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Five must-have features in a marketing automation platform

If you're buying an enterprise marketing automation platform, which features are must-haves? We look at five key areas, including multichannel marketing, lead management and more.

For companies on the hunt for new marketing software, there are plenty of options in the marketing automation platform...

marketplace. Several technologies are available to help companies craft email campaigns, automate messaging, gain insight into prospects, manage leads, cultivate a social presence and measure social activity.

But not every enterprise marketing platform interacts with customers and prospects and then funnels and digests those interactions equally well. If you're seeking an enterprise marketing automation platform, here is a comprehensive list of features you should look for before signing on the dotted line. We've broken marketing automation features into five key areas, with clusters of features outlined.

  1. Multichannel marketing automation. Multichannel marketing as a whole is critical for companies that want to be able to interact with customers regardless of the channel they use -- whether it's email, text messaging, social media, live chat or otherwise.

    Email distribution. This feature enables marketers to create and manage automated email campaigns. Messages can be tailored to customer segments, and the lead responses can trigger subsequent events in the marketing or sales process.

    Integration with offline and online channels. Several marketing automation systems include integration with offline campaigns and channels, such as broadcasting, direct mail or call center surveys. This provides a broader view so marketers can evalute how campaigns fare with each lead segment. Online and offline campaign integration is also critical to provide a more comprehensive picture of prospect behavior. This also requires integration with new channels, such as social media, text messaging and live chat.

    CRM software integration. Most systems include built-in integrations to so that campaign and prospect data can be shared with a CRM system. Lead notifications, for example, can be sent directly to a sales rep's CRM system so that alerts appear natively in the application that a rep uses daily.

    Real-time alerts. Alerts indicate to sales reps the changing readiness of potential buyers. They can also indicate which campaigns are generating positive or negative responses, enabling quick changes to underperforming campaigns.

  2. Lead management and scoring. Tools that perform lead scoring enable marketers to apply values to different prospects according to their readiness to buy and to apply sales efforts to the most promising leads. When a lead enters the marketing automation platform, it receives a score based on activities -- browsing behavior, email clicks and so forth. Lead scoring enables better communication between marketing and sales and an automated communication thread: When a lead score reaches a threshold value, the lead is considered sales-ready and is automatically forwarded to a sales rep for immediate follow-up.

    Lead segmentation. Segmentation helps carve up your prospects and assign leads to groups with common characteristics, including customer demographics and buying behavior.

    Campaign nurturing. Most leads need to be nurtured before they are ready to make a purchase, and a marketing automation system needs automated methods for cultivating these leads. Nurture marketing campaigns allow marketers to create content distribution  based on buyer profiles andd to send messages to prompt leads at the right times. Nurture campaigns also use lead scoring to identify leads that are closer to buying. 

    Membership management. This feature provides login credentials for customers and prospects so they can manage their email preferences and contact data after they have been submitted to your CRM or marketing system. Customers and prospects sign up so they can receive news about your company's products and services, and granting them the means to update their own information prevents losing customers who want self-service options to manage their accounts or incurring the cost of poor data or duplicate records for the same customer or prospect.

    Not every enterprise marketing platform interacts with customers and funnels those interactions equally well.
  3. Content marketing and management tools. These tools enable you to create content and reuse it in multiple campaigns or different channels. They also help create landing pages for website visitors who arrive at your site and help you customize and personalize content to various segments of your audience or prospects.

    Content creation and inbound marketing tools. Companies now need resources to create compelling content that can drive visitors to their website or to click on email messages and, possibly, take action that results in a purchase. Known as inbound marketing, this form of marketing campaign requires compelling, personalized content that engages readers.

    Website activity tracking. Browser cookies and tracking technology can identify visitors to your company website, correlate browsing behavior to past visits, and flag actions as triggers for sales. Many applications deliver real-time alerts to sales reps when a lead, prospect or customer visits the website.

    Landing page management. A good marketing automation application enables marketing staff to create and modify landing pages and conduct A/B or multivariate testing to determine how changes to messages affect conversion rates.

    Analytics for campaigns. Also crucial are built-in analytics technologies that enable you to evaluate the success of your campaigns in email, on the Web or in other channels. Analyzing various campaigns and the ability to look at them in tandem is also important.

  4. Social media management tools. With social media management and monitoring tools, you can gauge the comments that customers and prospects make about your company, products and services, and ingest that data into your marketing automation platform and CRM system. You also can target customized content, schedule automated social sharing and incorporate response data back into your systems.

    Social media analytics. Analytics is also critical for social media interactions to measure how customers and prospects discuss your company and its products, how they interact with your email messaging and content on your website, and to understand their customer journeys.

    Forms and survey tools. These tools allow prospects to submit information into your marketing system when registering on a form, subscribing to a newsletter or completing a survey. This data populates the system and doesn't have to be input from paper forms or ported from another application.

  5. Analytics capabilities. Analytics capabilities are immensely important to get information about customers and prospects. Analytics enable you to track online visitor behavior on websites, in email campaigns, and even data from phone calls and other nondigital channels. As mentioned previously, analytics enable you to evaluate your customers' and prospects' attitudes about the brand, products and services on social channels. Analytics also enable companies to gauge the effectiveness of their campaigns.

    Marketing analytics. Analytics help marketers measure the success of their campaigns and can work in tandem with lead scoring to identify prospects and tune campaigns to particular audience segments based on demographics, preferences and buying stage.

    Data management. Most marketing automation applications include the ability to scrub data before it comes into the system to remove duplicate, partial, bogus or otherwise inaccurate data. Data hygiene is critical to analytics; if you have bad data coming in to the system, it can affect the accuracy of your analytics.

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This was last published in April 2016

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Which features are most important to you in a marketing automation platform?
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A marketing automation platform MUST be integrated with CRM, have lead segmentation capabilities, as well as advanced campaign tracking. A few other important features include social media integration with workflows and automation triggers, as this ties into your multi-channel marketing strategy. It is not enough for a platform to just have email capabilities, but it must have advanced personalization and dynamic data merges to customize outreach and all other communication. 
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