I'm in the market for a marketing automation platform. I feel our team is ready to take that next step with our technology stack. The team agrees, so now I'm shopping.

There's a lot of content out there about what a marketing automation platform should do and which one is best. It seems as if most of that content is either written by vendors that have an interest in influencing you toward their platforms or analysts who have an interest in you finding them interesting.

There isn't much content from the buyer — the person who has to make a bet on a vendor. There isn't much honest reflection about how challenging such a decision can be. There isn't much valuable feedback that could help vendors improve. So, I'm going to take a stab at creating some.

I'm going to make this really easy for anyone who wants to sell me a marketing automation platform. I’m going to tell you exactly what I’m looking for. (A lot of this is applicable to any kind of technology platform.)

Functional Completeness

I do have a checklist of specific features and integrations that the chosen solution will have to fulfill (email workflows, reporting, etc.). Some of them are no-brainers, simply on the list for completeness sake. Some of them are specific requirements, unique to our situation, that I cannot budge on. Some of them are nice-to-haves.

It would be easy to say, “The vendor whose technology checks off the most boxes on my list is the winner.” But that would be inadequate and irresponsible of me. Each individual feature takes a backseat this most important idea — that the platform be functionally and holistically complete.

By that, I mean that it operates as a single unit, that there aren’t clear lines where acquired technologies have been bolted together — an unfortunately common issue these days. The user experience must be compelling and cohesive. The interface shouldn’t confuse me.

Put another way, the platform just feels comfortable. It feels complete.

This isn’t something for which I can create a specifications document. It’s almost emotional. I’ve got a nose for bad smell in a technology, and I like things smelling rosy.

Expert Consultation

I’ve got a vision for what I want us to accomplish with this platform. It’s going to help us segment our market accurately, market to them specifically, increase engagement and optimize our lead-to-revenue process. We’ve defined a strategy, and we need the tool to help us execute it.

But I haven’t done this before for this specific kind of company with these specific challenges in this specific business environment. I need your help to make the vision a reality.

Login credentials and links to your documentation aren’t going to take us where we need to go. If that’s all we get, then we’ll struggle, and we’ll do it wrong. Then if we don’t manage to stumble on a successful outcome, I will take the blame. And I will pass some of it to you.

I need a vendor that isn’t just interested in selling me a whizbang email platform. I need one that will volunteer some skin for the game, that will help me understand the right way to do it. I need someone to tell me “why” in addition to“how.”

There can be a reasonable limit on such expertise. I wouldn’t ask for perpetual professional services at no cost. But it’s fair to expect enough mentoring to put us down a path toward success that came from using your platform.

It’s in both our best interests that this program be successful.

A Good Answer for Integration

It should be no surprise to anyone reading this that one of the most challenging aspects of building a marketing technology platform is integration. It’s also one of the most important

I’ve got technologies — specifically, a CRM system — that your platform must integrate with. I’ve got others that I’d like to integrate with, so we can start to centralize our marketing data. I’d like to know what this integration will look like. 

Do you build proprietary integrations? Do you rely on pre-built or custom-built ones from partners? Is there a plugin community (à la WordPress) available? Explain to me why it’s going to work. 

This tool cannot live in isolation. I want to know exactly how we can make sure that doesn’t happen, exactly what I will and won’t get with that integration, and how much it’s going to cost me above the sticker price. 

What I Don’t Care About

There are many aspects of your technology I care about. I’m just scratching the surface in this article. But there are a lot I don’t care about too. 

I don’t care what your competitor doesn’t do. Let me determine that.

I don’t care (that much) that you were featured by Gartner or Forrester or whomever. I’m more concerned about functional completeness than I am in an analyst report. 

I don’t care about how successful you’ve been for other customers like me. They are not us. I care about how you’re going to make us successful — that you can articulate how you’ll get us get there. 

Marketing automation is a fairly saturated space. Most of you will tell me you do basically the same things. I want you to help me understand what specifically about your technology and your company will set you apart. Why are you awesome? 

Make This Easy on Me

Selecting any technology is difficult. You can make it easy on me, and you’ll probably be rewarded for doing so. We’ll have the discussions about specific features. 

We’ll have the discussion about price and support levels. Those are all important and necessary. 

But at the end of the process, when I line up the final contenders that are otherwise functionally similar, these are the things I’ll be looking for.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Title image by  Timothy Tolle 

Title image by Timothy Tolle