Amanda Anderson is Director of Marketing at W-Systems, a CRM and marketing technology consulting company. She is experienced with lead generation, email marketing, social media marketing, webinars and events, and content marketing strategies. Amanda writes regularly for the W-Systems blog. Follow W-Systems Amanda on Twitter @A_SquaredTX.

1. In your experience, what is the single most important consideration when choosing a CRM and marketing automation solution?

When evaluating CRM and Marketing Automation solutions, companies should consider the costs and ability to integrate the two systems. Sometimes companies only focus on features within the application and not enough on how the system integrates with other key business applications. In addition to evaluating the core features, below are a few things companies should look for with regard to the integration capability:

  1. Is there a pre-built plugin to connect the two systems or do you need to hire a developer to build a custom integration?
  2. Is there an open API? Should you decide to build an integration or simply extend an existing one, it will be important for the application to have an API with documentation.
  3. If there is a pre-built plugin included:

2. What’s a common misperception you see around CRM or marketing automation?

A common misperception we see around CRM and Marketing Automation is that once you purchase the system and turn it on, then you’re done. These technologies are a living and breathing thing and should never be left stagnant. Internal and external elements of the company are always changing and so should your processes and systems. Companies should evaluate their CRM and Marketing Automation solutions on a recurring basis to identify areas that can be optimized in either the process or the application.

3. How do you advise your customers to choose the right technology solutions for their needs?

Our philosophy is to find a technology solution that works with our customers’ business processes, instead of a solution that forces them to alter their business to work with the technology. Here are a few things we advise our customers to consider before implementing a new system:

  1. Involve the end-users in the requirements gathering and design process. This will help managers understand the current workflow of the users, and identify areas for automation. This will also encourage user buy-in and adoption because the system will be configured with them in mind.
  2. Fully understand and document your business processes before implementing a new system. If it is the first CRM or Marketing Automation system a company is deploying, they should fully understand how the technology will play into their existing workflow. Often companies find that their existing process is broken or non existent. Before customizing a solution, fully understand the process and then you can establish realistic outcomes and expectations for the technology being implemented.
  3. Determine who owns it. Every technology solution needs someone to own the success of it. This tends to be one of the decision makers, but doesn’t have to be. One of the biggest reasons CRM and Marketing Automation solutions aren’t successful is because, after the deployment, no one owned the continued success of the application. For example, with Marketing Automation systems, someone should consistently look to improve segmentation and optimization of email campaigns. This requires that Marketing work with Sales to gather customer insight and find areas to improve automation of communication. In CRM implementations, user adoption relies on proper training and increasing efficiency through automation. The CRM admin or owner is responsible for gathering feedback from end-users and managers to determine areas that can be automated or streamlined to keep the system running smoothly.

4. How have you seen sales and marketing change in the last five years?

It’s clear that the buying process has changed in the last five years, which means that Sales and Marketing are encouraged to work together since the path to purchasing is not a linear one. Prospects can pass through to Sales, then need to cycle back through Marketing for additional nurturing. To do that seamlessly, the Sales and Marketing process needs to be clearly defined and the CRM and Marketing Automation systems need to be tightly integrated with each other.

We have seen a shift in key decision makers for CRM implementations over the years. Traditionally, CRM decisions were led by the CIO, CFO, or the VP of Sales. More recently we have seen Marketing become a major stakeholder in the CRM evaluation and implementation.

5. From a process standpoint, how do you help your customers align their sales and marketing teams?

As a systems integrator we encourage companies to use the CRM as the core of their business information and integrate other third party applications in an effort to align departments by eliminating data silos. Both CRM and Marketing Automation are extremely powerful tools, but half of that power comes with the integration to automate lead creation, assignment, tracking and follow-up.

The integration is what enforces the alignment between the two teams. Marketing benefits from having access to CRM data to build dynamic lists and track the ROI on campaigns. Sales benefits from the automation of email communication and nurture programs to deliver more qualified leads and reduce the inefficiencies that occur in sales follow-up and cold calling.

6. What’s one piece of advice you can give to sales and marketing leaders who need to adopt these technologies but aren’t sure where to start?

When deploying either a CRM or Marketing Automation system, companies should start with a phased approach. We have seen companies spend too much time building out the perfect CRM system design and process before deploying the system. While we think system design is important, it is possible to go overboard. If your CRM system is overly customized in the initial launch, your end users will have issues learning the system and adjusting to so much change. Deploying in a phased approach allows the users to get into the system sooner and you can identify how they are using the system and what areas need to be optimized rather than assuming this upfront. Making the wrong assumptions early on will be difficult and costly to undo.

With Marketing Automation, sometimes marketers spend months developing the perfect lead scoring profile, and writing dozens of nurture campaigns and automation rules before implementing the system. The downside of spending too much time prepping the system is that you’ve wasted months of valuable touchpoints and lead tracking that you could have been doing. We advise companies to start slow and only bite off the pieces that they can quickly and fully execute on. Over time, you can add more nurture campaigns and adjust your lead scoring profiles.