Confessions Of A Marketing Automation Junkie

Choosing and integrating a marketing automation tool doesn’t have to be a painful process. Here are some hard-earned lessons to help guide you.

Confessions Of A Marketing Automation Junkie

If you’re in the process of purchasing or changing your marketing automation platform, you’re probably feeling overwhelmed. You can scour the sales data about various solutions, compare online user reviews, and even participate in detailed product demos and still be confused or find that the many features start to look the same.

After years of implementing marketing automation tools at organizations of all sizes, I’ve made my share of mistakes. It’s far too easy—and a marketer’s worst nightmare—to find yourself months into a project and realize you selected the wrong tool or didn’t properly plan implementation.

But if you do your homework, choosing and integrating a marketing automation tool doesn’t have to be a painful process. Below are my hard-earned lessons to give you confidence about your decision and a clear path to implementation success:

1. Do you really need the luxury vehicle? When evaluating a marketing tool, keep in mind that you are entering a two-way relationship. You get what you give. A tool can have all of the functionality in the world, but only if you’re willing to invest your time and effort into turning that power into results. Take a close look at the resources and expertise you have available internally (or the approved budget to use external resources) to maintain the tool. Depending on the size of your organization, while very enticing, the “Cadillac” product might not be the best fit. Just because it has all the bells and whistles doesn’t mean you have the time, expertise, or scale to use this power. Why waste the effort or the money?

Lesson: Choose the tool that fits your organization’s objectives and capabilities.

2. What is good for marketing may not be good for IT (or sales): During the evaluation process, it is critical to have representatives from both marketing and IT (and possibly even sales) present to ask questions. A tool’s features and functionality might seem ideal for the marketing department, but the back-end synchronization would cause heartache to your technical team. How often, as a marketer, do you ask questions such as, “What versions of CRM are supported by your system?” or “How deep can we get into the API?” Your IT team will have the expertise to pull back the curtain and uncover any compatibility issues. In most cases, the more popular automation tools have hassle-free integration options, but the problem is not always what they have available. You must take into account the reality of your IT environment. Internal customization or resource constraints could make certain tools less appealing and harder to integrate.

Lesson: Bring all the right players to the game. Surprises down the road may be costly and could slow cycle time.

3. Perfection is not realistic. But great help desk support is: No tool is perfect, and you shouldn’t expect it to be. Regardless of how much money, expertise, and partnerships are behind your tool, problems happen and troubleshooting will be necessary. When purchasing a tool, one of the most important things you can ask yourself is, “When problems arise, who do I want beside me to address them?” Make sure you feel confident with the type of support the vendor provides. There is nothing worse than trying to launch a campaign, having an error occur, asking for help and a window pops up during business hours that says, “chat support offline.” Ensure as part of the negotiation process to gain confirmation on the included services, response times, escalation process, and additional fees that could apply.

Lesson: Don’t find yourself in a bind. Find out what support options are available before you purchase and make sure those options will provide actionable answers.

4. Setup time and fees are critical and worth the expense: Any time you purchase a marketing automation tool, there is an onboarding period. This could span from one week to three months, so don’t take it for granted or skip any included training sessions. The upfront work will be worth the effort. You want a consultant by your side that is a phone call away offering step-by-step guidance. After sitting through five onboarding processes, I can safely say that a quick and painless onboarding should be a red flag! You want someone looking at the way you do business and to question your processes. You want someone working with IT to make sure all integrations are in place. While the setup fees may seem steep and some can be overpriced, in general the additional cost is worth it when you consider how much internal labor would be required to correct a flawed launch—and, even worse, any resulting impact to lead generation or sales revenue targets.

Lesson: Don’t be in a hurry to launch. Pay the fee and take the guidance of experts.

5. Clear ownership and roles = success: I have made this mistake so many times. Most marketers feel that an automation tool should be owned solely by the marketing department. It makes sense at first glance. But, after having implemented so many of these tools, I have come to realize that you must have an IT owner as well. Would you tell CRM experts how to do their job? Building successful marketing campaigns and forms within the tool is great, but it is just as important to ensure that the integration is smooth and those new prospects make their way back into your CRM and other systems.

Lesson: Don’t go at it alone. Have a technical partner.

6. Test. Test. And test again: There will be a moment when all of your historical data is imported into your new tool, profiles are populating, campaigns have been created, and you are feeling like you have just climbed Mount Everest. Don’t get too confident. You are not even close to finished, and you cannot skip the most important step: testing. You must build time into your implementation process to conduct comprehensive, user-accepted testing. Your form might look beautiful and help convert a prospect, but did the person’s information make it to the CRM system? Did the record attach to the right campaign code? Did the prospect get put into the correct nurture stream? And are all of the tracking codes you placed on your Web pages operating and tying to a prospect’s activity profile? Don’t find out later. Test all scenarios, forms, and synchronization channels across all systems.

Lesson: Did I mention to test?

Armed with these lessons, I hope you can spare yourself the stumbles that have tripped up even the most seasoned marketers on their automation journey.

Now for the good news: All the hard work, planning, and stress is worth the effort. Being able to present more qualified leads to sales, document the true cost and cycle time of acquisition to the executive team, and free up hours upon hours of manual labor in marketing is what fuels me and so many like us—the marketing automation junkies. Good luck!