Picking the Right Marketing Automation Platform

by Adam Smartschan

There are quite literally hundreds of marketing automation platforms on the market. All have plusses and minuses, so getting started with choosing the right one can be daunting.

At Altitude Marketing, we’re outspoken proponents of the idea that marketing technology should serve as a tool in support of business goals, not the other way around. It’s silly to buy a sleek, shiny marketing automation solution only to find that it’s not really compatible with existing technology or that you’ll never use 99 percent of its features.

With that in mind, let’s look at a few typical business cases and think about what marketing automation platform might fit for each.

We’re all in on marketing automation, with budget, time and an FTE.

Everyone wants to be in this situation, no? Marketing automation is sexy, and properly integrated with overarching strategy and cross-disciplinary teams, it can deliver some pretty awesome results. You’ll be able to attract more prospects, nurture them into leads, feed sales a steady stream of ready buyers and measure results.

Problem is, that will not happen with a software package alone. Marketing automation is not truly automated; it’s a car. You need a driver, fuel and a map to get anywhere. If you have all that – a decent amount of cash, the runway and free time to get things sorted out correctly and at least one FTE to spend most of the day neck deep in your MAP – the possibilities are endless.

Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 3.27.24 PMHubspot is a great fit; it’s probably our all-around favorite marketing automation tool. It’s not without its kinks, but there’s no better combination of learning curve and depth of offering. It’s not cheap, however: Don’t expect to get much out of it below around $1,000/month, and the $2,400/month Enterprise package is the entry point for several critical features.

Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 3.27.43 PMMany consider Marketo the Cadillac of marketing automation suites. It’s a darn nice piece of software, to be sure, but it’s closer to a Lamborghini than a Cadillac. The performance can be incredible, but be sure you’re hanging on tight. The learning curve is steeper than HubSpot, but you can make an argument that total depth of functionality is greater. It’s a true enterprise platform; pricing is bundle-based, and less transparent than competitors. Expect a similar bill to HubSpot, with a base price around $1,200.

PardotRounding out the Big 3 is Pardot, Salesforce’s marketing automation offering. We’re loving their new lead nurture flow tool, and they’ve made great strides in improving a dated UI. This has gone a long way to making the solution easier to use, and we tend to recommend it above even HubSpot for businesses using the Salesforce CRM.

If you’re using Microsoft Dynamics, Insightly or one of the other 42,176 customer relationship suites on the market, though, it’s worth thinking twice. (Same if you’re a B2C company; Pardot is a B2B play.) Table stakes is $1,000/month, but most enterprises are much better served at the $2,000/month level. The $3,000 Pro tier is for power users only.

I love the holistic concept, but budget is an issue.

If you want the whole package – lead nurturing, integrated email marketing, lead scoring, visitor tracking, robust prospect databases – but don’t have a ton to spend, you’re not completely out of luck. There are quite a few (relatively) low-dollar platforms out there; we tend to recommend trying one of them over a stripped-down version of HubSpot or Pardot, or especially Marketo. You won’t get quite the same user experience or functionality, and you’ll need to find some workarounds. But it’ll do, particularly as a proof of concept.

Net-Results is surprisingly capable around $1,000/month. Most important, it doesn’t throttle features; you pay by the contact, not for what you’re going to use. This is great, especially if (like most SMBs) you have a list smaller than 10,000 contacts. (You can also always keep your Net-Results list relatively small while storing more contacts in a proper CRM.) Nurture flows are easy to build, and lead scoring is solid, if slightly tougher to implement than Pardot and HubSpot. We tend to use a third-party landing page builder (Unbounce) for that particular task. Support is excellent.

SharpSpringLogoSharpSpring, likewise, is interesting. It’s a good basic marketing automation suite, though integrations can be tricky (sometimes requiring Zapier or another tool, though that’s hardly unusual) and creation of drip flows isn’t terribly intuitive. Highly complex campaigns can be very difficult to manage, though they’re certainly not impossible. Website visitor monitoring, however, is quite solid; it’s our favorite part of the software. Pricing is refreshingly lower than most, with full features coming around $600/month.

mauticMautic is extremely exciting. It’s an open source platform, doing essentially what WordPress did for content management systems. It’s a total flip of the traditional marketing automation model, and there are high hopes it works. For now, though, Mautic isn’t the best choice for businesses who aren’t working with a dedicated marketing automation team or a consultant, since deployment and use comes with a steep learning curve. Give it a few years, though … a MAP legitimately starting at $0 – whoa.

I only need bits and pieces of marketing automation.

If you need an email marketing platform, don’t spend thousands. If you only need to build landing pages and send leads to a CRM, save your money. There are great tools out there that do bits and pieces of the marketing automation ecosystem extremely efficiently (and cost-effectively).

EverestLogoWe’d be remiss not to mention Everest, Altitude’s own marketing automation solution. We’ve bolted together a landing page tool (Unbounce, noted later), email marketing and list management, CRM and CMS integrations, and remarketing advertising to build a tool for targeted and personalized lead nurturing. It’s not a full, enterprise-class MAP – it’s not designed to be. Here’s why: We don’t charge you to use the software. We use the software … in addition to developing flow logic, creating pages, building integrations and writing and designing content. Call it marketing automation as a service – any chance #MAaaS will take off?

MailChimpCM2If you only need to send periodic emails to a list with a few automated flows here and there, you have a slew of options. MailChimp and Campaign Monitor are our favorites, but you can search for hours and never find every enterprise mass email provider. Pick your favorite and roll with it.

UnbounceHave email marketing in place and need a way to spin up beautiful landing pages fast? Unbounce rocks. It’s got a solid WYSIWYG editor, and it integrates with pretty much anything you need. Some integrations are tighter than others; quite a few require the use of a webhook or Zapier. A/B testing is incredibly easy to set up, and there’s no need to create a subdomain for your landing pages if you use WordPress.

Picking a Marketing Automation Platform: Conclusion

Remember, when it comes to marketing automation, you have tons of choices. Before you start the process, be sure to identify what you really need, what you have to spend, and how much time and bandwidth you have to invest. If you have a marketing agency in place (or you’re looking for one), ask for their opinion – if they’re anything like us, they’ve probably used about a dozen solutions. Once you have a plan in place, take some demos, try some trials and make your choice.

Above all, make sure your marketing automation solution supports your business goals and complements your processes, rather than driving them. Automation can be amazing, but at the end of the day, it’s a tool. Choose wisely, and profit.