11 Tips for Making Marketing Automation Work for You

Marketers Offer Best Practices for Getting It Right the First Time

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Despite a name that would seem to promise simplicity, marketing-automation technology can be a tricky proposition. Getting implementation right the first time is crucial, given the time and effort it can take to align systems and stakeholders.

Last week at the Business Marketing Association's annual conference in Chicago, three marketers who have gone through the process -- Lenovo demand generation strategy manager Mike Ballard; Solar Winds director of marketing and demand generation operations Heather Burton; and Molex Incorporated director of global marketing operations services Don Gushurst -- shared what worked for them -- and what didn't. Here are 10 best practices for getting marketing automation up and running smoothly.

1. Hire an expert Marketing automation isn't plug and play. To use it effectively, you need a power user. "Find somebody that you can bring onboard who's an expert in it," said Ms. Burton. "I didn't pull the trigger fast enough and because of that I'm a little bit delayed in my implementation." You can, of course, outsource some tasks to partners or the vendor. But Mr. Gushurst said that means optimizing the system more slowly, which holds back more ambitious uses.

2. Match software to how your business operates, not vice versa Don't sacrifice processes that work for the sake of fitting the software. "Process before technology," Mr. Ballard said. "Don't work your process around the technology that you choose." Ms. Burton warned that excitement over features and functionality can throw marketers off track. "You have to find out really what it is you want to drive the needle forward on, and buy for that," she said.

3. Evaluate as a cross-functional team When Molex evaluated marketing-automation software, marketing wasn't the only department making the decision. "We had a cross-functional team -- IT, sales, marketing, CRM -- all together to establish the set of criteria that we developed," said Mr. Gushurst. The group tested three vendors full year before choosing one, he said. After that, he said, "we made our selection and then we bolted out of the gates."

4. Don't let politics interfere Big software purchases inevitably attract top executives who think they know best. Don't let that force you into a bad decision, said Ms. Burton. "Politics can definitely run rampant in terms of understanding the vendor selections," she said. It's marketers' job "to come to the table with due diligence, the facts and make the business case why for it, or why against it."

5. Align process with sales The sales team played a key role in Lenovo's evaluation, working with marketing on terminology, lead scoring and the sales tools within the software. "We partnered with sales executives; they were executive sponsors through the whole thing," Mr. Ballard said. There should be fewer complaints about weak leads when sales helps define the criteria for passing leads along.

6. Look at channels beyond email Most marketing-automation vendors can handle email, but with attention shifting to other media, it's important they can deploy campaigns on social media and display, too. "At the end of the day, everyone is going to expect the same message from your company no matter where they interact with you," Mr. Ballard said.

7. Don't just speak to vendor salespeople As a technical person, Ms. Baron said she wanted to speak with people whose worlds overlapped with hers. "I actually asked the vendors to not have me talk to the salespeople. I wanted to talk to product management and I also wanted to talk to their data architects behind the scenes," she said. This helped her gain a deep understanding of how data flows through the system.

8. Don't ignore reporting Mr. Ballard said the biggest surprise he encountered implementing the software was reporting inconsistencies. "Last week, I had three different reports that said three different things," he said, "We're bringing in multiple sources. We are on data overload. We have so much data we don't know what to do with it." Clean your data before implementation, he said.

9. Don't blow off pitch emails With the marketing-tech landscape changing rapidly, you can learn a lot from tech companies asking for your business, even if they're not a fit. "I respond to every vendor that contacts me," said Mr. Ballard. "The reason why I do is, there's so many innovative companies and technologies out there and it's only going to grow."

10. Test the product Many marketing-automation software companies are cloud-based, so a test might only require a login and password. "If you want our business, show me that your product really works," said Mr. Gushurst, relaying what he tells companies when asking for a test. "That 110 million percent that you showed on your powerpoint slide? Show me."

11. Don't lose sight of the 'why' Evaluating marketing-automation software can take so long, the initial reason for purchasing the software can get lost. "Stay true to why you purchased in the first place," said Ms. Baron. "It is so easy for things to get scope creep, other people to get all excited about what they can do with it, and suddenly you get into a bit of a spaghetti mess."

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