How to Avoid Unexpected Costs with Your Marketing Automation Platform

Let’s take a deeper look into the intricacies of how marketing automation platforms work and what it means to your bottom line.

PUBLISHED: 10/7/2020

The business case for marketing automation is compelling— save time, qualify leads, build sales pipeline, and transition away from manual processes to automated ones— all to help your organization grow and scale. But buyer beware... sometimes the costs presented during the sales courtship are a bit different once the honeymoon is over.

How can you avoid unexpected operating costs and what are common pricing “gotchas”? Let’s take a deeper look into the intricacies of how marketing automation platforms work and what it means to your bottom line.

Understanding Marketing Automation Rules

Marketing automation platforms, by nature, are designed to save an organization time, money, optimize marketing investments, and enable faster revenue growth. Key components of any marketing automation platform (MAP) are the automation rules you have in place. Automation rules allow you to perform certain marketing and sales actions based on criteria that you specify— if your prospective customer matches “X”, MAP do “Y”.

Another way to look at it: if your marketing automation platform is the car, automation rules are the engine, to drive you towards your desired outcomes. It’s basic functionality, really, and some marketing automation platforms are set-up to allow as many rules as you need, while others come with a “bank” or a set number of rules. For the latter systems, each time you use a rule, it deducts it from your “bank.”

How many rules are optimal? There’s no definitive answer; it depends on your goals. Marketing automation rules are typically used for managing data, creating tasks, sending alerts, and assigning leads. As you advance in your marketing automation maturity, it’s not uncommon to create more rules, as you fine-tune your targeting and internal processes. Depending on how many rules you are allotted, this could result in expensive and unexpected fees (it is important to note that some platforms count all rules— drafts, active and paused— towards your limits).

Bottom line: Limited automation rules restrict your marketing effectiveness, and could result in incremental costs.

How File Storage Works in Marketing Automation

Every marketing automation platform comes with file storage, but how much you get depends on your platform and package purchased. Content assets are the largest consumers of file storage, and should you receive the system warning that you’re approaching your file storage limit, you’ll need to either contact your account executive to buy more storage space, delete older or unneeded content files, or remove larger files. Be careful in your choices though, as deleting a file is permanent and cannot be undone.

Many marketers are accustomed to managing images and content assets on a regular basis. But what about the less obvious culprits that can also quickly eat up your storage? For example, with some marketing automation platforms, you’ll also need storage to enable Connected Campaigns to your CRM. Connected Campaigns offer efficiency and improved reporting, but as you wait for your marketing assets to sync (including engagement history, email links, and forms) you may experience a spike in your required storage— which you guessed it, will cost extra.

Budget impact: Evaluate your business needs and anticipated campaign and asset volume vs. the storage included with your marketing automation package plus what it will cost for additional space.

Pitfalls of API Usage

Every time your marketing automation system accesses data from your CRM, it uses either an API call or a webhook to sync the two systems. If you’re not familiar with a webhook, it functions similarly to an API call and is a built-in feature to some marketing automation platforms, but not all.

Many actions can trigger the need to sync, including individual user activities, system or CRM activities, third-party integrations, and data enrichment. Most MAP subscriptions will include a daily limit of API calls allowed, and batching them to combine calls, particularly if you are syncing a lot of records all at once, will maximize your call usage. Alternatively, if your MAP includes webhooks, a webhook can replace an API call to trigger specific actions, stretching your API allotment even further.

Buyer caution: It's not uncommon that cheaper plans will not include any API calls and will be billed to you as an additional cost— often resulting in a higher price tag than had you gone with a more advanced tier in the first place. Additionally, if you have a large database and records are being added or updated frequently, (Slack alerts for demo requests, third-party data enrichment, email activity updates flowing to a data warehouse, etc.) you should anticipate more triggered actions. If your system does not use webhooks, this means more API calls, which can quickly consume daily API allotments of even the highest tiered plans. Be sure to discuss webhooks and API calls during your buyer research or before renewing your contract.

The Great Debate: Required CRM User Licenses

Most marketers take an inventory of staff, their roles, and the tools they need to access on a regular basis. CRM access is a prime example. But what happens if the MAP and CRM are bundled together and dual licenses are required? And what’s the short-term and long-term impact? This is a red flag that can potentially result in incremental costs and an area you’ll want to explore deeper.

On the surface, combining CRM and MAP access sounds like a great benefit. But is it?

Let’s take a look at some of the claims vs. reality.

In short, best practice is to have both a CRM and marketing automation platform, but requiring all users to be users of both platforms can be an expensive operating model. Think of how many CRM users you have that would not ever need access to your MAP, so why would you have to have them there? The marketing automation platform of your choice can be integrated with the CRM of your choice— and other tools in your tech stack, for that matter. Systems that require dual licenses to use a marketing automation platform are smoke and mirror tactics.  Beware of the pitch and know sales and marketing data integration is possible with less-expensive alternatives.

Bottom line: YOU should control who has access to your MAP and/or CRM, not an all-or-nothing approach mandated by your marketing automation technology.

Summing It All Up

Not all marketing automation platforms are created equally, in terms of what they can do and how they are priced. If you’re feeling nickel and dimed or frustrated with your current situation, exploring your options may be the ROI answer you’re seeking.