The ultimate guide to choosing the right marketing automation tool
Picking a new marketing tool for your company can be quite tricky these days. Not only because the market offer has become so immense and diverse. It’s so easy to get entangled in hollow sales talk and overpromising claims as well. Want to dodge that trap? Here’s the plan: do your research thoroughly and dig deep enough to evaluate all those software providers with a critical mindset. This will help you make a well-informed decision, since getting started with a new marketing automation platform tends to be a time-consuming and costly project.
Software comparison website G2 covers over 200 platforms with feature-specific reviews and in-depth application descriptions. They bring it all together in their G2 Grid, allowing you to specify your company size, as this is crucial for comparing and suggesting marketing platforms. Other websites, like Capterra, even offer reviews on over 400 different platforms.
A lot of these SaaS companies seem to promise you the very same thing: low learning curves, great UX, easy setup, flawless drag-and-drop features, great conversion rates, high-quality leads, personalized content made easy, … We could go on forever.
To point you in the right direction, we provide you with this 5-steps guide to work your way through all those options. So you can objectively decide which automation software company bets fits your needs
1. Clearly outline your strategy
Everything starts with a plan. Be aware that the success of your marketing campaigns depends on the strategy behind them and the way you adapt your message to your target audience, rather than on the tool you choose to execute your plans.
A great way to start is by defining which direction you want to head in, using the GET-TO-BY principle.
- GET: What does your target audience look like? Who do you want to reach?
- TO: What do you want your target audience to do? Define your goal.
- BY: How are you going to get your target group to do what you want them to do? Define what actions you’ll take to reach your goal.
It helps you reflect on what you want to achieve through marketing automation. When you have your one-line strategy, you can build your broader strategy and tactics upon it. Need help with that? Use our Marketing Automation Roadmap as a guide.
2. List your requiered features: email, automation and inbound
Worked out a specific setup based on your GET-TO-BY strategy? Excellent. Now it’s time to define the specific features your software should be supporting. This is crucial to fully execute your marketing automation plans.
A full-on inbound marketing strategy usually requires an extensive list of features:
- Website tracking
- CRM/Lead management
- Automation flows
Based on these features, you can divide the entire range of platforms into 3 categories:
- Email (with automation features): Mailchimp, Campaign Monitor, Flexmail, …
- Automation (marketing CRM): ActiveCampaign, Keap/Infusionsoft, Actito, …
- Inbound (all-in-one): Hubspot, Marketo, Sharpspring, …
Make a list of what you’re looking for in an automation tool. That’s your first filter to narrow down the selection. Keep in mind that you may already have some of those features in your current marketing stack. You don’t want to let go of what’s already up and running just yet.
3. Define which software integrations you need
Chances are you’ll probably have some online marketing tools in place already. No need to throw all that overboard. To execute your strategy, you might want some platforms to communicate with each other. Every marketing automation strategy is built around data, so the majority of these platforms allow you to sync data.
Let’s illustrate this with a few examples:
- ‘I want to recognize customers that converted via a salesperson’
→ sync the sales data in your CRM with your automation platform.
- ‘I want to target my most loyal customers with a personalized message’
→ sync your webshop and transactional data with your automation platform
- ‘I want to display specific ads to only the high-potential prospects in my database’
→ link your ad accounts to your marketing automation tool to create custom audiences.
Try to map out exactly where your marketing automation platform would fit in your current marketing technology stack. A platform that natively integrates with all elements in your current setup is a very big plus. If it doesn’t, you can always get support from tools like Zapier, Blendr, Tealium or consider setting up custom integrations.
4. Create a shortlist by requesting demos and asking questions
If you’ve gone through all the previous steps, you’ve already done a lot of research and preparation. By now, you should have a clear view of platforms that will probably meet your needs. Narrow the selection down to 3 or 4 and make a list of specific questions you need answered for every one of them.
Since you’re almost there, you can sit back for a moment and have others do the hard work for you. Get in touch with the selected companies on your list and ask for a demo to see their platform in action. Software demos are a good way to get an in-depth look at the user interface and the technical skills you need to work with the tools. But keep in mind that it’s still just a demo. Everything you’ll see will work perfectly and using the tools will seem like child’s play. Don’t let that be a reference for the ‘real life’ situation. More often than not you'll bump into technical issues or limitations. You’ll discover that your project won’t always run as smoothly as you've set it out to be. A man warned is half saved…
5. Compare pros and cons, then evaluate
In this final step, bring all of your research together into a list of strengths and weaknesses per provider. Consider these crucial elements when evaluating different marketing automation tools:
- Available documentation / community
Is there enough documentation available online? Or do they have an active community that‘s easy to talk to?
- Usability (operational, learning curve)
Do I have the necessary skills to work in the tool myself? Who will teach me to work with the tool or can I master it on my own? Are there specific tasks that I’d better outsource to a partner agency?
- Ease of setup
How long will it take me to get everything up and running? To which extent do I have to rely on others to get things going?
- Service & support
Can I get fast and reliable support in case of technical issues? What are the average response times?
- Regularity of product updates
How often are new features introduced into the platform? What are the chances I’ll be working with outdated software in a couple of years?
What exactly am I getting for the monthly fee I’m paying? Are there any hidden costs? And what would be the price of an upgrade, should I never need one?
One last golden tip: although high-quality technology has its price — both in product and service — try not to spend your entire marketing budget on software alone. Evaluate what you can find on the platforms that made the cut, calculate your budget accurately before you take the jump.
When choosing a new marketing automation platform, you don't want to make hasty decisions. A lot of websites offer objective information and user reviews that you can rely on. But always stay cautious not to be temped by overpromising sales talk and unrealistic claims. Select, consider and evaluate carefully, until you find the platform that best meets your company’s needs.
Need some extra expert tips before you start your search?
Check out our blogpost on the 4 most common mistakes in marketing automation.