosing an ill-fitting platform are great, but the rewards of finding the right solution are even greater. With the right plan in place, you’ll have the best chance of success.

About Lisa Cannon

Lisa Cannon is a senior writer with Act-On Software, Inc., a marketing automation provider for small and mid-size companies.

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