15 Key Areas to Consider When Evaluating Marketing Automation Software

What to look for in Marketing Automation Software for your Association or Nonprofit

As with all application software searches, before you begin evaluating marketing technology vendors, you must evaluate your organization and existing process. In this article, I will share my thoughts on key elements to consider while selecting your “Best Marketing Automation Software” for your nonprofit.

Selecting the Best Marketing Automation Software for Nonprofits 

Now that you know you are a good candidate for Marketing Automation Software,  you may be ready to evaluate solutions and vendors. However, what should you consider?  Great Question. Here is my answer. Whether you are a nonprofit or for profit, I believe there are roughly 15 areas which should be considered today when evaluating marketing automation software. Here is a summary for your review below.


In my mind, a small team needs to be more efficient in order to be effective. And, being able to manage multiple tools from one dashboard is a key time-saving feature for most organizations including nonprofits. When we looked at options, I used questions such as the following: Does the system provide one platform to launch and manage email campaigns and other key channels of communication? Does the platform automate common functions?


A marketing automation software platform should be able to create and maintain lists dynamically. We had tons of lists curated over years of doing business. That said, it was important for the system to accommodate that need. Questions such as the following were relevant: Can the database manage multiple lists? Can it create list segments based on behavioral or other attributes? Can the database integrate with a CRM (Membership/Donor) system, sharing data back and forth seamlessly and dynamically in real-time?


Automating content management makes content easier to use, reuse, revise, and share; it also keeps it updated and in sync. I asked the following: Does the system have the capability to quickly and easily create, reuse or repurpose attractive, consistent, brand-compliant email, web forms and landing page templates, using only basic skills. Does the system have a way to control access to any piece of content in any library?


A marketing automation’s ability to streamline and enhance lead generation, management, and distribution is a key benefit. You should consider the following: Ability to auto-respond to website and other inbound inquiries. Ability to set SMS and email alerts for types of contact from specific individuals and companies.


One of marketing automation’s greatest virtues is automating programs that would be difficult or onerous to do by hand. No amount of hired resources could manually reach out and touch prospects at just the right time with just the right message without a good marketing automation software program. Look for these capabilities: Trigger marketing, in which some action by a lead (e.g. visiting a conference page or downloading a document) triggers a response email.


Lead scoring allows you to set numerical scores for characteristics and behaviors that indicate sales readiness. Scoring automatically analyzes which prospects (Donors/Members) are most desirable according to criteria you determine. Things to be mindful about: Can the platform score prospective members or donors based on both explicit (e.g., title, location, etc.) and implicit (behavioral attributes and actions) data?


Email remains the cornerstone of outbound strategy for most companies. A marketing automation platform’s email tool should include a robust set of capabilities, and integrate with other tools. Many companies begin with email and add other aspects of automation as their comfort level grows. Look for:
Creative capabilities that facilitate fast campaign creation, easy to use email editor for professional appearance, and brand consistency.


Your marketing automation platform should support and augment your website, and provide real value in lead generation. For many membership software systems, a content management system is included so this become even more important to consider. Be sure you consider: Can the Marketing Automation Software integrate with my Content Management or does the Marketing platform require I use their own?


Does your Association run online training or courses online? If so, and you use webinars now or plan to in the future, look for a marketing automation platform that offers a full integration with a webinar provider. Items of Importance: The ability to schedule and run a webinar from the marketing automation platform.


There are very few nonprofits today not utilizing social media. While reviewing it’s important to know that some marketing automation platforms allow prospecting and coordinated messaging and campaigns across social platforms. As a nonprofit organization it’s important to have: Easy setup of multiple accounts and identities on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.


Look for reporting capabilities that can meet the needs of your department, your internal and external partners, and the CXO suite. Reporting delivers numerical results. Analytics helps show you what’s working, and can help you determine where to focus or what needs adjustment.


If it’s too complex or hard to use, a marketing automation system won’t get used. Superior usability is the result of building a platform from the ground up with ease of use as a key design principle; it reflects the vision and purpose of the vendor’s leadership. Things to look for: A clean, simple, intuitive dashboard.

13. SPEED.

Time is money; the ability of marketing automation to accelerate campaigns from concept to deployment is a key win. In addition, the ability to analyze prospect response and prioritize hot leads to business development in real-time will enhance membership close rates. Factors to consider include: Automation of tasks that are now done manually; how much time and labor will you save? Also, you may consider what more you might be able to achieve with no increase in staff.


A complex marketing automation system can take a significant amount of time to implement and integrate, and may involve significant IT department resources. Factors to consider include. The complexity of infrastructure deployment and administration. Will you need  a marketing agency to assist?


The more complicated a system is, the more likely that you’ll need extensive training and ongoing support. Factors to consider include: Training required for users to gain facility and actually launch campaigns – weeks vs. days vs. hours. Is this included? Big factor for us and likely you too!


The total cost of an automated marketing system can’t be accurately calculated until enough time has passed so that return on investment can be measured against acquisition and maintenance costs. That said, there are issues involved in the total cost of acquisition that can be calculated and weighed before purchase. Factors to consider include: Base-product pricing; purchase or subscription; controllable, predictable factors & length of contract(s).

Are these 15 areas important to you? That’s the big question, isn’t it? As with all software, there is no one-size-fits-all “best” marketing automation platform. And, I do not believe that Marketing Automation is not for everyone. The best marketing technology is usually the platform that fits comfortably inside your organization’s culture, helps you fulfill your current objectives while being scalable enough to meet your organization’s needs as it grows, and is easy for your team to use.

If you are considering Marketing Automation Software for your Membership Organization or Donor focused Nonprofit, please give us a call. Until then, keep SmartThoughts in mind.

Free Checklist to help find the Best Marketing Automation Software for nonprofits


Pure Accomplishment with Marketing Automation and integration


Marketing Automation should be integrated to your CRM, AMS, or Donor system to achieve success! SmartThoughts can help!


Many associations have invested thousands of dollars in their Association Management Software (AMS) platforms. As discussed many times on this site, certainly an AMS can dramatically increase the productivity of your staff and your members engagement. However, most forward thinking organizations have begun to think beyond the basics of their AMS systems and are looking for more ways to enhance their membership communications and ability to understand how to best nurture their existing and prospective members to improve participation.

No doubt, AMS systems have their strengths, but the area where they provide the most benefit may well be from additional applications that support specific business goals. These tools can range from learning management systems or Abstract Management systems to more complimentary solutions centered around member management communication, integration with email, & marketing efforts.

We believe that Marketing Automation (MA) is one of the most comprehensive solutions which can dramatically increase the success in your AMS system. And, the synergy between member management activities and marketing could potentially allow an association to increase ROI in your member management area, improve new member sign ups, deliver more predictable dues and non-dues revenue, and make all departments communication efforts more impactful.

To be sure, many AMS systems have some element of marketing. In fact, many contain an integrated email marketing system embedded in the primary feature sets. However, for some associations their AMS may need to take it to the next level of maximum marketing power. This is no knock on AMS systems. It’s simply moving beyond the basics into more sophisticated territory. In most AMS systems, they were developed to handle individual one on one contacts while marketing always works with larger segments of leads. In short, marketing has to deal with thousands of names and manage thousands of leads to pinpoint the right targets to focus their efforts.

With Marketing Automation, you can add another layer of accomplishment on top of your AMS. One of the main drivers of MA is what is referred to as “Lead Management”. Many associations looking for ways to grow their membership or simply retain the membership need a much more comprehensive way to follow-up with their leads to be sure they are qualified. This lead management process is one of the key tenants of Marketing Automation.

For many leading associations, the lead management process starts with capturing leads through your member website. With MA, once a landing web page form is filled out, a dialogue could be started via email in order to deliver pertinent information to the prospective member or existing member. In many circles, this is called lead nurturing. And, while this email is sent, activity on the web site visits are tracked, recorded, and monitored by the system.

What if you could do or know  the following:

  • Know when your emails get opened?
  • Did your member or donor download a Legislative Brief or donor mission call to Action?
  • Did the donor or member visit certain web pages after looking at the content?
  • How many times?
  • How long were they on a specific donation page? Did they contribute or Sign up? Why not?
  • Optimize your web content to increase traffic from your web?

With MA, your Membership or Donor team can review the findings and assign calls out based on relevant interests.While this type of automation may be present in a few AMS systems today, it’s likely the marriage of the two systems (AMS and Marketing Automation) that allows a nonprofit association to increase staff effectiveness and ensure the success of your membership and marketing efforts.

In order to measure success in your marketing efforts you will need Marketing Automation, call SmartThoughts to find your fit!
With Marketing Automation and AMS Software

Benefits of AMS with Marketing Automation:

  • Capability for AMS to provide a central location for all members and prospective members/donors
  • An AMS system has opportunity management features which can take a prospective new member and move them into a member or donor management pipeline
  • Member interaction activity management which is critical to on boarding process

Benefits of Marketing Automation with an AMS:

  • Marketing Automation will provide a huge productivity boost for a marketing department lead generation
  • New Member campaigns can be performed automatically rather than manually
  • Marketing Automation provides better metrics on Member campaign effectiveness
  • Push content that will interest your members and prospects based on website activity
  • Campaigns for conferences, new membership campaigns, or general awareness efforts will improve your nurturing capabilities
  • Social media posting prowess
  • Increase AMS data quality with tools to prevent duplicates by appending information to existing records as well as identifying and merging duplicates
  • Increased efficiency by Membership staff to prioritize and interact with the most relevant leads
  • Deliver more predictable non-dues, donor, and general dues revenue

We believe that when a smart Marketing Automation system and a robust capable AMS system are combined to facilitate engagement, your organization will not doubt realize significant benefits.

If you’re exploring ways to improve your marketing efforts and would like to discuss our experience in this area, please contact us today to discuss smart alternatives.


5 Key Factors Driving the Race towards Marketing Automation at NPO’s

Marketing Automation at Nonprofits is helping many win the race!

5 Key Factors Driving the Race towards New Marketing Automation at NPO’s!

In our opinion, one of the leading trends for nonprofit associations over the next few years will be to move beyond traditional methods of finding new members through “Outbound Marketing” such as email to full Marketing Automation platforms to be more competitive and remain relevant. In this article, we discuss some concepts and outline 5 key factors which may make the case for Marketing Automation Software at your Nonprofit.

Today, Marketing Automation has emerged as a class of technology to manage the entire life cycle of marketing whether that be Inbound Marketing or Outbound Marketing.

What is the idea of Marketing Automation?

The term marketing automation is used to describe any piece of software that helps business reduce the human effort needed to roll out an inbound and outbound marketing program, either by tying multiple elements together under a single platform or by streamlining efforts within a single channel.

What is Inbound Marketing and Outbound Marketing?

“Inbound Marketing” is the method by which your members or donors find you online mostly through various paid and natural search engine marketing efforts.

Outbound Marketing” is likely what your nonprofit has been focused on for many years. Outbound marketing examples include Newsletters, Trade Shows, TV commercials, radio commercials, print advertisements (newspaper ads, magazine ads, flyers, brochures, catalogs, etc.), press releases, cold calls, and email blasts.

In 2004, there were very few vendors who specialized in email marketing and even fewer vendors that could claim to automate anything beyond traditional marketing. Dialing on the phone and conference trade show events were top dog in the arsenal for the commercial for profit and non-profit organizations alike.

Therefore, it’s time for Executives of nonprofits and associations to get prepared and look forward in their respective race to succeed in engaging members and donors. That noted, the key drivers of an organization’s decision to feel the need to investigate marketing automation technology generally involves one or more of the 5 factors described below:

  • Business Intelligence:

    The need for membership and marketing reports that provide data for analysis, planning, and determination of return on investment will be required by more Association Executives & Nonprofit Boards in the future. We believe that the use of your data will set you free, because it truly empowers and organization to see where its strengths and opportunities are today and in the future.

  • Simplification:

    Everyone is trying to do more with less these days and nonprofits are no different. The need for Membership, IT, Development Officers, and Web Masters need to simplify the management and coordination of activities, such as marketing and website traffic.

  • Removing DDS (Disparate Data Syndrome)

    The need to manage multiple point tools like email marketing solutions, landing pages, google analytics, blogs, & association or donor management solutions need to be integrated to provide the insights you need and keep the staff sane.

  • New Member Recruitment:

Yes, associations and donor nonprofits should be prepared to compete even more with the mind share of for-profit and nonprofits in providing value. Therefore, lead nurturing and transfer or interested members to the appropriate parties is critical.

  • Efficient Use of Time:

You need to be a lean mean fighting machine at your nonprofit. Therefore, reducing the time to create, deploy marketing campaigns, or respond to on boarding requests or conference exhibitors for booth sales in real-time is paramount. In a recent research study done internally by Velocity, a leading outbound marketing firm, revealed the simple act of placing a phone call to a new prospect within a minute of lead generation can increase your likelihood of conversion by nearly 400%.

If you are a mid to large association, and you have outgrown your current email marketing solution, it may be time for your organization to get ahead of the pack.

Proceed With Caution

A quick word of caution, however is in order. As in any software evaluation, before you begin evaluating vendors, it’s imperative you take a look at your organization, your human resources, and your existing processes. Your nonprofit organization needs to spend time to identify the goals and objectives of your marketing automation initiative to be sure it aligns the directive of your board and members.

You may find it’s necessary to enlist the help of a skilled consulting firm which understands your industry. There are very good inbound marketing firms for the for-profit market. And, even better is enlisting the assistance of a firm which is focused on the nonprofit sector.

When you have determined your organization’s objectives, requirements, and opportunities, you’re ready to evaluate solutions and vendors. And, at the time, if you would like more information on complete marketing automation tools or just need to start with an email marketing service, please contact us.

Until next time, keep SmartThoughts in mind.

Moving faster sometimes means using better tools. Marketing Software can do just that!