The decision is already made. You are dead set on the [fill in the blank] marketing automation software. You’ve heard plenty of good things about it this conference season. Its tech is so advanced, it’s leading edge.

Now you’re telling everyone it’s exactly what your company needs to move the marketing needle.

But is it really? And how do you know for sure?

Before committing to anything, let’s pump the brakes. Let’s shed some light on the three critical steps companies and marketing executives should keep in mind before making a mad dash for the latest and greatest marketing automation technology.

Step 1: Develop Your Strategy

Strategy development is a must before a company can choose the right marketing automation tool. Too many times I’ll hear someone say, “I need this tool because I’ve heard so much about it at conferences. It looks like it has everything I need.”

First things first: As a marketing leader, you need to know what your goals are before you can start this decision making process.

In addition to poor adoption across the organization, another common oversight for most companies is simply getting a good grip on how they’ll actually use that tool or new platform effectively. Too often, companies will make investments in enterprise-tier software without fully using its capabilities.

Before you can identify which tool is actually best for your needs, you should really ask the question, “What are we trying to accomplish?”

If you hold off on developing that strategy until after committing to a marketing automation tool, you’ll almost always spend more — especially if you’re Band-Aiding a solution that wasn’t right in the first place. You’ll not only spend more in terms of platform and technology, but you’ll also spend more when it comes to your investment of time.

When you’re trying to build and implement something with no strategy behind it, that’s an inefficient way of working. This can often lead to testing things on the fly and ultimately stopping mid-test out of sheer frustration, which can prompt a “just get it done” mindset that is hard to pull out of.

So, first identify your goals to develop your strategy.

Step 2: Know Your Data

A company’s data should play a vital role in the decision to choose the right marketing automation software.

If there is one thing a company can do to ensure everything goes more smoothly, it’s knowing what’s in your data and where it comes from. Honestly, marketing leaders don’t have to be the database architect to understand that your data will serve as the foundation of an overall strategy and also help determine the best marketing tool.

If you don’t know much about your data, here are a few questions to get things started:

• How clean is the data?

• Is the data reasonably formatted (e.g., email addresses)?

• Does the data come from disparate, multiple sources?

• Will data sources need to be combined to have one single source?

• How complex is the data structure?

• Does the company have a traditional database or is it a table (or even multiple spreadsheets) in Excel?

• This goes back to the strategy question I raised earlier: “What are you trying to accomplish?”

A foggy understanding of what’s in your data can mask limitations and flaws, eventually becoming a source of blame for why a tool’s capabilities are never fully adopted. The tool itself is never the answer.

Step 3: Get A Second Opinion

Seeking out a third-party perspective when evaluating marketing technology can save on budget. But, more often than not, a company will proactively go out on its own to evaluate marketing automation platforms.

They might say, “I’m going to have Adobe, Oracle, Salesforce, IBM, etc., come in and give me a presentation to sell me on their technology.” What’s missing here is an unbiased, third-party perspective.

Historically, tech companies present their solution at a high level. This means they will rarely get into the weeds regarding the data and data structures of a potential client. This creates a knowledge gap around how it will impact your company.

To narrow this gap, the third party should be familiar with the data you are using and also experienced in the marketing automation solutions under review. Preferably, this will be your services provider — ideally one that’s platform agnostic.

To avoid struggles in adoption and utilization, it makes a lot of sense to keep third parties in the loop throughout this decision making process. Remember, when the rubber meets the road, your services provider is ultimately tasked with the implementation, ongoing support, development and management of this new automation tool.

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