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What to look for in marketing automation software

If you're looking for marketing automation software, go beyond the basic features and consider new capabilities for mobile, location-based services, omnichannel and more.

Modern marketing has advanced well beyond the marketing automation software of five years ago.

Today's marketers require omnichannel platforms that provide a seamless, cohesive customer experience regardless of whether customers are on a mobile device, in physical stores or browsing online from a laptop. Marketers need to harness vast amounts of data to create more engaging and profitable customer experiences, and they need the ability to connect a broad array of capabilities together.

Most marketing software today includes automated, multistep marketing campaigns, triggered email messages, lead forms, lead scoring, segmentation and data management, inbound marketing, social monitoring and marketing, content marketing, and reporting.

A company's specific software needs will vary from those of other companies. However, if you're considering a marketing automation software purchase, below are some of the key buying criteria you should consider.

This marketing automation software comparison reviews the features and functionality you may need for more advanced capabilities. If you're just starting out, you may decide that it's not worth paying a premium for these features. This comparison also includes additional considerations that you should take into account, including ease of use, staffing and budget.

Mobile and location-based marketing capabilities

On average, some two-thirds (nearly 2.5 hours daily) of your audience's digital time is spent on mobile devices, according to comScore, Inc., and your constituency spends most of that time using apps. As a result, your marketing automation software needs to help you to reach prospective customers when they're using mobile email, mobile web and mobile apps by providing mobile-friendly, mobile-first email, websites and experiences; simplified registration forms; mobile app integration; and location-based marketing capabilities.

Your marketing automation software should not only enable push email messages, but should also continually engage your audience through bite-sized "mobile moments."

Omnichannel capabilities

Marketing automation software should serve as a platform for interactions on all channels -- desktop, mobile, phone, live events, physical stores, paper mail, etc. Whether they emanate from the software (which is ideal) or not, all interactions should be recorded in, or be accessible from, marketing automation software. This way, they can drive other interactions and ensure a consistent experience on each channel.

Your marketing automation software should maintain a master customer or prospect record. Otherwise, it should connect to a master record that enables a single view of the customer or prospect across all channels.

Data-driven marketing

Data drives modern marketing. Ensure that your marketing automation software and/or partner products provide the reporting you need to improve and report on marketing performance in the time frame required by your business, whether it be real time or weekly, for example.

Also consider using predictive analytics, predictive lead scoring, artificial intelligence and machine learning to drive personalized prospect experiences powered by the marketing automation software.

Account-based marketing

While traditional marketing automation software focuses on leads (i.e., independent people), many B2B companies (especially those with long, multi-influencer sales cycles) need to focus their marketing on accounts (companies or organizations), as well. This resulted in a surge in new tools that enable marketers to associate leads to accounts, track and score accounts, and create segmented, account-specific campaigns at scale.

As an important bonus, account-based marketing (ABM) is helping drive greater alignment between sales and marketing. So if you work for a B2B company with long sales cycles and many influencers, the marketing automation software you buy should include native ABM campaign and lead to account association capabilities. Otherwise, the software should integrate with tools that do have those capabilities so that you can effectively market to accounts, not just to individual leads.

Customer lifecycle capabilities

Modern marketers are managing more and more of the customer lifecycle, going deeper into the sales process and closing low price point deals with less intervention from salespeople. Marketers are also integrating new customers and marketing to existing customers to drive satisfaction, product use, engagement, and cross-sells and up-sells to maximize customer lifetime value.

Be sure that the marketing automation software you choose supports the marketing you do throughout the customer lifecycle, not just the marketing at the top or middle of the funnel.

Automation capabilities

Consider how much automation marketing software is likely to deliver and the most likely productivity gains that it will drive. For example, can the marketing automation software deliver true "set it and forget it," lights-out campaigns? Sometimes, automation is easy to set up, but at other times, it can take a fair amount of work by experts. Be sure to understand your software's automation capabilities and limits.

Ease-of-use attributes

This "feature" is as fuzzy as it can be time-saving and transformational. Despite what your marketing automation software sales rep may say, only their current customers and your users will be able to truly assess ease of use. The easier the marketing automation software is to use, the more marketers will be able to accomplish, and the more they will use it to do their work.

Sure, most marketing automation software has graphical user interfaces (GUI), but the real question is, how much of the marketing automation software's capabilities that you need can actually be accessed through the GUI, and how many can only be accessed through coding? The answer may surprise you, so make sure you can answer this question to avoid "gotchas" later.

Marketing automation software partners and integration capabilities

Marketing automation software won't do everything, so consider whether the software's ecosystem includes the other third-party tools and data that you need. Look at which customer relationship management systems it supports, its internal and third-party prebuilt integrations, and the ease and speed of custom integration, if needed.

Staff hiring and training

Make sure you have staff with skills in analytics, mobile, social, omnichannel campaigns, etc. If you don't, either plan to hire new people or plan to get your current staff trained in areas like analytics, HTML, JavaScript and data-driven marketing.

Budget

Ensure that you clearly understand how your vendor charges for each item. For example, vendors often charge based on the number of contacts in your database. If that number grows as you hope it will, your newest contacts may push you into a higher pricing tier. To combat this, prenegotiate a lower price for the next tier. Also, as you consider your budget, include not just the marketing automation software and the theoretical cost savings from automation, but also the staff training and hiring.

Next Steps

Why marketing automation software needs business process management

It's time to capitalize on the sales funnel

Act-On Software's marketing automation platform: What to anticipate

This was last published in December 2016

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