Choice can be a beautiful, and yet paralyzing, luxury—especially when it comes to a big decision like choosing a marketing automation system.
I’ve evaluated many of the major solutions, and have overseen two digital marketing automation implementations in the past three years. But what I understand now as a marketing automation advocate is this: the most important factors have less to do with the solution itself, and everything to do with your business and digital marketing strategy.
I recently hosted a webinar on the 5 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Bought Marketing Automation. Here are the top five lessons I learned along the way:
1) It's About the Business First (the Technology is Second)
It's easy to get wooed by all the bells and whistles offered by top marketing automation technologies, but it's important to think about the business first and foremost. Does the platform fit your company's culture, brand, and core values? Will it align with your team's goals and objectives? With our first implementation, my team ended up with a behemoth system that overcomplicated our relatively simple goals of generating more leads and providing increased transparency between Sales and Marketing.
Because most digital marketing automation RFPs and assessments only cover very technical criteria, it's easy to overlook these vital business alignment aspects. So, be sure to ask yourself this: Does the system match my company’s culture, strategies and goals, core values, and brand attributes? Have vendors explain what values and attributes guide their solution.
Lesson Learned: Use a business alignment checklist to compare your business values to the tool’s characteristics. Here’s one I mocked up:
2) Technology is a Tool, Marketing is a Mindset
Focus first on your digital marketing strategy, and second on how technology enables it. In other words, stay true to your inner marketing goddess! I wish I would have kept Peter Drucker's sound marketing principles at the core of my evaluation. These include:
- Content: compelling offers should drive your marketing automation programs, not the other way around.
- Creativity: Look for a user-friendly, fun system that combines the art (content, personas, visual design, branding) AND science (technology, testing, reporting/analytics, SEO) of marketing.
- Personas: Know your buyers inside and out. Personas, lifecycle stages and segmentation should be baked into the tool that you choose.
- Always be Helping: We all know the Sales mantra "Always be Closing," but in this customer-driven digital economy, helping is the new closing. Your tool should help educate buyers based on what they want to know and have shown an interest in.
Lesson Learned: Keep core marketing fundamentals at the forefront at all times.
3) Not All Platforms Are Created Equal
I wish I hadn’t listened to all of the voices that said, “marketing automation systems all pretty much do the same thing.” There are MAJOR differences between platforms!
The first system I selected and deployed was more focused on outbound marketing, which was great, but I soon realized it was only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to automation. The second time around, I selected a system that could serve as a hub for a more diverse range of multi-channel, integrated approaches to automation. These two systems are extremely different!
There were a lot more options on the market by the time I got to my second vendor selection process, and I believe that over the next few years, systems will get even more integrated and offer more full-service capability. But since there’s not yet one full-service system that will allow you to do everything, it’s important to closely catalog the differences. Major ones to look for include:
- Inbound vs. Outbound approaches
- SEO tracking capability
- Social media integration
- Reporting features
- CRM integration
- Mobile friendliness
Lesson Learned: Challenge the status quo!
4) Loveable Imperfection Rules
As I’ve blogged about before, it’s time for marketers to stop priding themselves on being perfectionists and start embracing a more agile, adaptive approach to achieving goals. Learn from failure, test everything, and stay flexible enough to respond to market demands. My team and I used to spend endless time analyzing and perfecting every aspect of an email campaign before launching it—resulting in very few campaigns going out to very small segments of our database. Once we let go of assessing and perfecting every inch of the campaign, we were able to scale faster, reach more prospects, and drive more leads to Sales.
Lesson Learned: Look for a tool that’s forgiving enough to fit this model, while allowing you to quickly test, iterate, and continuously improve.
5) It Takes a Village
Marketing automation implementations are not just about installing new technology. With any new system comes a major change management process; everyone from Sales and Consulting/Product Development/Delivery to C-suite executives and Operations should be involved. Your new tool will help break down internal barriers and become more transparent than ever—a model that’s consistent with the recent Agile Marketing craze.
Once you’ve chosen a marketing automation system, talk about your successes and your failures with other departments so that they feel like a part of the process. Ask for their advice and insight; train and educate them; and meet regularly to keep tabs on adoption.
Lesson Learned: Embrace a, “One team, One dream” philosophy.