It never fails that a few months before a brand marketer is due to renew their marketing automation contract, they reach out to tell me that they are secretly looking to switch to a new platform and want my opinion. After we have spent a little time talking about their current state, what they want out of their future state and the business goals they are looking to accomplish, we usually determine that their current platform meets their needs. However, one thing always stands out, they typically need what I refer to as a “Marketing Automation Tune-Up,” which, simply put, is just recalibration and adjustment to what they are currently doing.
Are your needs truly not being met or are you looking for a shiny new object?
I went from driving an Audi sportscar in 2012 to a Toyota Minivan in 2015 because my life changed from being a newlywed to being a mom who needed extra room to fit three car seats. Our family’s needs changed very quickly, and as much as we loved the sexiness of our Audi, our Swagger Wagon costs less, gets great gas mileage and even has enough room for the dog and grandma. If we had put more emphasis on the sizzle instead of the substance, one of my twins would currently be riding on top of the roof of the car. Luckily, we sucked it up and joined the minivan club just in time to keep ourselves out of jail. However, some marketers approach their marketing automation platform based on shiny new objects because they want to say they have the latest and greatest features. We are encouraged in our industry to be innovative, to be thought leaders and to use cutting edge technology. However, being cutting edge does not mean cutting off your nose to spite your face if you are not meeting your marketing needs or your business objectives. Using cognitive tools and machine learning are great, but how deep have you gone in using the marketing automation basics like personalization, segmentation, dynamic content, lead nurturing and automated programs? If those are not being used to their fullest capability, cognitive tools will not be effective for you at all.
One thing I always recommend to a client is to request a demo of their current platform. In the past four years, Silverpop was acquired by IBM, ExactTarget was acquired by Salesforce, Responsys was acquired by Oracle, and the list goes on and on. Those platforms that were acquired have lots of legacy clients that have gotten lost in the shuffle of acquisition, employee attrition and technology advancement of marketing clouds. Often, a client’s first instinct is to jump ship because their contract is coming up for renewal or a slick-talking salesperson from another platform has reached out to them. By simply requesting a demo of what you are already paying for, you have the opportunity to remember all of the reasons why you selected this partner in the first place, as well as getting the lay of the current product landscape.
Give your service provider 3-5 use cases beforehand and then sit down with one of their sales engineers and talk through how to maximize your use cases. Share with them information about your current tech stack, any goals that you would like to accomplish over the next 24 months, as well as any workflow challenges that you are facing. This gives your current provider the chance to update you on any new features that you many have missed during previous updates, and it gives you a chance to gut check if this platform is right for your needs. It can also give new team members on your team a chance to thoroughly understand the capabilities of the platform as it relates to your business.
Don’t Wait for the Check Engine Light to Come On
It is common to get wrapped up in the busyness of business, and marketers often are going from deadline to deadline. To truly be an effective marketer, it is imperative to take a step back, evaluate what you are currently doing and strategize on how to get to where you want to be. Clients often tell me they are excited to switch platforms because it means they can architect the data and set up the programs the way they want to use them, instead of using something set up by their predecessor that they have not had time to change. Switching platforms forces them to evaluate the best way to optimize their marketing automation. This is a completely ridiculous and inefficient way to make a marketing automation initiative more effective. If you are willing to invest both the time, money and effort to change everything, why not invest the time, money and effort to fix what you currently have. You would not go buy a new car just because it needed new brakes and tires, so why treat your marketing automation platform any differently?
A great place to start is meeting with an expert. Most marketing automation software has business partners or consultants who know their platform inside and out (sometimes even better than the platform). They work with a variety of different clients actively and can tell you how their other clients have solved problems like yours. In addition to providing strategy and consultative work, these experts or agencies can become an extension of your marketing team and actually do the work for you. When a client tells me that they cannot afford to spend budget on professional services, I show them how costly it truly is to change platforms, and how an agency’s fees are nominal compared to that.
I also recommend investing in training. While spending an hour with a sales engineer over a demo is highly valuable, the true value is in understanding how to use your marketing automation platform. Ask your Account Manager at your marketing automation platform for a quote on a two-day training program, as well as a syllabus. If the platform themselves do not offer training, they can recommend a business partner or consultant who can either come on-site or can train your team via webinar. The cost is usually under $10K for a two-day on-site training, and taking the time to really dig deep into the platform will drive more than that in revenue. In addition to on-site training, encourage your team to explore the platform’s knowledge center and take any available online training that is included in your platform subscription. Attending user groups and webinars hosted by your marketing automation platform or a business partner can be highly beneficial, even if you only walk away with a few nuggets of new information. The more comfortable you and your team are with the platform, the more you are going to use all of the capabilities which will make your marketing more powerful.
Are you using an Atlas or do you know your Waze?
It can be challenging to go from current state to future state in the tech industry when you do not know what the future holds. To get a better understanding of their existing platform, I encourage my clients to get a presentation of the platform’s roadmap. Most marketing automation platforms will share their roadmap every quarter or six months. Talk to your Account Manager at your platform and ask them schedule a meeting for you to meet with Offering Management or Product Management. By getting a meeting with the team who is developing a product, you accomplish two things. First, you get true insight to what they are working on and an understanding of how upcoming releases will affect your strategy, workflow and business objectives. Second, you get a chance to share with the product manager what a client of mine calls her “Bitch List.”
I encourage all of my clients to keep a running “Bitch List” which is really a list of items that they would like to see changed in the platform. We often think of marketing automation platforms as having their own objectives and roadmaps of functionality, but that is not always the case. Offering managers want to make their product better, and the only way they can do that is if they hear from customers. Walk them through why this functionality or feature request is important to your business. If it is important to enough of their clients, you will see it on an upcoming release schedule. Last year, we had a publishing client repeatedly ask to have something exposed in their platform’s API, and this year it was released. It felt like a small win to all of us, but in truth, it significantly impacted their business and helped them achieve long-standing objectives that had previously been put on hold.
A marketing automation platform is all about performance. Like a car, it is impossible to use if you do not know how to properly drive it. If you are not giving it gas, it still will not run, no matter how cool and sexy it is. Before automatically assuming it is time to change platforms, check to see if you just need a marketing automation tune-up. Take the time to see if what you currently have meets your needs. Evaluate what may have changed since you were on-boarded, as well as what is on the horizon. Invest in education and training. Once you have done those things, sit back and enjoy because marketing automation is a fun ride.