How to choose a suitable marketing automation platform
The marketing automation sector has grown by over 50% year-on-year for the last 4 years bringing its current value to in excess of $2 billion. What gives marketing automation a relatively unique position in terms of digital marketing technologies is that there is not a monolithic market leader. Though there are doubtless names that everyone associates with the phrase it is a battlefield with over 27 notable different suites available on the commercial market. It's only natural that platforms will have developed in order to cater to certain niches in the market.
While HubSpot may seem like the largest due to their impressive marketing they are used only by a certain segment and are facing increasing competition. Large businesses with complicated requirement are more likely to use Marketo which allows for more sophisticated requirements. Smaller businesses are beginning to move away from HubSpot to platforms with more flexible pricing models or more open API.
An indicator of this increasing competition and the increasing awareness of marketing automation are the insights we've found looking at Google Trends search data. Whilst overall searches for 'marketing automation' have increased by over 50%, searches for the leading marketing automation suites have either held steady or declined.
The sector is seeing innovation and development at break-neck pace precisely because no single platform dominates. Competition between established players and disruptive new platforms are driving prices down at the same time as the capabilities of these platforms is growing.
It can be daunting trying to pick the correct marketing automation platform for your business. It is vital for the success of your marketing efforts and the health of your business that you invest your time and money in the best platform for your business.
Below are 4 of the offerings aimed at SMEs with some strengths, weaknesses and differences highlighted. This is not intended to give you an answer to the titular question but rather to help you define what you want from marketing automation and give you an idea of some of the offerings out there.
Wants and Worries
Most businesses that aren't yet using marketing automation are using a blend of other technologies in an attempt to emulate what a marketing automation suite can do with ease. Until very recently the complexity and cost of marketing automation made this a sensible choice for SMEs. In 2016 this has changed, for the first time there are options available to SMEs that are affordable enough that they present a real value prospect.
- Meaningful Data – To inform data-driven marketing.
- Ability to nurture leads beyond simple 'Drip Feed' campaigns.
- Increased capacity & performance from Sales & Marketing.
- Ability to accurately report end-to-end ROI of specific activities.
- Ease of general implementation & use.
- Out-of-the-box functionality.
- In-built email, page & form creation as well as A/B Testing.
- Integrations with CRM & legacy software.
- In-depth analytics and reporting.
- Marketing automation will be prohibitively expensive & complex.
- New software won't work with old systems.
- The majority of the features will not be used.
- Implementation & uptake will be unreliable, especially in the overlap between sale & marketing.
The key consideration is the length of time before a Return On Investment is seen. Too often a senior staff member who won't be using the software and isn't familiar with the problems will be making most of the decisions. Involve department staff and ensure everyone knows the common features found in marketing automation platforms, descriptions of a few of these were posted on MyCustomer recently. In my experience, there are 4 key areas on which to judge any marketing automation platform and normally increased performance in any one of them requires sacrifice in another or an increase in spend!
- Integrations/Customisation – With regards to other software and specific needs.
- Ease of Use/UI – Two slightly different considerations but often related.
- Power/Features – Not all platforms are capable of everything & some features present may lack functionality.
Some SME oriented platforms
Below are introductions to four of the platforms often marketed to SMEs. There are some key attributes listed for comparison, though far from the only offerings these 4 each cater to a slightly different niche within the 'SME' demographic as a whole.
A quick note on methodology: many marketing automation providers don't publish concrete pricing figures and most are open to some level of negotiation around their listed prices. The prices shown are only an approximate guideline, they have been aggregated from various review sites, third-parties and quotes I've received personally. Observations on 'commonly cited' positives and negatives have been made on the basis of reviews posted on G2Crowd, Capterra & SoftwareAdvice.
The 'Comparison Point' used for Year 1 Cost & Comparison Point Pricing is made up of 4 simple criteria that many SMEs will find within their list of needs or wants;
- 10,000 Contacts
- Multiple User Accounts
- E-Commerce functionality/capability
- A/B Testing capability (Infusionsoft doesn't possess this capability at any package level)
What does success look like?
Top performing businesses are 20% more likely than average to be using marketing automation, they also spend 30% less time and 15% less budget on awareness and acquisition. Generally, businesses can expect to see value from marketing automation 6-12 months after successful implementation. Common factors found in businesses successful in seeing value around the 6-month mark are;
- Clear strategy, expectations and benchmarks.
- A dedicated member of staff or small team that is both responsible & accountable.
- Process oriented measurement and analysis of data.
- 'Section-by-Section' implementation of marketing automation.
- Focus on mastering value driving/cost cutting features first.
Businesses with dedicated marketing automation staff produce 400% more leads than those who attempt to spread the load piece-meal between existing staff with other workloads.
How To Pick The Right Platform
Many businesses don't manage to pick the right platform first time. 38% of marketing automation users seriously consider changing platform within the first year, the highest retention rates are not found amongst the most well know platforms. When drawing up lists of Needs and Wants involve everyone who will be using the software. The minimum is the Marketing department, Sales should be involved in most cases as well as your Admin staff. It is also important to realistically assess your capabilities, paying for a platform with dozens of cutting-edge features is pointless if it's going to be used for little more than sending emails and tracking leads.
If you have a healthy level of revenue and want to consolidate multiple systems such as CRM, CMS and ESP into one platform along with your marketing automation then an option like HubSpot may be the way to go. If you just want the bare-bones of automation presented in a way your staff can pick-up with minimum fuss then Infusionsoft could be for you. If you're looking for the ability to scale operations in future and prefer to invest time rather than capital where possible then an option like SharpSpring is probably your best bet. It has the power of more expensive offerings but lacks the polish, hence the price point!
Rob lives and breathes Digital Marketing, Marketing Automation, Social Selling, Mobile Marketing and Reputation Management. Rob is a professional speaker who regularly speaks in North America and across the EMEA Region., an author (...