One of the common questions I field is which tools are the best to automate sales and marketing processes.

The right answer is that there is  no right answer.

There are just so many tools out there that may do a really good job for you, some need to be stitched together with others, but there are a few that offer all singing, all dancing solutions.

The latter are usually not appropriate for the needs or IT resources of small and medium enterprises, who typically lack the knowledge  and resources to do a complicated implementation.

While it may seem wasteful, my advice to SME’s is to take small steps, be wary, find ways to work around the shortcomings, and stitch things together, then when big enough take a bigger step and integrate in a larger package.

It does not always work, but experimenting as you go along is usually a very good idea.

However, here are some generic steps that can be taken that should be done at the beginning of the process, no matter what, and how, you are going to implement.

  • Define outcomes. Define the outcomes you want from the software in the context of your strategy. Automation tool implementation without reference to the strategic principals and goals will be a painful experience.
  • Integration. Consider how the software will integrate into the rest of your business. Most implementations I see these days are automating sales and marketing in one way or another, which usually need to be integrated into the existing financial and operational software that has typically already been deployed. You need to clearly understand where the holes between the applications hide, and have considered the manner in which they are to be filled. Excel seems to be the ‘filler’ of choice in most circumstances I come across.
  • Build wide buy in. It is essential that you get the buy in for the functional users, by seeking their input to the tool choice, project planning, training, and implementation. This offers the opportunity to ensure that their current and anticipated requirements are met as far as possible, and that their concerns are able to be aired, if not completely addressed.
  • Fit. Ask yourself how well the new software and existing processes fit together, and how familiar the new processes will feel. Most software is not fully utilised, and this is often a result of legacy systems being useful and familiar. You need to determine how to address these issues of what I call ‘legacy elasticity’.This may seem very similar to the challenges of integration, but they are different, as there is always resistance to change, and  the better the fit to the existing, the easier the evolution will be. Integration implies that both parts of the equation can be altered to achieve a different outcome, whereas fit matches existing parts together.
  • Map your processes. My normal practise is to have someone outside the business map all the current processes, then run that map over the process map that will be implemented in the software. My objective is twofold: remove the inconsistencies and silly bits from the current, and find a process that matches what is left as closely as possible, then implement the software without change. Changing the code in the software package seems easy, but always ends up in tears as unintended consequences rear their ugly heads.
  • Do we go to the cloud? The argument about ‘cloud or not to cloud’ has been had. Go to the cloud. The compromises can be managed, the cost will continue to beat the costs of on premises, but the real value is in the automatic patching and upgrades that occur.
  • Due diligence. As you are doing your due diligence, make sure you ask deep questions, and hold control over the agenda. Software sales people are very good indeed, and will sway the most recalcitrant and reluctant buyer with a vision of the new life you will have purely as a result of their software. Just assume it is all bullshit, that there are a number of options that will meet your requirements, and be clear about what you need, not just in terms of the functionality, but the training costs, ongoing maintenance, upgrades, any internal hardware expenses, and features that may not be included in the base package.

Making a software vendor decision is challenging, but the truly challenging bit, the implementation and leveraging of the software is yet to come. Make sure that the whole project is planned in great detail, and that the vendor is locked into the outcomes.

Do all that, and you might get away with it, and when you do so the productivity gains will be huge.

Image credit: Scott Brinker of Chief Martech. The landscape details 5,381 digital martech automation tools as of the end of April 2017. There will be more by now. I recommend you dig around in the Chief Martech blog for ideas, information and insight.