Whether you’re looking to launch your product or service, drive traffic to your website, or create some buzz on social media, to do it well means you’ll have to make tough decisions about what you can and can’t do. There comes a point where your team simply won’t have the time – skillsets and resources – to squeeze it all in. This is where marketing automation helps.
Our Act-On marketing team has the same stresses and challenges marketers elsewhere experience. Our goals haven’t changed, but the buying behavior has shifted. According to Forrester, 74% of B2B buyers find buying from a website more convenient and 59% would rather not interact with salespeople as their primary source of research.
To summarize that: if you want your marketing efforts to be successful, you must embrace new things all the time. Or to summarize the summary, I point to what a colleague has written on her whiteboard, “Get Sh#$ Done.” Ah, the life of today’s marketer.
The Future is Now
For the fast-growing company looking to take that next step in conquering the world, the script is familiar. You’ve been told you needed email, CRM, and marketing automation solutions. You were told to drive growth by increasing demand and generating leads.
But as Forrester points out, tomorrow’s successful marketer will be spending less time sending mass emails using purchased lists, and more time mining social intelligence or taking advantage of predictive modeling and then incorporating that into account-based marketing.
As Forrester analyst Laura Ramos writes in Make Your B2B Marketing Thrive in the Age of the Customer, “Marketers must adopt a new worldview founded on the simple principle that customer obsession occurs when you walk the walk and talk the talk.”
With this new worldview, what Forrester calls the Age of the Customer, you’re going to need more than just email, CRM and marketing automation software. Your martech stack is going to need to allow you to listen and have a conversation with customers and prospects via social channels; you’re going to need to be able to leverage account-based marketing; and you’re going to need a dynamic, easy to use platform that can help build your brand, drive demand, and help expand relationships with your customers.
Apples versus Oranges
I believe one challenge buyers face when selecting a B2B marketing automation platform is that too often the vendor responding to your inquiry is going to say anything they think you want to hear to get your business.
I’ve been on both sides of this conversation, the person choosing a vendor, as well as the vendor (once, as a marketer responding to RFPs in the sustainable technologies space, I had the marching orders to imply that our product met all the specs even if we didn’t – we would sort out the details once we had the contract).
So, is there a way for you to weed out fact from fiction? Ask lots of questions and seek referrals. Look for apples to apples comparisons so that you’re not getting examples that are B2C when you are a B2B company, or you’re getting Manufacturing referrals when you’re in the Higher Education space. These are great questions to ask when you’re trying to get the facts:
- Is this platform built for B2B or B2C? Both? Tell me how?
- Can you show me examples of how companies and industries like mine use your product?
- Is your tool built for sales or marketers? Is it a sales productivity tool, or is it a demand generation/marketing automation tool?
- Is it a closed or open system? Do I have to use all the products in your ecosystem, or can I choose the products that work best for me that can then integrate with your platform?
- Does your product scale well across multiple product lines or geographies? Can you show me examples?
- How quickly can I expect to get up-and-running and seeing ROI on my investment?
- Can you talk about ease of use? How much reliance on tech support should I factor in to daily use of the platform?
The folks in finance may override marketing and push for the “free” option, or the “one check” option. Let’s dive into why neither of these are likely the best option for you and your marketing team.
For the free option, the old “you get what you pay for” saying remains true. I have a friend who received a free backyard sauna from a relative. Nearly $10,000 later, he gets to use his “free” sauna a couple of times of year. Basically, this rule can apply throughout your life: the free option just isn’t going to be robust enough to meet your needs. If it was, they would be charging you money for it. You may respond, what if it is robust enough and they are still giving it away for free? Well, you are paying for it somewhere else. Find out where, and then make your choice whether it’s still a good fit.
Another pushback from finance is to choose the “one check” option, meaning choose the vendor that offers the entire ecosystem so they only have to send one check. There are several potential problems to this. The first is whether or not the “entire ecosystem” actually has what you need and is not just cobbled together mismatched parts (see the apples versus oranges section above). Another challenge is vendor lock-in. Who knows how your business will change, or their business will change, or what new disruptors will enter the marketplace in the coming years and whether this will still be the right choice two, five or 10 years from now. Will this platform be able to scale with your company as your needs grow and change?
Closed versus Open
One of the other challenges to the one check (i.e., closed system) is that they are often not user-friendly, and in the Age of the Customer, that’s a problem. Closed systems also don’t encourage innovation.
Typically, as mentioned earlier, the ecosystem is a collection of acquired smaller companies (now divisions or departments) that no longer have the mandate to innovate. They now function as part of the mothership and may adhere to the larger organization’s goals. Your all-in-one system may grow stale, and then dated, piece by piece.
Conversely, one of the advantages of an open system is that you can pick the types of solutions you need and have them integrated into your own custom martech stack. You are also making your marketing stack future-proof. Something new marketing technology comes along – say some combination of AI and holograms – and you can relatively easily add it to your stack and begin sending smart holograms as part of your nurturing program (you heard it here first). Open systems do allow the ability to scale for future growth.