Once you have decided your organization needs a marketing automation solution — or needs to change or upgrade its existing solution — the next step is researching vendors and their capabilities.

Here’s how to start:

  • Make a list of all the marketing automation capabilities you currently have (i.e., email campaign sending), those you would like to have (i.e., predictive scoring or recommendations) and those you can’t live without (i.e., plug-and-play CRM integration). This last category is critical and could help you avoid a costly mistake. 
  • Research vendors using that list to see which ones can meet your needs. Then send them the list of what you need and set a timeframe for them to reply. 
  • Decide whether you need to engage in a formal RFI/RFP process. This is an individual preference but be sure to give the same list of capabilities to each vendor to facilitate comparison.

Our new report, “Marketing Automation Platforms: A Marketer’s Guide” is now available for free download.

The most effective RFPs only request relevant information from the vendors and provide ample information about your business and its needs. Let the vendor know how you plan to use marketing automation, including your high-level strategic goals and KPIs and how you will evaluate the success of your marketing automation efforts. Include details about timelines and the existing digital technology you have deployed. 

A properly written RFP will facilitate the sales process and ensure both sides have an understanding of the purpose, requirements, scope and structure of the intended purchase. From the RFP responses, you should be able to narrow your list down to three or four platforms to demo.

Before deciding on a vendor, check out its online community and review sites, and speak with one or two customer references, preferably someone in a business like yours. The vendor should be able to supply you with references, but you should also ask around in professional discussion forums or at in-person conferences and networking events.

Set up demos within a relatively short time frame after receiving the RFP responses to help make relevant comparisons. Make sure that all potential internal users are on the demo call or at the in-person meeting, and pay attention to the following:

  • How easy is the platform to use? 
  • Does the vendor seem to understand our business and our marketing needs? 
  • Are they showing us our “must-have” features? 
  • If we ask a specific question, can they demonstrate the answer on the call? 

Questions to ask each vendor include: 

  • How easy is it to integrate this software into my organization? 
  • What is the onboarding process? 
  • How long does implementation take? 
  • What kind of support and training are included in the base price? 
  • What does your partner and developer community look like? 
  • How can I maximize adoption in my organization? 
  • Will we have a dedicated account rep available to us? 
  • Do current customers utilize the full functionality? 
  • What new features are you focusing on for the coming year? 
  • Can we do a test run for a few days on our own (i.e., a free trial)? The most effective RFPs only request relevant information from the vendors and provide ample information about your business and its needs.
  • How do you protect and secure customer data? Do you have a roadmap for what you would do in the event of a hack or denial-of-service attack? 

Ask for a demonstration of the specific capabilities that you have identified in your RFI/RFP. Consider requesting product demos showing basic tasks and demonstrating core reports such as: 

  • Create and edit a new email from scratch. 
  • Import and segment data, using any AI or machine-learning capabilities available. 
  • Base data management, cleansing and enrichment options. 
  • Create and edit a new landing page from scratch. 
  • Execute a simple campaign with an email, mailing list and landing page. 
  • See a report showing email opens, click-throughs and landing page conversions. 
  • See a report showing web traffic and/or specific leads from an email campaign. 
  • ROI dashboards and reports at the organization and campaign levels. 
  • Campaign attribution options and capabilities. 

This is an ongoing relationship — it’s important to feel that your questions are being answered.

For much more detail about choosing a MAP vendor, download the latest edition of our free report, “Marketing Automation Platforms: A Marketer’s Guide.”

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Marketing automation: A snapshot

Why we care.. For today’s marketers, automation platforms are often the center of the marketing stack. They aren’t shiny new technologies, but rather dependable stalwarts that marketers can rely upon to help them stand out in a crowded inbox and on the web amidst a deluge of content.

How they’ve changed. To help marketers win the attention battle, marketing automation vendors have expanded from dependence on static email campaigns to offering dynamic content deployment for email, landing pages, mobile and social. They’ve also incorporated features that rely on machine learning and artificial intelligence for functions such as lead scoring, in addition to investing in the user interface and scalability.

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