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4 Steps to Choosing Marketing-Automation Software That Actually Works Choose a platform that serves the needs of every department.

By Justin Gray Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

In football, the playbook is sacred. It contains a wealth of knowledge that guides a player's every move on the field. When it comes to data and marketing, entrepreneurs should take a page from the pros and create a playbook to help them choose a comprehensive marketing-automation platform that serves every department.

Tracking and identifying the return on investment of your marketing efforts has become much simpler, yet many companies aren't turning metrics into meaningful, actionable insight. That's because most entrepreneurs accumulate data without taking into account each department's data-tracking needs.

Accessing the right data starts with choosing marketing-automation software that works for your company. But you have to step outside your marketing mindset to see the broader applications of automation tools. Sales needs information to expedite the purchase process, and customer service needs data to alleviate customer pain points.

Related: These 7 Mistakes Can Make Your Marketing Automation Investment Worthless

In the NFL, every player has a playbook. To achieve unified reporting, take every department's playbook into account when choosing your automation software.

When you develop a guide for each department, you can focus your data-tracking efforts and expedite your lead generation and retention efforts. Marketing can find people ready to purchase. Sales can ignite the purchase process. Service can keep customers happy.

To make the best decision for your company's needs, follow these four steps before purchasing marketing-automation software:

1. Devise a comprehensive plan before you buy.

Many entrepreneurs rush into a marketing-automation purchase before they've outlined a plan -- but that's a huge mistake. Before you buy a tool to solve a problem, you must create a process to solve the problem. This process should include steps for creating, managing and tracking campaigns.

Define what each campaign means to every invested department by asking: What will it cost? How will we track performance? How will we associate leads and opportunities with the campaign?

Your process has to be unified across the board, or the best platform in the world won't do you any good. Decide what matters, then find a platform that will measure it.

2. Map your marketing funnel.

Overextended entrepreneurs often overlook this vital phase, but your sales funnel is full of valuable information and content ideas. Before you take another step, slow down and ask yourself these important questions: Who are we speaking to? What information do they need? Are we going to measure their interest and response?

Related: 15 Must-Have Marketing Tools for 2015

These questions can help you define each phase of the marketing funnel and create targeted content the sales team can use to nurture leads. For it to work, however, you have to involve the sales team in the process.

3. Choose a comprehensive tool that can serve multiple departments.

Rather than purchasing multiple marketing-automation tools to suit each department, look for one that does 80 percent of what you need for sales, marketing and customer service. Then, plug in a content-creation system.

Using one platform -- instead of customer-relationship management for sales, a content platform for marketing, etc. -- will keep everyone on the same page. You'll have a common language, and team members will know what they're doing and why. Map out exactly what each leg of the buyer's journey looks like, and give your team a script for handling every point of contact.

4. Don't overcomplicate it.

New tools and strategies can be exciting and overwhelming. You want to add more fields because more data is always better, right? Not necessarily. Too much data can create scope creep and detract from the meaning behind the numbers.

Boil your tracking needs down to the essentials. Keep it simple, and your team members can more easily identify the value behind your metrics.

On football teams, everyone -- from the head coach to the fourth-string punter -- lives by the playbook. Each player knows his role and the roles of his teammates, which helps the team move down the field as a unit.

Outline the data playbook for your entire team, and choose marketing-automation software that supports each of their roles. That way, everyone will have access to meaningful information that drives the company forward.

Related: Marketers Should Consider These 5 Tech Trends in the Coming Year

Justin Gray

CEO of LeadMD

Justin Gray is the CEO and chief marketing evangelist of LeadMD. He founded the company in 2009 with the vision of transforming traditional grassroots marketing efforts through the use of cloud-based marketing solutions.

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