When researching a marketing automation platform, outside of functionality, cost may be the next biggest deciding factor. We all know that price does not necessarily mean quality – the most expensive solutions are not always the best, nor is the least expensive the worst. It comes down to value and understanding what you’re paying for. With a marketing automation solution, it’s important to understand not only the base cost of the plan you have selected, but what the limitations, add-ons and extras are. In doing so, you will find that the cost of marketing automation technology is not always as simple as what meets the eye.

Most players in the marketing automation market offer two to four subscription types based on functionality. They will often point out which plan is the most popular (typically not the most or least expensive). Let’s say for instance that a middle-of-the-road plan checks 95 percent of your feature/function boxes and it costs $800 per month – so $9,600 per year. Doesn’t sound too bad, right? Don’t get too excited yet; let’s take a closer look:

How many contacts does this plan include? Most marketing automation providers base their plans around contacts, often including a small number with the subscription cost and charging additional for overage. Not only can this add up quickly, but it also penalizes you for generating additional leads to market to – isn’t that the whole goal in the first place?

Continuing in our example, let’s say 1,000 contacts are included; however, you have 25,000 contacts in your database that you would like to market to. While the cost of additional contacts varies, it is not uncommon to charge $20-100 per month for each additional “bucket” of contacts (usually grouped in thousands). At $50 per additional 1,000 contacts, your 25,000 contacts have just added $1,200 per month to your subscription cost. And don’t forget – if the solution helps you as it should, your contact costs will continue to increase.

How many emails can I send each month? This is usually either calculated based on the number of contacts in your database or a flat volume each month or year. Marketing automation solutions that base plans on email volume versus contact-based plans tend to be more cost effective because they don’t penalize you for growing your database. Prior to your purchase, make sure you understand the email volume you will require and discuss what, if any, cost that will add to your subscription.

Does the solution integrate with Dynamics? Most marketing automation solutions will tout that they work “seamlessly” with the big-name CRM players. While they may connect, seamless is often a stretch. These connectors are costly integrations that sync data, typically only in one direction, and add significant cost to the initial purchase and ongoing maintenance. Whether you have to add on a third-party tool to connect your systems or can utilize a pre-built connection, you are adding an additional expense. In keeping with our example, let’s add the $150 per month industry average connector fee onto our subscription for Microsoft Dynamics integration.

How many users are included? Is this limited to marketing users? Can salespeople see the data? These are important questions to ask. While a handful of platforms still only include a limited number of users and require additional licenses to expand the audience, many solutions do not allow sales visibility at all or require an additional license type to surface the data for them.

Is onboarding required? Because it leads to greater long-term success, most marketing automation providers today require a paid onboarding program. While highly encouraged and proven to lead to better adoption, this can add anywhere from $1,000 to $6,000 or more to your costs.

What about support? It’s imperative to have the right level of support when getting started with a new marketing automation solution. Some level of support is often included in a subscription, but will it meet the needs of your organization? And what are your options for support? Typically, if you require faster response times for urgent issues or phone- or chat-based assistance, an advanced or premium support plan is required, which can easily add anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000 per year.

What else should I consider? Make sure you understand what features are paid add-ons and not included functionality. Find out what training is included and what is an additional cost. Will the rates increase next year? Is there a discount for a multi-year agreement? These are important questions to ask as you shop for marketing automation.

Let’s go back and look at the plan we built – which remember started at $800 per month. Then we added:

25,000 contacts – $1,200 per month

Microsoft Dynamics integration – $150 per month* (*plus maintenance)

Onboarding – $3,000

Enhanced Support – $5,000

For a grand total of $33,800 for the first year’s subscription. A far cry from the original $9,600.

As you can see, things aren’t always what they seem on a website pricing page. When considering marketing automation, and which solution is the right fit for your organization and budget, make sure you understand all the costs involved, both initial and ongoing.