Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. Love is in the air – or maybe that’s just store-bought chocolate. Either way, February is all about relationships. And when it comes to picking a marketing automation platform, it’s important to choose the right fit for your business, particularly if you work for an agency. But how do you go about finding the “Prince (or Princess) Charming” of marketing automation solutions? Here are the top ten considerations for agencies when choosing a platform.
1. Key features - Don’t pay more for features you aren’t going to use. Know what you really need.
Have you ever gone out with someone on a few dates that went really well, only to realize a few weeks later that the person wasn’t really a match for you after all? The same thing can happen in the marketing automation world. Your salesperson might wow you with lots of cool features, but which ones will you actually use? You don’t want to wake up one morning and realize you've wasted years with the wrong marketing automation platform. There are a few key features that true marketing automation platforms have, and those are the ones that will really drive results for your agency. They are:
- Email Marketing
- Time- and Event-Based Automations
- Campaign Management
- Form Builder
- Landing Page Builder
- Advanced Segmentation
- Lead Scoring
- Analytics and Reporting
2. Is there an agency model? Look for a platform designed to grow your agency.
There are lots of fish in the sea. And there are lots of marketing automation solutions out there. That’s awesome, because providing marketing automation services can be a great way to grow your business, create monthly recurring revenue, and drive retainer-based client relationships. But as an agency, you need to make certain that whatever solution you choose looks out for your and your clients’ best interests. A good provider stays out of your relationships with your clients, allowing you to reinforce your brand through the interface, domain, login screen and notifications. The platform should also treat you like a partner, including sending you new business referrals.
3. Price and total cost of ownership - Look at features included and carefully review plan limits.
“Oh great, here comes another relationship metaphor,” you’re probably thinking. And you’re right. Here goes: You need to buy a Valentine’s gift for your significant other. At the store you see two displays of shameless commercialism Valentine’s gift sets. Both sets come with a teddy bear, a bouquet of flowers and a box of chocolates. Gift Set A prices each item separately at $6.99. That total comes to $20.97. You notice that the flowers in Gift Set A are slightly wilting, the teddy bear is frowning and the chocolate box is fairly small. Gift Set B costs $8.99 for all three items. All the items in this set are better quality as well. You’ll most likely go with Gift Set B.
Keep this metaphor in mind when your agency is shopping around for a marketing automation solution. You will be barraged with different plan levels and associated limits on contacts, emails, page impressions and more. First off, don’t be enticed by lower tiers that severely limit functionality. You’ll want the full power of marketing automation once you get started. Third-party add-ons for specific features (like landing pages, CRM, etc.) add to the total cost.
Next, key in on the limits. If a lower tier has limits on contacts and sending, think of how often you’ll have overages, especially if your agency or your clients are in a growth phase. Planning ahead here is huge. If you have a particularly active month, charges can add up quickly. Many platforms include a full CRM. If you’re selecting one without, be sure to add in CRM fees when looking at the bottom line.
4. Hear from actual users (word on the street!) - Hear from users, not ‘experts.’
Imagine this: You’re preparing for a dinner-and-movie date. You find what you hope will be the perfect romantic flick. Just to be sure, you check some movie review sites to take a look at the reviews. What you find is puzzling: The critics loved it, but the regular audience didn’t care for it. Who to believe?
Unfortunately, this same conundrum exists in the marketing tech space, particularly with marketing automation. The best practice is to hear from actual users instead of professional bloggers or ‘experts.’ You’ll get a clearer and more relevant perspective on the platform.
There are several great sites where you can go to hear what actual users are saying about the various platforms on the market. These independent review sites, like TrustRadius, MarTech, Capterra and others, allow you to get insights that professional reviewers just don’t have. Dig around and find reviews from other agency professionals to get real insight into how the platform will perform for your agency.
5. Integrations available? - Look for a platform that integrates easily with other tools.
When you’re dating someone new, eventually you’ll want them to meet your friends and family. The hope is that your new flame will make a great impression and get along with everyone. Otherwise, you’re in for a whole lot of drama, and you HATE drama.
Well, there are similarities to draw in this area between dating relationships and agency + marketing automation vendor relationships. Just like you would want your significant other to get along with your social circle, you want your marketing automation platform to play nice with the other systems you already have in place. A solid platform will have its own ‘ecosystem’ of providers that it integrates with – either natively, through plug-and-play, or using a provider like Zapier or PieSync. A system can’t be all things to all users, but by playing nicely with others, it can seamlessly extend the power of your investment.
6. Open system? - You and your clients shouldn’t have to change what you are already using.
Do you remember the movie musical Grease? Danny and Sandy really liked each other, but they couldn’t be together since neither would be flexible in their lifestyle. It took compromise, a really tight, black outfit and a full-blown musical number to bring them together.
You shouldn’t have to squeeze into a tight, black outfit (literally OR figuratively) to make a partnership work with your marketing automation platform. Your agency and your clients already have systems in place, and you have better things to do than convince everyone to migrate off their current platforms. Some marketing automation platforms offer a free CRM or other tools, but they also require you to use those add-ons. An open system allows you to use any CRM (e.g., Salesforce, Zoho, etc.), content management system, blogging tool, landing page builder, forms builder, etc.
Having the flexibility to choose which tools you keep and which you replace will save you time, effort and cost as you get up and running.
7. Built-in reports serving you best? - Reports should be easy to export, easy to digest.
One thing that many people look for in a romantic partner is strong communication skills. If you can’t talk to your significant other about anything and everything, then that’s a big downer.
Similarly, one of the coolest aspects of marketing automation is it’s ability to communicate: It’s able to track and report on your marketing campaigns, so you can see what’s working. You can finally quantify the impact your campaigns are having on your bottom line – for your agency and for your clients. Make sure you select a system that produces clear, concise reports to show these results. Ask to see a sample and shop it around internally to account execs and even a few clients to make sure it’s going to be impactful.
8. Up and running quickly? - A simple, intuitive platform saves you money and time long-term.
Have you ever dated someone who was ‘high-maintenance’? It might be cute – at first. But eventually you start to realize that the effort it takes to maintain a high-maintenance relationship is not worth it. Love shouldn’t be so complicated. That’s true for marketing automation too: The platform shouldn’t be difficult to master.
A powerful platform is great, but you shouldn’t need to get six months of training or attend a
‘university’ to start seeing results. Some platforms are overly robust or complex in order to justify
costs. Look around the app. Is the interface intuitive? Is there contextual help available in case you get stuck? You don’t have countless hours to spend learning a system. Remember that training doesn’t really end – think about new employees or client training. An intuitive system will save you countless hours both upfront and long-term.
9. Quality Support - Look for comprehensive onboarding and free support/training.
When you say “I do” to marriage or a committed relationship, you expect your partner to be there for you through thick and thin. You need them by your side, supporting you, especially when things get tough.
Once you sign on with a marketing automation platform, you need to make sure that you have support you can count on. Nothing is worse than needing support and not being able to get it….quickly. Ask if there is a robust and responsive support team and if there is a dedicated person you can call when support can’t help. Is support always free? Some providers hide fees here, so beware. Your initial onboarding period should be comprehensive and should include multiple training sessions to give your team confidence in using the platform. This is not the place to cut corners.
10. Contract and cost - Look for providers who offer month-to-month contracts.
Have you ever heard of a shotgun wedding? Those don’t sound fun, right? Well that’s how some marketing automation platforms treat their partnerships with agencies. They try and force you into a long-term commitment right away without you getting to see for yourself whether it’s really a good fit.
Here’s something to think about when you’re considering signing a contract: Is a provider asking you to lock in for one or even two years and pay in advance? That should be a red flag. You’re a professional, and you’ll know if you’ve made the right choice within a few months. You should be able to leave at any point if you don’t feel like the platform is the right fit for you or your clients. A month-to-month commitment ensures you can do that.
A match made in heaven
You’re a successful agency professional. Why should you settle for a platform that won’t serve you and your clients best? Keep these considerations in mind, and you’ll be sure to find your perfect marketing automation match.