Your Guide to Software Selection

The Insider’s Guide to Marketing Automation Platforms

Over the past decade, I’ve implemented and managed nearly a dozen different marketing automation platforms including multiple Pardot, InfusionSoft, Net-Results, HubSpot, Act-On and other smaller, lesser known marketing automation platforms. Not only did I implement all of these, I spent sometime inside the lines at a marketing automation company as well as a few years side-by-side with marketing automation vendors in a B2B agency. Let’s just say I’m intimately familiar with marketing automation.

While these platforms all have unique qualities, there are a couple features that stand out as most important to sales and marketing teams. Time and again these are the most asked about and used features of marketing automation platforms:

1) Real-time visitor engagement and insights

Being able to see what a prospect is doing or just did on your site (e.g. pages they visited, emails they opened, content they downloaded) has proven to be valuable in a number of ways, especially in B2B sales and marketing. At first it’s just fascinating to people who’ve never had this kind of visitor intelligence before, but it’s usefulness is knowing what to do or say next to the prospect, having intelligence on their interests and specific business challenges.

2) Dynamic and deep database segmentation

Being able to carve your marketing database out by any number of demographic, firmographic and interaction values is critical to executing better marketing communications. MarComm that can benefit from this includes the obvious, email marketing, but also using dynamic content on your website, retargeting advertising and even direct mail campaigns.

Has it been said enough that being hyper-relevant to your audience is key to reaching them considering the onslaught of advertising and marketing they are bombarded with? Using deeper lead database segmentation is key in doing so.

3) Lead nurturing

Advanced database segmentation is also ideal for another highly sought after feature: lead  nurturing. Being able to automatically move someone in and out of a campaigns based on engagement, CRM status changes or anything else that indicates the lead should be receiving different communications.

4) Email marketing

Lead nurturing is most often done with email marketing and is a universal feature in any marketing automation platform. In fact, many marketing automation platforms evolved from more traditional email marketing systems. It’s especially important that email marketing tools within marketing automation platforms have nice email builders, easy to configure campaign management tools and functionality that helps email senders comply with CAN-SPAM regulations and other email marketing best practices.

5) Lead scoring and grading

When sales and marketing teams are at capacity with different projects, being able to prioritize leads in the database is essential. Lead scoring and grading improves this process. Sales teams can focus on not just on recent or hot leads, but leads that have a higher cumulative score AND have a good grade, e.g. meet specific “qualified lead” criteria like job title, geographic location, budget and more.

6) Progressive lead profiling

As mentioned above lead scoring and grading requires continuous interaction and data collection. An essential piece to that data collection is progressive lead profiling primarily done through web forms. This technology basically uses javascript to check the visitor’s cookie against records in the marketing automation platform to see if they already exist. If they do, instead of asking for information that’s already been collected, e.g. First Name or Company, they can start asking other questions like Budget, Job Title, Time to Buy, etc. Building out these comprehensive profiles help your sales teams prioritize, communicate more effectively with prospects and disqualify lead more quickly when there is no fit.


In my experience, the above 6 features align with the 80/20 rule – 80 percent of work done and marketing automation value is derived from the successful use of these above features.

However, aside from these top 6 most important marketing automation platform features, there are many others included that are usually nice to have but either companies already have a separate solution in place or prefer to find a best-in-class solution instead. Examples of these features include social media management and landing page platforms where there are best-in-class solutions that should be adopted instead if budget allows.

If you’re evaluating marketing automation platforms for your organization, while these features listed above are the most popular and important, going through a requirements gathering exercise is recommended.

We’ve created this Marketing Automation requirements template to simplify the process. Access it here.

Michael ShearerThe Insider’s Guide to Marketing Automation Platforms

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