You've heard about marketing automation: cloud-based software systems that not only hold your client data, but let you reach out to clients and prospects with automated emails and reminders, tracking their activity and helping you market to them with the right content at the right time.

If you're thinking of adopting a marketing automation software system, you're not alone. In 2013, even Microsoft began using marketing automation to boost consumer software sales. Industry watchdogs were skeptical about such a big company being able to make the transition to an automated system, but it's worked. Now, about 75% of SaaS (software as a service) brands are now using some form of marketing automation. But the tech industry isn't the only one joining the party. Early adopters also include the telecom and electronics industries.

So making the choice is a no-brainer, right?

Of course. But there's a second question that isn't a no-brainer: which system should you choose?

How to Evaluate a Software Platform's Effectiveness

According to a new survey by Raab Associates and VentureBeat, about 68% of companies that adopted marketing automation software were happy with the benefits—in fact, almost 24% had better returns than they'd hoped for. However, 25.8% felt the results they achieved weren't worth the cost in employee time. The survey then asked the people who weren't happy what factors made them feel like their software wasn't producing the results they wanted.

The results showed something surprising.

In most cases, companies that felt their marketing automation software wasn't performing well might have simply chosen the wrong platform. Raab and VentureBeat identified four key criteria that unhappy buyers often overlooked. If you're looking at marketing automation, here are the four key points you need to keep in mind:

1. Don't rush the decision-making process. According to survey results, buyers who spend at least one month evaluating software systems are happier than those who make a snap decision. Systems that offer a free 30-day trial are a good way to test-drive what you'll be paying for. There are more than 200 marketing automation platforms on the market, many of which have similar features. It's easy to think that the most popular system is right for you, or the one that shows up first in Google results. But how does it function in your office? Does it give you and your staff the right tools to get more done in less time?

2. Consider a wide variety of providers. The survey indicated that buyers who only looked at one system had the lowest level of satisfaction. Those with the highest satisfaction ratings looked at two systems. This is another key point where a free trial comes in handy. This lets you evaluate two systems side-by-side and make an educated decision. Remember, a salesperson may show you a demo online, but your comfort level in using the system will go a long way in determining how effective it is for you.

3. Dive in. Another surprising finding from that survey? The most satisfied users were there ones who used more features right from the get-go. This is more than a little counter-intuitive! You'd probably guess that the happiest users started slow and gradually learned new features after they mastered the basics. Nope—the survey results proved the opposite to be true. The users who got the most out of their systems jumped in and learned as much as they could right away. These users probably also dedicated time to learning their new system, rather than expecting to pick it up on the fly or experimenting with it after-hours.

4. Shop for features, not price or integration capability. Survey results also revealed that buyers who shopped based on features were happiest with their purchase. Buyers who shopped based on a system's ability to integrate with other systems (using APIs, for example) were the least happy. If you're shopping based on cost or ease of use, that's not likely to affect your satisfaction level, according to survey results. What does this particular result tell us? It reinforces the idea that you need to define what you need and want from your software platform before you buy.

Study Before You Shop

The takeaway from each of these decision points is that preparation matters.

Before you start comparing features, sit down and make a list of the everyday tasks you need that system to accomplish. The goal is to arrive at answers more specific than "save time" and "help me sell more policies." Ideally, you should be able to match a list of specific goals with features available in at least two software platforms. For example, you may want to know which of your marketing emails has the highest open rate. The feature you want is part of reporting and analytics. If you want built-in quoting so you can manage contacts and quote clients on the fly, you need insurance-specific software. Traditional marketing automation platforms like Marketo, HubSpot, and ActOn Software weren't designed to have features like a built-in quoter or field underwriting tools. If those were the only systems you considered, you might be disappointed in the lack of functionality you need to do your job.

The system we recommend is Insureio. With a free 30-day trial, you have full access to test tools like automated follow-up based on lead status, one-click data transfer to forms and apps, integrated case notes, detailed sales reports, and more. With Insureio, you're  ready for Insurance 2.0.

Want a new way to manage and market to your clients and prospects? It starts with the first and only CRM built by and for life insurance agents. Get a free 30-day Insureio trial.

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