Jay Famico at Sirius Decisions posted a blog Marketing Automation Platforms: Minimum Requirements where he identified 16 key requirements for marketing automation that break out into campaign management, lead management, and platform management capabilities. That blog inspired me to share some thoughts on a start-up software company perspective on marketing automation. And since I’m an independent blogger, I’m going to discuss my opinions on some specific solutions. I’m not claiming to have done a thorough review of all the possible marketing solutions, but I’ve done multiple start-ups and I’ll present some ideas on the kinds of solutions that I would consider based on my experiences.
A start-up’s perspective on marketing automation is that the company has some specific marketing projects or processes that it needs to execute and it’s looking for practical solutions. The company is constrained by funding and by the expertise of the people executing the marketing programs. The company usually buys just what it needs (unless it just closed a round of funding and is evaluating platforms to meet future growth).
From a start-up perspective, the company needs a CRM solution to store leads, an email marketing solution, and a solution for registration on landing pages. The company may or may not have a website. As the company gets funding, then integration between platforms, lead scoring, lead nurturing, campaign management, inbound marketing, and analytics become more important. And there might be other specific needs like surveys, event management, or webinars.
The Stealth Start-up with Quarterly Marketing Budget = $0
Stealth Start-Up Recommendation: There’s a full range of free marketing tools that you can use
I’ve worked with two stealth start-ups and free was my most important criteria. The stealth start-up is a pre-A-round company. The company may be trying to go to market without getting VC money. They may be using their own money, angel funding, or money from a grant or competition to try to get the business going. The company might have handful of prospect leads that are involved in providing feedback or beta testing early product releases. The stealth start-up doesn’t have a marketing budget. The company needs a CRM solution to track leads, email marketing to keep in touch with leads, and registration (landing) pages to generate new leads. Integration of these capabilities is not a requirement.
I’d start by looking for a free CRM solution. I’d look for a basic solution to keep track of contact information, notes, and email opt out. Since Salesforce.com no longer offers a free version, I’d choose a solution like Zoho CRM that is free for 3 users and up to 5000 records. When the company grows, we could always migrate the data to a different system.
For email marketing, I’d look at something like Mail Chimp that offers free email marketing for up to 2000 subscribers and 12,000 emails per month. I’d also look for a free landing page solution to support registration and download for lead gen campaigns. You could also build landing pages as a web forms on your website if you have resources to do that. My experience with web-to-lead or website web forms is that you also need to add some sort of Captcha solution to avoid generating spam leads. These web forms usually aren’t integrated with CRM so you’ll have to import the registration data into your CRM system.
There are plenty of other free tools that you can use for surveys (Survey Monkey), analytics (Google Analytics), SEO (Google Keyword Planner), competitive analysis (Hubspot Website Grader, Google Keyword Planner), and the list goes on. Of course Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, and SlideShare are free places to engage prospects. If you have a marketing need, there’s a very good chance that there’s a free solution out there. It may have ads, it may not be integrated, and it may not work perfectly, but it’s free.
The Boot Strap Start-Up with Quarterly Marketing Budget <K$100
Bootstrap Start-Up Recommendation: Enterprise-class CRM, stand alone marketing capabilities with some integration with CRM, continued heavy use of free marketing solutions.
I worked at one Boot Strap Start-Up and there was some marketing budget, but free and do-it-yourself marketing were very important. A Boot Strap Start-Up has some investment, but the amount is too small to consider it an A round. In this case, there is some marketing budget in the tens of thousands of dollars per quarter.
In this scenario, I’d be looking for a CRM solution that is affordable and that can grow with the company. I’ve used Salesforce.com at every start-up so I tend to recommend that platform. However, there may be other compelling business or technology reasons to consider Zoho, NetSuite, Microsoft Dynamics, SugarCRM or other CRM solutions.
Your email marketing needs to look more professional, you’re sending email more frequently to bigger lists, the tracking and analytics on your email is starting to become important, and integrating email campaigns with your CRM system is important. However, the budget still can’t afford a marketing automation platform. I’d be looking at stand alone email marketing platforms that have strong integration with the CRM system for uploading lists, syncing email opt out, and tracking email campaign history. I won’t even try to review email marketing platforms, but the last time I was in a start-up with small marketing budgets, I settled on Vertical Response because I felt it had the best integration with Salesforce.com, good email analytics, and a pay-as-you go model.
In this scenario, I’ve used Salesforce.com web-to-lead registration forms as a low cost way to create landing pages. The only downsides to using web-to-lead forms are that you usually need to add a Captcha solution and a web-to-lead form will generate duplicate leads in your CRM system. So you need to be prepared to merge duplicates when using web-to-lead forms.
For any requirements like segmentation, analytics, nurturing, or lead scoring, I’d be looking for DYI solutions. Run reports in Salesforce.com and analyze the data in Excel to create your segmentation. Then manually create and schedule a series of nurture emails at that targeted list. Build your lead scoring formulas in Salesforce.com using formula fields and workflow/field updates. And for more extensive tracking, start using Google URL builder to tag your links with URL parameters that can be tracked in Google Analytics and Adwords. I would still use all the free tools for SEO and keyword analysis.
The A Round Start-up with Quarterly Marketing Budget >K$100
A-Round Start-Up Recommendation: Either a basic or full feature marketing automation platform
I’ve worked at two A round start-ups. With more substantial marketing budgets, there is a much wider range of solutions to consider. At this stage, I’m assuming you have an enterprise-class CRM solution and I’ve used Salesforce.com Enterprise Edition in those start-ups. With this level of budget, you’re building more complex and automated marketing capabilities. Integration between solutions is important. Analytics capabilities are important. Easy is also important because even though you have a bigger budget, you still don’t have lots of people with the expertise to drive all these capabilities.
In my opinion, this is where you get into the marketing automation platform decision. Do you buy into the Hubspot vision? Do you get an entry level marketing automation platform like Act-On. Or do you go for a full-feature marketing automation solution like Marketo, Eloqua, SilverPop, or Pardot.
These tools provide email marketing, landing pages, registration forms, tracking, lead scoring, lead nurturing, and more. They all are tightly integrated with Salesforce.com and with webinar platforms. They all have some level of integration with social networking. The pricing for these systems ranges from a couple hundred to a couple thousand of dollars per month (and their sales reps will usually provide a deep discount for first-time accounts). If you look at one of my earlier posts on my blog, I provided a list of criteria that I used for evaluating marketing automation platforms.
Now, I’ll share my personal opinions on these platforms. And full disclosure, I’ve used and/or tested Act-On, Marketo, Eloqua, and Manticore. I haven’t used HubSpot, but I know a number of people that have used it. For a basic, easy to use marketing automation platform, Act-On is a great solution. It’s a basic marketing automation platform with a friendly, intuitive user interface. However, it has limited capabilities. So if you’re just getting started with marketing automation, Act-On is a great place to get started and then as your needs grow, you can consider migrating to another platform.
I’ve never used HubSpot and I’ve never really understood what’s differentiated about their platform. I can build tracking for leads from any channel whether the lead came from outbound, social media, or organic lead sources in any of the marketing automation solutions. All the marketing automation solutions have landing pages, integration with Salesforce.com, analytics, lead scoring, and lead nurturing. There are plenty of free and paid SEO and keyword tools. And from talking to people in my network, I haven’t heard of anyone having a huge success or a huge failure using HubSpot. So from my perspective, HubSpot is another marketing automation solution and you just have to assess its capabilities relative to your needs and budget. In other words, don’t get caught up in HubSpot’s marketing message and do an objective assessment based on your marketing automation requirements.
The High Growth Start-up with Quarterly Marketing Budget > K$250
Okay, you just got a big round of funding and you’re planning for big growth and expansion. In my opinion, at this level of funding, you should really be leveraging the full extent of your marketing automation platform. I’d be focusing primarily on full featured marketing automation platforms. I’ve seen a number of companies using Hubspot just for inbound marketing and a marketing automation platform like Eloqua for everything else. You may start getting into more advanced or specific capabilities like data cleansing/appending (e.g. Data.com, DiscoverOrg, RainKing). You may look into solutions that automatically populate account names on form fields. Or you might start testing online retargeting solutions or adding e-commerce and subscription management capabilities. An enterprise class CRM solution and a full-feature marketing automation platform will be important to integrate more advanced capabilities. At this point, you’re getting sophisticated enough to figure this out yourself so I’ll end my comments here.