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Choosing a Marketing Automation Platform Without Uprooting Your CRM

Selecting a marketing automation platform is already a daunting task: every MAP has its own features, drawbacks, and technical quirks. But if you already have a CRM in place, you’re looking at an additional layer of complexity that needs to be addressed before you invest time and money into an MAP.

In some cases, it may be easiest to upgrade both platforms at once. Some vendors, like HubSpot and ActiveCampaign, provide a two-in-one option where sales tracking and marketing automation live side-by-side, sharing data without issue. If you’re working with an older CRM, it may be time to switch.

But there are a lot of reasons to work around your current CRM: it may be beloved by your sales team, or integrated with other vital platforms you need on a daily basis. Choosing an MAP based on what platforms you already have is doable, but it requires a little more planning beforehand.

Identify Your Must-Haves and Like-to-Haves

Every team has their own, unique needs when it comes to marketing automation. Maybe your team needs lead scoring to determine what prospects to pursue. Maybe you need to track where individual users go on your website. But if those features aren’t mission-critical to the success of your marketing or sales initiatives, then they shouldn’t be your first concern.

It can be easy to get swept up in the cool, forward-thinking features of platforms like HubSpot. But those features come with a cost, and often, it can be pretty hefty. Before you even open a web-browser, it’s a great exercise to write out what features are most important to you and your team. Maybe it’s robust workflow options, or an easy-to-use email designer, or even just the ability to support multiple users. Easy integration with an outside CRM should definitely be a high priority on your list. Then, prioritize these features from most important to least important.

If you can narrow your search down to two or three platforms, deciding on a final option becomes as easy as determining which one checks off the most boxes.

Do Your Due Diligence

Even if you know what you’re looking for, you still have to find it. Most marketing automation platforms offer in-depth websites, demos, and tutorials to explain their feature-sets. Most will usually offer an easy-to-follow pricing chart, clearly outlining what features are available at what pricing tiers.

Of course, every MAP is trying to sell you on their own specialty or featureset. If you want an impartial party to help weigh in, there are resources out there to compare platforms directly. G2 Crowd and Marketing Automation Insider both offer easy-to-use compare-and-contrast charts, including feature sets, pricing, and target markets. Often, they’ll even list what CRMs are compatible. Even better, both sites let you choose two or three platforms that you can then compare side-by-side. Rather than trying to reference multiple sites at once, these resources make it easy to see if a platform is right for you at a glance.

Determine if You Need to Sync All, or Just Some, of Your Data

One of the most frustrating pieces of choosing an MAP platform to complement your CRM is ensuring that the two will be able to “talk” to each other. Sometimes, this sync can be a simple one-way sync. If you use your MAP to qualify worthwhile prospects, maybe you only need to push those qualified prospects from your MAP into your CRM. Or, maybe you want every prospect to receive communications of some kind. In that case, maybe you only need to push new CRM prospects into your MAP.

Or, more often, you want to do a little bit of both. In the most all-encompassing syncs, your platforms can keep in constant communication with each other, sharing data on email engagement and sales cycle status. But not all platforms play nice with a true two-way sync: for example, PersistIQ, which is becoming more and more popular as a cold emailing alternative to other, more robust automation platforms. However, most of PersistIQ’s integrations are limited. While a few CRMs can push data to PersistIQ, PersistIQ often can’t push anything back. While I personally love PersistIQ, the most you can sync back to your CRM is whether or not a prospect has replied to an email. For some teams, that’s all the functionality they need. For others, it’s simply not enough.

Most CRMs will offer a list of a few “partner” platforms they have native integrations with. Look closely at the functionality of these integrations to ensure they have the functionality you need. As a baseline, you need a sync that can at least share email address, name, company, and any criteria you use to segment your prospects. For example, maybe you have a custom field called “Lead Status” in your CRM, denoting whether or not your prospect is cold, warm, or disqualified. If that information is used to determine which email series a prospect should get, it absolutely needs to be synced over to your MAP.

If existing native integrations don’t exist, not all is lost: middleware platforms like Zapier and PieSync can serve as the bridge between your data-sets. Both services have limitations, and you may not be able to sync everything, but they’re cost-effective and require no coding to set-up.

Without thinking-through an integration before purchasing an MAP account, you may be left with two disparate platforms and no easy way to bridge the gap between them. If both platforms offer an open API, meaning they offer a publicly available application programming interface, a developer may be able to custom-code an integration or set one up using much more expensive platforms. MuleSoft is one such platform, but it requires a lot more technical prowess than Zapier.

Worst case scenario, you’re stuck with two platforms that can never work together without a lot of manual housekeeping. CRMs and MAPs are meant to reduce the time you spend on menial tasks: if they just cause more headaches, it’s ultimately not worth the effort at all.

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