Automation is a word that has appealed to bosses of all types of businesses right back to the industrial revolution and the arrival of machines that could do the work of several employees, saving businesses the inconvenience of paying their wages. It wasn’t as popular with those employees of course, who tried to smash up the machines, but these days automation in the marketing world is generally a useful and time-saving tool that – rarely – causes us to smash things.
Automated marketing software is there to help marketers be better at their jobs rather than cost them, and there are many different tools out there – including programmatic advertising – aimed at creating leads and sales through managing campaigns automatically. These tools can be used to optimise performance, but certainly still need to be managed by marketing departments, who can use the intelligence the tools generate to inform the campaigns they set up to be run.
The best automated marketing software brings together various channels into one platform to, in theory, make every aspect of customer acquisition and marketing seamless and strategically-led. On paper it sounds essential, and there’s certainly a need for this kind of software, but yet it’s also far from uniformly utilised in the marketing world, with some way to go before the complication of setting up and integrating these tools becomes seen as less effort than not using them at all.
Also, in a market saturated by marketing automation tools, marketers often find themselves bombarded by eshots and phone calls from people trying to sell the tools, all promising the world and more. So it’s very hard to work out which of them is right for your business needs and can help you fulfil your objectives. Googling ‘marketing automation’ and related topics tends to bring up blog posts from the websites of companies who create marketing automation tools, so finding objective criticism requires some detective work to get around the spin.
Here are some of the best automated marketing software tools out there and what we make of them:
A consistent market-leader, Marketo has been around for ten years, launching its first Lead Management software in 2008. Since then it’s added Sales Insight, Revenue Cycle Analytics and Social Marketing tools and it has established itself as one of the best platforms out there for lead generation and management. Its integration with Salesforce is a major plus for brands using that technology and the purchase of Crowd Factory four years ago definitely strengthened its social offering.
However, for a package that is costlier than many of its rivals, it has a surprising number of limitations and deficiencies, not least when you need to do something that isn’t pure lead generation (Marketo’s undoubted strength). It’s largely aimed at B2B marketing and certainly favours Salesforce strongly over other CRM systems, but as long as you are aware of these aspects and want to utilise it for its strengths (the information reporting system, for example), you will find Marketo to be a hugely successful tool.
Another company that has been around for ten years, HubSpot is a major competitor in the market and where Marketo is great at one aspect and not quite so good at others, HubSpot is broadly good at many things, making it a good all-rounder, if not quite the best at any one thing. That makes it a very accessible platform, as does its straightforward design and functionality, all of which are ideal for marketers not looking for a deep dive approach to marketing automation. It’s also a good explanation for HubSpot’s success, offering a tool that is good value and easy to use well.
As mentioned above, the limitations of HubSpot are evident if you want to go beyond a certain level in each area as there is nowhere to go but to a different tool. That isn’t to say that it’s useless by any means, and there are many marketing departments that would benefit from using its tools, even if only as a tentative toe in the water of marketing automation, even if they did ultimately end up switching to a rival platform that does more to help deliver their specific objectives.
Like both Marketo and HubSpot, Pardot was founded in 2006 and has risen to be one of the top providers of marketing automation software, claiming that its clients increase their marketing ROI by 34% and campaign effectiveness by 37%. Similar to Marketo, its main product Prospect Insight is built around Salesforce and B2B marketing, and customised reporting is again a major strength, particularly in the way it integrates with Google Analytics and AdWords. It’s also able to integrate well with SugarCRM, NetSuite, Microsoft Dynamics CRMs, making it less tied to Salesforce than Marketo.
Its pricing structures are also more flexible, with some low-cost options and others that offer no limits on the number of users, opening it up to companies with large numbers of marketing professionals across various teams. The pricing alone is a reason for small to medium businesses to try it ahead of Marketo, which is much too pricey for that market, although Pardot has its limitations too, particularly when it comes to social marketing and events management.
These are just some of the top players in the marketing automation field at the moment, there are almost limitless competitors out there, so a lot of research is needed to find the tool that is right for your business requirements. It’s very important to always bear that in mind when choosing, because a platform that may seem like the best out there could turn out to be no use to you whatsoever, while a less popular one could be just what you need to hit your KPIs.
Mind you, there are some automation tools that seem to attract near universal dismay, with some of the cheaper ones like iContact and AWeber generally being described as a false economy due to poor interfaces and limited offerings. At the other end of the scale, IBM’s Marketing Cloud is hugely expensive and doesn’t seem to have the ability to back up its price tag and fails in most attempts at being user-friendly.
Somewhere out there is the marketing automation tool for you though, and while you will have to wade through a lot of salesy blog posts to find it, there’s every likelihood that it will make your life much easier and your targets much more achievable.
With such an array of tools on the market, what automated marketing tool would you recommend? Contact us over our social media to let us know.