Purchasing software for your company can be an important investment. But evaluating the different software options available can be a time-consuming process, and it can feel like you never have all the information you need to make such an important decision. Using marketing automation software has a number of advantages: you can save time, personalize your interactions with prospects, manage leads better, and make your sales team more effective, just to name a few. But when you’re ready to purchase software, you need to have a solid process in place to evaluate the choices available. In this article, we’ve given you some guidelines to help you successfully evaluate and benchmark marketing automation software, so you won’t end up with something you’ve chosen for all the wrong reasons.

1. Before you start, what problems are you looking to solve?

If you want to avoid choosing the wrong marketing automation software for your business, you first need to clearly identify what your actual needs are. And the first step in doing this is to take a look at your current sales and marketing and strategies.

1.1 Assess your current marketing strategy

To make an informed decision, you have to start by asking the right questions:

  • How well developed is your inbound marketing strategy?
  • Do you have the in-principal support of your boss, is the sales department onboard with the idea, have you received feedback from the whole team?
  • What is your budget for inbound marketing actions?
  • Have you formally defined your buyer personas?
  • Are you able to create content to cover the different stages of the marketing funnel for each buyer persona?
  • To what extent have you qualified your database of contacts?
  • Do you already have an effective CRM solution that you share with sales teams?
  • How well do the sales and marketing teams currently work together?

The key question to answer is whether your digital marketing strategy is sufficiently well-developed or not. If it is, and you have an effective inbound marketing strategy already in place, starting to use marketing automation software will be the next logical step.

If, however, you can already see that there are some gaps in your current strategy, you need to fix those before starting to evaluate different software options. Because it doesn’t matter how good the software is that you choose, it won’t be able to make up for shortfalls in your strategy.

1.2 Identify your needs

Once you’ve looked at your digital marketing strategy, you need to identify what your needs are. Clearly defining these beforehand will let you ask software vendors better questions and let you be sure about the criteria you choose for evaluating software. And all of this is only going to make your choice easier.

To help identify your needs, it’s a good idea to start by asking two questions:

  • Do you have a large number of contacts to manage? If you don’t have many leads to manage, you possibly don’t need to purchase marketing automation software just yet. However, beyond a certain number, your teams will no longer be as effective at managing leads. This is where marketing automation software can really be of benefit.
  • Is your sales cycle long or complex? The longer and more complex your sales cycle, the more need you will have to provide leads with personalized content. This job can be made a lot easier with marketing automation’s lead nurturing feature.

Based on your answers to these two questions, you can decide how much need you really have for two key features of any marketing automation software:

  • lead generation
  • lead nurturing

1.3 Prepare a marketing automation strategy

If you want to start seeing results quickly from using marketing automation software, you need to also have a dedicated strategy in place before you actually make a purchase.

One of the key questions to ask at this stage is what marketing actions do you want to prioritize? Or, to put it in the context of benchmarking marketing software, what do you want to automate first? If you want to immediately answer “everything!”, that means you haven’t prioritized your actions. If you can’t identify straight away a part of your strategy that you want to automate or scale-up, you might not be ready to purchase marketing automation software. 

There’s no one right answer when it comes to choosing marketing automation software. Your choice will be determined by your specific business context and marketing strategy. That’s why at Plezi, our software is available at two different pricing options: Stark and Iron. The first can be used to focus on generating leads. The second is geared to converting them into customers. The most important thing is to choose software that is a good fit for your business, and which doesn’t force you to bend over backwards to try and use it.

2. How to evaluate marketing automation software

Once you’ve decided that you need to get marketing automation software, you can start the process of evaluating the different alternatives.

2.1 Gather all the information you need 

Evaluating different software options above all requires that you use criteria that are meaningful for you. This phase can be broken down into three essential steps:

  • Identify all the software vendors that you want to compare;
  • Decide on the different criteria you want to evaluate them on (e.g. price, features). These will most often be based on the results of assessing your current strategy and identifying your needs;
  • Gather all the information you can about the different software solutions.

We strongly advise that you select only a certain number of software vendors, so you don’t become overwhelmed at this point. If some choices don’t seem to be right for your business or don’t meet your immediate needs, you might as well put them to one side for now. You can always come back to them later if the first round of evaluation doesn’t produce any obvious results.

You can search for all the information you need to make a decision by yourself, contact software vendors directly in order to get it, or use some combination of these approaches. At Plezi, we think the best idea is to do some initial research to help clarify any questions you may have, then contact software vendors directly with your questions.

2.2 Rank software vendors and score

Once you’ve collected all the required information, you need to make a choice. To help you do this, we think it’s a good idea not to give each solution a single overall score, but separate scores for a number of different factors:

  • The overall sales process and the software vendor’s values: on a scale of 1 to 10, how much of a connection did you feel? How well have they understood your needs? Often this can help you decide between two software solutions which are otherwise very similar on paper.
  • How well did the software demonstration go? Does it seem easy to use? Have all your questions been answered?
  • How well does the software’s list of features match the needs you identified before contacting software vendors?

Reviewing this ranking based on your interaction with software vendors lets you use this qualitative data (i.e. what the interaction was like, how well their sales team answered your questions) to inform your final decision.

Our advice is don’t let yourself be overawed by lots of different bells and whistles! You should keep in mind that most marketing automation software solutions share 80% of their features in common. 85% of marketers also say they don’t use their marketing automation software to its full potential.
If you’re tempted to choose the software that has the most features “just in case,” remember that in practice, if it has all the features YOU need, that will already probably be enough for you to be getting on with!

2.3 Analyse the true cost

“It’s more expensive because it’s a big name. But it’s probably just what I need.” Unfortunately, this is a common mistake. But there’s no point going to all the trouble of assessing your strategy and identifying your needs if you are going to make a choice like that! In doing so, you might end up with software that’s costly, too difficult to use effectively, and which doesn’t meet your specific needs.

To help choose the right software, you need to keep in mind a few different things:

  • What is your marketing budget?
  • What are your marketing objectives for the year?
  • To be able to confidently achieve these objectives, what is the acquisition cost of leads?

Answering these questions will make it much easier to answer a final one: how much can you afford to spend on marketing automation software?

Armed with this last piece of information, you can start to effectively assess and benchmark the pros and cons of each software vendor. If you want to go into more detail on this subject, we’ve created a handy guide that breaks down the decision making process and benchmarking step by step.  Because we think our fellow marketers could use a helping hand from time to time.✨🎁

Charles Dolisy