If you're a small business owner, then you're probably wondering what I was wondering when I sat down to write this post:
"What would I want if I paid for automated marketing?" Along with automation, other services and products should be approached with care.
This is what you should be asking if you haven't already, and it's important to have high standards that are also realistic for your budget. Before signing up for any marketing automation service, etc., be sure to ask the following additional questions:
How Does it Work?
This may sound like an obvious question, but you don't want to end up in a situation where you're paying for something that you don't even understand.
Yes, some of the technology behind automation can be confusing and complex, but any reputable company will have plenty of documentation available that adequately explains how their service works.
If there is no documentation that makes the service easy to understand for users of any level of technology knowledge, then that is the only red flag you need.
Back away now, do not enter your credit card information, and don't be lured in by flashy graphics or excellent design if it lacks real depth.
The simple test for true knowledge is that it can be transferred to anyone in a way they can understand it. Anything else is probably a flashy show (or possibly an expensive trap).
What are the Key Features?
Next, if you've read through a service's documentation and the key points have been elucidated (clearly explained), then you should begin comparing the features of the service to other similar services on the market. Consider these two fictional companies, AutoMark and AutoTech.
AutoMark offers A, B, and C as part of their automation marketing platform, whereas AutoTech offers E, C, and F, but not A or B. It's not unusual for companies to offer select services as part of their specialties.
Having alternative offerings helps businesses remain competitive. Businesses tend to focus on a select menu of services or products in order to perfect those areas and to provide the best experience possible.
Make a Wish/Need List
Be sure to write out a thorough list of YOUR needs. Then make a list of each company's provided services. This will make it much easier to compare and contrast, and it will help you to not get confused and make a choice out of frustration.
Also, be firm about your needs. This is your business and your budget. Only subscribe to a service that meets each of your critical needs, and don't allow sly sales people to convince you that you don't really need A and B, because their C and D are so much better.
On the other hand, it's possible that you won't need a service because it offers more options that are beyond the current needs of your business. Choosing the best service or product is a balancing act.
No one knows your business as well as you do, and you should promptly end any conversation that doesn't place your needs at the top of the priority list. Trust yourself.
How Much Does it Cost?
Be prepared. Be realistic. Quality comes at a price. If you decide to hire a company to automate marketing (or some other complex task), then you should be prepared to pay at minimum several hundreds of dollars each month.
Yes, there are services out there that only charge $20/month (or some other cheap, arbitrary price) and promise you the moon, but you get what you pay for. Keep in mind that I'm not referring to simple automation, such as a monthly email blast to your subscribers.
The type of automation I'm referencing will be comprehensive, or it will do something for your business that you can't get anywhere else. That type of exclusive value compels you to understand its intrinsic worth.
It's like buying a car. If you go to the dealership and purchase a car for $2000, then you shouldn't expect it to run like a $20,000 model. Of course, your budget will determine what you can afford, but don't expect to get more than what you can currently afford to spend.
Just make sure that you actually get what you pay for. This leads to the next question...
What are the Refunds and/or Guarantees Policy?
Every purchase should be an investment that returns both quality results and superb user experience. If you do purchase a more expensive service that doesn't meet the needs of your business, then you have every right to ask for a refund, assuming this is not excluded from any contracts you signed.
Be sure to do business with companies that are transparent about their refund and deliverables. Don't sign any contract without checking with legal counsel beforehand—especially if you are paying several thousands of dollars!
Not doing so may cost you more in the long run, and you could end up trapped in a monthly contract that doesn't match your needs or live up to your expectations. Please review everything with your business lawyer.
Are there Benefits or Rewards for Choosing this Service?
Most people don't think to ask if their loyalty will be rewarded. In fact, it may sound like an odd thing to ask, but it's also an important thing to consider. Think about major airlines and credit card companies.
The most successful businesses offer exclusive benefits to their customers and clients. Even retail stores do this. Software-as-a-service and other technology services should be no exception.
Quality comes with a price, but it should also come with benefits, rewards, and exclusive offers in order to be the most attractive service or product available. If you're paying for something, then you should receive both results and extra benefits for choosing to invest in someone else's business.
One thing to remember: you could always choose another company to do business with, and this gives you leverage as a customer over the service provider.
If you know your worth, then you will demand value and quality from everyone you decide to partner with. There should always be an equal exchange in any partnership.
Are there Honest Reviews and Case Studies? (Evidence)
Pay attention. Take a moment to check out what other people are saying about the business you're considering hiring. Be sure to see if there are several reviews available, and not just five star reviews.
It's unrealistic to think that any business or service will only have excellent reviews and customer experiences. If they do only feature positive feedback from their customers to the public, then do some research to see if this holds up under the scrutiny of the internet.
Also, any case studies should feature verifiable data that offers sources and contacts who can confirm that the results are both accurate and fully transparent.
It's easy to use data to manipulate numbers in order to make something or someone look better than it or they are in reality.
Can Results be Measured with Concrete Data?
It can't be overstated just how important data is for measuring results. If you're working with a top-notch and reliable company, then they'll offer you access to data that shows you exactly how their service is performing for your business in solid, easy to understand data models.
Graphs. Plenty of graphs and a customer dashboard. There should be somewhere on a site or app that allows you to login and access information on demand. At the very least you should receive weekly or monthly updates about a service's performance.
There is nothing worse than being left in the dark, and it's also an avoidable predicament. Having access to data allows you to measure the results of tactics being employed.
This brings up the importance of understanding your audience and which demographic groups respond the best in marketing attempts. This is invaluable.
What Level of Support is Offered?
There's nothing worse than having a problem, but having no one to reach out to for help. What if something critical happens at 2:00 in the morning, and you simply must have a point of contact, yet the business you hired offers no emergency support or after hours communication?
Well, you'll have to wait (and maybe cry) as your hard work goes up in flames for seven more hours. Sounds appealing, right? No. It's a genuine nightmare. This is why knowing the quality and quantity of support you'll receive is an essential point to note.
Also, be sure to ask how communication will take place. Can you call? Will you be forced to wait for email responses? Is instant messaging or chat available?
Many companies and startups have begun using services like Slack in order to offer high-touch, instant communication for their customers. This is a winning point in my book.
If the business you choose only operates within standard business hours, then be sure to ask if emergency support is available on a paid basis. At least you'll be able to get a better night's sleep knowing that help will always be there if you truly need it.
What About Experience?
Some companies have been offering services for decades, and their success speaks to their time-tested methods.
Yet, sometimes this success is more accurately connected to customers continuing to buy a service without exploring other options, or some customers don't know that there may be a better option available that would meet or exceed their expectations.
Yes, there are risks associated with using a newer company that doesn't have an extensive track record, but one milestone to look for is a portfolio of work and the successful application of their product or service as expressed by their customers.
Age is Just a Number, Right?
Length of time doing business is a poor standard of measurement. Great success has consistently been a mark of startups such as Facebook, Airbnb, etc.
Surely no one would question these business' performance at this point in time, but this success didn't come overnight.
Ultimately, choosing a new, cutting edge service versus the old tried and true business, is a personal decision. Do your research, and compare offerings and prices so you can make an informed choice, but don't dismiss anything due to the amount of time a business has been operating.
Importantly, most people who start a new business in an old niche are skilled individuals who have been working in the industry for many years before stepping out on their own.
With everything I've listed, be sure to remain cautiously optimistic about any service or product you're considering purchasing. Having a list of standards will ensure that you have something serious to bring to the table when shopping around.
This will bring balance to your approach, and you'll be able to know that you were thorough in making a good decision.
Even if these suggestions seem time consuming, just remember that it's better to spend time than to waste money on something you either don't need or that won't work for you business.
Business owners can't afford to waste any amount of revenue. Be thoughtful and intelligently choose what's best for you.