For the last few weeks I’ve been talking about marketing automation and its impact on the future of marketing. One of the biggest challenges I’ve identified with automatedplatforms today is, ironically, automation. And I’m not being flippant about that. Much of the supposedly “automated” marketing platforms, aren’t actually automated. Sure, they operate something that resembles automation, but don’t run as you might have hoped.

The trend that I’m seeing is towards leaner, more intelligent and open platforms with the facility to customise their performance – plug in any specialist 3rd party API available to tailor data collection and operations to your specific requirements. The most up to date and advanced data applications can go as deep as you want to help you make informed decisions from collected and analysed customer data.

The next move will be towards predictive and real automation, you will see platforms that learn about customers and the best way to reach them through customer data collected and performance of the attraction messages, but we are not there yet.

Platforms of the future will operate more like Amazon and Netflix, with the results of each previous campaign automatically driving recommendations for the next. That’s automation.

At present it’s a crowded space with over 2,000 point solutions for marketing out there. A variety of people are building out their particular take to produce their version/vision of how it could be done better. It’s little wonder that with so many choices confusion, along with over hyped expectations of what the technology will deliver, is the overwhelming feeling for many marketers today.

Below I’ve pulled together some of the questions that you should be asking as your business looks to invest in a marketing automation platform.

Firstly, understand what automated marketing is…

A combination of software and technology which allows businesses to automate the repetitive elements of marketing across multiple channels such as email, search, website, social media, mobile and content marketing. The technology also facilitates personalization in ongoing communications by utilizing data collected in previous contacts and through a customers website activity which in turn allows for the tailoring of specific offers to increase relevancy. The data sets also enable customers and prospects to be categorised by interest, demographics and behaviour. And it utilizes clever technology so that variables such as send times, headings, graphics, offers etc can all be tested in order to deliver the optimal conversion rates.

And what it is definitely not…

Static – Platforms and their functionality are developing and adapting now.

A silver bullet – One click will not fire the marketing for your product or business.

The common features that most platforms will have are:

  • Email Marketing
  • Landing Page
  • Campaign Management
  • Marketing Programs
  • Lead Generation
  • Prediction / Scoring
  • Lead Management
  • CRM Integration
  • Social Media Marketing
  • Resource Management
  • Marketing Analytics

Selecting the right platform can be tricky. Before committing you’ll want to assess your businesses needs, so here are a few things to consider before making any decisions:

Marketing Automation only helps you to automate a strategy not create one. Having a clear understanding of your business goals is crucial to then understanding what the platform could help support.

  • For example is it an inbound strategy (search, referrals etc) or an outbound one (email, direct mail etc)?
  • Are you experiencing difficulties with lead acquisition or lead management, or both?
  • Your strategy will likely differ depending on whether you’re a B2B or a B2C and so will your automation requirements.

Are you just looking for a simple email marketing application, or do you require a more fully integrated marketing system?

What marketing automation toolset do you actually need? All the various platforms have slightly different offerings so it’s a good idea to understand from the beginning of the process exactly what your business requires.

  • Look at the size of your business and the customer base. The size will affect the type of platform, and price, required as well as the technical knowledge and resources required to implement and operate it.

Get a clear understanding of the overall cost, many platforms offer a multitude of service levels and add ons as well as training and upskilling.

Understand what your data requirements are and how the integration (CRM, ERP etc) will be managed.

Finally, ask what success for the platform will look like and whether that is realistic? As I noted above it’s not a silver bullet and won’t overcome an absence of strategy.

Here are some of the most well known platforms to get you started:

Firstly – those with a larger company and/or enterprise focus

  1. Marketo

  2. Oracle Eloqua 

  3. Adobe Campaign

  4. IBM Campaign

  5. CallidusCloud

  6. Teradata

  7. Simply Cast

  8. SilverPop

  9. Net-Results

  10. Office Auto Pilot

  11. eTrigue

  12. Lead Life

While the platforms below are better for SME’s

  1. Hubspot

  2. Pardot

  3. Act-On

  4. SalesFusion

  5. InfusionSoft

  6. MailChimp

  7. Marketo

Now you are equipped to decide if automated marketing will be good for your business, and which companies to look at.

Like all new software products, the claims can be attractive but the execution is difficult. The key is, without a strategy none of the products listed here will help. My advice is to work on your strategy first and then match the product to your goals. Doing it the other way around will lead to disappointment.