Hollinden Inbound Marketing for Professional Service Firms

Selecting the Right Marketing Automation System for Your Firm


In last month’s edition of Marketing Straight Talk, we reviewed how technology has helped marketing evolve and what part marketing automation has to play in that evolution.

Are You Ready for Marketing Automation?

Marketing automation is an investment, and you must assess your firm’s capabilities and goals to determine if you are ready to take the next step. Consider the following:

  • Have you outgrown your current emarketing system?
  • Do your firm’s leads require nurturing?
  • Are you currently implementing multiple client/prospect touch-points (newsletters, webinars, announcements, etc.)?
  • Are you targeting a sophisticated audience that requires content before engagement?
  • Do you currently produce or plan to produce more personalized content for your prospects?
  • Do you need more insight into the exact value of your marketing programs?
  • Is your firm data driven?

If you answered yes to these questions, then marketing automation is something for consideration.

Marketing Automation Considerations

When deploying the marketing automation tool most appropriate for your firm, you will experience a seamless lead generation and management tool for higher lead conversions and more qualified leads, optimized channels that engage prospects and improve communication, in-depth insight to data and analytics, the ability to track ROI from campaign to revenue, and a marketing system that support business goals. When selecting a marketing automation system, you must consider various items to determine the right fit for your firm.

1. Start with Goals. 

What are your firm’s goals for this year? Five years from now? Ten years from now? What steps will it take to get there? Think in terms of revenue, as well as service line and geographic expansion.

What are the goals for the marketing automation system? What do you want it to do? Are you looking to improve the quality of leads? Number of leads? Do you want to improve visibility? Educate prospects? Nurture prospects? From there, determine what kind of marketing automation toolset you need. Marketing automation is not a one-size fits all solution – you must find the right fit.

2. Map the Prospect Journey. 

During this step, you want to think about how a prospect decides to hire a firm like yours. What type of information do they seek during each phase of the process? What content do you have to share to demonstrate your firm’s expertise or uniqueness? Content drives marketing automation. Consider the type of content needed and the resources you will need to produce both the type and quantity of content necessary.

3. Consider Internal Resources. 

Do you have the team internally to manage a marketing automation tool or will you need to outsource? To get the most from a marketing automation tool, the people implementing the system need a certain degree of knowledge, training, expertise, and ability to execute. Remember, marketing automation tools are considerably more complex (when implemented properly) than an email marketing system.

Consider how your current teams operate. If they are in silos, you’ll need to improve cooperation to develop communications between departments on execution of marketing tactics and lead qualification. Consistent communication helps the transition to marketing automation be successful.

Before making any decision, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do we have the internal skill set and staff necessary to bring this in-house?
  • Will this be added to someone’s current list of duties?
  • If so, how much time will they have to allocate to marketing automation?
  • Who will be using the system once it is adopted?
  • Who will take the lead on the selection process, integration and implementation?

4. Identify your Current Marketing Systems.

  • What CRM do you have? Is there a native integration with the marketing automation tool? Will you need API? Or, will it require custom programming or a change in CRMs to integrate the two systems?
  • Do you use a webinar platform? If so, what platform? Do you have access to the native code? (All marketing automation tools require a small piece of code be integrated into the website’s code.)
  • What social media channels are you currently using?
  • Do you use URL shorteners?
  • How do you measure web analytics?
  • Are you using an email marketing system with historic data? Does that system give you the opportunity to extract that data for future comparison?
  • Are you currently running a Google Ad Words campaign?
  • What blogging platform do you have?
  • Do you have Google Analytics?

Examine the marketing automation systems under consideration. Which ones include native integration with the systems you currently use? This is an important consideration. Certain software include native integration or automated connectors, which allow the different systems (say your CRM and the marketing automation tool) to share information automatically. Other automation tools require the use of an API tool (which may or may not require programming), while others require the user to manually push or pull data between the systems.

5. Consider Sophistication Levels.

When selecting the tools, consider the level of sophistication needed for your marketing efforts. As you go along the continuum from basic to a high-level enterprise system, features get more robust and more complex.

If you are simply looking to replace individual, disparate tools so that your data and processes are on one dashboard, a basic marketing automation tool should suffice. However, if you have a more sophisticated organization with the ability to create engaging content consistently, then a more intermediate level of automation should be appropriate. Enterprise level options include a more complex capability to score leads, fully-integrated automation, high-level A/B testing, and offer behavior-based campaign creation. However, the higher the level of sophistication, the more expertise and resources required to have a successful implementation of the product.

If the plan is to implement the system using in-house resources, ease-of-use is a critical element in the decisionmaking process. Read reviews on the different systems and collect detailed research before diving into software. Be sure to set up a demo to help make relevant comparisons of the tool. Be sure the vendor understands all of your business and marketing needs. Have them demonstrate your “must have” features. Have a sample campaign and have them walk you through the process to understand how many steps each element of a campaign would require and how information would get shared between systems.

Important questions to ask include:

  • What is the on-boarding process?
  • How long does implementation take?
  • How easy is the system to use? Does it require extensive training?
  • How many steps does it take to create the necessary campaigns you will be implementing?
  • Do they have a support team or dedicated account rep to answer any of your questions during and after implementation? (or, will they refer you to video ‘how-to’s?)
  • How many steps does it take to create an email campaign?
  • How easy is it to import a list?
  • How easy is it to create a new landing page? Will it require technical or design expertise?
  • Can a non-technical user customize content for landing pages, forms and follow-up processes?
  • Can a non-designer create, export and A/B test call to action buttons?

Once all of these questions have been answered, keep a sheet of all the pros and cons.

And, remember that if you are speaking to a sales rep – they are in the business of selling their software. It’s vital to have a list of pre-defined requirements in order to get an accurate understanding of the software.

6. Implementation Timeline. 

All of the steps mentioned above will help give you an idea of what you need, the time commitment, and the steps needed to implement the automation software. Create a timeline for yourself and make sure that the tool you choose can fit into the timeline you created.

When creating your timeline be sure to include time for the pre-selection process. Identify how long you will research the products, how many demos you would like to see, and give yourself time to negotiate with the selected vendor.

Think about when you would like to be fully implemented and work backwards. Consider your current systems and the changes you may make. Be sure to include time to implement new marketing systems (such as CRM or webinar platform), as well as time to develop any content. Build in time for training, as well.

Your timeline is not only necessary for your own reference, but will give you a feel for whether or not the various vendors can meet your timeline and if not, where to adjust.

7. Consider the Costs. 

Are you looking for basic or enterprise? What is your budget? Be sure to compare prices based on the additional tools available on each platform. Is there room for negotiation? Be sure to check references and negotiate a contract. Ask what kind of additional fees might come up. Are there additional charges for custom designs? Are there partner organizations available to install or integrate the platform, and if so what is the cost? Is API included or additional? How many contacts are included with the contract? What happens is you exceed the number of contacts? What is the additional cost per thousand for contacts? What constitutes a contact? Is A/B testing included? Is training an additional cost? And, the most important question of all: what is not included? Obtain all these answers up front, and have it documented.

Marketing automation has the power to generate more qualified leads and higher lead conversions, if implemented well. However, marketing automation is not a one-size-fits. The decision process can be as complex as the tool itself. More than 60% of all companies using marketing automation outsource all or part of the marketing automation strategy work. Everyone loves the idea of marketing automation, but it takes a tremendous amount of strategy, time, resources, and content to get the most benefit instead of just an expensive email marketing system