Marketing automation platforms (MAP) are great and are gaining popularity with small and medium-sized businesses. (In case you’ve not heard of the technology before, click to read my post about what is marketing automation.) Unfortunately, many of the leading MAP providers understand how useful their tools are and price their solutions accordingly.
What functions did I consider?
There are a few major functions that are necessary of a marketing automation platform to be considered effective (at least in my book). These functions include:
- The capacity to integrate with different platforms—social media, CRM, and webinar software, for example.
- The level to which campaigns can be automated.
- How easy it is to manage and segment contact lists.
- And, of course, the robustness of the reporting functionalities.
While many marketing automation platforms cover similar ground, there are small differences that play to different preferences. As promised, my preferred providers are as follows (in no particular order).
A relatively new marketing automation platform, Act-On Software was surprisingly more accessible while I was attempting to land demos. Especially if you’re new to marketing automation, availability of a support team is crucial.
Another thing that drew me to Act-On was the user-friendly interface. The software employs drag-and-drop design wizards to develop your campaign assets, so there isn’t a very large learning curve. Conversely, Act-On’s youth shows when comparing the quality and quantity of capabilities with its competitors.
Regarding the price, Act-On is one of the cheaper platforms and seems to have enough functionality to be “sufficient.” Maybe you could think of this as the “starter platform.”
Eloqua seems to have the largest customer base, which might be attributed to the tiered pricing structure. Eloqua offers “versions” of their product, differentiated by price and, thus, functional capabilities. For example, Eloqua Express is the cheaper version, but doesn’t come equipped with the same reporting and list management features.
One really cool aspect that helps set Eloqua apart is the number of channels that the platform supports. Where most accommodate e-mail and maybe social media, Eloqua boasts support for SMS, voice messaging, and personalized faxes (in case any of you are marketing to dinosaurs).
Furthermore, Eloqua provides supplementary tools to your sales force to help facilitate the management of prospects through your marketing and sales funnels.
There was one downside that I found in my pre-demo research. While the program does have WYSIWYG editing, there are a few reviews that tout Eloqua’s formatting capabilities as restrictive and not compatible for all browsers.
Regarding the price, Eloqua is one of the most expensive—even if you go with the lowest tier. Yet, this is not to say they don’t earn it!
Marketo is one of the leading marketing automation platforms to date, and is the one that I have the most experience using. (Thus, it’s with what I compare the others.)
The biggest complaint you’ll get from me is that there is a bit of a learning curve. Marketo campaigns require many parts: Multiple e-mails, a trigger “campaign,” a web form, a landing page, and a list, for example. On top of that, the software leaves complete responsibility of organizing the campaigns to the user. While this is initially complicated and overwhelming for most, Marketo offsets this issue with multi-day trainings while you get up and running.
Even though Marketo isn’t the cheapest, it is—in my humble opinion—the best bang-for-your-buck solution. The software is very intuitive once you wrap your head around what’s possible, and the basic and advanced functionalities are separated in a way that allows beginners to effectively launch campaigns without confusion and the more advanced users to easily incorporate unique features into campaigns.
The last platform of the day, Pardot differs from other automation tools with robust support for search marketing—tracking, recording, search scoring, and competitor monitoring. Essentially, Pardot would allow both e-mail campaigns and SEO campaigns to be utilized in the same place (possibly lowering your costs by consolidating your tools).
Pardot’s biggest differentiator for me was the availability of both mobile and desktop applications. Setting up prospect alerts through the desktop application would make it much easier to incorporate monitoring into your daily activities.
One other notable point to potential Pardot users is the way the platform is priced. Pricing is primarily driven by the volume of sent e-mails. In other words, all packages offer unlimited user accounts and contacts, but you will pay as you go for running campaigns.
I hope this post will help you make a more informed decision as to the right tool, as it’s my take on some of the leading platforms. Though, admittedly, I’ve not used all of the tools to their full extent, I have spoken with the respective companies and at least demoed each platform.