Marketing automation software buyers' guide

Marketing automation is a vital tool for many businesses. The term covers a range of platforms which allow businesses to market effectively across multiple channels (email, social media etc) by providing some degree of automation for repetitive tasks.

Marketing teams can plan campaigns and then software can execute the plan. An example is planning an email follow up campaign for customers who have just bought a product, where, once the sequence of emails is written, software can send it out at predetermined intervals. Automation can be considerably more sophisticated than this, sending different campaigns to users depending on their actions.

CRM vs marketing automation

Marketing automation is traditionally considered a tool of the marketing department whilst a CRM manages sales prospects and relationships with customers.  

Marketing and marketing automation tools are focused on helping a business find prospects. They are often spread wide with their efforts and are about attracting some degree of interest. The CRM part comes in once there is a lead, storing detailed information about that prospect that allow the sales team to turn the lead into a customer and/or sales.

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Marketing automation systems represent the top of the funnel, often informing people about a product and trying to generate a spark of interest so that the lead can progress down the funnel. The sales CRM then helps the salesperson build the relationship with the client by providing them with the right level of detailed information and an ongoing paper trail so they can close the deal.

Many businesses have one CRM and a separate marketing automation tool. Some businesses have one or the other because they are focused primarily on a marketing or sales approach, and some businesses have an integrated solution where the same tool supports marketing automation and sales.

Many B2C companies will focus on the marketing automation side because they aren’t building deep personal relationships with one individual. For example, a company selling socks will probably rely on sophisticated marketing automations to connect with its customers on email and social media. On the other hand, a company selling expensive software to investment banks will likely have a sophisticated CRM with detailed information on its prospects, including (at least) contact information, history of interactions, and planned tasks to engage with them to sell software.

The benefits of a marketing automation system

Provide business intelligence to your sales team

Using marketing automation software when a lead lands with the sales team should mean they already have a clear view of how the lead has behaved up to this point. For example, they can see how a lead has interacted with social media and email accounts, allowing them to use their behavior to sell more efficiently. If a prospect has been checking out a particular product then this information can be used to sell.

Increased efficiency of the marketing team

Automation gives marketing teams the ability to do more. Instead of wasting time on repetitive tasks they can focus on strategy, analysis, and iterating on their plans. For example, the ability to quickly split test landing pages allows marketers to improve quickly, and smarter web forms which provide more detailed lead profiles help to provide sales teams with a more complete view of their leads.

Deliver more targeted messaging to improve demand

Automation tools allow users to pre-programme campaigns with messaging tailored to users based on their behavior. Audiences can then be delivered messages which are most relevant to them. Users can also be segmented across different channels (email, social media, text). By getting the most relevant messages to prospects, marketers can increase engagement and ultimately sales performance.

Increase revenues

The bottom line to all marketing activity is to increase revenues. If businesses are using their resources more efficiently and finding clients more regularly there should be fewer costs and more revenue.

Marketing automation software features

Let’s take a closer look at how these automation systems work by looking at some of the common features.

Lead nurturing allows marketers to communicate with leads based on their characteristics. Businesses typically segment their customers against certain criteria and then market the most relevant messages to them. This segmentation can be anything from quite simple through to highly complex.

CRM integration is important. If the marketing automation works seamlessly with the CRM then key information is less likely to be lost and the marketing automation data should enrich the CRM.

Campaign management is a feature which allows campaigns to be built, tracked and managed. This management can support inbound and outbound campaigns.

Landing pages can be built in automation systems; these can vary in quality and feature set. For businesses driving prospects to landing pages the ability to tinker with these pages is vital.

Email marketing is a core requirement for many businesses and the effectiveness and functionality can vary, so this should be checked closely.

Social media marketing is usually included in the automation tool, or if not will likely integrate with the many tools that exist.

Sales intelligence provides insights in real-time to the sales team. So if a prospect responds to a certain email this can be flagged up to a sales rep who is working with that prospect.

Visitor tracking looks at how visitors to your site are interacting with it; good automation tools allow segmentation of prospects based on their onsite activities.

Mobile compatibility enables marketers and sales teams to use real-time information even when they’re not in the office.

Marketing automation pricing

The total cost of ownership (TCO) varies from system to system. See below for a worked example of a marketing automation system for an online travel agent with 5 marketers. Let’s look at their cost in the first year of implementation.

License cost

This can vary dramatically from $150 per seat to over $7000. In this case let’s say it’s $1000 x5 = $5000 per month.

TOTAL: $60,000

Implementation cost

External consultant: $5000

Internal management: $3000

Lost efficiencies during implementation: $10,000

TOTAL: $18,000

Ongoing operation

Team member to manage the system: $10,000

External consultant to periodically review the system: $4000

TOTAL: $14,000


Business user training: $3000

Technical training for manager: $4000

TOTAL $7000


Pricing examples

 Provider Standard Mid-range Advanced
Hubspot $200 monthly $800 monthly $2400 monthly
Salesforce Pardot $1000 monthly $2000 monthly $3000 monthly
Infusionsoft $199 monthly $299 monthly $379 monthly

Who to consider

There are many marketing automation vendors to consider. Here are five good entry point systems for SMEs to kick off the search.

  • Hubspot is an all-in-one marketing automation tool with a suite of tools; you can easily integrate your CRM and marketing automation.
  • Active Campaign is an integrated email marketing, automation, and small business CRM.
  • Infusionsoft is another small business integrated solution with CRM and marketing automation in one place
  • Ontraport focuses on making marketing automation visual
  • Marketo is a marketing automation platform focused on account-based marketing, including email, mobile, social, digital advertising, web and analytics

Good luck! If you take the time to make the right choice it will reap dividends for your business every day.

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Doug Haines

About the author…

Doug Haines has worked on a variety of CRM implementation projects and now writes on a wide range of topics. He is a regular contributor to Discover CRM

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Doug Haines

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