how to choose the right tool box for your marketing.

Let’s talk about the “automation” part of marketing automation.
Automation as in

dear machine, handle all these nitty-gritty tasks of copy/pasting things, creating new entries from a form submission and sending the right email, for me.

Machine are great at that, contrary to us humans.
But to make this automation part works flawlessly, we need to choose the right tool for the right job and, my dear friends, this is our job.
Machines suck at knowing what’s good for them.

Harvesting data

Most of the time, harvesting contact data from our marketing site means setting up lead magnets, forms, subscription to webinars, …
Soon enough, we find ourself shuffling data around, adding new leads in our CRM, assigning warm leads to a sales rep.
And we realize that it involves a lot of copy/pasting which, if you read some of my previous articles is the perfect route to errors and ineffective time employment.
Time is ripe for automating and setting up some workflows which will do all the triaging and data herding for us.

Checking for a “data out” feature

The thing is, and I’ve seen it happen quite a few time, a lot of the tools we use to do our marketing are just plugged into our marketing site.
At first, it’s kind of a trial-and-error mindset, just to start out and see what will come up.
Which is totally fine; but.
Are these tools equipped with a “data out” faucet?
What I mean is: when putting together an automation workflow, the first requirement is that any tool or service we’re using let us pull out the generated data without any human involved.
In plain English: login into the service and exporting a CSV file is not a “data faucet”.

What we need is a way to connect a source of data from a service to another one through machine instruction and no human intervention.
For example, if we’re using a form to collect information from a lead, we want to be able to tell the form: “once you’ve got the data, create a new subscriber in my mailing list —or a new lead into my CRM
There are 2 ways to obtain this result:

  1. The 2 services we’re using, eg. the form and the ESP/CRM, are integrated together. We can directly give instruction in one to push our data into the other
  2. Each service provide a “faucet”: a way to pull in the data and create the corresponding entity in any other service

Back to our tool box building moment.

When choosing a tool, from an automation point of view, the bare minimum is to make sure the service/plugin provide either an integration/connector to others or a way to pull and push the data through a service like Zapier.

Connecting services

Service like Zapier enables you to not worry about if so-and-so service is integrated with such-and-such service that I already use.
You only need a way to tell Zapier that some data is available from the first service —usually, we call it a “webhook”— to create a new entry —or modify an existing one— into the second.

With this concept in mind, assessing a new service is just a matter of checking the “integration” tab on the marketing site of said service, or heading over to Zapier/zapbook page and typing the 3 first letter of the service to check if it appears and see what kind of data are available.
If neither of these actions yields a result, you may need to reconsider your choice.

Taking a more upper view about assembling our toolbox

Basically —from a data point of view—, marketing automation is gathering data from leads, qualifying and segmenting these leads, and either make the sale or hand off a warm lead to a sales rep.
Still, from a data POV, this calls for a way to store data about leads, and data about the customer.
Where do you choose to store these data will vary depending on the type of business you’re into.
A lot of marketing automation is done through an ESP (Email Service Provider) which gives us lead magnet form, campaign and workflow tools. And also a nice way to store all the data gathered about someone, associated with his/her email address. In this case, it makes sense to retain all the information about a customer into the ESP if the sales are done without sales …

If your product or service involve customer talking to sales before signing in, at which point do you need to create an entry into your CRM?

You may want to assess the stage at which your lead is ready to talk to a sales rep before creating a new CRM lead.
This is a must if you want to maintain good relationships with the sales team :)

Make it easy for your team

If we look at the toolbox from an automation POV, the one and only thing that really matters is: how easy it is for a non-technical person to put together a campaign, a workflow.
Is the graphical interface user-friendly? How much time do we need to have a bare minimum up and running?
How easy it is to string together two different services: lead generation tool to ESP for example.
This is where it is worth paying attention to how your team can effectively adopt a tool.

Are big names in the CRM or ESP industries appropriate for SME?

These products and services are meant for big teams with dedicated resources to configure and run these tools. No matter what the sales discourse is, the learning curve is steep and these mastodons are so powerful that they can do anything including brewing coffee and belly dancing on rollerblades.
One drawback of big names is that they often tend to enclose their customer inside a platform system. Therefore you are tied up to only use the services meant to work with the platform.
If your team is small to medium, it may be preferable to run with the motto “do only one thing and do it well”.
Better to choose a CRM easy to configure with a few use cases close enough to your industry specifics and widespread enough that integrations are available for a wide range of services.

Summing it up

  1. Know how your team is organized for selling your product. Is it a high touch or low touch sales process?
  2. Make a decision about where your customer data is stored from the early stage lead to a paying customer
  3. Choose your CRM and ESP to fit your team size and skills
  4. Screen all your choices for a new tool to check for integration or API availability
  5. Avoid copy/pasting and data shuffling by hand at all cost – including import/export through CSV files