Are you ready to arrive in the promised land that marketing automation software boasts of? Ready to transform your organization’s marketing and sales abilities into superhuman powers? Then let’s do a proper marketing automation comparison!
In this ultimate marketing automation software comparison guide, we’ll do a deep dive into the world of marketing automation. So let’s get started.
Do you long to: never miss a follow-up email, send behavior triggered emails automatically, run complex lead nurturing campaigns, optimize your marketing funnel and have an overall improved marketing management experience?
We think we all do. Whether we’re marketers for a small business or a large enterprise, we value optimization and automation.
Many marketing automation vendors describe themselves as the all-in-one tool providing all of these features. But is this reality, or is it too good to be true? Let’s find out.
One major obstacle between you and this amazing, well-oiled marketing automation solution is the ability to understand how to effectively find and compare the sea of marketing automation solutions and their many features.
This marketing automation comparison guide (written by a seasoned marketing automation pro) seeks to guide the weary technology shopper toward a marketing automation platform fitting of your team and organization.
Table of Contents
- Where to Begin with Marketing Automation
- How Would An Executive Run a Marketing Automation Comparison Project?
- What Are the Requirements to Watch For?
- Ready to Compare Marketing Automation Vendors?
- Marketing Automation Pricing Comparison Guide and Cost Guide
- Leading Marketing Automation Platforms
- Final Thoughts
Where to Begin with Marketing Automation?
Do you know what your marketing department actually needs from a marketing automation tool? Marketing automation technology isn’t always tailored specifically to a particular business or business category, so the wrong choice could actually make your marketing department less productive.
To accelerate your understanding of marketing automation, start with a marketing automation requirements and features list. This list will provide you with a comprehensive baseline of what you can do with these marketing automation tools.
Requirements templates are extremely useful when starting a software selection project. Specifically, they help organize and prioritize your most important needs. This helps you find the platforms that are best suited for your business.
How to Align Sales and Marketing? (We’ve Heard That Before)
Sales teams and marketing departments need to collaborate to find out what everyone’s priorities are. During these collaborations, there’s usually no shortage of questions, such as:
- Are you replacing current email marketing, social media management and other marketing management tools, or just supplementing them?
- Are you using this exclusively for inbound marketing efforts, or for multi-channel marketing?
- How does the platform integrate with our email campaigns and other content marketing?
- Does it have seamless integration with our CRM platform?
Not only do you want answers to these questions, but you also want all of your stakeholders (e.g. marketing AND sales executives) to have their questions answered as well.
Too often these software tools are purchased without key stakeholders getting involved, and the project then gets delayed or canceled altogether. For obvious reasons, this isn’t a situation you want to find yourself in.
These questions are merely a sample; we’ve outlined a more professional selection process in the next section. Follow the process and we’ll make you look even smarter amongst your co-workers.
How Would An Executive Run a Marketing Automation Comparison Project?
Executives. The big shots. The people in charge of running the organization, who supposedly have years of experience and a wealth of knowledge at their disposal — there’s a good chance that they’d probably want a healthy amount of input when it comes to deciding on which automated tool to pick out. We’ve compiled a list of guidelines that execs might use when selecting a marketing automation tool.
Know Your Purpose (In Life AND In Marketing Automation)
Ask yourself why you need marketing automation software (save the soul searching questions for later).
- Are you dissatisfied with the limitations of your current email marketing tool?
- Is your lead attribution model or conversion tracking no longer cutting it?
Your goals are unique; it’s imperative that your platform includes the features that support them. By clearly defining your purpose before you look at different marketing automation tools, you decrease the chances of being swayed or misled by needless bells and whistles. And one thing marketers of marketing automation platforms are masters at is distracting you with shiny objects.
Marketing Automation Requirements Gathering
With goals set, consider the kinds of features and capabilities (aka requirements) you’ll need to achieve them. Even though Forbes and other outlets note the similarities between competing marketing automation tools, they also say that each solution typically focuses on specific automation actions and workflows in varying degrees. It’s important to understand, too, that marketing automation solutions that market themselves as being comprehensive or all-in-one tools won’t necessarily make it equally easy to perform different kinds of common tasks.
Considering the long list of marketing automation features to choose from, how do you know which ones are best for your organization?
Our recommendation is to build and prioritize your requirements with a marketing automation requirements gathering template. By doing so you can get input from all of your stakeholders in the selection project, and have a better view into what everyone needs/wants from the marketing automation tools.
What Are the Requirements to Watch For?
Some of the most important and common marketing automation features include:
- Lead Nurturing
- CRM Integration
- Campaign Management
- Lead Management
- Lead Scoring
- Landing Pages
- Email Automation
- Reporting and Analytics
Although these are by no means every important feature, they’re a good starting point as you gather your requirements.
Aside from these specific technical requirements, other example considerations include:
- The projected training time needed for complete adoption
- Monthly licensing and operating fees
- Immediate ROI potential
- User accommodation capacity
Other features to look for are those related to account-based marketing. Not every tool provides these features, since lead generation and nurturing are more popular forms of marketing. However, B2B marketers should prioritize a vendor that offers ABM features. Some of the most important ABM features to look out for include audience segmentation, domain targeting, automated lead behavior responses and lead scoring.
Don’t settle for a software package just because it boasts the longest list of features. No app is perfect out of the box, so no matter what field you’re in or how flexible your needs may be, there will come a time when you have to make changes to the way your marketing automation tools function. Picking an option that fights you every step of the way could mean you end up wasting valuable effort.
Once you’ve done the requirements gathering exercises, find the marketing automation vendors that match these requirements. Better yet, take your requirements matrix or checklist and start inputting how vendors meet your specific criteria. To simplify this process, use a marketing automation requirements template (match it with existing marketing automation vendor features).
Ready to Compare Marketing Automation Vendors?
You have a list of marketing automation vendors meeting your requirements, now it’s time to compare them! In many cases, your shortlist is still a relatively long one, so it doesn’t make sense to bring in each option for a demo.
Just a reminder to think about whether the marketing automation platforms you’re considering serve any or all of the following objectives: lead generation, demand generation, campaign management, inbound/outbound marketing, lead management, lead nurturing, calculating lead scores, CRM software integration, sales enablement, customer engagement and more.
Thought that was a long list? It is, but it emphasizes the need to be thorough – that’s why we’re painstakingly writing this super-advanced marketing automation platform comparison guide for you, my marketing compadre.
If you use the free interactive template we provide to prioritize specific marketing automation requirements, compare your potential vendors with side-by-side reports and scorecards.
Make Formal Inquiries
Before you start requesting live demos for your shortlist, create a formal marketing automation request for proposal (RFP) and submit it to your chosen vendors. Part of your RFP is going to include the specific prioritized requirements you and your colleagues have defined.
During this formal process, some vendors may disqualify themselves because they refuse to complete an RFP. This is a sign they either do not want or are not capable of supporting your project. It’s good that they’ve ruled themselves out at this point, saving you time when making your final evaluation.
Compile and Analyze RFP Responses
You can choose to analyze responses to your RFP as they roll in or wait until all responses are received and do a single, comprehensive analysis. There are pros and cons to both. We recommend analyzing responses as they roll in as it:
- Allows stakeholders to fit the analysis into their available schedule.
- If you are using a platform to manage your selection process, it can auto-tabulate and compute responses as they arrive based on your pre-defined criteria.
- Vendor’s may also respond with questions and you don’t want to wait until all responses have been submitted to catch these questions (it will delay your selection process).
Get Demos, Proof of Concepts and Other Information
After analyzing your RFP responses, select the vendors that closest match your needs and wants, and engage with them directly. Ask for live demos, trial information, proof of concepts, customer references and anything else you need to make your final decision.
You’ll likely be working with just two or three vendors at this point, but there is no set rule. It’s most important that vendors are matching your requirements closely and your team has the time to evaluate all the options and responses.
You’ll want to engage in a trial period with the platform making sure it does what has been promised (be watchful for the “it’s on the roadmap” trick — a sly move where vendors tout a feature that’s still in development).
During the trial, test the system and also engage with support. The responsiveness and competency of your marketing automation’s support team will be a good gauge for your future happiness and success with your chosen platform.
Negotiate and Complete the Contract
After receiving all the qualification materials, watching a bevy of demos and taking the software for a trial run, you’ll likely have decided on a vendor. From here you’ll go through the normal pricing and contract negotiation. Be sure to reference back to other pricing information you collected.
By having pricing from competing technologies available, you’ll have a better time getting an offer that fits your budget.
To make your life easier, here’s a price and cost guide/questionnaire so you really understand the true cost and get the best price. You’re welcome.
Marketing Automation Pricing Comparison Guide and Cost Guide
From free, open-source platforms to complex, enterprise-level solutions, there are many vendors out there that dub their platform, “marketing automation.”
Because of the huge range in marketing automation systems (think 200+ platforms), the pricing varies heavily. To make matters more complicated, companies with enterprise software pricing often go unpublished or are hard to find, pricing tiers are constantly changing and published pricing/terms are often up for serious negotiation.
That aside, when evaluating marketing automation pricing, there are key issues to answer to know the true cost. Here are some questions to ask when evaluating the price/cost of marketing automation:
What features are you getting with your selected pricing plan?
It’s common for marketing automation vendors to have tiered pricing models that offer different feature sets depending on your selected pricing tier. Sometimes you find a single platform that offers all the features you want under one pricing tier. Even so, you’ll still want to compare the feature sets against the marketing automation requirements you defined. (You did that already, right?)
What are the setup and implementation fees for marketing automation?
This is a mixed bag among marketing automation vendors. Some vendors will offer some basic marketing automation set-up and onboarding services while others try to upsell you into paid implementation programs. We’d be wary of marketing automation vendors trying to upsell into a paid set-up/implementation program. If you are in this situation, ask for the difference between the paid implementation services and the standard getting started support available.
Is ongoing training an additional expense?
You should expect to get initial training for free from most marketing automation vendors. We would be hesitant to move forward with any marketing automation company that tries to charge you for initial training. In fact, many of the best marketing automation companies offer ongoing free training (often via regular live webinars). Training in marketing automation is so critical because it is a newer technology – charging for it is counter-intuitive for any vendor that wants to build a long-term, valuable relationship from the start.
If you are being told there is a fee for training, make sure you aren’t talking to a VAR or a white label marketing automation solution.
Will you have to pay an additional price for multiple users?
Again, this is different among marketing automation vendors. Some vendors allow for unlimited users while others have user thresholds with additional fees for additional users. Make sure you plan accordingly for how many users you see using the platform. If you are scaling rapidly, having unlimited users without paying per extra users may be a high priority requirement. You could also negotiate the number of included users with the vendors you are considering.
What if you go over the number of contacts or email sends included with your plan?
Make sure you know what the pricing is per-contact or emails sent that go over your plans allocated amounts. Don’t get a surprise bill from your marketing automation vendor because you added an extra 10,000 contacts to your database over your allowed amount. Know what these overage costs will be and also negotiate the price of overage as well. The difference between two cents and five cents per extra email sent is substantial when you are sending high volume emails.
Does support cost extra?
You’ll find a wide range of support services available at different marketing automation vendors including support forums, wikis, phone, email and chat support. Usually, all of these support services are free. Sometimes you will need to pay an additional amount if your support request is related to strategy or tactical implementation versus troubleshooting more common issues. This tactical/strategic support will most often come from a vendor’s partner network instead of an in-house team, thus the reasoning for an added cost.
Will I have to pay to integrate other technologies with my marketing automation platform?
Generally, there is not an additional fee to do third party integrations aside from the cost of each of the technologies themselves. We have rarely, if ever, seen a technology charge a one-time or ongoing fee for integration with another platform. However, if the platforms you are connecting don’t have native integration, you may have to pay for a third-party service to help with the integration.
Knowing the true cost of marketing automation
Getting a price off of a marketing automation vendor’s site often only shows part of the true cost. By asking these questions of any marketing automation company you’ve shortlisted in your selection process, you’ll have a better understanding of the true cost of marketing automation. Then, once you’ve estimated the true cost, you can move onto estimating the ROI of marketing automation.
Leading Marketing Automation Platforms
Now that we’ve outlined a formal process and helped you understand the cost, let’s compare some of the leaders in marketing automation software.
In today’s fast-paced world, marketing automation tools are essential for remaining on-par with or advancing past your competition. Without the use of these tools, you’re leaving money on the table. Knowing that, you need to find a marketing automation platform that best fits your needs and organization.
In our Marketing Automation Product Guide and Buyer Guide, we matched the 20 most important marketing automation requirements against more than 50 marketing automation vendors. Each vendor was scored around how closely they met those requirements, with scores per requirement/category and compiled into an overall score.
Vendors who lead the marketing automation comparison report included Marketo, CallidusCloud, Act-on, eTrigue, OutMarket, Pardot, and HubSpot. Other recommended platforms include Hatchbuck, Genoo, Salesfusion and Net-Results.
These programs are some of the top marketing automation solutions on the market and can be used to help your business succeed. Some of them are more suited for different company and market sizes, so make sure you do a thorough vendor analysis before you select a system.
Act-On enables businesses to set up automated marketing campaigns to generate more inbound traffic through the use of SEO, website design, social media, and much more. List management and A/B testing allows you to determine what is the best option for a specific group of people. Through intelligent workflows, the program will react to different scenarios based on your pre-programmed commands. For example, if someone emails you with a specific keyword, you can have Act-On reply with the proper response message.
A study demonstrated that companies using marketing automation tools see an increase in revenue of about 10%, and CallidusCloud takes this to heart. The software helps businesses to discover insights about their customers and find potential prospects they weren’t previously aware of. It also allows businesses to nurture potential leads, gently nudging them towards conversion into buyers.
The world of marketing has changed. Customers have certain demands at certain times, something which has become known as the buying cycle. If you can’t provide them with what they need when they ask for it, it becomes much harder to improve your conversion rates. Automated processes are almost required in order to ensure this demand is met. eTrigue enables businesses to easily respond through the use of email, social media, and even banner ads.
Every lead is different. However, they can all be approached in a similar way. HubSpot enables businesses to gather information about their sales leads in order to create a sort of ‘behavior’ profile. With this valuable information at your fingertips, you know exactly which way to approach an individual lead to maximize the possibility of conversion. The powerful lead management software that comes included helps to create customized marketing messages that can appeal to each individual lead in their own way.
Marketo makes it easy to generate more interest through SEO and to capture those leads through list-building tools. The analytics tools provided make it easy to measure how effective individual campaigns are, as well as to nurture those individual leads and urge them through the buying funnel. And with mobile software, your campaigns are accessible right from your smartphone. You can do a more thorough comparison of Marketo and Pardot in our Pardot vs Marketo comparison article.
Eloqua implements something known as cross channel marketing to reach customers across a variety of mediums, from social media to email to content marketing. By using a variety of different methods, Oracle’s Eloqua helps businesses reach out to customers who may not be properly targeted through traditional marketing methods.
OutMarket makes email marketing both easier and smarter. Not only does this program enable companies to create a streamlined approach to capturing email addresses, but it makes it easy to automate messages to users. By implementing a variety of workflows that direct users to your landing pages when they’ve decided to buy, OutMarket enables companies to increase revenue through tried organic sales methods.
Hailing from Chicago, IL ActiveCampaign comes pre-loaded with all the best marketing automation features to streamline your entire marketing process. It’s flexible, device-agnostic, and, like all marketing automation tools, specializes in conversion/optimization through channels like email and organic search. You can also use it to build out landing pages and manage contacts, as well as track customer engagement. ActiveCampaign was built to handle the full spectrum of marketing tasks for small to medium-sized businesses, or any marketing professionals looking for a tool that will let them perform valuable A/B testing.
Marketers can use Sendinblue for a variety of tasks, but more specifically so they can take advantage of Sendinblue’s robust messaging and outreach tools. Users can blast emails, SMS messages and newsletters at the click of a button. This is, of course, on top of more traditional marketing automation tools like its SEO compliant landing page builder, A/B testing tools, ad management engine, and, of course, a built-in CRM.
Pardot is SalesForce’s darling marketing automation tool that’s meant to compete with the big dogs like HubSpot and Marketo. What sets Pardot apart from other tools is its tight integration with SalesForce’s CRM. If you didn’t already know, marketing’s job is to support sales, and vice-versa, so the more tools marketing has to interact with (and qualify) leads the better. And Pardot comes loaded with tools. On top of your standard MA features, you get killer ROI reporting and analytics, and that kind of stuff comes in handy when you’re using the platform’s sales-marketing alignment tools. We don’t need to tell you Pardot is good in this article. You can read about it all over our product pages.
Pardot prides itself on providing a centralized marketing automation platform. Offering email marketing, reporting, sales intelligence, social marketing and tons of lead gen features, Pardot is one of the most comprehensive platforms out there. It also includes easy CRM integration to keep your customer and lead data synced at all times.
In marketing, we have a saying: “Content is king, but engagement is queen — and the lady rules the house.” You can have the absolute best, most engaging content on the planet if you paid the right people. Heck, your content could be good enough to sell snow to an Eskimo! But if it’s not being distributed on the right platforms and in the right ways, then you’re wasting your time. Marketing automation isn’t just your distribution platform either. It’s your content generation engine, lead management tool and general outreach weapon. So yeah, content is king and distribution is the queen, but your marketing automation tool is the whole kingdom. Make sure you’re picking the right tool for your business.
We hope this step-by-step marketing automation comparison guide provides you with a useful process to select the right marketing automation platform for your organization. Have any tips we didn’t cover here, or products we missed? Sound off in the comments!