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How to choose the right email marketing and marketing automation platform for your business

Choosing the right email marketing platform is not that different from choosing the right digital marketing agency. Making the right choice can serve as a launchpad for growth and customer relationship development. The wrong choice, on the other hand, can leave you stuck in the mud, searching for where you went wrong and how to get moving again.

But with over 400 email service providers to choose from—which may or may not play nicely with any of the remaining 7,500+ marketing solutions you may also be using—how are you supposed to know which platform is the right for you?

Because we're routinely helping businesses find the right solutions for their marketing efforts, we've distilled our more complex process down to just a handful of questions and action items that will help you build a shortlist of qualified email marketing platforms.

Itemize and Prioritize

Grab some sticky notes and, with one item per note, start listing every feature that you're using with your current platform, every other solution that it connects to, and anything else you want from a new solution. Your sticky notes should look something like this:

Sticky Notes

Now that you know what you're doing with your current solution, and what you're looking for in a new one, it's time to prioritize. Start rearranging your sticky notes into three different groups, labeled: "deal-breakers,” "should-haves," and "bonuses."

  • Deal-breakers - elements that must be supported natively by your new platform.
  • Should-haves - important components of your marketing processes that could be supported by third-party platforms or other integrations.
  • Bonuses – these should only come into play as a tiebreaker between other solutions that satisfy all of your "deal-breakers" and most of your "should-haves."

With your priorities in hand, here are four critical questions to help you reach your shortlist of qualified platforms.

Feature Set: Does this platform's feature set align with your business's processes?

Consult your list. Does this potential solution check off all of your "deal-breakers?" How about the rest of your current marketing elements? Can this new platform, through existing integrations or native capability, slot in with the rest of your tech stack, or will you need to invest in some additional software to plug a hole that's been left open?

If you feel good about the new solution picking up where the old one left off, it's time to check out your "bonuses" and see if it can replace anything else in your tech stack. With more solutions like ActiveCampaign, HubSpot, and even MailChimp offering "all-in-one" marketing platforms, it's likely that you'll have opportunities to move your email, CRM, social listening, and more under the same umbrella.

As appealing as an "all-in-one" solution sounds, it's not always the right move. In some instances, it really is the perfect fit and can save you time and money. But it's just as likely that these additional features, outside of email and contact management, aren't as robust or intuitive as your previous standalone solution and carry opportunity costs that might outweigh the perceived benefits.

Usability: Can your team hit the ground running with this platform?

Now that we know the platform can do everything it needs to, let's think about the people responsible for its day-to-day operation. Whether you're the power user or the person making decisions on behalf of your power users, you need to be certain that those doing the work can step in and do their jobs on day one.

For those of you who aren't the power users, let them drive the investigation process. If they are not leading every call or demo, you're increasingly likely to end up with a subpar solution. Your power users understand your processes as well as anyone and they know exactly what they need to see in each potential solution.

If you are the power user, make a list of the necessary tasks, large and small, that you complete every day, week, and month in your current platform. Ask each platform to demo as many of these tasks as possible, especially the things you do most often and those that are most critical to the success of the business, no matter how simple or straightforward they seem. Take note of what's different from your current platform. What looks more cumbersome and what looks easier? What did the demonstrator struggle with and what did they try to avoid?

Support: Does the platform offer the kind of support you expect from your technology partners?

This is another critical and often-overlooked element of switching platforms. An emergency situation is not the time to learn you can't call support at 3 p.m. PST on a Tuesday, so it's imperative that you understand how any new platform's support options differ from the support you're currently receiving.

The first thing to investigate, with regard to platform support, is how robust or searchable is the platform's help documentation. Think of a recent or common problem you experienced with your platform, search for "[my recent problem] [potential new platform name]" and see what turns up. Some platforms have such stellar documentation that you'll rarely need to submit a support ticket. Others have hardly any useful documentation, which means you'll be hard-pressed to troubleshoot problems on your own.

"Technical support" also means something different to everyone and every platform, and it's not always clear what kind of support will be available to you. Here are some questions to consider in your research:

  • Is there a support line you can call when you have issues?
  • Is web support offered through online chat or email?
  • How responsive is the support team?
  • Is the support team available during your typical business hours?
  • Can you upgrade your level of support without moving up an entire feature tier?

Cost and Flexibility: Can this platform grow with you?

By now you undoubtedly understand the complexity of platform migrations. So, in the interest of avoiding a new platform switch in a year or two, it's time to see if the platforms on your radar can keep up with your business over the coming years.

If you're looking to grow your business 2x, 3x, or 10x, over the next few years, be sure to understand how the cost of a new platform will grow with you. Some questions to ask yourself include: Does it charge by contact or by email? Does the platform's price per contact hold, shrink, or grow as you add more contacts? Does it cost you an arm and a leg to add additional sales or marketing users?

Does the platform offer features that are on your marketing roadmap in a year or two? Does it check the boxes of your most forward-thinking "bonuses?"

Can you easily tier up or down to suit your contact and feature needs? Are you locked into long-term contracts?

What's next?

You've put innumerable platforms through the wringer and come out the other side with your shortlist of possible solutions. At this point, you're left with a math problem. Sometimes it's as simple as figuring out which platform checks the most boxes, but it's often not so straightforward.

If you're struggling to decide which platform is right for you, let us know. We work with over a dozen of the industry's leading email and marketing automation platforms and would be happy to help you move into the right platform for your business.