There are a lot of things marketing automation software can do for you. It can help you increase traffic, educate and inspire potential customers, and give you a microscopic view of what happens at every step of your buyer’s journey.
But like all good things, it’s not quite that simple. It takes a real investment of time, attention and money. It won’t create content for you. And it won’t tell you who your real buyers are. In short, you can get a lot out of it—but only if you put the right things into it first.
Here are some questions you can answer to make sure you’re the most educated customer you can be before you buy:
- Are you trying to market without a brand? Most small business owners think Brand is something you worry about when you get to be as big as Apple and Starbucks. But Brand is what got them there. It’s the emotional journey you’re going to take your customers on, and it’s just as important, whether you’re a consulting company or a café. You need to ask yourself these questions: Why does your business really exist? Who are you aiming to serve? And what feeling or experience are you trying to give them? What is the specific think they’re looking for that you’re going to give them? Don’t spend money on marketing automation until you know who your buyers really are and what they really want.
- How much bandwidth do you really have? Know your limits. You don’t need a 50-person (or even 5-person) Marketing Department to do inbound effectively. But you need to be clear about how much and how often you’ll be able to create content. Don’t measure your ROI on the idea that you’re going to blog twice a week if, realistically, you only have the space for a quarterly newsletter. And let’s get one thing out in the open: marketing automation is going to give you more work to do, not less. The more insight you get about what people are looking for, what they’re doing, and when, the more you’re going to want to refine and personalize your content. This is a beautiful thing, but that part isn’t automated!
- Will it work with your existing infrastructure? You simply can’t take the sales rep’s word for it. Most of the top systems have solid integrations, but there are going to be 100 wrinkles in getting it to work with your existing customer lists and the tools you’ve been using for a while. Don’t expect to turn it on overnight and have it work perfectly the next morning.
- Does their company culture align with yours? You have a choice, more than ever before, to buy technology from a company whose values align with yours. How do they relate with you during the sales process? How responsive are they? If they don’t treat people the way you do before you buy, imagine what it’s going to be like later. Don’t compromise.
- Start small. There’s no need to use everything out of the box right away. Focus on the pieces you need to get your marketing engine going—maybe the blog tool, some landing pages and email templates. There’s plenty of time to work on your website, create workflows and rethink your social strategy. Part of what a great tool will show you is what you’re missing, so don’t worry about getting it all perfect right out of the gate.
- Assume it’s going to cost double. The cost of the software is just one component. You’ll need help integrating it into your CRM, carrying over your look and feel, and swapping out forms on your website, not to mention training people how to use it effectively. Put the annual cost of the software as one line item in your budget. Then create another line item for the exact same amount for “Implementation Costs.” Nobody ever complained about coming in under budget.
- How customizable is it? Is it a take-it-or-leave-it tool, or can you keep the overall feel of your design—your logo, colors, and fonts—that you’ve already invested so much into? The more you care about the impact your design has on potential customers (and can you afford not to these days?), the more critical this element is.
It’s going to take some time to really answer these questions. And if you don’t take that time to really kick the tires and investigate the options, you will get burned one way or the other. So, here’s one more way to think about it. Assume it’s going to take twice as long as you think to start delivering results, cost twice as much to implement, and deliver half the result they’re promising.
Will it still deliver ROI for your business on that calculation? If so, by all means, pull out your credit card.