The holy grail of marketing automation? continues to be the reining ?shiny object? within the marketing industry. First reserved for B2C, then for large enterprise B2B, marketing automation has now expanded into the small business market. But too often companies think they need marketing automation and implement a full system right off the bat. Before you buy, creating a detailed plan of your goals, resources and expectations can save you thousands of dollars in the long run. It is important to evaluate the problem you’re trying to solve and set clear goals for what you are trying to achieve before shopping for a system.

Here are four steps for building your Marketing Automation plan:

Step 1: Determine your goals/objectives.

This will help you stay focused on your particular needs and not get caught up in extra features and functionality that may not prove useful to your business now or in the near term. In a recent study of businesses that have implemented marketing automation, nearly 50% use fewer than half of the features for the first year of ownership. It is common for companies to over-buy, based on the assumption that they will eventually grow into the system. Truth is most companies? move from email marketing platforms to marketing automation platforms because they simply want to be better at email marketing. This makes sense in theory, but if all you want to be able to do, is better target prospects, based on behavior and hand off interested leads to your sales team, based on prospect interest, you don’t need the full feature set that most marketing automation systems offer. The key is to find a system that can meet your needs today, but grow with you as your needs increase. So ask yourself these questions before jumping in:

-? Do you want to be better at email marketing?

-? Do you want to be able to behaviorally target customers?

-? Do you need to get more qualified leads to your sales team?

-? Do you have a complex product and are your sales cycles are too long?

-? Have heard that marketing automation is great, so you must need one?

 

Step 2: What functions do you expect to get out of the system?

The capabilities vary from vendor to vendor. Some solutions tout themselves as being the jack of all trades (master of none), while others pride them on being very good at a core set of features. For instance, some systems will run all of your sales and marketing processes in one place, including CRM, e-commerce, email marketing and drip marketing. While others are more focused on B2B businesses, where they have very robust marketing automation and email marketing capabilities, but integrate with your existing CRM and other systems, instead of providing them. Most small businesses would opt for the former, but would be upset as rapidly discovered the limitations of the system. Others might go for the latter, but would get overwhelmed by the richness of the features set. Evaluate your current systems, what and how you will need to integrate and how advanced you want your systems to operate.

 

Step 3: Determine your capabilities and limitations:? This will give you a guideline for which solutions meet your needs. If you don’t have the staff to manage a complex system then all of the added benefits it might provide will be for naught.

-? How many people can you commit to managing a system?

-? A full automation implementation requires a significant amount of unique content for drip campains and lead form pages. Do you have the resources to create the content to make full marketing automation successful?

-? How much IT expertise or support do you have in house?

-? What is your budget?

-? Is this B2B, B2C, person-to-person or web-based?

-? Do you have a CRM system? Does it need to integrate with your marketing system?

 

Step 4: Identify your organization?s marketing needs to understand the level of automation you require.

-? How many segments will you be addressing?

-? How long and complex is your buying process?

-? Do you intend for salespeople to use it?

-? Are you looking to track marketing revenue?

-? Do you need predictive analytics?

-? What kinds of programs are you looking to run?

-? Do you need automated nurturing, or will you be running manual drip campaigns?

-? Do you need to include social media in your content marketing programs?

-? Will you be using lead scoring?

Step 5: Invest in training from the on-set! Most failed implementations are due to a lack of investment in training and resource allocation. Engage those that will be using the product, make sure it is easy to use and intuitive because if no one is using the product then the investment was a waste.

At the end of the day, a successful marketing automation system can intelligently message to and nurture your prospects, reduce sales times and focus your sales efforts on only the most promising and interested prospects. Taking the time upfront to qualify these questions, determine your marketing objectives and find the solution that really meets your unique needs can make your marketing automation implementation a triumph.

 

About the Author: As CEO of Genius.com, Sam Weber is responsible for creating and executing on the company’s overall vision, overseeing all business operations and working closely with customers to grow the business. Weber brings over 15 years of extensive experience in enterprise software sales, pre-sales, support and professional services having worked with companies including: KnowNow; E.piphany; Clarify; Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati.