Features that Streamline, Score and Alert
Every marketing automation platform will differ in its feature set and end-user experience and methodology. By virtue of the space, however, all solutions should be able to automate multi-step email campaigns based on triggers and interactions. Rather than send follow up emails or sort lists manually, the technology completes these processes for you. While some solutions use decision trees, others may help you configure Visio-type diagrams to map out the automation campaign. As an end-user evaluating multiple solutions, it is a good idea to draw the proposed actions of a sample lead nurture campaign so you can see the necessary steps and build-out required within each platform.
Another important feature of marketing automation solutions is the ability to automatically score leads based on recipients' unique interactions. As you develop lead nurturing campaigns, you can assign values for each interaction a recipient has with an email, landing page, completed form, etc. Once the lead has completed enough activities to reach a certain score, the lead is deemed qualified and ready to be transitioned to the sales team.
The ability to configure customizable, real-time alerts is a useful feature, too. Many marketing automation platforms allow you to set an internal notification email when leads are completing highly desirable actions. Alerts can be configured and triggered when specific pages are viewed, forms are completed or a lead's aggregate score rises to a certain threshold. Just as important as automating emails and scoring leads, this alert feature is immensely valuable because knowing the moment that a lead reaches "sales-readiness" enables sales to follow up quickly, and at the height of engagement.
Other features included with many MA platforms include lead database management, CRM integration, landing page development tools, form mapping, etc. With all of these bells and whistles, it really makes sense to pick and choose the ones that are most important to you in order to keep the price point more reasonable. For example, if you already have a CRM tool that you like, it may make sense to consider a MA provider that has integration capabilities as opposed to functioning as a standalone MA/CRM combined tool. Additionally, if you maintain your website via CMS or a developer, selecting a MA platform that builds landing pages might not be necessary because you can build/maintain forms yourself.
Evaluating MA Platform Providers
Now that you've established a baseline of features and tools that are most important to you, the next logical phase is the vendor selection process. If you are like most companies today, price is likely a primary consideration. Prices can vary from greatly depending on the provider, set-up fees, contracts, etc. It makes good financial sense to select a provider who offers customized pricing plan to suit your company size, volume of emails and level of account management.
While price is a major consideration, the importance of a potential provider's longevity and stability cannot be overlooked. Even though a pure start-up might offer amazing prices, you also need the trust and confidence of working with a company who has been successful within the industry. As your company's marketing automation needs change and evolve, it follows to ask questions about planned feature upgrades, product roadmaps, customization, etc. In addition to price and stability, it makes sense to look for a track record of proven customer support and positive feedback from actual users. The people who use the product on a daily basis are the ones who can really articulate the end-user experience and tell you about their successes…or challenges.
Finally, with the rapid growth of the marketing automation space, finding experienced professionals who have hands-on experience using MA tools can be really difficult - and expensive. A practical solution is to identify whether any of your potential MA providers offer project management hours or best practice examples on how to implement and use your new solution. This type of support ensures you and your new solution are utilized as quickly and efficiently as possible.