B2B Marketing Automation Platforms 2014: A Buyer’s Guide

Introduction

Marketing organizations of all sizes are being inundated by data from multiple digital marketing channels and an increasing number of consumer devices. Faced with challenging market dynamics and increasing ROI pressure, more B2B marketers are using marketing automation platforms to manage complex, multi-touch buyer ecosystems.

If you are a B2B marketer looking to adopt a marketing automation software platform, this report will help you through the decision-making process.

Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from "B2B Marketing Automation Tools 2014: A Marketer’s Guide," published by our sister site Digital Marketing Depot. You can download the report here free.

B2B Marketing Automation Market Overview

Although email marketing continues to be a core capability for B2B marketing automation platforms, the market is rapidly evolving from an email marketing focus to integrated marketing functionality that provides multichannel data collection and storage, campaign development and execution, and ROI analysis and reporting. Ultimately, the goal is to provide marketers with the ability to build, track, and manage digital campaigns, and monitor the flow of leads.

Virtually every marketing automation platform provides three core capabilities: email marketing, website visitor tracking, and a central marketing database. From there, vendors begin to differentiate by providing additional tools – that may be included in the base price or premium priced – that offer advanced functionality.

The Pros and Cons of B2B Marketing Automation

Regardless of your company’s size and marketing sophistication, marketing automation tools can provide the following benefits to the organization:

  • Increased marketing efficiency.
  • Enhanced ability to generate more and better qualified leads.
  • A multichannel view of prospect behavior.
  • Better alignment of sales and marketing goals.
  • Improved lead conversion and ROI.

Some of the challenges to be aware of with marketing automation include:

  • Complicated and time-consuming implementation and onboarding.
  • Under-utilization of platform features that lead to it only being used for email marketing.
  • Sales and/or marketing resistance to changing marketing processes can impede platform adoption and efficiency.

Choosing a Marketing Automation Platform

B2B marketers have a wide variety of choices when it comes to selecting a marketing automation platform. Understanding your current marketing processes, knowing how to measure success, and being able to identify where you are looking for improvements, are all critical pieces of the marketing automation decision-making process.

The following section outlines four steps to help your organization begin that process and choose the marketing automation platform that is the right fit for your business needs and goals.

Step One: Do You Need A Marketing Automation Platform?

Deciding whether or not your company needs a marketing automation platform calls for the same evaluative steps involved in any software adoption, including a comprehensive self-assessment of your organization’s business needs, staff capabilities, management support, and financial resources. Use questions such as the following as a guideline to determine the answer.

  • What kind of marketing automation toolset do we need? Marketing automation is not a one-size-fits-all solution; it’s important to find the right fit.
  • What are our goals? It is critical to know up front what your goals for the marketing automation system are and bring key stakeholders together to establish them.
  • Does management support this purchase? Every marketer should have an executive sponsor to secure support at the C-level.
  • Do we have the internal skill set and staff necessary? To maximize your ROI, internal staff will need training and a willingness to develop and execute new business processes.
  • How will we measure success? This is one of the toughest questions, and ties in directly to understanding why you are adopting a marketing automation platform. Set benchmarks that will help evaluate the success of the automation.
  • Have we realistically assessed the cost? Some marketing automation platforms are all inclusive, while others feature an array of add-on tools and services that can significantly increase costs.

Step Two: Identify and Contact Appropriate Vendors

Once you have determined that marketing automation software makes sense for your business, spend time researching individual vendors and their capabilities. Make a list of all the marketing capabilities you currently have, those that you would like to have, and those that you can’t live without. This last category is critical, and will help you avoid making a costly mistake. Once you’ve done the necessary research, narrow your list down to those vendors that meet your criteria. Submit your list of the marketing capabilities you’ve identified, and set a timeframe for them to reply. (Whether or not you choose to do this in a formal RFI/RFP process is an individual preference, however be sure to give the same list of capabilities to each vendor to facilitate comparison.) From the RFP responses, you should be able to narrow your list down to three or four platforms that you’ll want to demo.

Step Three: Scheduling the Demo

Set up demos with your short list of vendors within a relatively short timeframe after receiving the RFP responses, to help make relevant comparisons. Make sure that all potential internal users are on the demo call, 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?

Other questions to ask each vendor include:

  1. How easy is it to integrate this software into my organization?
  2. What is the on-boarding process?
  3. How long does implementation take?
  4. What kind of support and training are included?
  5. How do I maximize adoption in my organization?
  6. How do you tie the technology to strategy? i.e., what are the most important KPIs?
  7. Do current customers utilize the full functionality?
  8. Can we do a test run for a few days on our own (i.e., a free trial)?

Don’t hesitate to 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.

Step Four: Check References, Negotiate a Contract

Before deciding on a particular vendor, take the time to speak with one or two customer references, preferably someone in a business similar to yours. The marketing automation vendor should be able to supply you with several references. Use this opportunity to ask additional questions, and to find out more about any questions that weren’t answered during the demo. Make sure that the person you’ve been referred to is someone who is a primary user of the platform.

Although not all vendors require an annual contract, many do. Once you’ve selected a vendor, be sure to get in writing a list of what technology and support are covered in the contract. Ask about what kinds of additional fees might come up. Are there charges for custom design, if so, how much? What is the hourly charge for engineering services, and is there a minimum? What partner organizations are available to install and integrate the platform? If we need to train a new hire mid-year, what will that cost? Obtaining the answers up front – and having them in writing – will ensure fewer surprises or additional costs down the road.

Learn More!

Enterprise Social Media Management Software:  A Buyer's Guide
  • Table of Contents
  • Section I: Marketing Automation Software Market Overview
  • Section II: Marketing Automation Market Trends
  • Section III: Marketing Automation Platform Capabilities
  • Section IV: Choosing a Marketing Automation Platform
  • Section IV: Vendor Profiles
  • View complete Table of Contents

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