1792 words|6.9 min read|

It’s an almost utopian vision for over-stretched staff and marketers.  Marketing automation software promises to do the “heavy lifting” for you – not only reducing your workload but also transforming the tedious (but extremely important) routine of new business acquisition into a sophisticated and highly effective process that will happen automatically.

The concept of software that will lift the burden of nursing prospects all the way through to paying customers (and then ensuring those customers are aware of everything you have to offer and increasing their value to you) has been around for a while, but recently has started to gain a lot of momentum.  With that, inevitably, has come a rush of new products to the market.  Some of these are very specific tools that do a great job of one specific area of marketing automation, while others are more comprehensive, offering a whole suite of tools in one package.

The sheer choice of tools available has led to an increase in customer requests for assistance in choosing the right ones here at LeapGo, so I’ve decided to dedicate today’s blog post to clearing a path through the smoke and mirrors for all you busy business owners out there. Let’s get started!

ONE – DEFINE YOUR OBJECTIVES

When you first set foot on the marketing automation ladder, it’s usually as a result of a specific problem that you want to deal with.  This might lead to your signing a contract to use a tool that deals with that issue.  This then opens your eyes to the enormous potential of marketing automation, and before you know it your business is signed up to a couple more tools.  Then, you find that some suites could do all the marketing tasks that your existing selection of tools currently do separately and much more besides…..

STOP!

Whatever stage you are at, you need to stop and take a step back from your business for a moment.  Consider your market (b2b, b2c, or a combination?), your sales channels and processes.  How much of your business depends on new customers being brought on board each month?  Every business is different and has different marketing automation needs.  It’s very easy to end up buying solutions to problems you don’t actually have in your business.  This is why you need to look at the bigger picture, not only of what tools will serve you well now but also what you will need in the future.

Trust me, the last thing anyone wants to do is make the switch from one marketing automation platform to another.  You will lose all that valuable history, start over with new analytics, have to retrain staff, and even face possible disruption to the customer experience while you transition.  So look at your requirements as they are now and as they will be in one, three, and five years’ time. Define what you want to achieve with marketing automation. Separate “nice-to-have” features from “must-have” features.

Set it all down on paper…or be kind to the earth and use something like evernote!

There – you’ve already made a huge step in the right direction! Moving on….

TWO – DECIDE WHETHER YOU NEED AN ALL-IN-ONE SOLUTION OR IF YOU WILL SELECT FROM A NUMBER OF COMPLIMENTARY SYSTEMS.

A common theme we see here is an attempt to get disparate systems and tools to work together, on the basis that the individual tools are each selected as “best in class” for the particular function they carry out.  This is understandable, but can result in much frustration and wasted time.

While in theory it should be possible to combine the complimentary features of different tools so that you can have the best of all worlds, in practice this is very difficult to achieve. While many providers advertise their software as being compatible with other systems you may already have, in almost every instance where this is attempted we experience issues as a result.  Some tools can be relied upon to play nicely with others in a full two-way integration, others simply cannot!

In fact, huge caution is needed here as some so-called “integrations” are nothing more than a one-way data dump with no real value or functions.  So, it’s time to decide whether to go with a complete solution (even if that means you will have more functions than you currently need) or if you will carefully select a few tools and make them work together.

As you have probably guessed, our opinion (based on thousands of hours spent implementing marketing automation systems on behalf of our clients) is to go with a suite of tools such as SharpSpring, Hubspot, or Infusionsoft.

As I often say, with a suite of tools: You might not get every single best-in-class tool, but you can rest assured they will all work together seamlessly and share data. In nine out of ten cases, that one factor makes the “suite” option a hands-down winner.  When you get into building even quite simple marketing automation campaigns, believe me, being able to trust the system you are using and knowing it will work is HUGE!

THREE – DECIDE YOUR MONTHLY BUDGET

Now is the time for you to decide your monthly budget, taking into account the labor savings that will result from implementation and considering whether you are going to be using the tools internally with your own team or whether you are going to be employing an agency to assist with your digital marketing tasks.

If you are thinking of employing an agency, (see next step) it’s important not to commit to spending all of your monthly budget on the software!  Clearly this decision will depend on your business and what skills and resources you already have available to you on your team.  You need to be aware that while marketing automation saves huge amounts of time in the longer term, to set a system up in the first place will require