[ Blog ] What Makes a ‘Real’ Marketing Automation Platform?

As with every tech sub-industry the number of marketing automation vendors is growing rapidly; or is it? The number of technologies that claim they are a marketing automation platform is definite, but the key question is, are they really marketing automation platforms? The honest truth in many cases is no.

I am not going to sit here and debate what is and isn’t a ‘real’ marketing automation platform but what I do want to discuss is what I feel makes up a marketing automation platform that will work for you.

The top five areas as I see them are:

  • Scalability
  • Functionality
  • Integration
  • Lead/contact management
  • Reporting


This doesn’t mean the ability to add on users – that’s a given. What it means is the ability to grow and support more advanced requirements and a more advanced setup. You need to think about folder structure/permissions to access different areas of the system and different records within the system. The more complexity and more ‘stuff’ you have in the platform the more you need to consider people’s access. Also, as your knowledge increases, your requirements will too, so you need to know your chosen platform can accommodate this. For instance, your platform should be able to know what content someone has consumed and not send them it again, otherwise you have to spend hours (I learnt from experience) mapping out every possible permutation.


Functionality, of course, linked to the latter part around scalability I discussed but in order to maximise your marketing you have to make sure that the platform is more than you need right now. The reason I say this is because: a) you will want to push what you can do with your digital marketing (if not, frankly, you’re in the wrong job) and b) your customers’ expectations will continue to increase. It is therefore important to consider items like how the platform personalises (think dynamic content across multiple segments and web personalisation, not mail merging someone’s name). Are there sufficient options to ‘trigger’, e.g. can you move people down different streams based on interest, segment, persona, tag etc? All these things become increasingly important as you increase your marketing automation knowledge.


It is a fact that marketing automation cannot achieve everything you need within your digital marketing sphere; no platform can. No platform should because they should specialise in what they are good at – as they say, no one likes a jack of all trades. If the platform isn’t going to do it all then integration is key. First of all it should integrate into CRM and especially integrate natively – no third parties here please. Furthermore, it needs to be a two-way sync across all the major objects/entities – not just pushing a few standard fields. The second key element is that there is an open API as this not only means that they are likely to have good integration into other platforms, e.g. webinar, Google, BI platforms and other marketing channels, it also means you can build into any platforms where there isn’t a current integration or even into your own platforms.

Lead/contact management

Marketing automation, despite its name, is not all about marketing. Of course, marketing isn’t successful unless it feeds the sales engine and you cannot do that effectively if you cannot manage your leads and contacts effectively. We therefore need to think about how we can prioritise leads. Again, this isn’t just through behavioural scoring but demographic and firmographic elements too. It goes without saying this needs to be fed into CRM and presented to sales in a meaningful way. Also, consider integration into tasks as being able to notify sales at the right time is paramount in seeing results at the bottom of the funnel.


Data-driven marketing and the ability to prove ROI are more and more important, therefore it goes without saying that ROI reporting and being able to view marketing results in a meaningful manner are capabilities of marketing automation. ROI of course means that it needs to integrate into opportunities, otherwise how will you know what has closed and what hasn’t? Further reports linked to the success of marketing are lead velocity, leads by score and leads by campaign. Of course, all of the standard reports: CTR, downloads, open rates etc. are necessary but any platform can do that and should have been able to for years. It is the funnel and more strategic reporting that set marketing automation apart.

In summary, you should be able to distinguish between what is essentially an email service provider and a ‘real’ marketing automation platform by asking a few simple questions:

  • Does the platform have extensive segmentation and automation options?
  • Could the platform accommodate a larger, more sophisticated team?
  • Can I natively integrate CRM into custom fields and objects?
  • Can I update sales in near to real time with key information?
  • Am I able to report on ROI?

Hopefully we can get the pretenders filtered out and you can run some serious marketing automation campaigns.

For more information on how we can help you with your marketing automation platform take a look at our service overviews.

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