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Choosing A Marketing Automation Platform to Drive Predictable Growth

by Doug Davidoff | Aug 25, 2014 8:00:00 AM

Marketing-AutomationIf your goal is creating predictable revenue growth, the secret for success doesn’t lie in choosing between inbound or outbound tactics, but in integrating and aligning both functions into a sustainable, scalable process.

Understanding this is critical when deciding on the marketing automation platform (MAP) you are going to use to fuel execution. I’m writing about this topic today because I’ve noticed increased chatter in CEO groups, forums and online communities asking about choosing the best MAP.

There seems to be a growing chorus of marketing advisors who claim that the platform doesn’t matter.  Strategy and content are the only things that matter. While I agree that strategy and good content are critical to success, it’s a huge mistake to think that the platform doesn’t matter. 

As I shared in my post highlighting the three reasons inbound marketing fails, process is crucial as well. The MAP you choose is the single most important decision you make regarding process.  The MAP you choose will directly impact:

  • The adoption and utilization rate of your program.
  • The insights and intelligence you gain, allowing you to make quick adjustments.
  • The alignment between your sales and marketing efforts.

At one time simply having a MAP would give you a major advantage.  Today, it’s not only a necessity if you’re serious about building a predictable growth business; but the proliferation of technology and choices makes the selection of a MAP one of the most difficult and important decisions a business can make.

Over the years, I’ve worked with a wide variety of MAP alternatives and have put together nine criteria when evaluating options:

  1. Capabilities:  What does it allow you to do?  The best provide a broad set of tools vs. only supporting one or two tasks. Make sure you look beyond automation basics like email and landing pages.
  2. Ease of Use:  A great MAP is intuitive and easy to use, without sacrificing capabilities. I’ve worked with many MAPs that are just difficult to use.  Inevitably the effort failed because people didn’t enjoy working within the tool.
  3. Customization:  To what level can you make the MAP do whatever it is you want to do.  A great MAP provides easy access to customize, change and develop templates as you need them.
  4. Personalization:  Increasingly, the lead generation and marketing battle is going to be won on the grounds of creating context.  To what level can you personalize the experience to the uniqueness of your visitor?
  5. Alignment:  A great MAP aligns to the entire funnel (top to bottom) and easily integrates and aligns with the sales side.  Too many marketing platforms forget the entire reason you’re executing a program is to drive sales.
  6. Integration:  There are two factors here.  How easily does it integrate with non-marketing technology you use, like your CRM.  Additionally, how integrated is it overall.  The more pieces you have to use the greater the complexity, the less likely you’ll get a clear picture into results and the overall difficulty factor shoots up.
  7. Reporting & Analytics: The aspect that I love the most about marketing today is the ability to track, measure and assess. How well does the MAP you’re looking at provide insights into what’s working and what’s not? Does it truly close the loop on assessing performance of various initiatives?
  8. Intelligence:  An effective MAP should make you a smarter marketer, salesperson and executive.  How well does you MAP enable you to listen in to the greater conversation, assess what’s on the mind of your market and adjust accordingly.
  9. Total Cost:  Add it all up and what’s the cost?  Don’t look at just the price, factor the indirect and opportunity costs as well.

With those nine criteria in place, you’re going to find that MAPs fall into one of three categories:

Process Specific

These are the tools that focus on doing one or two things.  Examples of these include Constant Contact, Mailchimp and Unbounce.  Unless your business is very small or, in some cases, very large I do not recommend using these today.  While these platforms are typically very good at what they do, they simply don’t do enough to drive a growth engine.

Implementing an effective program utilizing these tools both increases the cost and complexity while also limiting your capabilities. If you’re serious about creating predictable lead generation and growth, you simply must move to an integrated MAP.

Traditional, Middle/Bottom Funnel MAPs

Marking automation was born with a focus on email and email campaigns.  The idea behind automating the process was developing automated processes to nurture and promote to your existing databases.

Marketo, Pardot and Eloqua are all examples of this category.  These platforms were originally built for scale, oriented to databases in the hundreds of thousands. While these platforms can be excellent in terms of creating efficiency, they’re not aligned to support, drive and measure the activities that actually cause revenue growth

These platforms are built to support email automation and don’t provide the tools and insights that support an integrated inbound marketing program.  They don’t directly support the activities that grow your audience or that allow you to fully align your sales efforts with your marketing efforts.  Additionally, because they don’t support the entire funnel, the reporting process is far more complicated, provides greater chance of error and therefore will reduce the results you’ll get from your efforts.

MAPS That Focus on The Full Funnel, Content Creation & Demand Generation

If you are looking to build a system and maximize your ROI, this is the category you should be looking at.  By far and away the leader of this category is HubSpot. Never forget, the goal of marketing automation should not be efficiency, it should be effectiveness.

The goal is growth, of the top, middle and bottom lines.  As multiple studies have shown, a fully aligned approach to sales and marketing leads to far better results. Alignment of the top, middle and bottom funnel activities is crucial to maximizing your outcomes.

I’ve never met anyone who disagrees with that statement.  Given that, doesn’t it just make sense that your MAP should align and support those functions as well?

It’s for this reason that we execute all of our inbound marketing and lead generation programs through HubSpot. The ability to plan, initiate and monitor all of our activities from above the funnel all the way through the bottom, and further to support and measure word-of-mouth gives us (and our clients) a tremendous operational advantage.

The integration and ease that HubSpot provides allows our team to be focused on enhancing the strategy, creating great content and managing the process.  The top-to-bottom reporting allows us to slice and dice reporting and dig below the surface to assess what’s working and quickly adjusts what’s not.

While the lack of an effective strategy and content will certainly doom any inbound marketing or lead generation effort to failure; ensuring that you’ve got the right MAP is integral to success and can multiply the results of your efforts.