Selecting today’s marketing technology solutions is no easy task. From content management, to email, marketing automation, social media, and analytics, sometimes it feels like we need a university master’s degree in software selection.
“If marketers are to truly succeed with content marketing as a strategic approach in their marketing process – they will need to change their approach to both content AND data more broadly.”
A marketing automation tool empowers the marketer to make this change – and understand the provable value that a subscribed audience provides. Selecting the right marketing automation tool, then, is arguably one of the most important initiatives that we will take on.
So, what are the best practices that will help ensure we make the right choice? To find out, I asked Cathy McKnight, a content and software selection expert, to share her thoughts. And you won’t find a more qualified person to speak on this topic. Cathy is a partner with Digital Clarity Group, a consultancy that helps brands to select software products. She has personally led more than 100 selection processes for enterprise marketing tools.
We met over a nice glass of wine and discussed all things marketing automation.
Robert: Marketing automation can be a serious investment for a marketing team. What are some of the questions that a marketing team should be asking before they start this journey?
Cathy: The first one is to honestly ask yourself if we really have a technology problem at all? Or, can we solve the majority of our problem by fixing our content, assets, and/or adjusting our processes?
Implementing a new technology whether from scratch, or migrating from one solution to another, is incredibly disruptive and time-consuming. Depending on the size of the company, It can take a company months to select, implement, and get adept at using a new marketing automation system. And this doesn’t even address the challenge of user adoption and training.
Taking the time to ensure a new platform is the right path forward is a critical first step.
Robert: Assuming that the answer to that question is “yes, we need a new marketing automation solution”, what is the best way to gather the requirements that will help us determine the right solutions for us?
Cathy: Well, this is where most companies don’t take nearly enough time – gathering requirements. This includes many important questions that need to be answered, like who will use the system/solution, and what other systems will it need to interact with, and what are the needs for support over multiple platforms like your blog or web site, etc.
Marketers need to be sure to interview representatives from all affected stakeholder groups. Ask them what they are trying to achieve with the new marketing automation solution. Interview a wide range of stakeholders beyond just the regular users, on what success looks like for their roles including representation from management, lines of business, site administrators, and of course, IT.
Robert: Speaking of requirements, you often use the term “focal needs”. What are those exactly?
Cathy: Great question. Yes, as part of the requirements gathering process, you should be make sure you are gathering your focal needs. So, some requirements will be important, but not necessarily unique to you. For example, does the marketing automation system integrate with your CRM system? But some needs are unique to your business, or the way you operate. These are what we call “focal needs.” They typically have at least one of two characteristics. They are, first and foremost, idiosyncratic to your organization. Every organization is unique, and the uniqueness of a requirement should translate it into being a focal need.
The second aspect of a focal need could be less about the uniqueness of the need – but rather how important a particular need is for your particular company. For example, if your company has a decentralized model where hundreds of users may be accessing the system with varying frequencies, an extremely intuitive and easy-to-use interface will be essential.
Robert: Okay, so once we develop our requirements and document them – what’s the next best practice?
Cathy: You definitely want to use those requirements and focal needs to get to a short list. Really, you shouldn’t go out with an RFP to more than 3 or 4 providers max. If more than that fit your requirements or focal needs, you may need to revisit your needs. Ask yourself if they are specific enough?
Then, and this is really important, once a technology shortlist has been established, you should develop a parallel list of service providers – or agencies. It is also good practice to ask each of the short-listed marketing automation solutions for recommendations for three of their best service provider partners. Each should be investigated to understand their approach and
methodology, project team size, capabilities (as they align with your focal needs, product fluency, and overall ‘fit’), vertical experience, etc. It is also extremely important to speak with reference customers about their experiences. The service provider’s team will be instrumental in helping you become successful.
Robert: So, okay, once you then get to RFP stage with your short list – how should you approach that?
Cathy: If you take one piece of advice, take this one – don’t do checklist RFP’s. If you’ve done your research, you know that the solutions on your shortlist have the ability to do what you need. You want to write a scenario-based RFP. This approach will get you meaningful answers and create a collaborative environment for both you and your prospective partners — after all, the RFP process should be viewed as an early step to a long, mutually beneficial partnership.
By running the RFP towards the end of the selection process, you will be familiar with the vendors following the Information Exchange, and they will know enough about your organization and your needs to provide you with the best possible proposal.
Robert: That’s great advice. If there’s one last thing that you’d advise marketers to be successful with marketing automation selection what would it be?
Cathy: Here’s what I’d say. Don’t forget about what you don’t know. What I mean by that is today’s industry-leading marketing technology solutions typically offer far more than their traditional range of functionality, often crossing over into other MarTech solutions offerings. Some marketing automation solutions might offer social media integration, or even the ability to create other content like Webinars or interactive applications. This expanded breadth of
capabilities, along with their ability to integrate with other enterprise tools further increase their overall value. So, make your research process an iterative one. Learn, develop, repeat. After all this is a process you only want to do once.