marketing-toolkitWhether it’s automating tweets, curating content, or tracking site visits, it seems like a new marketing tool hits the market every day, often with big promises and an even bigger price tag.

As John Rampton of Forbes reports, we are seeing “an uptick of investments in resources to boost performance; by both small and large enterprises – all signals indicate the relevance of marketing automation as revenues for business-to-business (B2B) marketing automation systems will grow 60% to reach $1.2 billion this year, according to Raab Associates.”

That figure is up from just about $100 million a year in 2009. Now some of these tools are truly revolutionary, and some are seemingly useless, so how do you decide which tool is right for beefing up your marketing arsenal?

With little time and budget to spare, it’s critical that today’s marketers use each marketing tool efficiently and effectively. Having a systematic approach to “kicking the tires” of these tools and services minimizes wasted time and maximizes your potential to reap serious benefits. When sitting in a demo with a sales rep, let these four criteria help you understand whether the marketing tool he is selling is right for your team’s needs.

1) Is it easy to use?

If the marketing tool is hard to use, you won’t use it. The most powerful and innovative of marketing tools can be rendered completely useless by a poor interface. Whether it’s dull, complicated, antiquated, or simply not user-friendly, a poor interface limits your ability to access and harness the power of a tool. You will inevitably kick it to the curb where it will remain an underutilized expense. Getting quality time to test a tool is invaluable. This not only entails pressing the sales team for a generous trial period and ample education, but also forcing your team to take the time to play around with the tool. Without actually using it as you would on a day-to-day basis, you can’t fully analyze and understand the tool’s usability. If you don’t like the interface, don’t invest in it – you will be wasting your time and money.

2) Does it add value to your marketing activities?

Will it free up your schedule? Automate a manual process? Improve your content relevancy? Hone your targeting? Whatever the core benefits may be, it is essential to have a clear and realistic understanding of how this tool will add value to your current marketing activities. First, make sure the platform's sales team truly understands your current processes and pain points so they are able to make an informed sales pitch. It is then up to them to prove how this tool will add value to your marketing activities. While it can be a struggle to monetize the added value of certain benefits, such as improved content or additional free time, it is necessary to do so. At the end of the day, a tool won’t be adding value to your marketing activities if the cost of implementation and management outweighs the gains associated with its benefits.

3) What is the tool’s competitive advantage?

With so many solutions available in such a fiercely competitive marketplace, many of these marketing tools have a hard time standing out from the crowd. Before you make any serious investments, you need to identify the tool’s competitive advantage and decide whether it’s enough to keep you from shopping for other options. Remember: The tool’s competitive advantage may not be the same for every company or end-user. There are many indistinguishable tools offering nearly identical benefits, so press the sales team to clearly define and demonstrate the key differentiator (and why this matters for you!). If you can’t clearly see what sets this tool apart from the rest, it’s time to consider alternatives.

4) Does the tool ultimately increase qualified lead generation?

At the end of the day, B2B marketers want to generate one thing and one thing only – qualified leads. Any product that you are considering adding to your marketing toolbelt should, either directly or indirectly, aid in achieving this goal. It is important that you are able to plainly map the connection between the marketing tool and qualified lead generation. Does the tool allow you to more effectively reach your target audience? Does it then allow you to engage and acquire them? Or is the product simply cool? Understanding how each activity ultimately increases your potential for attracting qualified leads is key to making sound investments.

Look to the Future

When it comes down to it, always remember to think in terms of ROI. While we touched on lead generation, it’s also important to look beyond conversions when analyzing your return. B2B marketers need to be consistently churning out on-brand content and engaging their target audience to increase awareness, hone their image, and develop lasting relationships with potential customers. So when you are evaluating a potential platform, remember to consider how the tool will not only play into increasing your qualified leads, but building your brand and engaging your audience.

As Mike Brooks of Nuclear Chowder Marketing puts it, don’t be the marketer that is “suckered in with big promises that can end up costing you a lot of wasted time and money.”

Adding a tool to your marketing repertoire is a big decision that requires a great deal of thought and planning. A tool must seamlessly integrate with your existing strategy and enable you to execute better than you could before. Furthermore, think not only of what the tool can do for you today, but what about tomorrow? What is the company’s roadmap and vision for the tool? Does it have the resources and capabilities to analyze your feedback and then improve it down the road? Keeping the future in mind will always help safeguard against making a poor investment.

Ask yourself, where do I want to go? Then ask, how will this tool help me get there?


Originally published Oct 1, 2014 3:00:06 AM, updated December 03 2014