New Marketing Automation Buyer’s Guide Offers Valuable Advice

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TrustRadius, an online community designed to help business software users make better product selection, implementation, and usage decisions, just released their first-ever “Buyer’s Guide to Marketing Automation Software.”

TrustMap For Mid-Size Companies_TrustRadiusThe 44-page guide is based on 400 in-depth reviews and more than 10,000 comparisons performed by Marketing Automation buyers, and provides a very detailed and useful comparison of the leading brands. (You can access the guide from the TrustRadius site here.)

The guide also includes insights from leading marketing automation practitioners. I was interviewed by TrustRadius barely two months ago, and it’s a sign of just how fast things change in marketing automation that in those few short weeks, three significant developments occurred:

IBM acquired Silverpop, removing yet another independent vendor from the landscape
Marketo announced an open ecosystem platform strategy
Act-On raised $42 million and appears heading for an IPO

But don’t think the guide obsolete just yet. The TrustRadius guide segments the marketing automation market by the size of the company that each product serves (Small, Mid-Size, Enterprise) and then rates solutions within each category in visual grids based on user ratings and how much it deems a company’s solution is focused on that particular segment.

I often tell clients that there is no one “best” marketing automation solution for everyone, and that the decision of what makes sense for one company vs. another depends on a wealth of factors, notably organization size, available resources, business model, and the scale of your marketing ambition. The TrustRadius grid system is a construct that seems to serve this category well.

In sum, the guide is a useful resource both for business buyers considering the leap into marketing automation, or more seasoned users contemplating the shift to a new solution.

My contributions to the guide, largely responses to questions seeking advice for first-time buyers, are reproduced below, with permission.

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(TR) What high-level advice would you give to people/companies considering implementing marketing automation technology for the first time? Specifically, beyond technology selection what else should they be thinking about?

(HS) By far the #1 issue we see with companies who invest in marketing automation is the lack of an overall plan or strategy. Too often companies make the assumption that simply the act of deploying a marketing automation platform will result in marketing efficiencies. Without at least the semblance of a plan or strategy for how the company plans to use the system, marketing automation is doomed to be little more than email software.

The fact that marketing automation technology is simpler than ever is a double-edged sword. Most systems are very quick to deploy and easy to use. Compared to years past, that’s an advantage, to be sure, but it also means that companies can be too quick to “flip the switch” before really constructing a plan for how to realize maximum value.

I tell clients to ask themselves a few basic questions before they deploy a marketing automation platform:

1. What the business metrics that we hope to impact?
2. What are the quantitative differences we hope to achieve?
3. What are the specific strategies we plan to deploy to achieve success?

I’d also advise clients not to underestimate the amount of resources required to make the most of a marketing automation system. Again, this has less to do with managing the software per se, and much more to do with developing the campaigns, programs, strategies, and content that are the fuel for a successful deployment. At bare minimum, expect to dedicate one-half of a full-time employee (or the equivalent services from an outside firm) in order to get the most from your investment.

(TR) Marketing Automation drives a need for a significant amount of content. How should companies address that problem? What sort of content works best?

(HS) The type of content that works best in the context of a lead nurturing or emarketing program is usually informational, “thought leadership”-type content that speaks to best practices, strategies or techniques for solving the type of business problem that the marketer’s product or service addresses. It’s this type of content that will drive a higher level of engagement, build credibility, and ultimately drive a dialogue with sales. Conversely (and counter-intuitively), content that overtly “sells” a product or service, particularly early in the sales cycle, has a greater chance of alienating the reader.

Not every piece of content has to be a new, 12-page white paper, however. We advise clients to look at recycling, or repurposing, existing content. Perhaps an old white paper can see new life as a checklist, a Webinar/Slidecast, a series of short videos, or an infographic.

(TR) There’s some debate about the definition of marketing automation. In your mind, does it encompass inbound or do you define it more narrowly to be lead nurturing or other?

There’s a move towards “all-in-one” marketing platforms. Hubspot and Act-On encompass many inbound features as well as outbound. Marketo has done a couple of acquisitions. Do you have any guidance on how marketers should think about “all-in-one” vs. best of breed?

(HS) It’s correct to say that traditionally, “marketing automation” has come to mean software designed more for lead nurturing vs. generating inbound leads. I’m not a market analyst, but I have no quarrel with Hubspot, for example, calling themselves “marketing automation” even if their technology is more about generating inbound traffic than it is about automating the way those leads get filtered, nurtured, and converted into opportunities.

I don’t think any solution, certainly not today, “does it all.” We have many clients who use Marketo and Hubspot side-by-side, for example. Or take a newer solution like Captora, who very specifically position themselves as feeding the top of the lead funnel, at the same time that they trumpet their integration with more traditional marketing automation systems. I’d be very skeptical of any solution that claims to be an “all-in-one” marketing system. With today’s cloud-based software and open architectures, there’s little reason not to pursue a best-of-breed strategy.

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