Marketing automation is a powerful technology platform that provides marketers with a rich set of tools to manage the components of their online marketing programs. But without a successful implementation, companies are less likely to realize the full potential of the software.

The usage of marketing automation software has exploded over the last decade, with no sign of slowing down. According to a recent report from Forrester, researchers predict that marketing automation software spending will grow to $25.1 billion annually by 2023—up from $11.4 billion in 2017. Many B2B firms are already leveraging marketing automation software and the majority of those that haven’t, plan to in the near future. A study from Act-On and Econsultancy found that 53% of B2B firms already have some form of marketing automation technology in place and 37% plan to utilize marketing automation in the future.

In many ways, marketing automation software is a lot like CRM software in that it’s a fantastic technology tool with tremendous power, but it’s only as good as the implementation, process and commitment behind it.

In many ways, marketing automation software is a lot like CRM software in that it’s a fantastic technology tool with tremendous power, but it’s only as good as the implementation, process and commitment behind it. And much like CRM, some companies are wowed by the capabilities of the tool, but fail to put the right plan and process in place to ensure success. Recognizing the potential pitfalls that exist when adopting and implementing marketing automation, here are 6 tips to ensure your company starts off on the right track.

1. Define your requirements and goals upfront 

Before you implement marketing automation software, it’s critical to define what requirements you have for the software and identify what goals and objectives you’re looking to achieve. In many cases, marketing automation can replace existing tools (paid and free) that you are already using, such as email marketing, social media management, surveys, etc.

One of the benefits of marketing automation is that it serves as an all-in-one solution for online marketing; so being able to consolidate your tools will not only help your process, but can also cushion the expense of the software for budgeting.

2. Choose the right marketing automation solution

Once a company has identified its requirements and set a budget (at least a range), it’s important to choose the marketing automation software solution to implement. The marketing automation industry is becoming a more crowded space every day, with many viable solutions available. So, what should you look for and how do you evaluate potential vendors?

Here are 5 primary criteria to consider:

Feature set
Most automation platforms have a similar set of tools, such as automated programs, website visitor tracking, lead scoring, etc. Look for a solution that meets your requirements, but be sure that you aren’t paying for a slew of features you don’t necessarily need.

Ease of use
Usability is a critical selection factor. You should look for a solution that has an intuitive interface and makes it easy to do the things that you want to do. Each solution has their own way of doing things, so find one that will require the least amount of learning and training.

Integrations
Most marketing automation platforms can integrate with a variety of 3rd party systems such as Salesforce, GoToWebinar, AdWords, etc. Consider what integrations are critical to your marketing and sales teams and select a solution that has the tightest integration with those systems.  If you use a more obscure CRM, look for a solution that provides either FTP synch or an open API for custom integration.

Support
Regardless of your requirements, choosing a platform with best-of-breed support is absolutely paramount. You want to make sure that you select a vendor that stands behind their product and treats all customers—from the smallest entry-level account to the very large enterprise—with the same level of customer service and support.

Pricing
The pricing models of marketing automation vendors vary considerably. Some offer pricing that seems considerably less than others, but when you add up mandatory upfront costs for training and implementation, and other features that are “add-ons,” the price goes up considerably. The point is, be sure you consider all costs involve, as well as terms of the contract (e.g. month-to-month, annual, multi-year, etc.). You don’t necessarily want to be locked in for a long-term commitment.

3. Consider what it’s going to take for implementation

Once you’ve made a selection, it’s important to consider what it’s going to take to implement marketing automation. This includes obviously your budget, but also making sure you have the right staff and internal resources in place and possibly hiring a consultant to help with planning, implementation and execution.

Another important cost to consider is how the culture will need to change or adapt in order to achieve improved marketing and sales alignment. Marketing automation blurs the lines between the territory of marketing and sales (or BD if that’s your lingo), so considering the implications of that upfront is essential.

4. Put a plan and process in place

As with everything else in marketing, having a strategy and plan in place is absolutely critical to the success of your implementation. As you’ve considered what’s involved with implementation, you’re going to want to develop a documented plan for rolling it out. Some things to consider in your planning include (but are not limited to):

• Identifying the admins, users and rules for governance
• Working with sales to define what constitutes a qualified lead
• Determining if/how the platform will integrate with other systems
• Migration of contacts, opt-outs and hard bounce list from current email platform
• Integrating contact forms/subscription forms/lead gen forms on your website
• Setting up subscription management
• Adding visitor tracking code to your website
• Designing email and landing page templates to match your brand

There’s a lot more that goes into planning, but your marketing automation vendor and/or implementation partner should provide you with a punch list or guide to assist in your planning.

5. Start simple and build out 

As tempting as it is to start using all of the exciting new tools and features you’ll have at your fingertips, one of the best pieces of advice I can give is to start by deploying what you’re currently doing first and then consider adding other features once you’ve built some confidence with the platform. Start simple with your current uses and build out as you go along, learning from the analytics, adjusting and tweaking your efforts based on your experience.

For example, if you’ve not previously leveraged lead nurturing or automated programs, don’t start out with a complex, multi-branch program. We like to say, “crawl, walk, run.” The point is, don’t feel obligated to exhaust every possible use of your marketing automation platform just because it’s there and you’re paying for it.

6. Consider bringing in an automation consultant

Lastly, it might be worth considering bringing in outside help to assist with your implementation. Many firms wouldn’t consider implementing a CRM system without hiring a consultant to help, and while marketing automation is perhaps a less complicated process, it does require knowledge, skills and experience that many firms simply don’t have in-house.

A qualified agency partner can not only provide the expertise and guidance needed for planning and implementation, but can also help you with ongoing strategy, content and campaign development along the way. Regardless of the automation solution you choose, most have similar agency partner programs and can recommend a partner for you to work with.

A plan for success

Marketing automation can provide your marketing team with a powerful platform to manage your online marketing program, but having the right approach is absolutely necessary for ensuring success. While not exhaustive, these 6 tips can provide you with some guidance on how you should approach implementing marketing automation software.