The DIYMarketers Guide on How to Choose a Marketing Automation Tool

robot iStock_000021265921Small

robot iStock_000021265921Small

If you’re a coach, consultant, small business professional or solo-preneur, you’re probably running around like a chicken with its head cut off:

  • Researching and prospecting for new customers
  • Creating content
  • Delivering content
  • Servicing customers
  • Managing your business
  • And a million other things we haven’t got room for, but you know what I’m talking about

[Tweet “You’re stuck with too much to do and not enough time”]

You already know you’re supposed to be working ON your business and not IN it — and I always joke around and say that my staff of “me, myself and I will get right on that”.  But seriously, how is all of this supposed to get done?!

Automation is the answer

Not everyone is a fan of automation, just like not everyone is a fan of taxes, but guess what, we all have to automate certain things in our business AND – isn’t it a blessing that we can and that there are tools out there to help us? YES — AND Yes, there are tools and there are just as many experts and fans of those tools that are more than happy to sell you on the fact that their tool is best.  Some folks drink the cool aid and either end up with a tool that is too expensive and overkill for their business and some folks end up with not enough of a tool to adequately handle their automation needs and in the end, they loose money too!

Automation overload – which is best for you?

There are a few critical factors you should think about as you move toward automating your marketing process:

  1. Your overall marketing strategy and how you close the deal:  In my opinion, this is the number one most important thing to consider.  Don’t choose an automation system just because someone recommends one.  Choosing a marketing automation system is like buying a house.  None are absolutely perfect, each has strengths and weaknesses.  When you know how your sale is made and what core strategy you will use to attract prospects, you’ll be in a better position to choose the right system at the right price.
  2. How big is your list: If you have a large list with more than 5,000 unique names on your list and they run across a variety of segments, then you will need a tool that allows you to manage a single list via tagging options.  Another useful feature to look for is the ability to segment your list based on what your readers click on or choose – so that they receive the appropriate messages.  Also – don’t get enthralled by this feature, if you do NOT have campaigns prepared or a well developed marketing funnel – don’t invest in high-end software.  You’ll need to develop your marketing process first.
  3. How many products are you selling;  If you are selling more than 20 products or services – you’ll want to invest in a higher end system.  A large list and a lot of products, require complex marketing funnels and campaigns – lower-end systems and systems that don’t allow for tagging and behavior-based segmentation.
  4. Do you sell online, offline or both: If the bulk of your sales happen face-to-face, if you have a sales team or if your sales involve a committee or more than one decision maker, you definitely want a system with a strong CRM.  If, on the other hand, you are selling to individuals and you have affiliate partners, you should invest in a system that allows you the capability to intertwine the online and offline world.
  5. How much technical skill do you have: Some systems may are incredibly powerful, but they do require technical skill as well as a hefty learning curve.  Think carefully about this because you will not only need to pay for the software, but you’ll have to pay for a tech team to support it.
  6. Do you have a marketing department or team or are you purely DIY:  Another important consideration is whether or not you, yourself are a skilled marketer with enough technical ability to run a blog, do social media and run your analytics or do you need a one-stop integrated system with dashboards that serve as a sort of marketing cockpit.
  7. What is the size of your budget?  How much are you prepared to invest in a marketing automation system.  Remember, you can get all the features and functions of the big, expensive options, for free or a low price, but that means you will have to jump from one app to another and perhaps deal with difficult integrations.  To make your decision, make a list of all the features and functions that are most critical to attracting and converting customers in your business; add up all the costs and be sure to include training, set up, and any down time that you may experience as you move into a new system.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but I think it incorporates more than 80% of real issues in your business.

DIYMarketers Recommendations for Marketing Automation Systems

Coaches, consultants and small business professionals:  If you have less than 5,000 people on your list and less than 20 products, then your best bet is to use the low budget options; 1ShoppingCart and PayPal to run your online store, Aweber/Constant Contact/Get Response for your email marketing, LeadPages to create fast simple landing pages , Nimble as your CRM — even with this combination, you can be spending around $250 per month.  But it’s still your overall lowest total cost.  If you have a large list and a large number of products — read below. Retail, restaurant and B2B businesses with infrastructure:  As your business grows and your team expands, the complexity of the business will mean that you’ll need a more complex marketing automation system which will actually SIMPLIFY your marketing.   This is where it gets fun — you’ve got a lot of choices and I’m going to review a few of them here along with my comments.  These are just my opinions based on personal experience as well as client experiences with different tools.

  • If content is a key strategy for your business, consider Hubspot.  If you’re a lonely marketer inside a small to medium sized business or even a B2B business, this is a tremendous tool and will help you leverage your knowledge and educate your customers.  Hubspot can run a little high, so if that doesn’t meet your budget, try Act-On.  They are a great alternative and have many of the same features.
  • If ecommerce is a key strategy: Infusionsoft is a good choice.  If you don’t know InfusionSoft already, you will need someone who does.  In addition to this, it takes about six weeks to get up and running with this system.  It’s crazy powerful, but it’s about a $15,000 dollar decision in the first year.
  • B2B sales with marketing integration: I gotta go with my new fave Marketo on this one.  This is a terrific choice for a company with a sales and marketing team, a large customer list, the need for a CRM as well as some ecommerce thrown in for good measure.  The reviews on Marketo are very, very good and the price is just right for a small B2B or medium sized company.

Whatever you do — don’t rush

Choosing an automation system is not something to be taken lightly — and switching from one system to another isn’t difficult, but it can really wreak havoc on your list.  Each of these reputable systems recommend having your list opt into a new system and we all know that you can lose quite a few subscribers in this process. Take your time, be sure to understand the impact of the system on your life, your budget and your business. The good news is — any of the systems I’ve mentioned here are excellent overall, the question is — which is right for you?

Ivana Taylor is the publisher of DIYMarketers.com. In 2010 she ranked #21 out of 30,000 influential people on the Internet. She is the book editor for Small Business Trends, a contributing author to AMEX Open Forum and has appeared on MSNBC.

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