By Ashley Lesperance

You’re on the hunt for a marketing automation tool?

Great! Not only have you made a fantastic decision for your business, but you’ve come to the right place for guidance through the process.

There are a number of options for automating the repetitive tasks that are involved in developing marketing campaigns and carrying out sales activities to both increase revenue and maximize efficiency, but it can be challenging to choose the marketing automation tools that are right for your business.

Marketing automation tools, such as Marketo, Eloqua, HubSpot, Pardot, and Act-On, are all powerful support systems, but ultimately, choosing an automation tool comes down to what are the must-have elements for your business goals? Integration with a CRM? Native social media management? What else?

We encourage you to utilize platforms like G2 Crowd, TrustRadius, Capterra, and/or Software Insider to see what others are saying and compare the various features by doing product comparisons—but once you’re at the decision-making stage, you need to do more in-depth Q&A. 

Make sure you’re asking each vendor the same questions so you can later come back with an apples-to-apples comparison of all of the automation tools—take a look at our suggestions below before you invest in a brand-new marketing technology:

1. What sort of CRM integrations do you provide?

Unless your sales team and your marketing teams like operating in silos, the last thing you want is two sets of databases that do not integrate with one another.

If you use Salesforce or another CRM platform, you’ll want your marketing automation tool to seamlessly integrate with that platform, so be sure to ask about the specific CRM features available to determine if they will be right for your business.

2. Does the platform offer any additional integrations?

Integrations don’t stop with CRM. You’ll want to know how else these marketing automation platforms can integrate with other areas of your business.

For example, do you use GoToWebinar, SurveyMonkey, Shopify, WordPress, Zapier? Ask if these integrations are available and be prepared to decide what tools absolutely must integrate and what tools you can live without.

3. How does data flow in and out of the platform?

Programs integrating is completely meaningless if you can’t get a holistic picture of your combined data to inform decision-making.

For example, you’ll want to be able to combine data from systems dedicated to CRM, SEO, CMS, and ERP in an easily accessible way via application program interfaces (APIs) or scheduled exports in common formats (such as .xls).
Which marketing automation software is right for you? Check out The Ultimate  Guide to Marketing Automation, for an in-depth comparison of today's top three  industry leaders.

4. How customizable is the reporting module?

Believe it or not, weak reporting is still the Achilles heel of many otherwise great platforms—and being able to drill down data and export custom reports may be difficult to do.

Get into the nitty-gritty of just how far you can parcel data to get the reports that you need.

5. Can the platform measure success?

If your middle name isn’t Tracking, Reporting, or ROI, it should be because these are the measures of success for any—and we many any—marketing campaign. Your marketing automation tool should absolutely, without a doubt, be able to track, report, and measure your return on investment (ROI).

The days of measuring success by increased or decreased revenue are long gone. You’ll need to dig deeper. Perhaps revenue has increased—but which parameter of your marketing efforts had the biggest effect, and which had the least?

Effective marketing automation tools will have flexible, customizable dashboards and reports that will easily give you this information. Ask about what metrics they measure and be prepared with a list of what metrics you need and what you can live without.

6. Is migration from an old platform possible?

If you already have a marketing automation platform and are simply looking to upgrade, make sure to ask the new vendor about their migration plan and whether or not they have done a migration from your current system before.

You’ll want to have a clear understanding of what resources will be required (and at what additional cost) to ensure a successful migration. Also, pay attention to how many questions they ask about your specific setup. The right vendor will ask a lot of questions to ensure a successful migration.

Helpful Hint: Make sure to include your IT department, sales operations, and marketing department in this conversation. Their input will ensure you find the right platform to meet departmental goals.

7. How much money will the new system cost?

It’s easy for any vendor to throw out a price: $4,000 a year or $350 a month. But what about the hidden costs? These can include costs associated with overages, training, and implementation.

Be sure to get the full picture when vetting multiple vendors.

8. Does the vendor provide support?

It may seem like common sense that a new marketing automation provider would automatically include support with their services, but that’s not always the case. The last thing you want is a generic email address or 1-800 number to call if you run into problems. Be clear on what type of support the vendor provides. Ask specifically about telephone support—what hours they are available and any additional cost for utilizing those services.

Bonus: "In The Weeds" Questions

While we've gone a little in-depth on the highlights to ask as you're vetting multiple vendors, here are some others to put on your list to dive a little deeper as you've narrowed your choices:

  • What are three things that existing customers have asked for but the current platform doesn’t offer? Are those features on the roadmap for future versions? (If not, why not?)
  • What can the platform not do?
  • Does the platform offer email and landing page builders? If so, how flexible are they? Is HTML coding required?
  • Are there limits on the amount of data that can be stored, emails sent, forms created, rules built? If so, what are the costs associated with upgrades?
  • Does the platform offer a free (full) trial? What are the terms of use?
  • Is a contract required? What are the parameters of the contract? Month-to-month? Annual? Biannual?
  • What are the system’s security features? How does the platform protect data?
  • Does the platform allow us to easily add and remove users?
  • How long will it take to implement the new system?
  • Does the platform allow us to manage the full customer lifecycle (from unknown prospects to brand-loyal customers)? Or is it limited to only leads and prospects?
  • Is the platform optimized for mobile usage? 
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Comparing the three top industry leaders:

The Ultimate Guide to Marketing Automation Software

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Ashley Lesperance

About the author

Ashley Lesperance is a Business Development Representative at SmartBug Media. She has a unique background in nonprofit work, education access, business development and most recently, sales. She's passionate about connecting with businesses and individuals to help them identify what resources can help them achieve their goals. Outside of work, Ashley enjoys spending time with her partner and their two cats, Batman and Elbert, as well as traveling whenever possible, tracking down the best cocktail in town, soaking up any moment of sunshine, and listening to true crime podcasts. Read more articles by Ashley Lesperance.

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