“Nearly all buyers (98 percent) are looking for dedicated marketing automation software for the first time, and nearly half (47 percent) are still using manual methods.” (Source: “Marketing Automation Software Small Business BuyerView | 2015”, Software Advice)

I’ve compiled some critical steps you can take to make the acquisition process easier, making you and your team happier with the outcome.
Having launched and used more than two dozen instances of different marketing automation technologies (including many of the top names in the space), you can trust that I’ve had ample experience with this to offer this advice to you.
If I was a business just getting started with marketing automation, here are the 13 steps I would go through before I signed any long-term contract:
1. Do a content audit.
I wouldn’t recommend buying marketing automation if you don’t have an inventory of your content, mapped to stages in your buying cycle, e.g what existing content generates leads or helps close sales? Make sure that you have at least one piece of content (blog post or downloadable file) that educates your leads at every stage in the funnel. This, I consider, is the minimum viable content marketing strategy for marketing automation. Here is a rule of thumb to follow:- If there is just one content gap, move forward with procuring marketing automation while trying to create that missing piece of content- If there is more than one content gap to fill, try to get that content created (at least a good working first draft) before you launch.
Content is the fuel for marketing automation so you would be wasting some of your investment by not having a decent content library. Here’s a more in depth guide into doing a content audit.
2. Set your goals.
As I mentioned in “How to Deploy a Successful Marketing Automation Strategy”, goals can include an increase in: qualified lead generation, sales opportunities, sales productivity and revenue. They can also include a decrease in: the sales cycle, marketing overhead and lost sales opportunities.Pick the goals that are most meaningful and exciting to you before you get started.Make sure you create your benchmarks prior to launching any marketing automation efforts so you can be sure to know where you are improving and what needs more attention and work. I’ve been invited into a number of marketing automation launch projects where the business really couldn’t answer of the key metrics (sales cycle length, customer acquisition costs, etc.) so try to figure this out the best you can before you launch. Being able to show your MA efforts improve your numbers will help you in countless ways.
3. Decide what is most important from your marketing automation platform selection.
Are certain features more critical to your success that others? Is world class support required? Do you need to use a recognized brand or would a lesser known, but more powerful technology be preferred?Not all marketing automation platforms provide the same features. There is a lot of overlap, but what is important to you may not be available in every platform.Figure out what is most important to you and create your shopping list from here. How do you know what is most important? Look back to your goals and align the features respectively.
As an example, if closing more business is most important to you (no brainer, really), lead nurturing is key. Make sure the platform you select has powerful campaign tools with deep segmentation built in. Without deep segmentation, your ability to provided highly relevant messaging is limited.
4. Pick a partner.
If you have skilled resources in house, congrats! Otherwise, consider finding an experienced agency/freelancer that can help you. Partners are useful for setting marketing automation strategy, creating content, speeding up the deployment process, deepening your company’s expertise in the tools/practice of marketing automation and more.There are more and more agencies and solution integrators getting smart about marketing automation. If you need a referral to one, just let me know.
5. Do your research.
Check out review sites like G2 Crowd or Capterra to see who ranks the best. Make a list of the current marketing technologies you use and figure out which ones integrate with your current martech stack. Match them up with your feature requirements created in step 3. Find out about APIs. Be diligent and deep with your research. There are gems in the marketing automation space beyond the handful of companies you are accustomed to seeing.Once you’ve gone over these details, you can more easily shortlist your marketing automation vendors of choice.
6. Understand the details of CRM integration.
CRM and marketing automation are like peanut butter and jelly. Learn how the marketing automation platform you are considering integrates with your existing CRM. Or, if choosing and deploying a CRM while implementing MA (I’ve done that for clients a handful of times), figure out which ones play best together for your goals.You are going to map data from your marketing automation platform to your CRM as well, so decide on all the demographic/firmographic data you want to collect for leads and accounts.You are also going to be creating custom fields in your MAP and pushing some of that to your CRM. Have as much of your implementation it planned as possible before you launch so you are expediting the process of getting totally live with your platform and CRM integration.
7. Scrub your database.
Run your existing email database through a scrubbing service like TowerData to make sure you’re importing the cleanest database possible. I recommend doing this for 2 main reasons:
a) Marketing automation pricing is often by number of contacts. Don’t get charged for waste; make sure you are bringing in good, mailable contacts from the very beginning
b) Keep your bounce rate down from the start, avoiding red flags and keeping you on positive terms with your provider.
8. Inventory all your web forms, landing pages, emails, etc.
It may seem strange to do this prior to launching marketing automation, but trust me, having this ready for your trial period with platforms will be super valuable. You don’t want to waste time after the trial starts collecting all of this stuff. Have it ready to go and hit the ground running with your trials. Plus, once you have decided on your vendor of choice, you’ll want to get fully up to speed with your marketing automation program so all this preparation work is going to make you a happy camper once you’ve committed long-term to marketing automation.
Keep in mind, you’ll either need to replace your existing web forms or map your form fields. It’s imperative that you don’t overlook any forms, potentially costing you the valuable demographic and behavioral data that comes from marketing automation form submissions.
9. Outline an initial phase of email creative and campaigns.
If this is a new endeavor and you don’t have nurturing campaigns in an existing platform, start planning your email creative and campaigns. This includes autoresponders that will be sent after forms are completed and emails used in your drip/nurture campaigns that educate your prospects and keep your company top of mind.Why do this before you’ve launched? You don’t want to waste your time and investment. Having it ready beforehand so you can plug and play right into your marketing automation from the start is a huge time saver.And here’s a tip: scan past marketing email campaigns, common emails used by sales team members in follow-up or other saved or canned messaging that helps you expedite the campaign outline process.
10. Use your free trial.
It’s a big decision you are making. You want to make sure you are going to enjoy using the platform. Don’t just sign up for a free trial, make full use of it to the best of your ability. You should try out a few different platforms, as well. Most MA vendors provide at least a 14-day trial and some training to boot. Each one has its strengths and weaknesses as well as being a better fit for the objectives you’ve identified as most important.During your trial, evaluate not just the platform and functionality, but the support and customer service you get during the trial process. This will give you a good understanding of what to expect moving forward with a specific vendor.
11. Attend your training sessions.
The marketing automation companies you are assessing should be providing free training (not just help files). Take full advantage of those. You’ll learn a ton about marketing automation in general and it will help you make a better decision when you final select a platform.The best marketing automation vendors provide multiple onboarding sessions plus unlimited training and support for their customers. Ongoing support for newer technologies like marketing automation is imperative so make sure you pick one that provides outstanding support services.
12. Consult your colleagues.
You could ask them for their product recommendations, but I’d recommend asking instead about the pitfalls and problems they encountered. You’ll get better (and more honest) advice and ideas from them AND you’ll potentially save yourself future time and effort by having more realistic expectations and a library of answers to common issues.
13. Know what it takes to change.
Once you’ve selected a platform, like anything, there are switching costs and pains. Next week, I am publishing my checklist on “How to Switch Marketing Automation Platforms” to have a sense of the work involved if you do decide to change. If you want to get it ahead of time, share this post on your social channel(s) of choice, tweet at me (@michaelshearer) to let me know you’ve done so and I’ll send it to you ahead of time.
There you have it – my 13 pro tips to follow before getting started with marketing automation.
If you have any questions, find me on Twitter: @michaelshearer.
“The Professional’s Guide to Marketing Automation: Before You Buy” is Part 1 of a 6 Part Series. Subscribe to the blog below to get notified of each new post in the series.

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