Nowadays, having a marketing automation platform is virtually a must for any organizations. It is one of the blessings of the digital age, and it’s no wonder the marketing automation industry has grown almost 300% in the span of just two years. Yet, this phenomenon also means that new marketing automation platforms are being released seemingly every other day, and so choosing the right marketing automation tool for your business can be a very confusing task.
Addressing that issue, this guide will attempt to discuss all the ins and outs of the marketing automation platform: the definition, the criterion, and short reviews on some of the best options available.
Let us begin by discussing the concept of marketing automation itself.
What Actually Is Marketing Automation
As the name suggests, marketing automation is, in essence, is automating some of the marketing activities. Yet, defining marketing automation is actually harder than we thought: Quicksprout themselves on their marketing automation guide listed no less than 5 different definitions. https://www.quicksprout.com/the-definitive-guide-to-marketing-automation-chapter-1/
Each of those definitions does shed some truth. Yet, in our opinion, HubSpot’s definition https://www.hubspot.com/marketing-automation-information nailed it better: marketing automation is a software with the goal of automating some repetitive marketing tasks.
There are two main benefits, or rather, goals of a marketing automation software/platform: first, with repetitive (read: boring) tasks, there is an increased chance of mistakes happening. A marketing automation platform can eliminate this issue. Second, we can put our valuable marketing resources (including manpower) elsewhere on more important tasks.
What Should I Look For in a Marketing Automation Platform?
Before we can review some of the best marketing automation platforms out there, we should first understand what to look out for.
The first thing to consider before deciding on an automation software is to first understand our specific marketing goals. This way, we can make sure that the automation platform will be aligned with them. For example, if your current goal is to get more conversion, you might want to consider an automation platform with a focus on CRM.
So, it is very important to do your research before deciding on a specific platform, and here are some key considerations to help you:
Price and Value
Marketing automation platforms come at various prices. Some of them totally free, others can cost thousands of dollars a month. First, remember that a marketing automation platform is a long-term investment. Take at least 2 to 5-year perspective when considering your options, according to your budget. Second, just because a certain software is cheap, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not worth your attention. Vice versa, just because one software is expensive, doesn’t automatically mean it’s good. Assess the software’s value based on its price.
Ease of Use and Functionality
A marketing automation process can be extremely complex, so you will need to consider whether you (or your team) would be able to use the marketing automation platform according to your specific goals. A top-notch software with great features doesn’t necessarily have to be complicated. The more intuitive the platform is, the more value you will have, and the less you will need to spend on training.
Integration To Your Current Ecosystem
Put your existing software, tools, and CRM system into the equation when considering an automation platform. Some marketing automation tools can only integrate with specific third-party software, so make sure to research this part before buying.
Set Up and Training
Consider the time it would take before you can implement the marketing automation, and at what cost. Some platforms might require a special training, that is often not advertised with the product. Before making any purchase, ask the software provider whether they have any training program, whether it’s mandatory, and at what cost.
Features To Consider:
Some marketing automation platform features a built-in CRM system with lead qualifying tools, as well as advanced tagging features. Other platforms don’t offer built-in CRM, and you can usually connect them with your existing CRM system.
Content Marketing Features
Most marketing automation software offers some features to help you create webinars, landing pages, videos, or other forms of contents. Some are more intuitive and/or offer more features than others.
Email Marketing Features
Most, if not all marketing automation tools offer some form of email marketing capabilities. Some are more extensive than others, so carefully consider whether you will need advanced features like drip campaign, demographic segmentation, advanced A/B testing, and so on.
Social Media Marketing Features
Some marketing automation software can integrate with social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, so you can control your social media activities from within the automation platform. Some even offer social media monitoring features, so you can integrate the engagements and interactions of your social media channels with your CRM.
If you are an e-commerce business, you might want to consider a marketing automation platform that offers some features that can help your sales process. Some platforms offer features to control affiliate programs and coupon codes, and you can use the platform as your product database.
Our Best Marketing Automation Platform Picks
In this part, we will review some of the best and the most popular marketing automation platforms. This will only be a quick review and we won’t go in depth with each product, with the aim so that you can easily understand their key benefits (and disadvantages) without being lost in confusion. Also, keep in mind that this review is listed not in any respective order.
Let us begin.
Pardot is one of the most popular marketing automation platforms out there, especially for medium to big-sized businesses. Since 2013, Pardot was acquired by Salesforce, one of the most renowned cloud computing companies.
Starting at $1,000 a month. It is one of the more expensive options out there. Yet, with the price, you get free training and setup costs, and their customer service is regarded as one of the best in the industry.
Pardot does offer some excellent features that are worth its subscription price. Yet, keep in mind that the platform can be quite complex, and learning to use Pardot can be a pretty steep learning curve. This is where the free training and customer service can be really useful.
Also, although we have mentioned that you can use Pardot at $1,000 a month, generally you’ll want to invest on the $2,000/month option where you get nice extra features like AdWords integration, advanced A/B testing, and social media integration.
Our Verdict: Expensive, but does come with excellent customer service and a nice set of features. 3 out of 5
Infusionsoft is one of the older marketing automation platforms out there, and during its peak roughly half a decade ago, it was regarded as the best option out there. Although time has changed and now there are a lot of viable competitors, Infusionsoft is still up there among the best.
Back in 2014 or so, Infusionsoft was the first marketing automation platform offering a visual campaign builder. Yet, these days, almost everyone is offering the same. One of the key highlights of Infusionsoft, however, is the excellent integrated CRM system. So, if you happened to be looking for a CRM system and an automation platform, Infusionsoft can be a great choice.
The package starts at $50/month, not including a one-time $299 mandatory training package, so it’s significantly more affordable than Pardot. Keep in mind, however, that you will need to pay more if you want the e-commerce and/or sales pipeline features.
Our Verdict: Quite affordable, but being relatively old, Infusionsoft is not as intuitive as newer options. Expect a (very) steep learning curve. 3.5 out of 5
Another famous platform. Marketo offers https://www.marketo.com/solutions/pricing/ various bundles according to your needs, but the pricing starts from $895/ month.
One of Marketo’s key qualities is how it has vastly improved over the years, addressing critical issues as well as updating itself to stay ahead of the competition. So, with Marketo, you can expect long-term value, and by the time you are reading this, there is a chance that Marketo has changed itself for the better yet again.
Besides the fact that Marketo is a fast-evolving product, the customer service is excellent, as expected from its premium price. Nowadays, Marketo offers a wide array of third-party integrations, so this can be an excellent choice if you already invested on separate CRM systems and other marketing tools.l
Still, Marketo has a really steep learning curve, and it is particularly unintuitive compared to other options. Make full use of the customer service, guides and training if you decide to invest in Marketo.
Our Verdict: Quite difficult to use at first, but does offer interesting features, excellent API, and great third-party integrations. 3 out of 5
Remember when we’ve mentioned you shouldn’t discount a cheap marketing automation platform? Here is our case: ActiveCampaign starts at just $17 a month, making it significantly cheaper than other options we have discussed. It also remains quite affordable as you grow your contact database, and there are no hidden costs, including mandatory training.
Sounds pretty great? ActiveCampaign is also fast-evolving, although not as fast as Marketo. Recently they just released new features like automated A/B testing, a Google Chrome plugin, and many more. It’s also quite intuitive and easy to use, and the customer service is excellent.Probably, it is the easiest marketing automation platform included in this list.
If there’s a minor downside, it’s maybe about its interface, which is not as pretty as more expensive options out there. Yet, it’s highly subjective, and ActiveCampaign is relatively more stable than others, where maybe the simple interface contributes to this fact.
Our Verdict: It’s admittedly hard to find any major flaw about ActiveCampaign: it’s cheap, it’s reliable, and it offers a nice set of features. It’s hard to review ActiveCampaign here without it sounding like a paid review, but we have to be honest. A solid 4.5 out of 5
Well, HubSpot is certainly one of the most famous brands here, mainly thanks to their blog which has become one of the best resources for digital marketing in recent years.
The main value of HubSpot’s marketing automation platform comes from its ease of use. It’s very intuitive, and so even complete beginners can easily get around it. Yet, HubSpot charges a hefty, mandatory training fee, the cheapest being $500 on top of their monthly cost that starts around $800.
For that price, HubSpot offers quite an average set of features compared to others in this list, although the analytic features are pretty nice.
Our Verdict: Too expensive for what it offers, although it is very easy to use. 2.5 out of 5
Obviously, there are many other marketing automation platforms available in the market, and there is a high probability some new ones have been released by the time you are reading this. No marketing automation tool is the absolute best, and the key here is to know what exactly you are looking for, according to your needs.
Above, we have discussed the key areas you will need to consider before making any purchase. By using those principles, you can choose the right marketing automation tool according to your budget, needs, and organizational goals.