CIO’s guide to marketing automation software

By:  James Martin – CIO

Digital marketing is a fast-moving target even for those marketing pros who have embraced it. This CIO Wrapsheet will help you choose the right tools for your business.

“We are moving more and more towards a place where one-to-one relationships are going to be more the norm, even at mass scale,” said Andy Markowitz, general manager of GE’s performance marketing lab during a panel discussion at CES 2016.

Yet, a 2015 survey from marketing automation vendor Autopilot found that only 13 percent of respondents said marketing automation was an investment priority. “Forty-four percent of the people who weren’t using marketing automation didn’t even know what it was,” says Autopilot CEO Mike Sharkey.

In this CIO Wrapsheet, we look at how GE seeks one-to-one customer relationships, dig into why some marketing professionals don’t know what marketing automation is, explain the difference between ad tech and marketing tech (it’s not as simple as you think), compare four top marketing automation tools and provide a list of questions to ask vendors before you buy anything.

12 must-ask questions for

picking the right platform

Picking the right marketing automation platform is a challenge

for even the savviest organizations. These questions will help you

cover all of the bases before you invest in new marketing tech.


These 12 questions, contributed by marketing

professionals and other experts, can help you

prepare the proper queries beforehand and form

frameworks for evaluating marketing technology


1. What about CRM integration? Does

the information flow both ways?

Ideally, marketing automation platforms will integrate

with Salesforce or another CRM platform,

according to Adam Bockler, communications manager

at Float. Ask about the specific CRM features

available in the platform itself to determine if they’re

suitable. “Not everyone needs Salesforce, especially

if you’re a smaller company that needs to be focused

more on selling the work and tracking deals than on

creating incredibly detailed reports,” Bockler says.

“A seamless integration between the CRM platform

that the sales team is using and the marketing

automation solution is essential and becomes

increasingly important as the teams grow, and communication

becomes more challenging,” says Billy

Cripe, CMO of Field Nation.

2. Any additional integration?

In addition to CRM, ask about the other tools and

services that integrate with marketing automation

platforms, and know which services are necessities.

For example, HubSpot integrates with GoToWebinar,

SurveyMonkey, Shopify, WordPress, Zapier and

many others.

“Have a list of your must-have tools ready to go

when talking integrations with providers, and check

off each one they have,” Bockler suggests. “If they

don’t have it, ask them if it’s on their roadmap.”

3. How does data flow in and out of

the marketing automation system?

You will likely need to combine data that resides in

the marketing automation platform with data from

other systems, such as those dedicated to CRM, SEO,

content management systems (CMS) and ERP. The

goal is to form “a holistic picture and drive decisionmaking,”

according to Tom Berger, vice president of

digital marketing at Progress. “The data should be

easily accessible via application program interfaces

(APIs) or scheduled exports in common formats.”

4. How flexible is the reporting module?

Can you export custom reports?

Weak reporting is still the Achilles heel of many

otherwise great platforms, according to Micky Long,

vice president and practice director of lead nurturing

at Arketi Group, so it’s important for organizations to

drill down into tools’ reporting features.

5. How does the platform

measure success?

“Tracking, reporting, ROI — these are terms that

weren’t significant to marketers for a long time,” says

Lauren Littlefield, president of Field Public Relations.

“It was easy to run radio and billboard ads,

then hope for the best when the end-of-year revenue

numbers became final. Now, through marketing

technology, marketers and company leadership alike

can analyze where their marketing is effective and

where it isn’t.”

Littlefield says quality marketing automation

platforms have flexible, customizable dashboards

and reports that help to measure campaign success

at a variety of different, granular levels. Organizations

should ask marketing automation providers

about success metrics and make sure they support

the metrics that are most important.

6. What about migrating from the

old system to the new one?

If you plan to migrate from a rival marketing

automation platform, it’s importance to ask about

the migration plan, according to David Chao, vice

president of marketing and product strategy at ReadyTalk.

“Listen for references that a migration from

your current platform has been done before,” he says.

“The right provider will want to dig into your specific

setup to assure a successful migration.”

It’s important to get a solid understanding of the

resources required to migrate or update your system,

says Gwen Knudsen, director of demand generation

at LiveHive. “Understand whether you’ll need to pay

for additional resources or use some of your own,

which may require you to pause other programs. You

may also need to pull in reps from your IT department,

sales operations, and marketing department.

Get their input before making a decision to make

sure it fits within their department goals.”


7. What’s the true cost of

using the system?

Hidden fees and costs associated with overages,

training and implementation can greatly impact the

overall price of a platform, according to Littlefield.

“Be sure to understand every potential cost for your

organization and how these possibilities affect the

competitive aspect of pricing as you’re vetting multiple


8. What about marketing

automation support?

As with any service, a personal touch from a marketing

automation software provider is important— but

unfortunately isn’t always available. “It’s been typical

for different managers to take over my account,” says

Float’s Bockler. For example, his contact at a marketing

automation software provider left the company,

and then Bockler received a “generic email address”

to use if he had questions or issues.

Ask specifically about telephone support — when

is it available and how much does it cost? It’s wise

to pick a platform that offers solid, easily accessible

phone support. “You will need it,” according to Long.

9. Is it easy to add new users?

Ideally, you want the capability to freely add or

remove users in your marketing automation systems

as needed, says Bockler. Some systems have restrictions

that let you only remove users when their contracts

are up for renewal.

10. How long does it take to implement

the new system?

Depending on the size of the organization and the

condition of the data, implementation should take

two to four weeks, according to Littlefield. Anything

more or less should raise red flags. Variables that

influence implementation time include the number

of data sources and silos, team engagement, and the

sophistication of systems and workflows.

11. Can the system manage full customer

lifecycles, or only leads and prospects?

Marketing professionals must increasingly manage

and determine entire customer lifecycles, or

journeys, from unknown prospects to brand-loyal

customers, Littlefield says. As such, it’s important to

ensure that marketing automation tools fit your specific

needs. “Several marketing automation platforms

focus solely on leads or prospects.

12. Does the platform support

your mobile needs?

Mobile technology has never been more important

to modern marketers, and it’s crucial that

you pick automation tools that meet your mobile

requirements. “With more than 50 percent of

responses coming from mobile, it’s critical that

email templates, landing pages and forms are supported,”

says Knudsen. “Ideally, getting a mobile

responsive template shouldn’t require additional