7 Considerations in Selecting a Marketing Automation System
Written by DG Report
Wednesday, 23 March 2011 08:49
By David M. Raab, Principal, Raab Associates
The following are some things to consider:
1. Scope of features
2. Integration capabilities
4. Training and support
5. Partner network
6. Thought leadership
It’s almost a cliché that today’s buyers can gather product information for themselves. No one has taken this to heart more than marketing automation vendors, which publish mountains of information on their own web sites and subsidize distribution of still more by third parties. But even the most complete information and insightful analysis can’t accurately predict the future. Since the future is when you’ll use any marketing automation system you buy today, that’s a problem.
Of course, all purchases are used in the future. But it’s not hard to predict what you’ll want in two years from an accounting system or even sales automation. Marketing is different. Many companies have too little experience with marketing automation to know how they’ll use it. And marketing itself is evolving at such a head spinning pace that no one knows what techniques will be essential tomorrow. What we do know is we’ll be very sad indeed if our shiny new marketing automation system can’t support them.
This future vagueness has concrete implications for selecting systems. The fundamental best practice for choosing any software is to define your requirements and find a system that meets them. In marketing automation, that means identifying the types of marketing programs you want to run and figuring out what you need to execute them. You can then build a features checklist and vendor evaluation scorecard and start mining the mountain of information on the web.
But defining your planned programs and their requirements isn’t enough. You also have to recognize that you’ll want other programs you haven’t yet imagined. Your selection requirements have to accommodate that as well. The following are some things to consider:
1. Scope of features. Even if you don’t plan to do something today, you may want it tomorrow. Systems that can do more things have a higher chance of doing the things you’ll want. It’s simple mathematics.
2. Integration capabilities. No matter how powerful your system is, somebody will invent something it can’t do. In fact, they’ve probably invented it already. You need to find a system that can easily integrate with whatever new product-medium-data-process-network comes along. This means looking under the hood at techie stuff like data structures and Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). If you don’t know what to look for, get help from someone who does. Would you buy a house without a home inspection?
3. Usability. You can’t judge how easy it is to use a feature that doesn’t exist. But if the current features are hard to learn and use, then the new ones probably will be, too. Usability becomes increasingly important as you add more tasks – if each task is hard, you won’t have time for new ones. But be careful: a system that does simple things easily but can’t extend them will quickly become a problem. So look at how systems handle something complicated before you make a judgment.
4. Training and support. Like usability, this is about how easy the vendor makes it to do new things. Again, you don’t know exactly what you’ll need to trained to do, but you want a vendor that has demonstrated its willingness and ability to support its clients. This is a matter of company culture, which changes more slowly than anything.
5. Partner network. Partners are an important supplement to the vendor’s own resources for helping clients. They’re also knowledgeable buyers, so a strong partner network is an informed vote of confidence in the vendor’s future.
6. Thought leadership. Vendors with a clearer vision of the future have a better chance of adding features their clients will need. But I wouldn’t weigh this one too heavily: while the general direction of the industry is clear to everyone (more data, tighter targeting, cross-channel integration, buyer control), nobody can predict the precise details. So what you really want is a solid foundation that can support whatever you need to build on top.
7. Stability. This is often misinterpreted to mean you should buy only from a big company. Not at all. What you want is a company that can continue to support its clients and enhance its product. Resources to do this could come from high revenues, high profits on lower revenues or outside funding. It’s true that the marketing automation industry today has a large number of small competitors, and some consolidation is inevitable. But small players can survive if they pick the right niche and serve it well. Also bear in mind that a successful company may be acquired, which causes its own disruptions, and that today’s technologies let vendors add features without necessarily making a huge investment. So you’ll want to look at a combination of factors, including revenue, profits, funding, ownership and history of keeping up with the industry.
Nothing can guarantee the success of your marketing automation project – not even following my advice. But building these factors into your decision can tilt the odds in your favor. That’s enough to justify the effort.
David M. Raab is a consultant specializing in marketing technology selection and marketing analysis. His firm publishes the B2B Marketing Automation Vendor Selection Tool (VEST), a detailed analysis of 18 industry vendors based on nearly 200 data points. For more information, see www.raabguide.com. Raab also blogs extensively on industry issues at Customer Experience Matrix.