11 May 2013

7 Tips for Evaluating Marketing Software: Which Ones Do You Really Need?

If you work in a marketing role, on a daily basis you’re likely bombarded with webinar invites, ebooks, cold emails, phone calls, and other such tactics from various software-as-a-service (like Uberflip) sales and marketing companies. They all want to convince you that you need their tool. Quite often they’re right.
These tools can range from companies peddling marketing automation, CRM, analytics, inside sales management, social media monitoring, content marketing, digital advertising, etc.  It’s the wild wild west for sales and marketing SaaS tools!
I love cloud-based tools and think they’re awesome for scaling businesses and marketing teams, or for large enterprise organizations otherwise used to antiquated IT systems. But the issue remains – it sucks trying to figure out which tools you actually need, even with the all-mighty free trial in play. There’s too much confusopoly at play in determining how products and services differ amongst sales and marketing tools. This is a true sign of high competition in the space as SaaS-based marketing tools are taking off.
You can’t spend all day attending webinars, having screen-share demos, and otherwise investigating an endless number of tools. So how do you know which tools you should actually explore, and how should you go about exploring them? Here are 7 tips:

1. Ask Around

Sounds simple but the most effective way to break through the clutter is to simply ask the people you trust. Conferences and networking events are a great place to find relevant people to chat with. Send a LinkedIn message or connect on Twitter. My experience is that marketers love to share information and to generally talk shop, so the best way to get the no-BS perspective about the tools you’re considering is simply to ask.

2. Hold Your Sales Rep Accountable

I get wary of anything longer than a monthly commitment. Sure, as a marketer I understand the strategy in pricing for longer terms, but often signing a yearly contract means that your Sales Rep has little motivation to help you post-sales. “Failure to launch” a sales and marketing tool after you’ve spent time researching, comparing, and negotiating is the #1 problem with these types of tools. Put it on the shoulders of your Sales Rep to ensure that you’re a successful customer for them. It needs to be mutually beneficial for the long-term. If the tool is good it shouldn’t matter what your contract looks like as you won’t want to find an alternative solution.

3. Social Media – See What Others Are Saying

Start following the company on social media. Get a sense for how quickly they respond to customer issues, how much LOVE their customers truly have for them, and what the general perception seems to be. You’ll more than likely get a mixture of rave reviews and never ending complaints from a select few, so try to determine what the true story is. Best of all, you’ll find actual customers that you can reach out to for references.

4. Ask For References

This is easy for the vendor to accommodate; they should have dozens of happy customers ready to tell the world how much they LOVE the tool. If your Sales Rep is hesitant to provide relevant references, treat it as a big red flag. Request a reference who has a similar business model and within a similar industry. Job title and function are not as important. Ask detailed questions about post-sales support, results, challenges – get the true story. Keep in mind that a reference will most likely have positive perceptions, so push them for more detail. Lastly – thank them for their time!

5. Don’t Be Pitched To – Do The Pitching

That’s right – don’t let your Sales Rep pitch you. Instead, give him or her a demo of your product or service. Make them understand your business, and allow them to then convince you that they understand why you came to them and how they can help you.

6. Engage in a Trial Only When You’re Almost Convinced

Quite often, and depending on the complexity of integrating a tool with your existing infrastructure, conducting a trial takes as much work and effort as if you were already a customer. So, don’t sign up for every free trial under the sun as you’ll be wasting your time, and the time of the vendor. Instead, when you begin a free trial, be committed to making it work. Spend the time to understand the tool, involve the right tech people needed to make it work, and work closely with the vendor’s Sales or Success team to make it successful.

7. Know the Competitive Landscape

In doing your evaluation, you should always be benchmarking one tool vs another. There are rare instances when there really is only one option, but you still need to do some research to get to that conclusion. Next, get your Sales Rep to tell you the differentiators between their product or services, and that of a competitor. A good Sales Rep will not talk down a competitor, but should have good breadth of knowledge to understand their competitors and what the main points of differentiation are.
Ultimately, having the right tools is an important aspect of any sales and marketing role so make sure you give the process the attention it deserves. Don’t make the mistake of choosing the biggest name or going with the most aggressive Sales Rep. Give yourself time to structure an appropriate process for selecting and implementing tools that will make your business more efficient and scalable.

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