SalesTech & MarTech (also known as sales and marketing automation platforms) has been around for many years. The early days of on-premise customer relationship management and automated drip email tools are now cloud-first and AI-powered with predictive and prescriptive analytics. But there are so many vendors and none are one-size-fits-all solutions. So it’s important that you choose the right stack of providers for your specific business requirements.
B2B companies have more complex and longer buyer journeys and more people involved in the buying centre. Your 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 clear business goals: In order to know what a 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 vendors, it can be easy to get distracted and go for the platform 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 500+ distinct SalesTech solutions on Nancy Nardin’s Sales Technology Landscape 2019. And a whopping 7,040 solutions on Scott Brinker’s Marketing Technology Landscape Supergraphic 2019. So you clearly need to restrict your choices. You might choose to work with Nancy, Scott or other analysts your firm might already employ. Speak to your IT team and ask if they already have a subscription to an analyst firm that would allow you to talk with them too.
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.
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 visualization.
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.
[A version of this article first appeared on SmartInsights.com, 24 August 2016 and was updated here on 5 September 2019]