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Cassie Coke

Marketing Automation Platform Comparison Rubric

Cassie Coke / March 24, 2021 / 0 Comments

I was on a webinar hosted by a competitor recently on the topic of choosing the right marketing automation platform (MAP) for your business. The first question they said they asked people was, “What are your requirements?” That seemed to me a little bit like asking my daughter, who speaks about eight words to diagnose why her nose is running before giving her medicine. As a consultant, I see it as my job to help our clients outline the requirements they already understand, sure. But my real value, the reason you pay me my hourly rate, is for the requirements you don’t see. I am the expert in MAP. You pay me to short-cut your learning curve and give you guidance. To that end, I’m opening my expertise to you in this blog. Reach out to me on LinkedIn or below in the comments with questions.

Categorize Your Requirements

This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list, but these categories are consistent across the MAP evaluations I’ve done recently:

  • Data & Targeting
  • Branding
  • Reporting
  • Integration
  • Lead Nurture & Engagement
  • Lead Generation
  • ABM
  • Process Automation
  • Compliance
  • Scoring
  • Lead Forms
  • Security / Permissions
  • A/B Testing
  • Training & Support

I recommend creating a spreadsheet (you can also grab our template, which is later linked in this post) with your requirements and then in a column, bucket them into these categories. Next, I’m going to cover some of the most common requirements I hear and pepper in a few requirements, I rarely hear, but typically suggest. Once you have these, I’ll cover how to present them in a high-level way that gets executive buy-in.

Tips for Writing Requirements

Try your best not to solution in your requirements. You likely have some exposure to MAP already, but don’t let that color solutioning for how to achieve your ask.

Also, don’t let your previous experience taint your wishlist. Know that no MAP will fulfill everything you want, exactly as you want it. But, this exercise will help identify what you’re giving up … and pro tips, can even be used in your negotiation later!

Lastly, these are MAP requirements, but that doesn’t mean only marketing provides requirements. Start with marketing, but you will need to gather requirements from sales, customer success, and a host of other people. I even recommend asking finance and your CEO to contribute. Their requirements will absolutely help in the business case portion after all requirements are set.

Data and Targeting Requirements for MAP Selection

A key component of your MAP is the underlying data. This is one of the areas I see marketers making a lot of assumptions to their own detriment. Be sure to dig in on the overlooked section on this one if you do nothing else.

Typical client requirements:

  • Mail merge fields to bring in any data on people or their companies.
  • Ability to update and normalize data points.
  • Lists and segmentation dynamically update as data points change.

Often overlooked requirements:

  • Mail merge fields to bring in campaign-level data. This is a huge time-saver, if you can create a “field” for programs that reuse things like campaign name, time, etc. Think about your webinar program and how often you refer the title of the webinar in your emails. This simply makes builds faster and less prone to error.
  • Targeting available for opportunity data. This may seem like a no-brainer but there are some key points this requirement makes MAP vendors talk through. Be sure you see in the demo how opportunity data is available, sorted and queried in the MAP and be sure to dig into fields here. You may be surprised if you’re using a custom amount field, how many MAPs can’t see it for segmentation!

Related to opportunity data, I know it’s painful, but I’d highly recommend asking for a data architecture map. It may feel like you’re out of your element, but I guarantee someone along the way will be happy you asked for this. Most MAPs have hidden nuggets of information in here that will help you understand where segmenting your data will be easy and where you’ll have an issue. Be sure you understand what type of data you can only read versus what objects and data you can manipulate.

Branding Requirements for MAP Selection

When most people think about the intersection of their brand and MAP, it’s about ensure consistency of look and feel, but there’s some technical and creative places to dig in too.

Typical client requirements:

  • Ability to build and style emails to align branding.
  • Landing page template to build and style landing pages to align branding on all web pages.

Often overlooked requirements:

  • Custom email and landing page CNAMEs. This is a technical ask, but it gives you the ability to setup landing pages or links in your emails to be something like learn.leadmd.com. This is a slight, but open branding opportunity.
  • Ease of asset library management. If you have approved imagery or even logos, where do MAPs store them? How are they updated? Is there an approval process? Is there a date filter at which point assets can be UN-approved or flagged for required review?
  • Keyword tracking. One of the leading ways to track brand recognition is by tracking traffic on branded keywords. AKA your company name and any product names.

Reporting Requirements for MAP Selection

Reporting is a critical component of ensuring your MAP investment isn’t labeled a cost. Remember, investing in MAP should make your company more money. Most marketers know they want to report on email, but often the possibilities to leverage reporting for failed processes, sales alignment and overall lead management are overlooked.

Typical client requirements:

  • Ability to track the success of email programs by tracking email metrics such as delivery, bounces, opens, clicks, and referrals.
  • Ability to reporting return on investment of all marketing programs.

NOTE: Be sure to define “all” programs. More on this in further requirements.

  • Dashboard for marketing created leads by source.
  • Subscription functionality for weekly, daily or monthly automated reports.
  • Ability to track and categorize website activity.

There’s a lot more here, but hopefully this gets you going. Focus on the reporting that will make this decision a no-brainer when you look to renew your MAP.

Often overlooked requirements:

  • SLA infraction. A big selling point of MAPs is their ability to manage lead flow and handoff leads to sales when they’re ready. What will sales do when they receive these leads? And will your MAP “see” that response? What if it doesn’t happen in the timeframe agreed to? Does your MAP selection have the ability to notify folks who are not users of the system? AKA, can we alert sales managers via email when their team isn’t following protocol?
  • Ability to capture all stages and time in stage of the lead from start to finish.
  • Sales reporting requirements. What does sales want to see from marketing and how can your MAP help achieve it? Maybe that’s a campaign calendar. Maybe it’s scoring qualification before they get to sales. ASK!

Integration Requirements for MAP Selection

First, pretty much anything can be integrated with most MAPs. If they don’t have an open API, just cross them off your list right now. So this section is about out-of-the-box, supported integrations. This is a requirement I always try to move to the top of the priorities for my clients, because it makes your life so much easier. Exporting a list from a webinar provider and uploading it to your MAP may not seem like it’ll take much time, but after one mistake on one field upload, you’re going to realize it is. Word to the wise, please prioritize this one!

Typical client requirements:

  • Integrates with CRM*
  • Integrates with social media providers to create, schedule, manage, and monitor social media posts from our corporate accounts.
  • Webinar, search engine marketing (SEM), pay-per-click (PPC), and remarketing integrations.
  • Integrates with direct mail.

*This “CRM” requirement needs multiple requirements. Read on for what’s typically overlooked.

Often overlooked requirements:

  • CRM Campaign bi-directional integration. Per my note on this one, your MAP only syncing the humans (leads, contacts, prospects) will only get you so far. You want to align the marketing touchpoints in your CRM too. For Salesforce, this means the campaign object. Look into your CRM and understand their structure for marketing campaigns. You want your marketing programs in MAP to sync with that object.
  • Integrate app usage data. If you’re a SaaS company, this is critical. It might look like a direction integration or an integration with a tool like Gainsight.
  • Integrate customer training data from learning management system (LMS).

Lead Nurturing and Engagement Requirements for MAP Selection

Once you get leads into your MAP, you’ll want to communicate with them. Traditional drip campaign requirements are common here, but think about the full journey of your buyer. This is also an area to explore how cutting-edge and evolving your MAP options are.

Typical client requirements:

  • Ability to send ebooks, PDFs, case studies, video content, or other content to visitors based on website behavior, interests, or email actions.
  • Able to create unique customer welcome emails based on segment and lead type.
  • Ability to have “if this, then that” paths for opens, clicks and website behavior.

Often overlooked requirements:

  • Ability to engage large customer sets with interactive questionnaires that further builds their customer profile and preferred engagement style.
  • Survey capabilities to collect customer feedback at the beginning and end of the sales cycle.
  • Ability to create unique customer welcome emails based on segment and lead type, as well as based upon where they are in the onboarding process.
  • Deliver automated, personalized ai-driven content recommendations.

You will want to take these requirements into your MAP demos to ensure you get a really good feel for how nurturing and engagement data is stores and how you will manage it. This is really easy in some MAPs and a total pain in others.

Lead Generation Requirements for MAP Selection

A lot of lead generation requirements are caught up in the integration requirements, as so much of modern demand gen happens digitally, but there are still requirements here for physical activities and sourcing.

Typical client requirements:

  • Ability to import lead data from spreadsheets.
  • Ability to tag referring lead sources (when a site sends traffic to our site).

Often overlooked requirements:

  • Ability for event managers (without an MAP login) to add leads real time at events.
  • Templated list import process. As someone who has spent more hours than I care to admit cleaning up an upload of data to the wrong field, I can tell you, this is a must.

Account-Based Marketing (ABM) Requirements for MAP Selection

ABM is the new term on the block and all the cool kids are saying it. Most MAPs are setup from a lead or person perspective, so if you’re being charged to target people with a company-specific message and report on your effectiveness, this section is for you.

Typical client requirements:

  • Ability to report on account-level engagement.
  • Ability to campaign at an account level.

Often overlooked requirements:

  • Ability to define and target alerts for engagement to account teams (or reps).
  • Report on gaps in the buying committee. Basically, you will want to identify which types of committee roles you need to go out and get.

Frankly, I haven’t seen strong account-based marketing functions in existing MAPs. If you’re all-in on ABM or even more than 50%, I highly recommend looking into 6sense or Demandbase to truly orchestrate your ABM motions.

Process Automation Requirements for MAP Selection

Ultimately, MAPs are meant to scale your marketing functions. So automating your processes may be the most core function of the system. For this reason, most MAPs are very good in this category, without a lot of distinction. However, there are a few key areas most people want, but rare remember they want.

Typical client requirements:

  • Create standardized, automated email workflows/journeys for large events.
  • Ability to automate “if this, then that” data values, engagement and alerts.

Often overlooked requirements:

  • Ability to restrict the number of emails sent to a given user in a custom time period.
  • Ability to send a dynamic list to a non-MAP user in a designated timeframe. This is helpful for vendors, specifically content syndication and direct mail vendors. If you want to keep on top of which email addresses bounce from a content syndication provider (something suggested in this article all about content syndication) and automatically send them the list, you’ll need to ensure your MAP allows you to send a list to an outside vendor. Same if you need a vendor to do a direct mail campaign. We had a client who worked with Mrs. Fields to send cookies to a certain number of people on a weekly basis, and our Marketo user set that campaign up to run entirely without any human oversight in Marketo.

Compliance Requirements for MAP Selection

The least fun category (for most marketers anyway), but certainly a biggie and one with ever-growing importance. I’m not the expert on this one, but luckily our friends at Trendline are. Check out their ebook on all the compliance things here.

Typical client requirements:

  • Subscription management. I’m going to dig in a little here, because there are some important distinctions with this requirement. I’ve yet to see a MAP that does not have an unsubscribe function. Pretty sure that’s illegal. But tone nuance here is just how the unsubscribe functions. What do they do with duplicate records? What if you delete a record that’s unsubscribed and the person makes their way back into your database? Will that unsubscribe persist? These details matter.
  • Consent for cookie tracking compliance on website.
  • Multiple, selectable, data centers in Canada, US, EU to satisfy data residency contracts.

Scoring Requirements for MAP Selection

Lead scoring is a common ask of MAPs and thus, like process automation, most do it well. My contribution here is mostly to think about the usage of scoring beyond your leads. Think about content scoring, customer scoring and, if you sell through distributors or a channel, how could you use your MAP to communicate with them on hot leads?

Typical client requirements:

  • Ability to score/grade/rank prospects based on their interaction with our website (e.g., visiting frequency, page views, form submissions, content downloaded, blog activity).

Often overlooked requirements:

  • Score and rank content based on engagement metrics (opens, clicks, goal completions, unsubscribes).
  • Scoring mechanism for prospects to prioritize high quality leads for our partners.
  • Ability to define risk scores based on engagement for current customers.

Lead Forms Requirements for MAP Selection

File these recommendations under, “Things I’ve learned are helpful that I never would’ve thought of if I hadn’t seen all the ways it can go wrong.”

Typical client requirements:

  • Ability to build and customize form fields, placement, and styling.
  • Create master forms that can be applied to multiple landing pages, that can be centrally updated, to reduce web publishing time and minimize errors.

Often overlooked requirements:

  • Ability to standardize field values beyond what field type already has. This nuance is best explained with some examples. Take the country field as an example. As you probably know, the country field has a LOT of values in it. The world be full of countries! I’m sure you have experience filling out a form and scrollllllllling fooooooooooorever to find your country. If you’re running a North American campaign, why would you want to show ALL countries? You wouldn’t. You’d only want to likely including Canada, USA and Mexico. You’ll want your forms to allow this flexibility. It’s also helpful if you have an open text field, say a “Form Notes” field that you want to capture structured data in. Say you want to have this on your contact us form, but want to give a short list of answers to choose from.
  • Field display value different than stored value. This comes in handy for fields like Industry, where perhaps the value stored in the system (Telecom/Communication Services) isn’t as customer-friendly as you’d like (Telecommunication).
  • Field masking. A field mask is essentially formatting to ensure the data complies with how you want. Best example here is for phone numbers. Do you want them in your database as xxx-xxx-xxxx or (x) xxx-xxxxxxx?
  • Hidden fields. You’ll want this to track down bots and for lead source capture.
  • Progressive profiling. If you plan to have your audience filling out multiple forms throughout their journey, progressive profiling can help you reduce the number of fields on your forms, while capturing ever-increasingly detailed information on your buyer.
  • Field dependencies. Example: If you select Country = USA, then display State field.

Security and Permissions Requirements for MAP Selection

Slightly different than compliance, these requirements are more about the ability to restrict and open up functionality within your MAP to reduce the risk of errors.

Typical client requirements:

  • Role based access control to limit interaction with system functionality.
  • Audit log to understand what is happening/when so we can track data usage/breaches, etc.

Often overlooked requirements:

  • Data segmentation to restrict access to certain customer data. With the expansion of compliance requirements, more and more companies need to think about who on their team has access to what kind of data. This is especially important for HIPPA compliance in healthcare organizations.
  • Sandbox environments that can be refreshed for development of new campaigns and integrations.

A/B Testing Requirements for MAP Selection

This one is fairly straight-forward, and I’m anxious to get to my last, but not least, training and support.

Typical client requirements:

  • Ability to create, manage and evaluate A/B email campaigns and associated metrics: open rate, unique open rate, clickthrough rate, conversion rate, bounce rate, unsubscribe, spam complaints, forwarding rate, engagement over time, opens by device.
  • Automated choice of winning option and deployment after specified time period.

Training and Support Requirements for MAP Selection

Honestly, most companies when I first talk to them have not thought about this one at all. They get so wrapped up in features; they miss ensuring their own experience using the tool will be awesome and they’ll be supported.

Often overlooked requirements:

  • Company culture. This may seem like an odd place for this and especially as a first point, but I gotta say … company culture when it comes to your training and support experience is key. If the company doesn’t hire great people and inspire them, how are they going to be to interact with? Probably terrible. Ask how many customer success folks they have dedicated to the function. How many clients does each customer success person have?
  • Ease of use. As you’re watching the demo, pay attention to how easy things are and if you find them intuitive. If you do, then you can deprioritize some of the training pieces. If it isn’t obvious, you’ll want to ensure you secure the right support.
  • On-demand training at various functional levels. Do they have training for marketing operations leaders? What about advanced administrative training? Do they have an ecosystem of partners who do training? Do they have CMO training?
  • 2-hour support SLAs for tier 1 issues. When shit hits the fan you need to know your MAP of choice has your back. This is another area I love putting into contracts. If this SLA isn’t met, what do you get? What if you experience a production down period and can’t send email? That could hurt your business and you deserve to be compensated.

Requirements Done, Now What?

This looks like a lot, but honestly, it’s a fraction of what you’ll have when you’re done. I’ve only outlined about 50 options for requirements. Most full requirement documents we finalize have 100-200 requirements.

Prioritize Your MAP Requirements

Once you have all your requirements (again, make sure they’re inclusive of all related departments and stakeholders), it’s time to prioritize. I like to keep this simple: 1, 2, 3.

  1. Must haves. Absolute deal killers. If we can’t do this, the MAP will need to really show up for everything else to win. Be HARD here. You shouldn’t have even more than 50% as must haves.
  2. Should haves. This are really close to must haves. If there’s a way you could “get away without it” … then it’s a 2.
  3. Nice-to-haves. This isn’t going to even really make me sad kind of things. Enough of these features can outweigh one no on the should have list.

Prioritize Your Categories

Next, you need to prioritize your categories (these guys: data and targeting, branding, reporting, etc). You could decide to do this by the number of requirements in each category. Whichever category has the most requirements is most important. Or you could use the same logic as above when prioritizing the requirements themselves. Either works, I tend to prefer the first for ease as it tends to be a straight-line between what clients have dug into and specified in requirements to what they overall find most important.

Shortlist Your MAP Options

Most of the time our analysis is between: Marketo, Pardot and Hubspot.

Run Your MAP Demos FROM Your Rubric

No one needs a one-size-fits-all demo. On your first call with your MAP rep, show your requirements and dictate that the demo will be addressing your requirements squarely.

Shameless Plug: We will also do this for you. If you have requirements, we have experts in all these platforms that could show you the one-stop shop for which will fulfill your needs best.

As these sales calls and demos happen, grade the success. This can get a little hairy if there is nuance to the solution. Sometimes it means your requirement needs to get more detailed, sometimes you just have to make a judgement call.

I recommend whenever possible to make these requirements by vendor binary: yes or no. It just makes the rubric easier to manage, especially when you have the volume of requirements we’re talking about here. But you can also grade it on a numeric scale like above. It’s up to you.

Run the Numbers

After you’ve graded the options, it’s all about the numbers. Ultimately, you end up with something that looks like this:

Marketing Automation Platform Comparison Template

And, as a reward for making it to the bottom of potentially the longest blog I’ve ever written. Here’s an Excel file with the template: http://my.leadmd.com/rs/230-YBS-585/images/Marketing-Automation-Platform-Comparison-Template.xlsx

NOTE! The scoring for the requirements and the technologies is NOT, I repeat, NOT accurate. You have to do your own work there, OR pay us to help.


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