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What Do You Wish You Had Asked Your Marketing Automation Vendor?

SLMA Note:  This is one of the best articles I have read on the subject of choosing a marketing automation system.     The author is Lauren Carlson of Software Advice.  I have  added some thoughts (encouraged by the author Lauren Carlson) and I have printed the majority of article. 

The orginal appears here.  In more depth.

If you want to download a Marketing Automation Softwear Buyer's Toolkit click here

by Lauren Carlson, CRM Market Analyst, Software Advice 

They say hindsight is 20/20. If you’d only known A, B, C, you might have done X, Y, Z a bit differently, right? 

Given that we can’t accurately see into the future, as consumers, we often seek out the advice and opinions of our peers. With the Internet and social media, it’s easier than ever to find out what Tina paid for this or why Joe chose that. Logging on to Twitter, Facebook, Yelp and other third-party review sites gives us instant access to what other like-minded consumers are saying about the products we are interested in. 

We were curious about what marketing automation users would do differently with 20/20 hindsight. In other words, if they could go back and buy their software all over again, what would they have changed? So we polled some software users and asked them: “What questions do you wish you had asked your marketing automation vendor before purchasing?” We outline the questions users wished they’d asked.  

The Four Categories of Questions 

While we polled many users, we simplified their responses and singled out the top 10 most popular questions they wished they had asked. Then, we separated those responses into four categories: integration, support/training, road map and maintenance. Below you’ll also find several actual responses from our participants that better illustrate what they learned through the purchasing process. (Note: All individual participants and companies are anonymous.) 

Clarifying Communication around Integration 

Arguably one of the biggest pain points in any software implementation is integration. Most companies purchasing a new system will have one or more existing systems that the new solution must integrate with. All marketing automation systems will offer some level of integration but the depth varies and is often unclear. This lack of clarity seemed to be a big issue among respondents. Many took integration at face value without inquiring further into the level of integration offered. 

“Just knowing that a marketing automation system integrates with CRM isn't enough. You have to understand specifically how the systems work together, especially with leads, campaigns, and opportunities.” 

Our respondents indicated these are the questions they wished they’d asked about integration before purchasing their system: 

1.How do the marketing automation and CRM systems work together? 

2.Does the vendor have bi-directional sync between the marketing tool and your CRM software?

 3.If you discontinue using the software how do you get your valuable lead information and lead activity out of the system to load in the next system? 

SLMA Comment: This is one of the biggest issues.  Taking integration for granted and finding out about the issues later is a reputation killer for the purchaser.  Ask for references that match your integration target.  If they don't have any...think twice.  Ask the references questions about time, added cost, promises made and responsiveness of the software provider.  

Getting the Service & Support that is Promised

You Need Vendors love to tout their product as the easiest thing in the world to use. While the marketing may be superb and the web site dazzling, hyped up statements discount the fact that implementing software can be extremely complex – requiring proper training and support in order to achieve that desired “ease of use.”

“You have to look under the covers and ask those hard questions about training. What’s really involved and how much will it cost? What’s the average time it takes for one of their customers to get up to speed? And then check it on your own because they’re going to tell you what you want to hear.” 

“When you’re ready to send out a campaign and there’s a glitch, you really need someone to call you back in a timely manner. I don’t expect it to be 5 minutes, but I don’t expect it to be 2 days. So that’s another really valuable question that I didn’t ask: What’s your turnaround? They said in the beginning, for the implementation, that I would have an assigned account rep to help me bring up the system and do the integration, but once we turned it on, that person went away. So, I definitely would have had something put into the contract regarding customer service, or at least drilled down to question that component of it.” 

When assessing products, be sure to ask the following questions to ensure that the vendor offers the level of training and support you need: 

1.What kind of training is required to get program managers up to speed, and what is the learning curve? 

2.What level is the instruction and is it customizable to meet the level of knowledge that your team currently has? 

3.In terms of customer service, what happens after implementation? Is there something in the contract that can guarantee a set of dedicated reps or a minimum turnaround time for customer service requests? 

SLMA Comment: Check the references.  Ask for a dozen and call 3-4 at random.  Drill down on issues, promises, time for call-backs, etc.   Ask for the name and contact info for someone who bought the product in the last six months.  You want the pain if any to be fresh.   Ask questions such as, "What could they improve on when it comes to service? "  Forget closed ended questions, ask open ended questions and listen to the response.  Ask to talk to the person who is working with the product everyday, not management. 

Matching the Product Road Map to Goals 

Sometimes we make promises we can’t keep. The same goes for vendors. They create what they call a road map for a product, which outlines a path to indicate where that product is headed in the next few years. The buyers we polled pointed out that some of the products they selected did not follow through on the road map. Buyers need to be aware of what is actually available in the product.  

“Understand the reality of what version of the solution is being sold versus what is available. We were surprised how much of the presentations we saw were coming soon or in beta and not functionality in production use today.” 

According to feedback from our polled buyers, the following questions will help you determine whether the vendor can support your needs, both now and in the future: 

1.What is the vendor’s roadmap for the coming year and how committed are they to delivering on that? (i.e., when they announce a new user interface and how long before it’s actually rolled out?) 

2.Is the solution robust enough to handle your long-term goals? 

SLMA Comment:  Road maps are nice, but do not buy based on the road map.  If if doesn't do what you want now, today, don't buy it based on future promises.  

Maintaining the System 

Purchase and implementation are only the first steps when adopting new software. From there, you have to deal with day-to-day operation of the system. Many buyers don’t think about this post-implementation period.  

“[Systems] have maintenance windows, even though the vendors will say that they’re SaaS or cloud. When this certain marketing automation tool that I implemented had maintenance windows, all of my landing pages that were hosted by that tool went down. If I would have known to ask about downtime beforehand, I wouldn’t have picked that tool because being a demand gen expert, that’s where my core focus is. I can’t afford to have my landing pages go down.”

It’s important that you understand the maintenance process for your system. Here are some good questions to ask: 

1.How complex is the system to maintain? 

2.How much down-time does the system have and how does that affect your usage of the tool?

SLMA Comment: "Ease of use," is the most over-used phrase in the industry.  "Doesn't require IT help" is the next over-blown statement.   Check the references, talk to the person actually running the software.  Ask if it is really easy to use, how skilled the person is in IT related issues and how many hours a day they spend on the system.  

 Preparing for the Purchase

It’s important to ask the vendor questions – but taking a hard look at your own organizational attitudes and needs is also necessary to ensure that you are ready for the purchase.

“I think the big gap for us was we did not have a CRM in place. I would tell people that if you’re looking at marketing automation, make sure your CRM is in place and is working well, and that your marketing automation system integrates well with that CRM. Since our integration happened, it’s been a totally different experience. It kind of unlocked the potential of the marketing automation experience.”

“If you’re just getting ready to make the leap, chances are very, very good that the data in your CRM system is atrociously dirty, and doing even simple segmentation is very difficult to pull off if there are no strong data hygiene practices in place.”

To ensure that you are fully prepared to implement a marketing automation system, be sure to investigate these areas of your organization first: 

1.Do you currently have a CRM system in place?

 2.Do you have sales buy-in as well as marketing buy-in? 

3.How clean is your data currently? 

4.What do back channel references say?

SLMA Comment:  Marketing automation eats content faster than my Collie Shiloh eats her dinner.  Make sure you have the content and a source for content and a budget for creating content for the MA system.    If not you, will be frustrated and the prospect will be bored.  

These questions should serve as a guide in your purchase of marketing automation software. If you ask the right questions, you will see the right results the first time around.

Have you implemented marketing automation software in your organization? What questions did you ask before purchasing?

Which ones do you wish you’d ask? Let Lauren Carlson know in their comment section. Comment here.


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