Digital media has opened up a world of exciting new (and seemingly endless) opportunities for marketers.

You can reach new customers at minimal costs in distant locations through social media and hyper-targeted PPC campaigns. You can achieve unprecedented engagement with prospects and increase customer loyalty and advocacy by publishing and promoting content that reflects your unique position in the market. We’re buzzing just thinking about the possibilities…

There’s only one problem: all these relatively new tactics also require adequate tools to manage, monitor, maintain and report on your activities. Enter marketing automation technology.

Marketing automation software has long been hailed as the solution that will finally enable you to make sense of all your digital marketing activity, tell you through which channel you’ve acquired most of your customers and, last but not least, let you easily manage and optimise your content. Makes you want to sign up straight away, right?

Unfortunately, not all marketing automation software is created equal and in an industry full of confusing acronyms and shiny demos, how does one know how to choose marketing automation software that is right for your business?

That’s why we’ve pulled together the following 5 things you absolutely need to know before investing in one.

 Functionalities: understand what you need from your marketing automation software

Before you start sending demo requests to figure out how to choose marketing automation software providers, you need to get a clear understanding of the functionalities you expect from the software. This step will enable you to ask more strategic questions in your sales meetings with the vendors and you get a clearer view on how the softwares compare in the context of your specific requirements.

For instance, if you only need to be able to set up a simple landing page, newsletter subscription and emails to a fairly small database, then a simple, low-cost solution might be enough. However, if you have a large database that requires sophisticated segmentation, smart content, lead nurturing and granular reporting including original lead source, you will need a more powerful tool that either lets you manage all your marketing activity in one place or allows for seamless integration with your other systems.

Pull together all your functional requirements in a simple table where you can check things off and make notes during your demos. It will make it much easier to remember which software you liked best and remain mindful of any watch-outs you may have noticed.

Demos: get the right people in the room

A marketing automation demo is not a one (wo)man job. Many people in your business will be impacted by the decision so you need to give them the opportunity to have a say in it. And when we say the right people, we don’t just mean the guys who will sign the contract – we mean the team members who actually have to use the software on a daily basis.

Invite your social media manager, your content manager and at least one other technical implementer (e.g. the person in charge of CRM integration) to the demo. These people have a much better understanding of what they will need to get out of the system and are acutely aware of any pain points they are experiencing with existing technology.

Questions: don’t be afraid to ask until you’re 100% satisfied

It’s easy to feel bamboozled by the sheer amount of features (and sadly often a lot of jargon) that will be presented to you in the sales process. Don’t let that deter you from asking questions until you’re 100% satisfied that you’ve understood the answer and the implications for your business. If you get the sense that the sales rep is being evasive, come back to the question later.

Remember: you’re entering into a long term partnership with a technology vendor. If you aren’t getting clear answers in the sales process, just imagine what the tech support will be like.

Resources: be sure you have capacity to manage all aspects of the software

Implementing, managing and maintaining all aspects of a marketing automation software can take a significant amount of resources. While there will be a learning curve with any new tool you implement, marketing automation systems vary greatly in the amount of technical skills required to run them.

Ask solution providers straight up what skills will be required to implement and maintain the software (e.g. coding abilities, Google URL tracking etc.), as well as the weekly time commitment recommended to increase the chance of success. If you don’t think you can manage everything on your own, you may want to consider a retainer agreement with a marketing agency to support your team.

‘Cheap’ solutions: beware of the hidden costs

When you’re getting a quote from a few marketing automation solution providers, do make sure that all your required functionalities are included in the quote.

Some vendors may seem cheap at first, but only give you some of the tools that you’ve seen in the demo. You may have to pay extra to get access to the social media publishing app or have to upgrade to a more expensive package to unleash the full power of its reporting capability. Checking your functionality requirements against the fine print in the quote will protect you from hidden costs – and from a lot of frustration and strains in the relationship with your solution provider.

A final word
Understanding how to choose marketing automation software is an important and far-reaching decision for your business. If in doubt, ask other people in your network about their experience with different softwares to get a more independent perspective. After all, there’s nothing more powerful than a user review.

Brand chemistry is a b2b marketing agency winning your customers' hearts and minds through inbound, brand, content, lead generation and digital strategy. Our marketing specialists achieve stellar results with the latest lead generation techniques.

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