According to a recent report from Forrester Research,* 58% of B2B marketing decision makers have already implemented (or are in the process of implementing or upgrading) a marketing automation platform.

Such strong demand is not surprising, especially when you consider the potential benefits of a properly implemented system. From an efficiency standpoint, marketing automation overcomes operational bottlenecks by eliminating many time-consuming and tedious tasks. From an engagement standpoint, marketing automation can help a company deliver the right message to the right people at exactly the right time — at scale. From a business standpoint, marketing automation will help you grow faster by helping sales build pipeline.

Despite the many benefits, selecting a marketing automation system can feel like an overwhelming task. What features are actually necessary? How much will it cost? Is the cost worth the benefit? How can we guarantee marketing automation success? Questions like these can be difficult to answer without a proper game plan.

Here’s a quick checklist for selecting the right marketing automation system for your needs.

Define goals & objectives

Your first impulse might be to jump straight into a detailed comparison of vendors. Though it may be wise to do preliminary exploration to familiarize yourself with the market, doing so should never be at the expense of your goals and objectives.

Organize a cross-functional team and collect feedback from stakeholders in marketing, sales, and other departments that will likely use (or be impacted by) the marketing automation system. Work together to formulate a simple team mission statement that fosters alignment and prevents distractions. Here’s an example of a team mission statement to get your creative juices flowing:

“Select and implement the most intuitive marketing automation system that aligns with our unique customer journey and plays nice with our tech stack.”

Your more specific goals may include all or some of the following:

  • Generate more leads with the same budget
  • Empower marketers to easily build campaigns, without outside help
  • Gain visibility into the entire customer journey
  • Manage the lead funnel more effectively
  • Help sales build more pipeline
  • Integrate sales and marketing to share a single source of truth on customer data
  • Calculate ROI and prove the value of marketing efforts and spend

Audit in-house capabilities & technology

Even the most innovative software features are useless to your organization without the right mix of talent. Implementing a marketing automation system should eventually make life easier for staff, but there is an upfront learning curve to consider. Does your team have the capacity to learn, operate, and fully leverage a new system? Or, will this endeavor inevitably lead to a headcount expansion or more consultants? Be honest, and as you look at different options, consider the ease of setup and use in your decision-making.

Your existing tech stack is another key consideration. Is your sales team adamantly opposed to switching CRMs? If so, you’ve just dramatically reduced the number of marketing automation providers, as not every system integrates with your existing CRM. Would it make more sense to get a unified platform for sales and marketing, eliminating the need to manually sync systems?

Identify vendors

It’s finally time to begin your search for the perfect vendor. As a seasoned marketer, you already realize that the first solution in the search engine results is not necessarily the best fit for your needs — they just happen to have the largest cost-per-click budget at that moment in time!

All jokes aside, your search engine research should always be supplemented by:

In-network referrals: Reach out to your colleagues in similar roles at similar-sized companies. Which marketing automation platforms do they use? You can also ask for input from members of shared (and relevant) LinkedIn groups.

Review site data: Software comparison sites, such as Capterra and G2 Crowd, can be excellent sources of information for almost any product category. They’re also a great way to gain candid feedback from satisfied (or dissatisfied) customers.

Industry journals & reports: Do you operate in a niche market? Check to see if your industry’s trade organization offers any software recommendations or endorsements.

Compare features to your needs

As you begin to compare different marketing automation systems, you’ll likely notice feature overlap from vendor to vendor. However, as you dig deeper into the specific functionality of each system, less obvious differences begin to present themselves.

For example, several marketing automation systems allow users to configure time-based “drip” campaigns for lead nurturing. The logic usually goes something like this:

  • Day 1: Send welcome email
  • Day 7: Send some helpful blog links
  • Day 14: Send more helpful blog links
  • Day 21: Send some videos
  • Day 28: Send more helpful videos
  • Day 30: Try to get the lead to engage

The problem with this linear sequencing is twofold. First, it presupposes that each lead is in the same phase of the customer journey just because he or she has chosen to opt in. Second, time-based campaigns often overlook more relevant criteria, such as the recipient’s actual engagement or perceived interest. When compared to modern marketing automation systems that are built entirely around customer journeys and provide more flexibility, the drawbacks of time-based automation becomes even more apparent.

As you can see, feature comparisons can quickly turn into a fairly nuanced discussion. It’s therefore important to dive into the specific functionality of each system in order to understand true alignment with your goals, objectives, and capabilities.

At the very least, your marketing automation system should include:

  • Prospect segmentation and list creation
  • Lead scoring and grading
  • Forms and landing pages
  • Intuitive email template builder
  • Graphical customer journey builder
  • Email automation
  • Analytics, reports, and a single-view dashboard with all key metrics

Request demos from shortlisted vendors

Participating in live, personalized product demos is vital for three reasons:

1. You get to see the product in much greater detail. Online videos and product tour pages are helpful, but they rarely provide enough information to finalize your decision. Ask for a live demo of the product. Of course, by doing so, you’ll be put into the vendor’s sales pipeline and receive all of their marketing emails. If you don’t receive any emails, perhaps their marketing automation platform isn’t so great after all!

2. You get faster answers to your questions. Come prepared to each demo with a list of platform-specific questions and don’t wait until the end of the call to ask them. In advance of the call, you might even send an email that contains a list of questions. A good sales rep will view this as an opportunity to custom-tailor the demo to your specific needs.

3. You learn whether or not the vendor actually cares about your needs. Does the sales rep seem more focused on getting you to commit to a certain number of user licenses instead of understanding your marketing automation goals? Did he or she bother to learn anything about your company prior to the call? If a vendor doesn’t take you seriously during the sales cycle, how do you expect to be treated after you sign on the dotted line?

Make an informed decision

You’ve done your due diligence, participated in multiple product demos, received proposals from the top vendors on your shortlist, and discussed everything extensively with your team. Armed with the information that you need to make an informed decision, it’s time to move forward.

If the decision still seems too close to call, create a vendor comparison checklist that uses data to weigh the pros and cons of each solution. Score each platform based on all of the criteria that matter to you, such as price, must-have features, nice-to-have features, ease of adoption/ease of use, scalability, contract terms, vendor responsiveness, and product reputation.

Here’s a quick example of using a scoring system. In the example below, 1 = the least and 10 = the best matched criteria.

Unlock the power of automation

Selecting a marketing automation system is a process that your organization should take seriously. Carefully identify your requirements, only consider vendors that align with your needs, and then make an informed and objective decision.

Once you have your checklist ready, request a demo with Insightly. You can also schedule time with Insightly to think through your marketing automation needs and get a bit more guidance.

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*Q&A: B2B Marketing Automation Platforms 101, Lori Wizdo, Forrester, November 21, 2018