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How to Choose and Implement a Marketing Automation Platform

This is the first in a three-part series delving into the process for selection and preparation for CRM + Marketing Automation implementation. 

Let’s start with the basics and define what marketing automation and CRM is.

What is marketing automation and CRM?

Most people would define CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system or database of record combined with a process to automate marketing messages based on individuals’ attributes, reactions, engagement and channel preferences. That a long way of saying, “Speak with individuals as individuals in ways that are most relevant to each of them.”

There is a key principal that everyone in the decision-making process needs to be aware of. It’s analogous to the four pillars holding up the roof to the whole CRM + Marketing Automation process. It looks like this:

Take a close look at that. If you remove, or even short-change any one of those pillars, the whole marketing automation is doomed to a sub-optimal outcome. This is to become the lifeblood of most organizations’ sales funnel and revenue. This is not the place to cut corners. Management has to be clear and committed to all four pillars to achieve success.

We can do a whole segment just on data, and that’s super important. I think we should hold that for the second installment in this series.

The most important thing to remember when undertaking a
CRM + MA upgrade is probably what not to do.

  1. Interviewer/Megan: For those who have some sort of system and tools cobbled together, where does one begin to consolidate improve the whole process?

Anthony Helmstetter:

When you say, “…improve the whole process,” lets agree were talking about improving the whole process for everyone; the prospects/recipients, the marketers, the tacticians, and for management. When done correctly, everyone wins.

The most important thing to remember when undertaking a CRM + MA upgrade is probably what not to do. Do NOT go out and start looking demos of different systems. They all have shiny, wiz-bang demos and colorful charts and seemingly simply drag and drop GUIs, but that’s the wrong way to go about an evaluation. In fact, Trust Radius lists 130 individual Marketing Autonomation platforms! There’s no way anyone has the time to demo a meaningful number of those.

The correct way, the way that is far more likely to yield a successful outcome, is to do this:

  1. Document your current capabilities, break points, shortcomings, and limitations (this is your current state), and also,
  2. Document the features and functionality you want to have in the future (future-state). It’s ok to stretch a bit here; you may not get everything you can dream of, but still look forward a few years.

This list of future-state capabilities should be comprehensive, but not necessarily exhaustive. More on that in a moment. Add to your list of Features and Functional Requirements interview questions, including:

  • The number of reviews and cumulative rating score (G2, Trust Radius, Capterra)
  • Company size, number of employees, and how many are in customer service
  • Capitalization structure (VC funder, latest round, privately help, publicly traded, etc.)
  • Implementation time
  • Onboarding process; does it include data migration?
  • The underlying database product (Microsoft Dynamics, Oracle, Salesforce, proprietary?)
  • Are there specialized products for your particular industry? (e.g., higher education, homebuilders, non-profits and fundraising, etc.)
  • And don’t worry about pricing at this stage. Don’t even bring it up. (More on that below)

Next, filter through the list of candidate CRM + MA packages and develop a short-list of no more than 10. 

With these 10 candidates, initiate the sales process with each, by:

  1. Scheduling a call with their sales rep to confirm if it is a candidate for your particular business
  2. Send over your list of functional requirements asking them to check the boxes and fill in any note or explanations
  3. Schedule your first of two demos, 90 minutes (it’s impossible to do an adequate job in less time, and there will need to be a second demo when you get down to your final two or three).

Now, this is going to take some time. In our experience, it’ll take two full weeks minimum to go through the dialog, checklists, scheduling the demos, follow-up questions, etc. And you probably can’t get 6-10 done within a two-week time frame if you and your team already have day-jobs. So candidly, plan on a minimum of 3-4 weeks.

I’ve kind of glossed over some of the process details about how to compile all the gathered information into a side-by-side comparison chart, but that’s detail stuff. Once someone gets into that stage of analysis, we’ve got some good processes that help streamline things. I’m happy to share those; it just doesn’t make for good interview material.

  1. Interviewer/Megan: That kind of sets up the next question. Once you get the short list down to 1 or 2 candidates, then what?

Anthony Helmstetter:
If it’s down to a list of one, your job is really simple. Anything more than one you’ll have to dig a bit deeper and tease out the differentiators. There are probably no non-starters by this stage, or they wouldn’t be in the final list. This is where talking with reference customers and price negotiations come in. And pricing models vary greatly. You should be prepared for multiple licenses, user fees including admins, marketers, clerks, or whatever they each name their seat and access level licenses, and some might even be fixed rate. 

We always ask for a free structure covering each of the first three years. Year one is always the most expensive because migration and implementation services are usually all rolled up in that first year. So, three years gives a better look at annual cost of ownership. And it is a negotiation. That the best reason to have at least two in your final list of candidates.

In Part Two of this series:
We delve deeper into the importance of data, the four categories of data, and how this will cause you to rethink your CTAs and webforms!

In Part Three of this series:
The implementation journey is about to begin. But you are not ready. There is a lot that can and should be done before anyone starts loading software onto servers! (or, in the cloud)

[end]

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