The Marketing Automation (MA) market is heating up with competition as well as acquisitions.  This means more choice for the consumer, but with more choice comes a longer decision-making process.  It can get very overwhelming very quickly to try to choose a MA system.

They all have the same basic capabilities under the hood – they can send emails, setup forms and microsites, track website behavior and automate actions.  But they differ in their interface, ability to configure and integrate and the level of complexity they can handle.  Some are more appropriate for large centralized marketing groups, while others work better for decentralized or smaller marketing groups.  I remain vendor agnostic in this blog, as I strongly believe that each company needs to evaluate and make the best decision for their situation.  But I can definitely point you to a few ways to make your decision easier.

First, know what you want the end result to be.  Think about the end, not the means to the end.  Outline your goals and be open to changing your organizational structure and processes as well as technology to meet those goals.  It’s best to think greenfield and not get hung up on your existing structure and processes – you can always outline a number of phases to get you there.

Second, be realistic about where you are today.  What are your current capabilities, systems and resources?  Do you have CRM in place and (the million dollar question) how well is it being utilized today?  How big of a change will it be for your marketing and sales teams to put this new technology in place?  Don’t neglect the change management aspects of this whole process.

Third, figure out your gap between your current and desired situation and outline a series of phases to get you there.  Maybe phase I shouldn’t even include the MA system – maybe you need to get other resources and processes in place first.  As much as you want the technology, it helps to be brutally honest with yourself about whether you are ready for it.  You don’t buy a car before you know how to drive.

Finally, once you get all of this sorted out and are ready to start looking at vendors, create a series of use cases so you can make sure you are comparing apples to apples across vendors.  Figure out what the most important features and functions are that you are looking for and have each vendor focus on these for their demos.  Otherwise, you will end up sitting through a bunch of vendor demos and will come out more confused than when you went in.  You need a very objective way to evaluate and grade each vendor on their functionality.

If you take your time to walk through these steps before you even take the first vendor meeting, you will find the vendor evaluation process to be relatively painless.  Your preferred vendor should shake out pretty quickly.  Good luck!