Choosing a marketing automation system

  • google_profile_photo.jpgMarketing automation has dramatically increased the effectiveness and efficiency of finding, nurturing and converting customers. Nurturing leads one at a time isn't realistic for most businesses and takes a huge amount of time for the ones that do. Marketing automation's strength is that by mapping and programming much of your pre-sales process, you can achieve metronomic 'always-on' marketing that is pulsing away in the background to engage an increasing number of prospects over time.

    Marketing automation is extremely effective at accomplishing marketing goals. From capturing leads to generating more sales revenue, the overwhelming majority of businesses using marketing automation are seeing positive results.

    So how do you go about choosing a marketing automation platform that's right for you? I was recently invited to present at a conference on this exact topic and here is how I broke down the selection process.


    Perhaps the obvious one to start with - does it do what you want it to do? In fairness, most of the platforms on the market do many of the same things, so it is a case of dividing it down into 'must haves' and 'nice to haves'.  'Must haves' in my book are:

    • Lead capture - forms that can be easily built into your website or landing pages that feed data directly into the system
    • Nurturing ('drip') campaigns and automation of other workflows associated with the sales cycle.  Map out some of what you want to do first and check that the system can support it before you buy
    • Lead scoring - to highlight the relative warmth of all of your leads
    • Pipeline management - so you can see which qualified lead is where in the sales funnel
    • 3rd party integrations with other systems e.g CRM
    • Analytics - everything you need for ROI calculation, sales funnel analysis and channel attribution in one clear place

    Ease of use

    The best marketing automation platforms are intuitive and easy to lean.  A complicated interface or something that is cluttered with features you will never use will never achieve widespread adoption in your business. Also, you want a system that will work with any other systems you are already using. To move away from a current CRM or CMS can be difficult, so look for a platform that integrates easily with everything.


    No matter how intuitive and easy to lean the system is, you can guarantee that you will want plenty of training and support, both technically and in the development and implementation of your marketing automation strategy, so check what is there and how accessible it is.

    Value for money

    Budget can be intimidating when considering adopting marketing automation, but it doesn't have to be. High quality marketing automation is becoming available at prices even very small businesses can afford. Make sure you fully understand the pricing model though as there can be hidden costs which jack up the price from the headline figure advertised.

    • Is there an upfront on-boarding fee?
    • Is the quoted price based on a limited number of users?
    • What will you pay for additional email credits?

    Business viability of the vendor

    As the technology that sits behind automation systems becomes increasingly well understood, it is reasonable to expect that a number of new vendors will appear in the market and competition will increase.  While this is a good thing in many ways, you also don't want to choose a vendor that will disappear as quickly as it arrived. You will invest a lot of time in building your contacts and workflows into the system and you won't want to login one morning to find it is all gone.

    Our conclusion

    After reviewing and trialing most of the main providers on the market, we selected SharpSpring as our preferred system and it is the one that we run our own marketing on. SharpSpring ticked more of the boxes for us than any of the others and consequently got our business.

    Choosing your provider and running your programme

    We always advocate getting advice from an independent source.  While The Marketing Eye is now typically recommending SharpSpring to clients that don't express a preference, we also run programmes using HubSpot and Pardot and these can be better suited in some circumstances.  As suggested earlier in this post, the starting point is often to map out some of the tasks you want it to perform and then assess the providers from there.

    Outsourcing the running of your marketing automation to an agency can be a big asset if your company doesn't have the time or personnel to implement it in-house.  Your agency should have experience in setting up the email campaigns and workflows and will be able to do this quickly, particularly if they know your sector well.  

    Case study: Read how a tech company leveraged marketing automation for generating new leads.

    Please get in touch if you'd like to discuss the potential role of marketing automation in your business. We'll be pleased to help.

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