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How to choose marketing automation software: features and capabilities to have on your list

In just a few years, marketing automation (MA) software has quickly become one of the top priorities among sales and marketing organizations. One clear signal is its growing demand. According to SiriusDecisions, demand has grown to the point that there are “nearly 11 times more B2B organizations using marketing automation software now than in 2011”.

Why are marketing and sales leaders embracing this technology?  Well, we have written about two driving forces behind this trend: 1) the growing pressure on marketing leaders to demonstrate their contribution to revenue and 2) the dramatic changes in B2B buying behavior. Regardless of what drives demand, there is no doubt that marketing automation software is essential in today’s B2B selling world.

However, buying marketing automation software isn’t easy. The number of options available in the market and the similarity of features across vendors create confusion. Not to mention the challenge to keep up with constantly evolving features and functionalities.

As a result, I’ve compiled a list of features worth considering. Although far from being a comprehensive list, it will help you to get started. Here are some features and capabilities to consider when evaluating marketing automation software:

Track digital behavior

One of the first features to prioritize should be the ability to track buyers’ digital behavior. It allows you to figure out what your audience is interested in. What pages do they visit? What content are they consuming the most? In short, the “visitor tracking” feature helps you to identify different customer segments, based on their digital behavior.

Once you get visibility into the behavior, you can develop messaging that points to the key challenges of the audience. Or, targeted messages that provide solutions to the diverse challenges of each segment. The feature can also empower sales reps to create relevant messages before a sales call. Instead of engaging with buyers with generic messages, sales reps can create customized messages based on buyers’ digital behavior.

Build customized email messages, landing pages and registration forms

It is not enough to have the ability to segment visitors based on their digital behavior. To stay relevant, it is also essential to align your content with the different stages of buyers’ purchasing journey. Therefore, the ability to build targeted nurturing campaigns with specific calls-to-actions should be carefully considered. Why not give visitors the right content at the right time?

So, ask vendors for their ability to build customized emails, landing pages and registration forms to map the early, middle and late stages of the buying journey. This will enable marketing teams to secure your organization remains relevant. 

Personalize the digital experience

Do you want to be able to engage with visitors at an individual level? Then you might want to evaluate vendors’ capability to deliver personalized website experiences. To deliver a personalized experience can be a daunting task for organizations with thousands of visitors per day. The good news is that features such as “dynamic content” can make things easier.

With dynamic content, the website will automatically adjust to show personalized call-to-actions based on what you know about the visitor. In other words, visitors will be presented with information that is relevant to their needs. This feature can be used to support cross-selling activities for example. Why not choose a vendor that lets you adapt your website in a way that it allows you to promote and sell more of your portfolio to existing customers?

Capture buyer information gradually: one stage at a time

One fairly new but interesting feature is “progressive profiling“.  Here the site automatically recognizes recurring visitors and captures pieces of additional information as they progress through the purchasing funnel. The company name, email address and contact name may be captured in exchange of a white paper during the first visit.

In the next visit, the size of the company and the contact’s title may be captured in exchange for a free webinar. The method of capturing small pieces of information one stage at a time not only reduces the friction inherent in filling out long forms, but it also equips sales with valuable information to use during a sales call.

Nurture and score leads

Another important factor to consider is the ability to secure that only qualified leads are passed on to sales reps. Two features to secure high quality or hot leads are known as “lead nurturing” and “lead scoring“. Do you have a pool of leads that is just to large to handle manually? If this is your case, then you should consider evaluating the ability to automatically nurture and score leads. This feature will help you identify which leads to pass on to sales and which ones to nurture.

A nurturing campaign can for example be automatically triggered in response to actions like: someone downloads a white paper, registers to a webinar or simply visits the pricing page. Every new interaction is assigned a set of points that are then aggregated into the final score. The scoring criteria should be based on behavioral and demographic criteria. So, it might be also worth looking for vendors that provide the flexibility to customize the criteria to suit your needs.

These features are extremely valuable to organizations that have several customers who prefer to learn the details of specific products and services without interacting with a salesperson until they are ready to make a purchase.

Integrate with other tools

The next capability to consider is vendors’ ability to integrate with other systems you may already be using or planning to use. This is particularly important if you need to combine your marketing automation software with separate systems. Will you be working with tools such as: Webinars, CRM, Social Media Channels and Adwords?

Broad integration capabilities will let you to track and measure performance at every stage of the purchasing journey; from keywords buyers use to get to your site to identifying what piece of content or webinar triggered most interest. On the other hand, limited integration capabilities will allow you to identify potential silos worth avoiding.

Complimentary knowledge

Although not a feature in itself, consider if there is an opportunity to get complimentary access to educational webinars, white papers, guides, eBooks or video tutorials that can help your team get started. Some vendors have their own resource or knowledge center as well as online communities where practitioners share best practices and challenges. These types of material will definitely be helpful during implementation and adoption. It can enable your team to quickly reach full productivity in a cost-effective manner.

Technical versus marketing skills required to utilize the software

Would you need staff with technical, analytical or marketing skills to use the technology?  It is recommended to be aware of the set of skills and competencies needed to work with the marketing automation software you are evaluating.

Is the technology easy to use, with simple drag and drop functionality, or does it require HTML, CSS or Java coding skills? Information about the level of technical versus marketing skills required to utilize the software will help you select the right person for the job and the right software for your team. In general, it will give you a better understanding of whether you need to hire a new employee or if you can teach a current member of your staff to do the job.

Organizational fit

Last but not least, you should investigate if the offering fits your organization and its processes. Certain vendors specialize in supporting small and medium size organizations (SME) with small teams. Other vendors develop their offerings based on the needs of global organizations with centralized sales and marketing teams.

Whether a vendor is a good fit or not depends on the size of your team and the level of complexity of your process. Remember that it is not always beneficial to choose the vendor with the most comprehensive list of features. Instead, you should select the one that best fits your organization.


While we should not underestimate the power of marketing automation software, let’s recognize that sales organizations need more than the latest technology. This does not mean that organizations should not invest in marketing automation software. It just means that technology alone cannot help organization get more and better leads.

To fully reap its benefits, organizational parts like: processes, resources, structure and roles and responsibilities must fall into place. In addition, the organization needs to have a clear understanding of how customers make buying decisions. So, before jumping into the marketing automation bandwagon, make sure your organization is ready.


Are you currently considering and evaluating marketing automation software? We have developed a detailed table that compares the leading marketing automation tools. Our goal is to help you make an informed decision. To do this, we provide a side-by-side review of vendors’ strengths and weaknesses. You can download the comparison table here.


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