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


Top 15 Things to Consider before buying Marketing Automation Software

We describe top 10 benefits to consider marketing automation software

Take a visual journey with me for a moment. You are a marketing guru working for a nonprofit association. On a regular basis each day, you and your team handle your company’s email marketing, supporter nurturing, social media accounts, content marketing efforts, and more. And, when you sit down at your desk in the morning after that fresh brewed cup of Joe from Starbucks, the only time you stand up to leave is for the occasional refill, your too-short lunch break, or when the clock finally strikes five. Things are busy — and you don’t see them slowing down anytime soon. In this article, I discuss why marketing automation is catching on at many nonprofits (NPO’s) but also key questions to explore before investing in marketing automation software.

Determining a Fit for Marketing Automation At Your Nonprofit

Does this scenario sound a bit familiar? For a lot of marketing folks with too much on their plate, it should. If you found yourself nodding your head in agreement as you read any of the lines in the paragraph above, perhaps it’s time to consider a different approach that can help you automate your marketing efforts, saving you time and effort while freeing you up to pursue more exciting marketing opportunities. Briefly, just to be sure we are on the same page here. How do I view marketing automation? Here are few opinions from some various sources to be sure we are in alignment with Marketing Automation vs. simply email marketing software.

What is Marketing Automation? 

  • Marketing Automation … focuses on the definition, scheduling, segmentation, and tracking of marketing campaigns. The use of marketing automation makes processes that would otherwise have been performed manually much more efficient and makes new processes possible. (Source: Marketing Automation Times)
  • Marketing Automation is the use of software and Web-based services to execute, manage, and automate marketing tasks and processes. It replaces manual and repetitive marketing processes with purpose-built software and applications geared toward performance. (Source: Techopedia)
  • Marketing Automation is the use of technology to generate, nurture, score and qualify leads, and drive sales, using customized, multi-touch marketing communications tailored for each contact’s profile, level of interest, behavior, or place in the buying process. (Source: Sales Lead Insights)

Why Marketing Automation? The scales have shifted.

Digital channels, non-stop connectivity, expectations for personalized interactions, and unprecedented nonprofit competition have empowered today’s supporters with more knowledge and choices than ever before. As a result, marketers in nonprofits are forced to shoulder much more responsibility for measurably contributing to supporter acquisition and revenue (dues,donations, non-dues) goals, an expanded role that’s less “traditional” and more “buyer education/storytelling” about your mission. In many regards, mission success hinges on finding the right mix of inbound and outbound strategies, and the right data that effectively measures what matters across the increasing array of moving marketing pieces.

Key Questions to consider before investing in Marketing Automation Software 

Ok, you got it. You are intrigued by Marketing Automation. You understand that what once worked does not.  But, you need some more ammunition inside your nonprofit to “justify” the case for investing in another “tool” to solve your challenges. If so, take a look at the checklist below. These questions may help you discern some value (impetus) in implementing a Marketing Automation software platform. If you find that you agree with a majority of the statements listed, Marketing Automation might be worthy of consideration at your nonprofit.

  1. Is my Nonprofit association fully utilizing all the capabilities in our email marketing provider now?
  2. Does my organization test and continually optimize our email marketing campaigns?
  3. Does my association understand the ROI of membership and is able to adapt messages accordingly?
  4. Does my NPO believe that content is king and know how to use our curated knowledge effectively to attract and retain membership?
  5. Does your nonprofit believe that marketing should be accountable for actively communicating with people who are not ready to “join” but might in the future?
  6. Do you believe that your marketing team (process) should be involved in helping qualify new member opportunities for the membership business development department?
  7. Does your organization have a clear understanding of the various personas of your members so much that we can adapt the message to unique needs of prospective members?
  8. Do you have a defined marketing department and membership/development department?
  9. Do you have quite a bit of marketing content, but you struggle to distribute and promote it efficiently?
  10. Do you have a CRM (Donor Database System or Membership Software), but it does not include all of the functionalities that you would like, such as built-in supporter (lead) qualification, simple automation, or segmentation.
  11. Does your executive team have very little insight into your ROI, and therefore no way to prioritize marketing spend?
  12. Do you have some data you can use to personalize communications, but no efficient way to do it?
  13. Do you lack the bandwidth to manually reach out to all of the prospective supporters and members in your database, and you have a hard time deciding which donors to pursue and which ones to come back to later?
  14. Do you find that most of your prospective supporters are not immediately ready to buy, and therefore need nurturing to get them to the point where they’re ready to talk to the development staff?
  15. Does your marketing team interact with multiple marketing channels on a daily basis, including paid search outlets, your social media accounts, and email marketing?

Did you answer “yes” to many of the statements above? Well, it might be time to consider looking into a more robust marketing automation system that may address some of the operational issues or scenarios listed.

Still not sure? Give us a call. There are a lot of marketing automation software options (and the list is growing), so reach out to us to help begin your search. We can help discern which option may be best suited for you. Until then keep SmartThoughts in mind.

Email Marketing Software vs. Marketing Automation Software