Purchasing a Marketing Automation System

If you need help purchasing a marketing automation system, you've come to the right place. Here are the ten most important things to consider before you buy marketing automation software:

  1. Business Goals and Marketing Goals
  2. Problem Definition
  3. Procurement Team and Process
  4. Requirements and Selection Criteria
  5. Integrations
  6. Personnel and Effort
  7. Vendor Selection Process
  8. Ongoing Use of Your Marketing Automation System
  9. Crawl, Walk, Run Approach
  10. Your Marketing Automation Partner

1. Business Goals and Marketing Goals

You'd be surprised how many organizations jump to purchase a marketing automation system without first having a well-defined business plan and marketing plan. There's simply a sense that buying a marketing automation system will make the organization more successful, so everyone rushes to purchase a system.

But to get the most out of procuring marketing automation solutions, you need of course to know what you are trying to accomplish.

Those in charge of procuring the system should be able to articulate the vison for the organization, the high-level business strategy, the top three business goals for the year, three or four key drivers or levers that advance those business goals, the failure points that could prevent the goals from being accomplished, the top five marketing goals for the organization, and, last but not least, the half dozen or so marketing campaigns that the company will run to meet its marketing goals.

If you don't have those things documented in a one-pager, we'd argue that you're getting ahead of yourself if you are rushing to buy a marketing automation solution.

Remember that the system is a means to an end. If you don't think through what you are trying to accomplish, then you're likely to buy the wrong marketing automation platform. Alternatively, you might get lucky and buy the right one but never get the ROI you had hoped for. Long story short, always start with your goals.

2. Problem Definition

With a deep understanding of your business goals and marketing goals, you're now able to do gap analysis and make sure that purchasing a marketing automation system is the right thing to do.

Start with what your problems are. What's not happening that you'd like to see happening? What's going horribly wrong that you'd like to fix?

For example, maybe you're on the verge of missing your quarterly numbers, potentially jeopardizing financial analyst recommendations, your stock market price, your next funding round or the possibility of your going to market for an exit.

In that case, buying a marketing automation system is likely not the right move, and we'd instead recommend some fast-return marketing programs that generate leads in a hurry.

We've got marketing playbooks for the most common business problems and marketing challenges. While we are big believers in marketing automation and provide a wide array of marketing automation consulting services to our clients, automation is not always the right thing to do first. Defining the most important problems you are trying to solve gives you clarity on the optimal timing for buying a marketing automation system.

3. Procurement Team and Process

If your marketing automation procurement team doesn't have an executive champion and a steering committee with representation from Marketing, Sales, Sales Operations and your Business Units, then it's time to slow down to move faster.

The more powerful marketing automation solutions (e.g. Adobe Marketo, Salesforce Pardot, Salesforce Marketing Cloud and Hubspot) tend to touch a lot of departments and often require significant adjustments to workflows, processes and performance reporting.

Given the scope of the impact, it's unwise for Marketing to just go out and buy a marketing automation package without first getting all the right people involved, with buy-in and a clear sense of what the collective group wants to accomplish.

The bottomline? Before you get too far along, make sure you've identified key stakeholders, gotten the right people on your marketing automation procurement team and defined the process for moving forward.

4. Requirements and Selection Criteria

At this point, you've got the right people on the buying team and are thinking about your purchase in terms of your top business and marketing goals, as well as key organizational problems that you are trying to overcome.

The next step is to define your marketing automation system requirements and provide weightings to all your selection criteria. What features do you need? What's most important? What's just a nice-to-have feature that wouldn't be a deal breaker?

We've got lists of selection criteria for marketing automation solutions that can get you started. What you want to avoid is talking to vendors and having them decide your criteria for you or convince you that certain criteria are more important than others. Create your list independent of in-depth vendor discussions and have it finalized before you start talking to vendors and before you go through any product demos.

5. Integrations

We've talked above about the importance of defining requirements for a marketing automation system, but don't forget to think through your integration requirements.

The key to digital transformation success for Marketing departments often isn't driven by the software you buy but rather by how you integrate your various software solutions together to create a high-performing marketing system.

What other systems will need to be integrated with your marketing automation system? Common marketing automation integrations include connecting the platform to your CRM (usually Salesforce for our B2B clients), event and webinar software, video marketing solutions, revenue attribution systems, analytics software and many more.

Before buying a marketing automation solution, make sure you've clearly defined where what you are about to buy fits into your larger martech stack and make sure your requirements document includes a detailed set of requirements for the needed integrations between your various martech stack components.

6. Personnel and Effort

It's at least a full-time job to oversee a marketing automation solution. Don't believe a vendor who tells you otherwise.

Before you buy, make sure you've got a staffing plan. First and foremost, you'll want to avoid a putting a newbie in charge of marketing automation. This is a profession unto itself and we recommend you hire somebody who is deeply experienced and who has all the relevant certifications in marketing automation.

If you don't have the right person in charge, you're almost guaranteed to end up with a messed-up marketing automation instance with bad data and duplicate records, and you certainly won't get the business results and ROI you planned on.

It's also critically important to think through the effort and workload that will be required for everything from procurement to onboarding to ongoing execution and optimization.

Mind you, you can always use outsourced marketing automation assistance to help get the job done, but you'd be wise to invest in a really good in-house marketing automation expert to oversee anything and everything related to automation.

7. Vendor Selection Process

It's tempting to limit your search to the top marketing automation solutions: Adobe Marketo, Hubspot, Salesforce Pardot, Salesforce Marketing Cloud, and the like.

Those solutions should all be in the mix, but, depending on your requirements, you may want to consider other packages as well. For example, if improving sales team engagement with prospects is your top priority, you might consider Outreach.io. There are many excellent marketing automation solutions that are not considered to be in the top five but that are perfectly fine for many companies and that don't cost as much.

Ideally, you'll evaluate six to eight marketing automation vendors. Judge them against your selection criteria and see who comes out on top. Make sure you are objective during this process.

Personal rapport with a sales rep should not come into play. Slick demos should be viewed with skepticism. It's important to get reps off their sales script and have them go through your use cases. The sales rep will make everything look easy, so when you get down to a few finalists, ask them to set up a sandbox instance where you can use the system on your own and walk through your own use cases.

Given our all-in-one background as a Marketo agency, Pardot agency and Hubspot agency, we are uniquely positioned to help you evaluate those top-tier solutions. But we also can objectively help you evaluate any of the many other marketing automation solution providers that may be a good fit for you.

8. Ongoing Use of Your Marketing Automation System

As part of purchasing a marketing automation system, make sure you have a plan for how you will use it during the first year. What audiences will you market to? Why? How? When? Are your contact lists in good shape?

By defining your marketing automation strategy and first-year campaign plans, you'll force yourself to think through your requirements definition and your criteria weightings in a non-theoretical manner.

We are slightly biased but we strongly recommend using a consultant to help with setting up your marketing automation platform, as well as an annual marketing automation system audit by a qualified marketing automation agency.

Budget for it because, as anyone who have ever managed a marketing automation platform will tell you, taking good care of your marketing solution and the underlying data is extremely important.

9. Crawl, Walk, Run

As you've likely realized, buying a marketing automation system is a massive project unto itself. It begs the question: is this the right thing for you to be focused on today?

For example, if you have no experience with email marketing, it might make sense to start with something simple like MailChimp. Craft messages for your audiences and see how they respond. Learn whether your website can convert visitors. Assess whether you have the content for every engagement scenario you care about.

If you haven't got these basics down, you're trying to automate a mess. The automation project will just distract you from the fundamentals.

Mind you, if you try to run before you crawl or walk, you'll be in good company. Many Fortune 500 organizations have plunged into marketing automation only to subsequently realize that they were not ready to put the tech to good use. It's not a best practice but we applaud the desire to move fast.

10. Your Marketing Automation Partner

The first step in your marketing automation journey isn't buying the right solution. It's finding the right partner to guide you through the process.

Choosing the right marketing automation agency is a separate procurement process, with its own set of criteria. You deserve the best and don't settle for less.

When you get to that point, we'd love to be on your short list. We've got a very talented team of experts and a range of battle-tested marketing automation service offerings that can help ensure your success.

Please get in touch if you need help buying your marketing automation solution and working through the procurement steps we've outlined above. Good luck!