Companies that invest in marketing automation solutions see faster growth, increased website traffic and higher close rates on qualified leads. Marketing automation—a type of software that assists in developing, executing, and tracking marketing tasks and workflows—has been employed by large corporations for a while, yet small to mid-size businesses are just starting recognize its value. In fact, the adoption of marketing automation technology is expected to increase by 50 percent by 2015, according to a study by SiriusDecisions. Here’s what planners should consider when choosing and implementing marketing automation: Identify your pain points. What problems do you need to solve? Unlike simple email marketing solutions, marketing automation helps companies identify and target leads, track customer behavior and develop more effective marketing campaigns. April Wilson, president of Digital Analytics 101, previously ran the marketing department of a large construction industry trade show company. They needed a solution for both B2B and B2C audiences—something that would attract the attention of new attendees while retaining ones from previous years, and bring in exhibitors who wanted to purchase space at the shows. They also wanted to learn more about their competitors in the technology sector. “I had been doing a lot of bulk email blastings, but it was hard to reach the target audience,” says Wilson, who adds that Facebook and YouTube didn’t offer the kind of consistency or visibility her sales team wanted. Marketing automation offers smart tools for analyzing and segmenting customers into different categories. Campaigns can be tailored to each segment. Jessica Lunk, digital marketing manager for Hatchbuck, a marketing automation software company, likens it to tailoring a message to a customer who likes red wine, as opposed to blasting your entire email network, whether they drink or not. Jeff Kear, owner of Planning Pod, an online event management software company, uses several marketing automation tools daily. “It’s easy to get lost in all the features of marketing automation platforms,” says Kear. “Before you begin your search, define what tasks you want to automate, what data you want to manage and what metrics you want to track. This helps you stay focused and keeps you from buying more than you really need.” Define a budget and preferred pay model. Marketing automation used to be a solution only large corporations could consider. Now, a new generation of software geared toward smaller companies offers solutions for any budget. In her former trade show role, Wilson compared three options before choosing an automation system. “At the time, Eloqua and Marketo had pricing models based on the number of contacts in your database. We had a large database with 80 percent of the market—millions of records—so that wouldn’t work.” Instead, Wilson went with Pardot, which billed customers based on the amount of emails they sent each year, no matter the number of recipients. “If you’re a small business or trade show with limited marketing funds, your best bet is to go with a ‘light’ solution like HubSpot,” says Wilson. “You can’t do a lot of customization, but if you’re just getting started and you have 10,000 or less in your database, try it for a year.” Think about ease of use. If you’re short on time or staff (or both), a simple solution is the way to go. Wilson has used several different marketing automation solutions. “Pardot looks and feels like an Excel sheet on steroids,” she says. “The average marketer can look at it and understand it intuitively. Our setup time was two weeks—it was an easy, painless setup.” She adds that Marketo was designed to integrate with Salesboard and includes plug-ins for Microsoft, while Eloqua is best suited for big, multibrand corporations. “Consider the portability of data. All marketing automation systems are relatively easy to get data into, but quite a few aren’t so easy to get data out of,” says Kear. “Make sure you inquire as to if you can export data from the app or port it into other applications.” Kear recommends designating one team member as the “expert” who will learn and implement the system for you, then teach anyone else who needs to use or access the system.