Monday, November 07, 2011

The Seven Deadly Sins of Marketing Automation System Selection

I’ll be giving a Webinar this Thursday on evaluating marketing automation software, sponsored by Neolane. Part of the content will be a list of Seven Deadly Sins of Marketing System Selection.  I thought that was worth a blog post of its own. So here goes.

1. Ignoring Users. Selection teams often don’t take the the time to understand how future users of the system do their jobs today. The justification may be that everything will change anyway, or that every marketing department has similar needs, or that the users themselves don’t know what they need. The cost of skipping this step is that you don’t learn about existing business processes and user skills. This means you don’t identify what processes need to be changed and what training your users will need.  The immediate result is you can’t factor those items into your vendor evaluation. Longer term, your deployment will take longer since you’ll have to stop to gather this information before you can proceed.

2. Lack of Purpose. It’s frightening how often I ask someone how they expect to use their new marketing automation system and am told they don’t know. Buyers who don’t set business objectives have no way to judge what the system should do or to measure its success after the fact. Ideally you’ll have specific, quantifiable goals in terms of numbers of qualified leads, costs, and revenue created. But even general goals like supporting Webinars or running nurture campaigns are enough to give useful direction. Remember the old saying: “When you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”

3. No Requirements. Even marketers who know what they want often don’t translate those desires in specific system requirements. This is probably the most common sin of all. Formal, written requirements provide a framework to prioritize your needs, explore them with vendors, and make a complete, consistent assessment of what you learn. Without written requirements as a reference, your project can easily descend into chaos: something that made for great medieval artwork, but in real life is no fun at all.

4. Talk Only to Leaders.  Buyers often limit their consideration to a handful of vendors who are anointed as industry leaders by analysts or simply gain the most attention in social media. The theory seems to be that the most popular products do the best job of meeting a broad spectrum of needs, and are thus most likely to suit the buyer.  It’s an argument that only makes sense to people who don’t know their actual requirements. Think of it this way: would you only consider three best-selling automobiles (Ford F-150 pickup, Chevy Silverado pickup, and Toyota Camry)? Of course not, because you have specific requirements that those products probably don’t meet. Chances are you also have a few marketing automation needs that less popular systems actually perform best. You won’t know unless you look.

5. Let the Vendor Drive. Marketers who don’t know what they want often rely on the vendors to tell them what’s important. At best, the salesperson takes the time to understand your business and demonstrates how her system can best meet your needs. But that’s not the same as defining the best solution. More likely, the salesperson will hand you a list of what her system does best and hope you evaluate everyone else against it. It’s true that some salespeople will walk away from a deal if it’s a poor fit, but now you’re relying on the kindness of strangers – and you remember how that worked out for Blanche DuBois. (Poorly.)

6. Focus on Functions. We all love our bells and whistles, and salespeople love to show them. But functionality isn’t the only thing you need to consider in a vendor.  In fact, given that most systems can meet your basic needs, functions may not be the most important differentiator. You also need to consider how well the vendor will train and support you, whether their underlying technology can meet your present and future needs (there’s those pesky requirements again!), their familiarity with your industry, and how likely they are to remain in business. It's harder to answer these questions than sit through a demo, but they’re critical to your project’s success.

7. Work Without Experts. This is the Original Sin from which all others flow. It takes expertise to define objectives, gather requirements, screen the vendors, and run a smooth process. Marketers, like B2B buyers everyewhere, are increasingly trying to do it all without help – and most of them don’t have the time or skills to succeed. If you’re among the have-nots, see whether your IT department or procurement team have the skills to help. If not, find an external expert who specializes in marketing automation systems (for example, Raab Associates). Chances are, their fee will be less than the value of the time you’d spend doing the work for yourself. More important, you’ll end up with a better decision sooner, greatly increasing the final return on your marketing automation investment.

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