Marketing Automation has become a buzzword over the last few years. With all the tactics available to marketers today – social media, blogs, content, paid ads, and more – it's no wonder companies are looking for platforms that help them execute all their marketing under one roof.
Of course, there are both good and bad marketing automation platforms. How do you tell them apart? Where do you start?
First Things First
Before answering those questions, you first need to know that marketing automation features aren’t going to generate leads on their own, nor will they magically provide you with a marketing strategy to reach your sales goals. Marketing automation tools are just that: tools. Your success will be a result of using those tools strategically to offer relevant, thoughtful, optimized content focused on the people you want to attract.
Think you’ve got that content part down? Great! With that said, I’ve broken down four top marketing automation platforms for your business to consider.
Pardot, which was acquired by Salesforce in 2013, is a marketing automation software that's primarily aimed at B2B companies. With Salesforce as its parent company, Pardot excels in Customer Relationship Management (CRM), and the two teams work together to create new features.
Some online reviews suggest that its marketing arm has some work to do, though. People describe it as a "simple, straightforward email automation tool," suggesting that it may need to expand its capabilities to go beyond setting up and automating lead nurturing email campaigns.
Pardot does use data-driven programs that help with lead generation and speed up sales cycles. With the feature called Salesforce Engage, users can view a custom, real-time feed of prospect engagement and view interactive and graphical dashboards so reps can easily monitor and control campaigns.
- Has a ton of features: From visitor tracking and real-time sales alerts to lead scoring and grading, Pardot allows users to capture top leads
- Salesforce integration: Not surprisingly, Pardot works extremely well with the Salesforce CRM, with one Pardot review stating it’s “my top suggestion for organizations who use Salesforce and are looking to improve their marketing”
- Lead Deck: This tool allows sales and marketing teams to receive real-time alerts and information from prospects
- Wordpress integration: If you’re already using Wordpress, the implementation is fairly easy
- Engagement Studio: This is their nurturing tool that is a recurring theme in reviews, helping users build intelligent, automated programs to engage prospects
- Not so user-friendly: It takes a while for users to get comfortable with the platform. Some users say that if you’re not overly tech savvy, you may have trouble with the platform
- Has a ton of features: Wasn’t this just in the pros section? Yes. But the amount of features can leave users overwhelmed by the list of options
- A/B testing only available to PRO users: You’ll need to pay at least $2,000 a month if you want to make use of features such as A/B testing, AdWords integration, or dynamic email content
- Behind the curve: Some reviews indicate that the platform doesn’t support an account-based marketing (ABM) strategy, nor does it support customizations to its standard reporting of lead flows. Some users just rely on Salesforce reports, rendering the Pardot reports of little value
- Lackluster support and turnaround time: One reviewer bemoaned how the support team isn’t very helpful in solving challenges when they arise, having them go unresolved for months, while another noted, “...we've needed to upgrade our database storage, and the turnaround time can sometimes take a few days up to a week”
Marketo was founded in 2006, and in June 2016, Vista Equity Partners acquired the platform for approximately $1.79 billion. Reputable companies that use Marketo include: Centurylink, Charles Schwab, Panasonic, and CA Technologies.
Marketo receives huge praise for being an intuitive marketing platform, with the ability to execute simple and complex nurturing campaigns, depending on your business needs. Marketo also provides free training, course catalogs, and certifications through their Marketo University program. However, some users complain about the UI/UX being outdated, and lag times can be a real issue during peak hours.
- Many integrations: Integrates with several industry leaders, including Salesforce
- Quick and easy to set up: Compared to some competitors, setup is relatively painless
- Engagement programs: One user commented that Marketo’s engagement programs, primarily meant for lead nurturing, are best in class. Marketo simplifies complex nurturing tracks
- Online community: Many Marketo users are active on their community site, chiming in with tips on using the platform
- Poor landing page and form builder: Since Marketo wasn’t originally a marketing automation tool, some of their products are difficult to use. Most of these have been updated, but some customers still use third-party software for form and landing page creation
- Pricing: Marketo offers three pricing tiers: Spark, Standard, and Select. The price jumps significantly per month from Standard to Select, with relatively few upgrades
- Reporting: It takes users longer to produce reports that should be easy to create. This is a common complaint, with one Marketo review noting that, “while you can get the data you need, it’s often awkwardly presented and in an inconsistent manner…we are finding ourselves using third-party providers and dashboard tools”
- Steep learning curve: While some claim easy setup, its user interface isn’t as intuitive as many marketing departments would like, requiring most to work with a partner to walk them through how to use it and check their work
Also known as Oracle Marketing Cloud, Eloqua was one of the first companies to offer marketing automation. Oracle was built in 1999, 11 years before marketing automation became adopted by organizations around the world.
Because of their tenure, Oracle is considered to be one of the best in their class, which explains their high cost, starting at $2,000 a month. Double that price if you’d like to use advanced segmentation, advanced data cleansing and deduplication, sales alerts and email reports, and more.
- Many integrations: Has over 100 integrations with third-party platforms
- Reputation: Many consider Oracle to be the best marketing automation tool for enterprise businesses
- Well-designed visual campaign builder: Oracle’s visual campaign builder is thought to be both intuitive and powerful to use
- Insights: Their Insight tool is “one of the best,” according to one Oracle review, as it “gives us details about the success of our campaign and also gives practical advice to improve our future campaigns”
- Intuitive: Some users believe Oracle isn’t as intuitive as other platforms and that it takes time to familiarize yourself with the application, and adapting and configuring it can take a lot of work
- Pricing: As mentioned above, Oracle isn’t for organizations with comparatively small marketing budgets
- Google Adwords: Despite Oracle’s many integrations, users cannot track the ROI of their PPC
- Reporting: Some teams have experienced challenges with their Insight Reporting Engine, stating export limitations and a lack of seemingly basic features
- System downtime: Some customers have expressed frustrations over frequent system-level downtimes, making key data inaccessible at opportune times
- Misdirected focus: While some popular features are being developed, there seems to be a lack of focus on improving existing features, such as reporting on dynamic content that lacks click-through data
HubSpot, founded in 2006, provides its customers with a complete set of tools for marketing, sales, and service that easily ties all aspects of their business together. HubSpot is a market leader when it comes to marketing automation for small to medium-sized businesses.
This platform brings your entire marketing campaign together, whether that’s social media, web analytics, webpage creation, or customer relationship management. It helps replace interruptive marketing with marketing tactics by attracting, engaging, and delighting prospects as part of the inbound marketing methodology, and then keeping the momentum going through what Hubspot refers to as the flywheel effect.
- Easy to use: HubSpot is intuitive, the platform is easy to navigate, and Hubspot reviews indicate that users find the UI/UX design fresh and simple to use, even for small business owners with little or no knowledge about marketing tools or web coding. Its WYSIWYG editor truly embraces the “what you see is what you get” approach
- CRM Tool: Includes a free tool that allows users to manage their pipeline and tracks sales activity automatically
- Education: Known as HubSpot Academy, HubSpot provides helpful blogs, certifications, and how-to videos and documentations to keep users up to date on the latest marketing trends and tools
- INBOUND: Hubspot hosts a marketing conference in Boston that draws tens of thousands of its users from around the world each year. It provides “inspiration, education, and connections you need to grow and transform your business.” Past speakers include Gary Vanerchuck, Brené Brown, Arianna Huffington, Chip & Joanna Gaines, and Michelle Obama
- A place for all your tools: Many users find its workflow functionality, list segmentation, and contextual marketing features extremely powerful. As a scalable growth platform, you can keep every interaction — from unknown visitor to customer contracts — managed within one platform for alignment and transparency across departments and your entire organization
- Security: HubSpot features best-in-class security by leveraging Amazon Web Services, and software updates are done automatically, keeping your site safe and secure
- Separate hubs: Hubspot breaks their services down by hubs with different capabilities (e.g., marketing hub, sales hub, and service hub), so if you want certain capabilities like conversational bots and meeting links, you’ll need to subscribe to those hubs to truly leverage the entire platform and complete the flywheel experience
- Price: Even though they offer a starter plan for as little as $50 per month, getting the most out of what Hubspot has to offer will require a higher tier subscription that can get a little pricey
- Customization: While Hubspot does offer some templates for web pages and reports, some users wish there were more customization options. Reports, email workflows, landing pages, and their Conversations feature — both their chatbot and the live chat — could still use some improvements
Want to learn more about inbound marketing and how marketing automation can help you achieve your growth goals? Download our Free Step by Step Guide to Inbound Marketing below.