If you’re new to marketing automation, chances are you’re scratching your head determining how to choose marketing automation software that will be right for your business. Or, maybe you’re still deciding if what you get is even worth the expense.

Let’s pull this issue apart a bit. By first understanding exactly what marketing automation is and how it benefits organizations, you’ll be able to quickly see if your business is at the right place to consider this type of software. If so, we’ll help you see what features may make sense for you, and some of the widely-used solutions targeting everyone from SMBs to enterprises.

What Is Marketing Automation

Marketing automation refers to software that helps marketers and organizations as a whole more effectively manage their marketing activities across digital channels. Still don’t understand what marketing automation is? Let’s break it down a little more.

Consider first the types of information you’d want to collect about prospects to be able to effectively market to them:

  • Basic contact information

  • Business information like industry, company revenue, employee count (for B2B businesses)

  • Interactions with your business like website visits, visits to your pricing page, in-store visits, content downloads, etc.

  • Purchase behavior (e.g. purchase frequency, units/seats purchased, average order values, lifetime revenue, etc.)

Now consider all the different types of marketing behaviors you’d want to enact if you knew all of this information:

  • Sending information about possible products or services that unique individuals might be interested in

  • Sharing content (e.g. blog posts, white papers, infographics, etc.) that could be of interest

  • Sharing news or updates that could be of interest based on an individual’s background or area of expertise

  • Offering sales information, discounts, or special offers

  • Sending real-time in-app, email, or on-site messages based on user behavior

  • Giving sales teams a heads when a prospect is “mature” enough for outreach and sales conversion

Doing all of this by hand is impossible. Heck, doing just some of these by hand is a tall order. That’s why marketing automation software exists. It allows organizations to tackle all of these activities (and much more!) in a seamless, streamlined way. Prospects get the right messages at the right time, and organizations have the peace of mind that marketing best practices are in effect.

How Can Marketing Automation Help

Marketing automation takes the manual work out of contact engagement and contact nurturing best practices. As a result, using marketing automation software generally leads to:

  • 74% of users reporting huge time-savings from having marketing automation in place.

  • 80% of companies increasing their leads by using marketing automation, and nearly as many seeing increases in customer conversions.

  • A 14.5% increase in sales productivity and a12.2% decrease in marketing overhead.

There’s a reason 91% of marketing automation users say that marketing automation is “very important” to the success of their digital marketing efforts. It ensures regular, targeted touch points are being made with contacts to continue engaging them and increase the likelihood of purchase…touch points that would be next-to-impossible if you were trying to do them all by hand.

How To Choose Marketing Automation Software

There are a wide range of options out there, so deciding how to choose marketing automation software isn’t a one-stop shop. Instead, you need to consider what your organization needs, and the software features that will best address those needs.

Marketing Automation & Lead management

Good automated communication requires effectively storing robust information about your contacts. That’s a core reason why at the heart of most marketing automation tools is a hefty contact database. Features include:

  • Contact database with customizable fields

  • List segmentation based on particular traits

  • Activity tracking at the contact level

  • List hygiene and maintenance

Marketing Automation & Email Marketing

Automating reaching out to prospects via email is unbelievably cost effective and an expected business behavior for over a decade, which is why email was the first channel programmed for marketing automation. Features include:

  • Built-in or customizable email templates

  • Email sending and scheduling

  • Emails sent at-will or based on event triggers or automated activities

  • Email analytics

Marketing Automation & Lead Nurturing

Marketing automation and lead nurturing are often synonymous since marketing automation has, since its earliest days, been focused on reaching out to prospects at just the right time with the right message. Features include:

  • Distributing sequences of email messages (workflows) based on prospect life stages

  • Sending real-time triggered emails based on a single event

  • Sending in-app, on-website, or text-based notifications

  • Automated and customized lead scoring

Marketing Automation Website Tracking

Knowing when prospects visit your site, and what pages they look at, can be useful when wanting to engage with them further. This knowledge lets you target them with just the right content and messages at just the right time. Features include:

  • Automatic tracking of web pages prospects visited, and when those visits happened

  • Real-time alerting to sales teams following prospect visits

  • Website traffic analytics

  • Tracking of anonymous prospect behavior prior to lead conversion

Marketing Automation & Landing Pages

Often times you’ll want to serve a custom landing experience to customers based on email or content that they’ve engaged with. When this is the case, having a marketing automation solution that supports landing page creation and testing can be beneficial. Features include:

  • Out-of-the-box landing pages

  • Drag-and-drop content to build landing pages from scratch

  • A/B landing page testing

  • Reporting on landing page engagement and conversions

Marketing Automation & Content Marketing

Marketing automation generally involves serving up different types of content (e.g. blogs, infographics, white papers, etc.) to contacts at the right time. As a result, many automation solutions making content marketing and content management a core part of their software. Features include:

  • Blog platforms

  • Content management system to store all forms of content

  • RSS automation when content is published

  • SEO recommendations for improved content search-ability

  • Content engagement analytics

Marketing Automation & Social Media

While not found in all marketing automation solutions, some tools do include ways to more efficiently manage and monitor social media activities. Features include:

  • Integration with major social media platforms

  • Curating and scheduling social media posts

  • Tracking engagement with social media messages

  • Social media analytics

Which Marketing Automation Software Is Best

We’re generally agnostic about recommending any one software solution, no matter what category we’re talking about. When it comes to determining which marketing automation software is the best, we’re no different. After all, we think it should always come down to what your specific business needs and objectives are. Only then can you see how solutions stack up.

That said, here are a few solutions that often make the cut when organizations begin evaluating marketing automation solutions, starting from most expensive to least expensive:

  • Pardot: Now owned by Salesforce, Pardot was one of the earliest marketing automation software options. It’s robust in features…and robust in pricing! But it has a lot to offer, including triggered messaging based on custom parameters, lead scoring, sending highly customized content at the right times, email personalization, and customizable reporting. It’s an incredibly powerful platform and getting to know its full capabilities does take some time.

  • Act On: Definitely geared toward larger organizations, Act On has many of the standard marketing automation capabilities in addition to enterprise-level features like lead scoring, adaptive segmentation and webinar management, plus optional features like Account-Based Marketing and CRM integration. This is a full bells and whistles solutions, with full bells and whistles pricing.

  • HubSpot: One of the best-in-class solutions for mid-sized businesses, HubSpot lets you tackle marketing automation as well as other marketing activities including landing page creation and management, blogging, social media management, and SEO. Because HubSpot has built all of its own software (as opposed to acquiring big, established players and tacking their software on to a native platform) it’s an extremely user-friendly, unified solution with smaller learning curves.

  • Intercom: This solution is really all about automated, targeted messaging at just the right time. Intercom lets you do targeted messaging based on browsing history, referral site, and other variables associated with an individual. With customizable messaging workflows, you can select where, when and what is sent to particular individuals. Additionally, their history with Live Chat also means you can integrate Chat Bots for seamless lead and customer engagement.

  • Mailchimp: Mailchimp is a great example of marketing automation “Lite.” It has most of the basic automated messaging options including welcome messages and message workflows, and for B2C is also offers order confirmations, abandoned carts, and product recommendations. It is a fairly simple solution, which makes it user-friendly and cost-effective. However, the downside is that sometimes it’s simply too simple and bare bones. Also, automated messaging is just focused on emails since it’s all based on Mailchimp’s core product which is email marketing.

Just remember, take stock first of what your business needs are, and only then compare those needs to the software solutions that are out there. By starting with your business needs and goals first, you’ll be sure to have those priorities top of mind when evaluating solutions. And, should you find some features you didn’t even know you wanted once you get to reviewing existing solutions, well that’s just the cherry on top!