6 Steps to Selecting a B2B Marketing Automation Platform

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Marketing automation vendors are not one-size-fits-all. It is important that you choose the right vendor for your specific business requirements as B2B companies have more complex and longer buyer journeys and more people involved in the buying process. Your marketing automation platform selection should focus on finding the best fit with your business plans, resources and company culture. There are several ways to navigate the selection process, including a formal RFP (request for proposal) for shortlisting vendors to running in-depth demonstrations. Here are six steps that will help you in this process.

1. Define your business goals: In order to know what a marketing automation vendor should be able to deliver in terms of features and service, it is important to clearly define the business challenges or opportunities that you are facing. Describe the gap between the current situation and the desired state. This will be a great starting point for a list of requirements that summarise your needs, but also allows you to get internal feedback and build support from within your company.

2. Avoid shiny object syndrome: Looking at all the features of potential marketing automation platforms, it can be easy to get distracted and go for the vendor with that one beautiful feature. To avoid shiny object syndrome, summarise your wants and needs to determine what they will be assessed on. Try to split it into categories:

• Essential (deal-breakers)

• Key features (things that the solution should do)

• Desirables (nice to have but could do without)

3. Restrict your choices: After learning about the possibilities and making your first list of requirements, try to restrict your choices of vendors quickly. There are 161 marketing automation & campaign/lead management vendors as part of the total 3,874 marketing technology solutions in Scott Brinker’s infamous Marketing Technology Landscape super-graphic. Each and every extra vendor you research will take extra time to analyse, consider, meet and makes the selection more challenging. You can’t easily assess all the features from hundreds of vendors. You have to move to a shortlist. Ideally, you would focus on 4 to 6 vendors in your RFP.

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4. Professionally manage your own team and the vendor: The vendors might be used to pitching in every type of situation, but a professional attitude can greatly improve the whole selection process. Include a realistic timeframe in your RFP, where you outline the steps in the process and how you expect the interactions to take place. Do your own homework and ask them to present the requirements that you are most interested in. Use the same requirements across all vendors so you can make a fair comparison.

5. Challenge vendors with a scenario: After you receive the RFPs back, and you’ve spoken to the vendors to get an introduction, it’s time to shortlist 2-3 vendors for an in-depth demonstration. You really want to get insight into the features and benefits of the product and how they match your requirements. Create a scenario, or test case, and ask them how they would handle it. You can even ask them to run an example campaign. This moves decision-making beyond a checklist and gives you a real tangible visualisation.

6. Services are as important as the product: The implementation, set-up and training are as important as the features and should be a key area of the selection process. Speak to similar companies that used the vendor’s product and services, with similar challenges, in the same industry as you. Ask the vendor to provide a high-level implementation plan and make sure you have the internal resources (people, time and budget) to smoothly move forward into implementation.

As B2B customers have longer and more complex buying processes with more people involved in the decision-making, it is essential that you have a clear strategy and plan in place. To choose the correct marketing automation platform you must first map out your business specific buyer journey, lead definitions, scoring and the service level agreements between marketing and sales.

(This article first appeared on SmartInsights.com, 24 August 2016)

What I learned today about marketing automation best practice

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No matter how long you have worked in your field of expertise, you’ll always meet new people, in the same area, who will open your eyes to new views of your world. This is even greater when you interact with a large audience of like-minded professionals. Here is one example.

I’d like to start off by thanking everyone who attended my live webinar today, which is now available on demand. It was a good turn-out with some great questions and interesting survey results that I wanted to share with you as it’s a real eye-opener.

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As you can see from the first survey, most of the attendees are in the planning stage of marketing automating. Some had no plans — probably looking to understand the benefits — where a few have been doing it for a while and were there to understand how to improve.

We ran through my recent post on ‘6 steps to selecting a marketing automation platform’ but quickly moved onto the real meat of the presentation – namely, marketing automation strategies for optimising your marketing and sales funnel to increase revenue and customer lifetime value.

We ran through several best practice strategies and models — from funnel metrics to lead qualification/scoring, SLAs and nurturing. You can download all 12 templates here.

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When I asked what their top priorities were across the top 5 strategies the majority wanted to improve lead scoring and have more or better nurture tracks with half as many people concerned with funnel metrics and service level agreements with sales.

To me, this was a shocker! On reflection, the majority of attendees were planning to introduce marketing automation to their business for the first time, but they just want to nurture leads to score and pass to sales. No one was interested in how you qualify those leads and less interested in how you agree the lead stages and have it agreed with sales — which are crucial elements to successful implementation.

But things became clearer when I introduced the Marketing Value Transformation™ framework, to understand where they are on their journey today:

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As the majority of attendees were predominantly in the Lead Generation and Activity Generation stages, with only a few classifying themselves in Demand Generation mode. And no-one saw themselves as a Revenue Generation or Value Generation team.

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I suppose this is not surprising as companies that are just starting their automation journey are very early in their marketing growth and maturity. Does this make them immature? I don’t think so. Every company is unique. If you’re a start-up you’re just growing your company. Budgets are small and so is headcount. So it’s natural you don’t have the resources for marketing automation.

But, I have to say I saw quite a few big company names on the attendee list. So are these big companies going through a digital transformation? I’d say, yes! Especially B2B companies that have been traditionally sales led organisations. They now see that more needs to be invested in marketing and marketing, in turn, need to do more than just marketing activities and volume of leads. They need to strive for lead quality and partnering with sales and service to become revenue-centres that bring long-term value to clients and their company’s profitability.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on these results. And to hear where you are on your Marketing Value Transformation™ journey.

(This article first appeared on linkedin.com, on 29 October 2016)