By way of introduction, many Internet marketers use rather technical marketing tools to help them out, they do this to cut corners safely and make certain efficiency improvements. A lot of the things that these tools do you can do manually but it will take you a lot longer. Most tools enact time saving, many give you access to options you might not otherwise get, and some do smart things that you can’t do with ease.
The saying goes; a poor workman blames his tools which leads me to write this article.
I have devised 20 Questions you should ask before purchasing expensive marketing tools.
Image Source: Commons by unknown artist held by the NARA
I had started out with 10 but after thinking about this a whole lot more that number has doubled. I found it surprising how quickly this article came together. Scary in fact. I believe there are possible even more questions that could be asked but these are just the ones I thought of.
Question 1: Do you have the time to learn how to use them?
If the marketing tool is not instantly intuitive and easy to use it most likely has a bit of a learning curve. Don’t forget that a lot of these tools are made for pros and semi pros who know what they are doing and can grasp the advanced concepts quickly. The bar might be set too high for you, thus shaping the investment as a difficult pill to swallow. It may be months before you can use that tool effectively and the very time you spend trying to learn it is time you could have better spent in the trenches building authority and pushing out quality content.
Question 2: Does the tool satisfy what you need or exceed your expectations?
Ideally you want to purchase something that does the basics brilliantly but also opens you up to new possibilities. You may not use the functions straight off the bat but will come to use them later once you have passed through the learning curve and want to work smarter.
Question 3: Does the product exist on hype or is it a shining example?
A basic question to ask but if you’ve tried to find tutorials other than those provided by the company who made the tool and find the depth to be as shallow as the child’s end of the swimming pool you’ll soon be disappointed. We are all aware of the term “Snake oil” and people “talking a good game” but when it comes down to it, is there empirical proof that this product is good?
Question 4: Can you afford it?
If you are treating your property as a business and it is not generating sufficient profit to cover the operating cost, is it wise to throw more money at the issue and deepen your crisis? Are you better to learn the fundamentals and take your time (see question 7 below)? The tool could be good and could pay out but equally it couldn’t. What risk are you prepared to expose yourself too? How do you want to gear your failure in the hope of success?
Question 5: Are you buying it just to be trendy?
If you are trying to keep up with the Jones’, and buying this tool to show off, is this a rational means of developing your service? Is it appropriate for the work you are doing or is it overkill, uneconomical in the long term, and wasteful to your bottom line? Think about it for a sec!
Question 6: Are there better, simpler alternatives?
Have you explored other, simpler solutions? Is there an easier route to success that doesn’t come with this price tag? Could you achieve the same with something that does this task alone and is cheaper?
Question 7: Should you shortcut the learning experience?
Often by using tools you are blinded to knowing how to “actually” do it. It is like mental arithmetic, if you only ever learnt to use a calculator, what would you do if you didn’t have access to one? Often you need to know basics to use the tool properly so stop a darn minute and learn it first!
Question 8: Have you researched it enough?
There is a difference between “best fit” and “good enough”. Spend the time to understand what you want rather than filling a round hole with a square peg. Like a scientific experiment you should approach your research “Scientifically”. Sample many sources to try and combat the marketing bias. Don’t forget that many of those page 1 results on a Google search could well be peppered by affiliate marketers who will talk up and sometimes downright lie about the effectiveness of this product.
Question 9: Do you understand what you need the tool for?
Did you set out hoping that this tool would be the panacea of all ills but actually then discover that whilst it adequately does some things better, it isn’t all that much better than how you were doing the tasks before? Have you got a good idea of what you want this tool to do for you? Have you got plan for how you will use this tool in your arsenal?
Question 10: Do you know anybody else who “actually” uses this tool effectively?
Phoning a friend works on how to be a millionaire so it can work for you. If you’ve been adept in making friends in your field of blogging you can ask the “right” questions about whether this tool is really worth it. Ask a stranger if you have no friends. What’s the worst that can happen?
Question 11: Is there a trial version?
Trial versions or periods are pretty awesome in instructing you whether this is actually going to be something you will come to depend upon or whether it is a straight up pass. With tools that require monthly payments you shouldn’t try the tool without a trial, or at least a cool off period. Why would you want to get lumbered with something that is as useless as a chocolate fireguard?
Trial versions can lead to a bit of a discount because you were willing to try out the product and get a feel for it.
There are different types of trial.
- Ultra trials – Where everything is on show but the version you might buy has restrictions depending on the structuring of add on features.
- Full trials – Where all the features are unlocked and are representative of what you will buy and use.
- Full trials with base level features – As above but with the exception that you can purchase certain upgrades to certain sections of the tool when you go live making the package a more bespoke fit.
- Restricted trials – Where some of the features are locked out as incentives to buy and will only be available after you make the commitment.
Some trials may only be accessible by putting down some sort of deposit. You can most likely back out in a cool off period but you will have to keep an eye on the clock. Often trials like these do have some form of ticker informing you how long you’ve got left to decide. The sales/marketing teams most likely layer some inducement into this scheme to separate you from your cash. If you like the product then you might consider it. Sometimes it is worth holding out until the end as the inducements get bigger.
Question 12: What is the quality of the training documentation like? Is there any?
If the tool is ultra-intuitive then it may not need guides. Often some tools may have some form of video based tutorial but sometimes the demonstrations are not actionable or up to date. Helpful tools will often have a following outside the organisation and may be supported by individual practitioners who have their own hints and tips on the side. This is normally a good indication that the tool is actually useful.
If you’ve ever played an old flight simulator called SU-27 Flanker, you’ll know that if you can’t speak Russian you’ll have a devil of a time finding out what the controls do. Especially without a manual in English to tell you what keys control what. These marketing tools can be just as frustrating if you are not up with the jargon and the mind-set of a marketer. It’s never nice to be blinded with science and often unscrupulous designers can do just that to hide the fact that what is produced is actually just a form of hack (a software shortcut).
There is a difference between learning how to use a tool and how to use the tool to its best effect for your business. Are you supported on both aspects?
Question 13: What is the longevity of this tool?
With all things Internet the times move quickly. Is this tool intended to evolve with the movement of time through incessant patches or does it stand still? Does it have long term use or will it be a victim of some algorithm change or discontinuity (new ways of doing things). Consider that Internet marketing is a march in time, that with every success that is done to death, a new method of being noticed is required. Does the tool keep up or is it consigned to the scrapheap after a couple of years? Is the price therefore justifiable in that short window?
Question 14: Does the tool have a good build quality?
Whilst it can be argued that a tool has to be developed to a language that makes best use of the data it is aggregating (turning into useful information) does it do this efficiently? Does it use a front end that is nice to look at, up to modern standards and stable? Does it return data quickly? Can the data be trusted? Does it pump it out the way you want it? Does it become instantly frustrating? Does the user interface look good? Are things in a sensible place? Does it look like a 3 year old put it together? Does it inspire confidence?
Question 15: Does sharing your personal data through this tool (if housed on the provider’s server) give your incumbents (competitors existing in your market) unfair advantages?
Such tools as Google Analytics have been criticised for stealing keywords to fuel paying advertising customers through the supposedly philanthropic efforts of its free to use Google Analytics tool. Would you feel happy arming your competitors through trying to help yourself? Would you feel that this is a betrayal of your competitive advantage? Would you be miffed if your special ingredients were easily imitated by your rivals with a blatant back hander? Does participating in this tool make you vulnerable?
The data protection act can be open to deviation. There is nothing illegal about the company who allow you to save your data on their server checking out what you’ve got and seeing what you are doing to make money. The only thing the provider has to ensure is they don’t share your data, they keep your credentials up to date and dispose of your details in a safe manner if you leave their services behind.
Question 16: Have you achieved a sufficient level to use this tool to its fullest?
Say if you have a mailing list tool with a monthly cost and it allows up to 50,000 emails to be sent in that pay bracket. Is it efficient to purchase the tool when you only have 3 subscribers? Answer, No. Should you be using this tool when you are sending around 25,000 emails a month? Answer, Yes! It’s all about economy of scale.
Let’s do some quick maths!
1 email sent per subscriber per month.
3 subscribers = 3 emails.
Mail service cost per month = $15
$15 divided by 3 posts = $5 per post.
1 email sent per subscriber per month.
25,000 subscribers = 25,000 emails.
Mail service cost per month = $15
$15 divided by 25,000 posts = $0.0006 per post (a fraction of a cent)
My point here is that you have to hit the right level of investment for the right volume. Don’t be persuaded that with your poor numbers you need something that is over capacity. You would most likely end up being over charged for the lowest price package so it is better to meet the minimum healthily rather than hope that your need picks up later. If you start out weak this may be a question of your venture’s survivability and if that is in question, should you commit to a gamble and deepen your crisis? You should enter into something with a strength, not in a vacuum.
My calculation above outlines some affinity with Aweber and Mailchimp. I use Mailchimp because my subscriber numbers are abysmal and I don’t want to pay for something that isn’t used to capacity. I can’t bank on the numbers being there because I have to be realistic. There isn’t going to be a viral explosion of followers because that is an urban myth. You only truly get there with hard work. Mailchimp is the best cost fit, overall it may not be the best function fit but at this time I’m more concerned about the price to capacity offset.
What are your principle concerns? Are you thinking straight about this?
Question 17: Is it the right price?
I mentioned in the beginning that these tools are expensive but as with my demonstration of the maths in Question 16, does the provider offer you the option that fits your economy and your volume?
- A one off cost. This can be an easier pill to swallow especially in business terms where you can depreciate the investment over time. In most cases you can expect to install the tool locally.
- Subscription based payments. For this you would expect certain additional services to be included like access to free help. These are probably the most common cost types where you have to access your tool through a server.
- Pay as you go. Often this could be quite useful if you had a variable use. Say in one month you required 1,000,000 units of something from the service provider but the next you only needed 100,000. You pay per unit which works out more economical because you can throttle your outgoings to seasonal affect and be ready for dips and peaks in activity, you may pay more than the other two cost types on average but you wouldn’t overpay through penalties in your bandwidth. Some subscription based services might allow you to exceed your quota in the form of penalty payments over and above your usage but these offences would be expensive. Pay as you go gives you the optimum flexibility without punishment and is the best option if you have seasonal variances in demand.
- A hybrid of the above. In some rare cases you might pay a one off cost followed by a subscription cost for certain features. You might get the option to use additional features in a pay as you go fashion.
Bear in mind that if you are a high volume user you will pay more but, if you are at such a high volume the maths of your option should lead you to a higher (pro) rated package.
If you are a beginner, settling for the lowest option, may be comparatively expensive. This entry level allows growth but if you think about your fledgling business in terms of cost per lead, you are going to be overpaying the tool maker for the benefit and eroding profit.
It is more about judging when the more efficient path is to have it managed. In my example, in Question 16, at a price of $0.0006 per email you’d be stupid to pass up the opportunity to reach as many leads as possible. If you had 25,000 subscribers this would be the right time to access volume saving but you might have decided this at about 5,000 subscribers.
Often it is about defining the threshold between making do with simpler and enhancing at a healthy cost to revenue. $0.0006 is almost negligible in a tangible sense. In other words it is so small it cannot be displayed in physical coins. It would be guaranteed, that if you got 1-3% of that 25,000 (250 – 750) in leads, the expense of your monthly subscription would pay for itself many times over. Say if your product to sell is quite expensive at $1,000 dollars and that only 1 in that 25,000 converts, it still pays many times over for your outlay. The thing is, you have to be able to convert first so don’t be blinded by these numbers and get hopeful. It’s all part of the game.
The price is right if you get your full use out of the software, get the efficiency you need and can cover off the cost of this tool. Otherwise there is no point.
Question 18: Were you pressured into it?
In some situations you might have a consultant or someone helping you out, they might suggest something quite strongly to you, they might pressure you into it. They may get a kickback and they may not give you an option. Remember that at the end of the day, you pay the bill so if it is something you can’t justify for the cost, put your foot down.
Don’t get suckered by the “upsell” because fools are often parted gladly from their money. Take pride in your ability to say “no” and don’t be browbeaten into saying “yes”! Use your tongue.
Question 19: Can this tool, by methods unclear on the surface, risk you facing problems?
I have to explain this question a little to frame the context. A person I have read a lot from, who is an affiliate marketer, made some bold claims of a particular piece of software called Tweetadder. This software basically adds followers on Twitter in large bunches. The problem that the marketer didn’t highlight or shout out in big letters is that you can be banned for up to one month by breaking Twitter’s terms of service using this software.
So the lesson is, just because the tool works doesn’t mean it does it in a discreet way. It may well perform its duties like a bull in a china shop. Being banned for a month on a social media platform can really hurt, why would you expose yourself to that? Now I have to point out that with this example the threat of the ban only occurs if you are adding the maximum number (which was 1,000) and are physically clocked by Twitter. If you are careful you can get away with smaller amounts scot free.
So some of these tools can be dangerous! I’ve mentioned in Question 15 that Google can steal your search information via Google Analytics, in order to provide paying ad customers a boost, essentially robbing Peter to pay Paul.
What may seem well meaning on the surface can be a firestorm underneath! Caveat Emptor or buyer beware!
Question 20: What does your gut tell you?
Gut feelings are normally far more reliable than confusing signals. If you’ve got a good sense of judgement but your head doesn’t give you a definitive answer, go with your gut! Whilst it is entirely unscientific, slightly irrational and potentially risky, your gut instinct has been designed from how you have handled situations before. Humans are programmed to understand patterns. In the time of the cave man we would follow these patterns to find food and avoid danger.
The gut instinct is used when time is not on your side. If you’ve ever heard the term “Fight or Flight” this is a precondition based on your instinct. You stick around to “fight” when you have a good feel that you can win or take “flight” when you are threatened with overwhelming odds.
It is a bit like Spidy senses if you are familiar with Spiderman aka Peter Parker. It is those small hairs on the back of your neck, that knotted feeling from the pit of your stomach, a sudden urge to pay heed and stop to think before you get run over by that car that was turning around the corner at pace. In Spiderman’s case it is that ability for time to slow down a bit and for him to avoid getting pancaked by a wrecking ball.
A purchase should always be a complex decision-making process because if you make it too casual an event and carry yourself with a blasé, “dumb luck” approach, you are likely to dip yourself in the proverbial “clag” more times than not. Nobody likes to make unhappy purchases but we all do from time to time. The thing you don’t want to get involved with is a costly contract that binds you to something you don’t use.
A note from the Headboy
Much of my thought on this has been shaped by how I started blogging myself with Blog Prefect. I got hooked into the idea of how great Market Samurai was going to be for me and it has been the most underused tool in my toolbox. I am just glad that I didn’t pay too much for it. That miss-step has shaped how I look at all of the tools since then. Once bitten, twice shy. I’ve tried on and off a number of times to try and get Market Samurai to work for me but it just hasn’t. It is a poor fit for my needs and gathers dust. That is a crying shame and a costly one.