The following is a guest blog post by Jennifer Michelle, Founder of Michelle Marketing Strategies.
Preparation is Everything
If your company is venturing into the world of marketing automation, the first step is to make sure you are clear about what features you need and how you intend to use them. A little preparation before you start reviewing vendors can save you a lot of hassle – and a lot of money.
First and foremost, sit down and plot out your lead flows and your funnel. Think about how you reach out to people and what triggers you will use to shift people into different levels of nurture. Do this for all your audience segments, as well as all stages of your funnel.
Think also on how you want to notify your sales team about new leads or upsells. Are there specific triggers you will want to signal a transition from MQL (Marketing Qualified Lead) to SQL (Sales Qualified Lead)?
Then look at the bigger picture: what capabilities will you need beyond email automation and lead scoring? Do you need the ability to track marketing costs? Do you want to create reports on program outreach and success? Do you need help tracking search engine rank and links? Do you want to replace your CRM or integrate the one you currently have? Do you need web design or landing page design capabilities?
A Note about Demos
When you start scheduling demos, don’t get stuck considering only the big names, like Hubspot, Marketo or Pardot. These are all good products but, in the last couple of years, several new vendors have appeared on the scene that offer tremendous capabilities for far less money. Before you make any decisions, see demos of Drip, Active Campaign and SharpSpring, too.
To get the most out of your demos, include people from a variety of your teams. Including people from your IT and sales teams can bring in new perspectives and give you critical information before you have signed a contract.
Above all, ask a lot of questions. If they say they can do something, ask them to show you. This is especially important if you are switching vendors due to problems with your existing automation software. If that is the situation you are in, be clear about the problem you are experiencing and make sure they can show you exactly how their system can handle it.
What Do You Get?
Once you know what you need, find out what each vendor has to offer. Make sure they do full-on marketing automation and not just email automation. See how they structure funnels and workflows – does their approach make sense to you?
See if they sort leads via lists or tags. Does their system have the flexibility you are looking for?
Make sure they can create triggered campaigns (such as you would use when someone downloads a white paper) and scheduled/manual campaigns (such as newsletters or trade show invitations).
Find out if their emails, forms and landing pages are responsive. See if they offer reporting functions or financial tracking. Ask how their lead scoring system works. What options do you have for notifying your sales team of new leads or lead behaviors? Do they offer a shared calendar so your whole team can see what outreach is occurring?
If you are looking for a replacement for your website, does the vendor offer that? Do you like the way they set up blogging and web pages?
Consider also whether they give you data on web traffic or SEO. Do they integrate with Google Analytics? What about social media? Can they help you schedule posts or track visitors from your social media accounts?
Also check out their CRM features. Can they integrate with the one you have? Do they offer their own built-in CRM?
Look up online reviews and ask for customer references. These are a smart way to ensure you are getting full information on the product. These are also the best places to get information on customer service.
Ask about Service
No matter how great the features, it all gets thrown out the window if the customer service is awful. Find out what you get ahead of time, including whether there is a user community or knowledge base.
See if they will set up program templates for you or if they will work with you one-on-one while you learn. Find out what templates you get out-of-the-box and whether they can be branded. Do they offer templates for emails, landing pages, forms and workflows?
Great features mean nothing if the system is always down, so get clear data from the vendor on system uptime and email deliverability rates. Find out what kind of technical requirements are needed to run the product and integrate it with your website. See what kind of support the vendor provides if you are ever flagged for spam or blacklisted.
Price is always a big factor in the equation. Find out exactly what you are getting for your money. Some vendors offer a free trial or money-back guarantee, which is always a plus. Also consider how many users you get and what adding more would cost.
Ask if training and ongoing support are included. If not, what do they cost? Are they offering support by phone, email, chat or an online database? Are there obligatory launch or kickstarter fees?
See if programmatic support is billed differently from technical support. For instance, does your fee cover a question about why an email was not delivered but not cover a question on best practices in setting up a campaign?
Could you get what you want from a less-inclusive vendor if you supplement with less expensive apps? For instance, if a less expensive vendor has everything you need except landing page design, would it still save you money to get them plus LeadPages? If they don’t offer a shared calendar, can you make do with Google Calendar? If they don’t provide search engine optimization tracking, can you get what you need from Google Analytics?
As with any sale, you can often get a better deal if it is getting to the end of the quarter. If you are switching from a competing vendor, they may also be willing to cut you a deal. Above all, make sure you are protected from big increases when your first contract expires.
When shopping for marketing automation, due diligence is the key to a good outcome. Plot out what you need ahead of time and go into your demos prepared. Ask questions and be sure each vendor shows you exactly how their product works.
When you do all that, you are already 95% of the way to a successful implementation – so you can make your choice with confidence!
New to marketing automation? Let Michelle Marketing Strategies conduct a thorough assessment of your needs and help you select the right marketing automation vendor for your company. Campaign, lead scoring and reporting help is also available.