Getting started with marketing automation is actually the hardest thing about it.

We have all been there – you know you need to start, you are not quite sure what you are about to automate but you know you are going to automate it. It all seems easy until you start browsing for a compatible software – and you find yourself surrounded by too many strange terms of confusion, automation lingo, and not-so-clear pricing tables. And you are probably ready to give up or just take the first tool you googled and start a year long learning curve.

Marketing automation is not easy – but it is not complicated either. You would need to follow a short number of really easy steps or you might find yourself in a nightmare situation – spending thousands of $$$ and not getting any value back (and I’ve seen some of those too). Keep reading (or directly scroll) to the end of the article for a small surprise.

1. Identify your needs and objectives

[Tweet “Don’t go shopping for apples in the Apple store. Evaluate your own needs first.”]

The first thing you need to do, even before opening Google and typing “Marketing automation software”, is to understand the needs of your business. Which interactions can and cannot be automated? What is your sales funnel? Are you even selling online?

You should always look at the company and your short-term plans and goals in order to identify what you really, really need. There are so many different marketing automation tools (as you would soon come to understand), that it is impossible (or a bit crazy) to leave out this first step out of your plans.

Think in terms of metrics and actions: How many contacts do you have on your list now? How many do you expect to have in 12 months? Do you sell online? Do you send out emails daily or weekly? Do you need landing pages that can be easily modified? Do you need integration/compatibility with specific tools/software you already use?

2. Start exploring your options

Now that you have a clearer picture of your needs and desires, you could start window shopping. I suggest you open a spreadsheet and fill up basic data for every software you think that passes your initial plan. Don’t be afraid to add 20-30 solutions – you would soon find that most of them are not the right fit for your business.

At this point, you would begin to understand the lingo – or at least see a lot of common features and promises. Try to filter the most important features out of the big pile of promises. Check if they offer great or bad support – an active group on social media means better and faster crowdsourced responses (and a lot of free advice from the real experts, as is the case with ONTRAPORT’s Facebook community).

Here is a life-saving tip – use the marketing automation software search engine. It shows results based on team size and features needed and it has a database of the best software solutions out there. Don’t go too hard on the filtering – just use one or two options for best results. If you are a small business, I would always recommend ONTRAPORT. But I believe that checking the competitors won’t hurt too – InfusionSoft is the most similar (yet more complicated) similar solution.

With that big list in front of you, you need to start being more critical – analyze the data and shorten the list. Remember that one of the most common reasons marketing automation fails is because of using the wrong software.

3. Contact short-listed candidates

You have a list of software you feel like you could live with. Now is the time to go back to their websites and schedule a demo. It would allow you to see how the system works and feels in vivo, not just via some screenshots.

4. Prepare for the import

Export your current contact data as a CSV and follow the instructions given by your support. Clean the irrelevant fields from the document, capitalize names, remove glitches.

In the meantime, make sure your new system is ready for all of this data. Check to make sure all the fields are available – or add the missing ones; is there a difference in the terms use or is there something you find hard to understand. All of those smaller tasks would assure you have an effortless import of your data.

5. Learn the system

Don’t start sending emails from the moment the contacts are imported into your new software. Go around and discover how to do the simplest tasks. Create a short list of the most important things you need to do before officially launching your first marketing automation. Do you have opt-in forms on your website – change them now! Do you have emails and autoresponders? – Import and make sure they look almost the same or better.

Depending on the complexity of the system you decided to use, it might take anywhere between a month and two to become familiar and comfortable with doing most of the tasks. For more in-depth knowledge, it takes time and experience – test out new features, be curious and enjoy learning new tricks!

6. Start your first campaign

This is it – you know your software, you feel like you made the right choice and you have all your contacts, emails, and data transferred. You are ready for the launch of a great campaign – go ahead!