Marketing automation software – How to make your investment pay off

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Marketing automation software promises more leads, faster conversions, bigger revenues, and a ticket to the Inc 500. OK, maybe the vendors aren’t promising the last one just yet, but companies are buying anyway: research firm Frost & Sullivan pegged the market at $907 million in 2014, and predicts it will reach $14.51 billion in 2020.

Getting started with marketing automation software is an investment in both time and money, with many vendors charging upwards of $2,000 on mandatory training on top of monthly fees. Following is advice from people in the trenches on how to make that investment pay off.

Be aware of true costs: Most marketing automation platforms have tiered pricing based in part on the number of contacts in your database. This might make the solution affordable initially, but since one of the intended outcomes is more leads, the monthly costs can escalate very fast.

“Inquire ahead of time what the costs are as your business grows. How much is it to add users or manage more traffic?” says Lindsay Boyajian, Marketing Manager for Augment, an augmented reality SaaS. “You don’t want to have to shift software solutions suddenly because it becomes too expensive.” Augment uses Intercom ($57/month for all integrated modules with 250 contacts; $140/month with 5k contacts) for tasks including managing inbound leads and email marketing, and has seen a 60 percent increase in qualified leads by converting free trials to paid users.

Start early, and take your time: “Marketing automation tools are typically sold as plug-and-play panaceas for your marketing woes,” says Andrew Hickey, Director of Digital Marketing for eCornell, Cornell University’s online education arm. “It’s usually not that simple.”

He advises marketers to slow the sales process down until the vendor fully answers every question. eCornell has been using Pardot ($1k/month for standard features up to 10k contacts; $3k/month for advanced features for up to 10k contacts) from Salesforce for just over a year, and is happy with the results. “The quality of leads has improved. The ability to personalize messaging to specific and highly segmented audiences has greatly improved. We’re able to market much more efficiently and spend our marketing dollars in the right places,” says Hickey, who also notes that circumstances forced eCornell to deploy Pardot within a very short one-month time frame. “I would not recommend that.”

Marketers advise companies to start early with the implementation process, too. “It’s really important to make sure your tech team/developers plan to push 
data/events to your new marketing tool ahead of time, or else you might be
waiting for them to push things like triggered events for quite a while,” says Curtis Peterson, Digital Marketing Manager for B2B file exchange platform SmartFile. “If you’re getting an automation tool in January, make sure 
your tech team is laying the ground work for it by reading their API
documents in September.”

SmartFile deployed HubSpot (packages with no marketing automation start at $200/month for 100 contacts; packages with marketing automation start at $800/month with 1k contacts and $50 for each additional 1k contacts) early in 2015, and reports that it took until June to “really got rolling”.

Marketing is not an island – be inclusive. “Implementation of a new marketing software is a cross-functional project. It is necessary to put together a team from across departments to ensure everyone’s needs are being met,” says Augment’s Boyajian, who notes that it was critical to have the development team on board along with sales and product design, which uses the user feedback data.

The team approach pays off: according to eCornell’s Hickey, “We have a much more synchronous existence with our sales teams. Not only
has the level of communication improved between the two groups, but the 
quality of the communication has improved – making us all more effective at 
doing our jobs.”

Lead scoring can wait. One of the most attractive features of marketing automation solutions are the lead scoring tools that help dictate follow-on actions, including when it’s time for a sales person to reach out. But these might not be the first features to focus on. “You shouldn’t really worry about building [lead scoring] out from the beginning. In
fact, it’s probably better to wait,” says eCornell’s Hickey. “Presumably, you are creating several
new assets or pieces of content for leads to engage with, so you won’t know
how to weigh the importance of those assets in the lead scoring scheme
until you see how those assets relate to sales or revenue.”

Once deployed, Curtis Boyd, CEO of online reputation firm Future Solutions Media, LLC, urges marketers to stay on top of the metrics. “If possible, make sure you are tracking how many times a lead is interacting with emails, and clicks to various company information,” says Boyd. “Leads who participate more in your automated campaign are ripe for human contact.” Future Solutions has seen sales jump from six per month to more than 50 by using Infusionsoft ($199/month for 2,500 contacts and three users; $599/month with 10k contacts and five users).

Content is key. One area that is crucial from the start is building a library of content designed to move leads through the sales funnel. B2B records management and moving company Gilmore Services uses HubSpot, and notes that a foundation of updated website content, keywords, and blog is mandatory to get value from the solution. Future Solutions Media’s Boyd notes that many companies think of content too late in the cycle. “The longer your content takes, the longer your automation solution is just swimming, doing nothing.”

Consider an exit strategy. What happens if the solution isn’t working out? Fully integrated solutions like HubSpot, for example, can include CRM and require websites to be built on their platform. This type of closed-loop system can be extremely effective, but can make companies vulnerable. As one manager said in confidence, “I just don’t know how we’d rip this system out if we had to – everything is completely intertwined, and we would have to start from scratch if things don’t work out.”

By getting questions answered up front, managing the details of implementation closely, and focusing on a rich content library, today’s B2B marketers can do what they can to ensure that their marketing automation deployment does, indeed, work out.

For a comprehensive list of marketing automation software vendors with easy links to request pricing and demos, visit Software Advice.

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Alison Harris

Alison Harris

Alison Harris is a B2B marketing, PR, and content strategist who helps technology companies reach new markets and increase sales. A former technology journalist, she specializes in helping companies with complex products and services communicate clearly and effectively with their target markets. She is fully on board with content marketing that is well-written and educational, technology that improves our everyday lives, and the serial comma. She loves living in Portland, Maine equally as much for its rapidly growing craft beer culture as for its technology start-up scene. Read more about her thoughts on B2B marketing or connect via LinkedIn.