Marketing automation is a bit of a puzzle.
Do it right and you can build your audience—your email list and your client base—at a steady, cost-effective clip.
Do it wrong and you’ll throw countless hours and/or dollars away trying to fit the pieces together.
But here’s the thing: you don’t need to spend endless hours comparing systems and prices.
How do I know this?
Not because I’m an expert at marketing automation systems.
I am a user of them.
A practical, get-your-hands-dirty user.
So when my old stand-by Mailchimp was holding me back, I went searching for the best alternative.
And I (re-)learned that you really just need to make three key decisions to avoid wasting time—and money.
1. Be honest with yourself: Do you REALLY need a CRM system or just marketing automation?
It’s easy to get distracted by the “shiny ball” features of systems like Ontraport, InfusionSoft or even HubSpot. They allow you to build deep databases on each client and integrate with many critical functions within your firm.
So if your business model requires managing complex relationships and sales across multiple team members, by all means explore CRMs.
But if your core purpose in using automation is getting content into the hands of future clients and buyers, then you’ll want to restrict your options to those focusing on marketing automation.
For example, you might want to track opens, clicks, and the viability of your various marketing funnels, e.g. who downloaded which free guide? Which campaign worked and which fell flat?
Tags were the big draw for me—I wanted the ability to identify subscribers in various ways Mailchimp didn’t permit—so my list boiled down quickly to ConvertKit, ActiveCampaign, and Drip.
2. What are your top three HIGHEST priorities?
Try making your priority list BEFORE you drop down the feature rabbit hole with each of the systems on your list.
It’s easier to strategize when you’re not being seduced by cool features you may never use.
In my case, I knew I wanted the ability to tag subscribers and to set automatic email sequences based on their downloads and landing page clicks.
I was ready and willing to hire help to transition and run the platform, but I wanted to understand it enough to run it myself when needed.
Finally, I wanted the system to be as intuitive as possible, with a reliable, responsive help desk.
3. Are you willing to hire help or do you want to do this yourself?
This is a big one and really, there isn’t a wrong answer.
What’s going to work best for you?
You may want to be hands-on—especially in the beginning until you understand both the intricacies and the power behind the system you choose.
Or you may want to stay as far from the details as you possibly can.
Which means you need yourself an expert who deeply understands your business, your marketing AND marketing automation.
Before I tell you more about my own experience, let me point you to this article by technology maven Nathalie Lussier.
It has a clear, highly detailed explanation of some of the comparisons you might want to make before deciding on the best system for you.
When I scoured the web for helpful articles, I was shocked by how many focused on the monthly cost of each option, to the exclusion of what seemed mightily more important: how the system will help further your business.
My advice: don’t fret about $25 vs $50 a month—spend your time investigating how each system can streamline your business and/or bring in new clients.
After tossing the CRM-focused options, the remaining three systems I evaluated could clearly handle my first priority.
Their differences lay in the how.
ConvertKit seemed easiest to me overall, although there would clearly be a learning curve. The big thing they had in their favor? A list of cost-effective certified experts to help with everything from set-up to transition to daily needs. I settled on one to help us and was almost ready to pull the trigger.
Instead, I got a bit distracted by Drip’s visual automation (intuitive systems being my #3 priority) after watching one of their instructional videos. At the time of my decision, both Drip and ActiveCampaign had it and my ConvertKit sources said maybe it was coming.
Thinking this could be the deal-maker, I turned to Drip’s list of experts but was rather underwhelmed. It was a short list and had only one that seemed to be technical enough for what I wanted.
His price to transition my subscribers and talk through the set-up? $3,000. While it was pretty clear he could save me some time, it didn’t seem like he’d save me $3,000 worth. So I tried contacting Drip directly in search of more options and then I finally realized the problem.
Drip was designed for technical folk. And while their community is deeply helpful and connected—I rarely understood what they were talking about. They just didn’t speak my language (and I didn’t want to hire a pricey interpreter).
ActiveCampaign kept landing in the middle. Their visual automation, their videos, their support team. They were clearly a viable choice, but ultimately the simplicity of ConvertKit won me over.
It didn’t hurt that they rolled out their beta version of visual automation just as I made my final decision.
Before importing a single subscriber from my existing list, we set up tags and sequences and tested them on new folks who visited my various landing pages.
We tweaked here and there and experimented with a few options.
When we finally did transfer everyone over, I was pleasantly surprised that it took less than an hour to import and tag my Mailchimp subscribers.
Now you might make a completely different decision for all sorts of valid reasons. In fact, one of my clients went with HubSpot—and now that he’s past a considerable learning curve (which he planned for), he’s reaping the benefits.
Bottom line: what marketing automation will best fuel where you’re taking your business?
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