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What Is Marketing Automation Software? A Guide to Its Features, Benefits, Pricing and More

Category: B2B News
What is marketing automation software?

Marketing automation software are suites of tools that can streamline, automate and analyze all workflows that are relevant to marketing. They likewise boost customer engagement, resulting in increased leads and ultimately, sales.

The key to marketing today is delivering the right content to the right person at the right time. That seems a tall order if you do things manually, but with marketing automation software, it’s doable and even automated; thus, driving your profitability up. But what is marketing automation software?

In essence, it’s a set of solutions that automates, streamlines and analyzes marketing-related workflows and engagement to get more leads and qualify them for sales. The idea is the more qualified leads you get the higher the conversion rate and the more revenues you generate. Marketing automation software differs from CRM in that the purpose of marketing automation software is to get top-of-funnel leads, while the latter nurtures middle- and bottom-of-funnel leads. In short, marketing automation qualifies leads to feed into the CRM sales funnel for nurturing prospects to conversion.

In this guide we’ll provide a clear definition of marketing automation software by explaining the following key points in details, beyond answering: what is marketing automation software?

Marketers are finding it difficult to master marketing automation caused by a lot of factors (we’ll discuss these further later), but mainly the challenge of replacing old habits with technology. A Smart Insights study reported that only 2% of marketing automation software users optimize the features. In many cases, the software becomes the definition of a glorified spreadsheet database of lead records, which is tragic considering the missed opportunities to leverage the insights that can be had with these solutions.

On the bright side, more marketers today admit they’re more successful in implementing email marketing, thanks to marketing automation. According to Forrester, businesses will continue to make substantial spending on marketing automation tools to reach $25.1 billion until 2023. The study also found that over half of respondent business owners intend to increase their marketing technology spend by 10%, while others (38%) will allocate the same amount, and a few (8%) will reduce their spend.


F = forecast. Source: Forrester Data: Marketing Automation Technology Forecast (until 2023, Global).

As more marketers appreciate the benefits of marketing automation software, you should, too, lest your competitiveness is undermined. After all, what is marketing automation software but a tool to increase your revenues.

What Are Examples of Marketing Automation  Software?

Here are a few examples of marketing automation software solutions that lead the pack in this niche.

1. Hubspot Marketing

HubSpot Marketing is an advanced marketing automation platform that essentially centralizes all your marketing efforts to improve traffic and conversions. These, the system does by designing and modifying websites using its drag-and-drop feature, resulting in beautiful landing pages that can be accessed from virtually any device. Using the software, it is not hard to create content that are both appealing and easily sent out to target audiences. These can even be shared with influencers as the software has varied SEO and social suggestions. It can even personalize messages so that they would suit website visitors and support the creation of calls-to-action. The vendor offers excellent support, with competent agents always at customer’s disposal. These are but some HubSpot Marketing features that are worth looking into.

If you want to know more about the features you can easily sign up for a HubSpot Marketing free trial here.

HubSpot Marketing

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Try out HubSpot Marketing with their free trial

2. SharpSpring

Email marketing software SharpSpring is a tool that plays very well with just about any third-party system. It is designed to cater to SMBs, offering them numerous features that are bound to boost your email campaigns. But what really sets the platform apart from other tools of its kind is that it does not cost an arm and a leg.

SharpSpring pricing does not mention anything about  annual contracts, with users required only to sign up month to month, making it ideal for small businesses. It can likewise be of great use to agencies, making them capable of managing, branding and charging customers in their own way. Anyone in an organization can also use the system, including rank-and-file staff. 

For managers, the software makes it possible to track incoming prospects and sales. Meanwhile, for creative businesses, web designers can utilize SharpSpring’s email and CRM features to get in touch with customers and update them on important developments as needed. Workflows are likewise accelerated, with the tool storing all critical sales and marketing materials in a single location. Unlimited free support and open API integrations are also provided.

You can check the solution closely when you sign up for a SharpSpring free demo here.

3. Exponea

Cloud-deployed marketing platform Exponea is designed for direct execution and quick delivery of results. It significantly boosts customer experience by combining engagement automation and analytics. This enables users to come up with accurate analyses and make data-driven decisions and predictions. It puts a stop on companies’ dependence on their IT teams for designing and planning marketing campaigns by offering the right tools. The product’s use of artificial intelligence and detailed customer data allows it to remarkably improve marketing campaigns. It has very useful features that lets users understand their clients better and quickly respond to their needs.

The software has a mobile version that makes it accessible even by users who are out in the field. This, along with features such as asset management, roles and permissions management, geo analysis, automated sales funnel operations and CRM make the platform one of the most powerful tool of its kind. 

Why Use Marketing Automation Software?

Why use marketing automation software? The advantages of marketing automation software is plenty. Let’s discuss each of these.

  1. Strategic planning. Many marketing tasks are repetitive but important. These can be automated by technology. These include qualifying leads, categorizing email feedback and appropriating the right response and updating customer data. Marketing automation software takes over these tasks, so marketers can focus on key tasks, such as, thinking up campaigns, deducing feedback and strategic planning, without compromising the day-to-day business.
  2. Small team efficiency. Even a small team can manage complex campaigns when most of the manual workflows are automated. This enables you to launch more campaigns and get more leads without needing to expand your workforce. Other tasks that can be automated include posting on social media, sending out emails and categorizing leads.
  3. Workflow accuracy. Automating routine tasks also minimizes human error. For example, a campaign requires tying together forms, landing pages, qualifying leads and drip email. The entire process can be automated with rule-based workflow, ensuring the right sequence of tasks are followed and kept consistent. So, for example, all prospects who downloaded an asset are funneled into a specific mailing list for nurturing or that a targeted group is sent to the right landing page.
  4. Sales funnel feed. The sales funnel has to be constantly fed with new leads lest revenues run dry. Marketing automation can keep your top-of-funnel filled to the brim by setting repurposed campaigns in perpetuity, even as you create new campaigns. In short, you build a stack of campaigns without worrying about scaling the tasks like qualifying leads and assigning the correct response since the process flow is automated.
  5. Customer retention. Technology can run analytics on your marketing campaigns and activities, thus, enabling you with actionable insights on how your customers react to your propositions. You can also create restriction rules to automatically segmentize leads based on their previous action. While the CRM/sales team does the actual action, for example, pitching to a customer based on his interest, it is marketing automation software that makes the insight available. Customers are more receptive and easier to retain when you understand their interests, concerns and pain points.
  6. Measurable campaigns. Many marketing automation solutions allow for tracking campaigns with detailed reports on measurable costs and feedback metrics like number of subscribers, downloads, click-throughs and other call-to-action results. This gives you the ability to report measurable post-campaign analysis and take actions based on data, not hunches.
  7. Centralized hub. Marketing automation pulls together the activities and records of different marketing activities like SEO, CRM, email marketing, inbound marketing and social media. If you have different teams handling these activities, you’re assured they’re using consistent data and, more importantly, picking up on each other’s updates and insights. For example, an email campaign topic generated the most qualified leads, which the SEO team can pattern a set of keywords after and see if it can generate new streams of organic searches.
  8. Revenues. With workflow efficiency and a healthy flow of leads into your sales funnel, you can expect more revenues versus doing things manually. Even if you do not realize more sales at once, you can immediately cut down on costs by reducing unproductive hours.

HubSpot Marketing featuring landing page performance and other metrics.

What Are the Types of Marketing Automation Software?

How does marketing automation software work? It depends on the type, as follow:

  1. CRM integrated. Many CRM solutions today have marketing automation-integrated tools to make lead generation a seamless experience from top-of-funnel to conversion. If not fully packages, at least marketing automation and CRM are modularized and have native integration.
  2. Email marketing. Marketing automation has its beginnings with email marketing software. Many mailers are established and have maintained their email marketing UI as the core functionality, but they now offer newer marketing automation features like lead scoring, landing page integration and analytics beyond the open-click metric.
  3. Marketing automation. This is the true category featuring the standard tools, such as: forms, landing pages, lead scoring, lead database, reporting and analytics and pre-built or integrated email marketing and CRM functions.
  4. Marketing analytics. They can be standalone apps or modules to a bigger marketing automation system. They lend more powerful analytics to the base system and cross over to business intelligence category.
  5. Social marketing. These are marketing automation solutions with focus on social media functionalities such as Twitter and LinkedIn prospecting, brand mention tracking on Facebook and triggered posts on your pages based on your rules on keywords, hashtags or mentions.

What Does Marketing Automation Software Do?

What does marketing automation software do? Here are the main features of marketing automation software, which you should look for when subscribing to one.

  1. Lead scoring. Allows you to automatically grade leads based on specific criteria you set, including demographics, prospect behaviors and historical interactions. You assign a weight to each criterion and the system aggregates them to calculate the prospect’s lead score. The lead scores can be segregated by range and automatically funneled to their respective workflows. For example, lead scores from 8 to 10 are assigned as sales-qualified leads and forwarded to the CRM system.
  2. Lead database. The lead database captures a qualified prospect’s details and other marketing activities like web visits, email clicks and downloads. This database funnels leads to your CRM sales pipeline and, once converted, into your main customer database. The lead database may also allow for segmentation to help you target groups.
  3. Lead nurturing. Generally runs workflows designed to filter or shortlist prospects, which include managing the processes in email marketing and other channels and capturing data that helps in further qualifying leads.
  4. Email marketing. It allows email drip campaigns and features newsletter and email templates or an WYSIWYG editor that lets you design your layout with ease. It allows for mass emails to targeted lists with a tracking tool to view number of opens and click-throughs. It may also feature an advanced tool for triggered emails, which send the right response in real time to specific customer actions. Likewise, some solutions also feature A/B testing as an add-on.
  5. CRM integration. Once the leads are qualified at the top-of-funnel, they are sent to the sales team; hence, marketing automation software should have seamless CRM integration. The integration can be with a third-party solution or as an add-on to the marketing automation software.
  6. Forms and landing pages. A WYSIWYG editor helps you create landing pages with form, rich text and graphics without the need for a graphic artist or tech person. A form is embedded on the landing page to collect lead data and funneled into your database for lead scoring. The landing page can also include dynamic content, where images, texts and calls-to-action are customized to the lead based on profiling like geolocation, industry, job title, previous interactions with you, etc.
  7. Progressive profiling. It is a smart form that delivers the right fields to different leads. A web visitor is analyzed for key details (example, IP address, source page,  Y/N customer) and is led to a series of unique short forms to capture specific data. This feature may also require social credentials for deeper profiling.
  8. Reporting & analytics. You can calculate individual campaign’s cost and ROI and generally your marketing activities by running analytics on key metrics and sliced and diced in different ways, such as, open emails, downloads, lead volume, etc. In conjunction with CRM, you can associate these values against sales metrics like conversion rate, win-loss rate and total sales.
  9. Mobile-optimized. Mobile-optimized landing pages and emails help you target users who access the internet from their smartphones or tablets. Mobile-optimized also means you can access the system and your data on the go.

ActiveCampaign dashboard.


What Should You Consider When Buying a Marketing Automation System?

Here are the factors to consider before getting marketing automation software.

  1. Pricing vs. value. Don’t be limited by the actual price alone. Check the feature set and analyze how much value you’ll get for each plan. For example, you may have to add twenty buck for a higher plan, but if it means more automation for you or marketing channels that greatly expand your lead reach, then the added costs may be worth it.
  2. Lead process. Marketing automation often uses if/then branching for email drip campaigns and other channels. While your workflows are likely to fit this structure, check how many paths you can create and if the software allows it. Some campaigns may require up to five tiers to capture highly refined lists. Map your lead process construction and match it against the solution’s capability.
  3. CRM integration. Marketing automation qualifies top-of-funnel leads that are fed into the sales funnel that is often hosted in the CRM system. Make sure there is smooth integration between systems without requiring manual intervention. Plug-and-play and native integration is preferred to minimize glitches or the need for middleware.
  4. List building. Leads shouldn’t only be listed but categorized in different ways to discover opportunities. For example, you should be able to capture prospects who didn’t click on your last email blast to help you craft a different strategy for this group. Creating a sub-list without duplicating records is valuable in list building.
  5. Social and search. Look for solutions that go beyond email marketing and have social and search functionality. Can you prospect on Twitter and LinkedIn or monitor brand mentions on Facebook? Likewise, can the solution do SEO audits on your websites and landing pages? These are channels teeming with leads and must be included in your marketing automation.
  6. WYSIWYG editor. Templates are nice to have to fast-track the job, but sometimes you need a unique layout to your email or newsletter to have more impact or align your visuals better.  Most solutions have a WYSIWYG editor, but check how much customization tools one allows.  You should be flexible enough to mix and match rich text and graphics and embed media.  
  7. Usability. The software must be easy to set up and understand, so that you and your team can quickly adopt it into the day-to-day workflow. The reporting must also accommodate the key metrics that matter to you and vendor support must be reliable. These aspects ensure that your experience with the solution will be productive and positive.

Marketo’s social metrics.

What’s the Cost of Marketing Automation  Software?

Here’s the cost of marketing automation software as offered by the top platforms in the niche.

  1. HubSpot Marketing. It has a free app inclusive of contact forms, lead capture pop-up forms and traffic and conversion analytics. Paid plans start at $200 per month with onboarding costs of $600.
  2. Marketo. By quote only. The vendor aims to customize a plan that fits your processes and situation to the tee.
  3. bpm’online marketing. Pricing here is also by quote, where cost is dependent on your number of contacts, users and other factors. A calculator on its product site though helps give you a calculated guess of the cost.
  4. ActiveCampaign. Its plans are based on modules, starting with the basic email marketing. Higher plans include CRM and SMS marketing. Pricing starts at $9 per month.
  5. LeadSquared Marketing Automation. It has three pricing plans that scale to the number of contacts from 5,000 to 100,000. Pricing starts at $150 per month.

What Are Potential Issues When Implementing an Marketing Automation Software?

Here are the potential problems you may encounter with marketing automation software and it isn’t always the product’s fault.

  1. Under utilization. For lack of interface intuitiveness or reliable onboarding and training, the solution may not be used to its fullest capability. Users may only scratch the surface of the product, often literally just digitizing their traditional tasks. For example, the software may end up just a database of leads much like a spreadsheet, when users miss the underlying pre-built features that leverage automation and analytics.
  2. Lack of content. Without content to feed into the marketing automation system, you undermine the solution’s capability to qualify leads. The solution is just a tool and won’t build you content. If you lack for assets, it’s better to build a pool first like whitepapers and ebooks before implementing marketing automation.
  3. Old habits. Your team may be stuck with sending mass emails rather than leveraging the power of sublists, which marketing automation software is an enabler. This is but a classic case of old habits getting in the way of new technology. Organizational change is difficult especially down to the day-to-day barebone task, but with long-term management commitment to steady the transition, the team should gradually appreciate the shift to the efficient combination of automation and personalization in marketing 2.0.
  4. Limited integration. Marketing automation software should smoothly integrate with CRM. if you find yourself manually exporting marketing-qualified leads to the sales pipeline, something is wrong with the integration. The lead database in marketing automation should automatically feed data to the CRM’s sales funnel and, later, onto the customer database. Likewise, marketing automation software must be able to pull up sales data to match the former’s data against and generate more precise marketing reports like campaign ROI and lead-vs-conversion ratio.
  5. No social or search channels. Marketing automation software excels in email drip marketing, but it should also make room for social and search functionalities to cover more leads. Social and search leads are ideal top-of-funnel leads that marketing automation should be qualifying.  
  6. Automated marketing. There is a misconception that these solutions automate marketing; no, they automate marketing workflows. You still need to conceptualize campaigns and analyze feedback, then fine tune future campaigns. You still need to seek growth areas and plan out expansion. What the solutions do is free you from manual tasks, so you can focus on strategic planning. The last thing you want is your team to keep the same campaigns running without bothering to come up with new ideas, and believe that the lead pool won’t dry up.

What Are the Latest Trends in Marketing Automation Software?

  1. Predictive analytics. Lead scoring are going beyond standard preset metrics like demographics, geolocation and past purchases. Predictive analytics leverages and aggregate all retrievable data of the prospect to arrive at an accurate profiling of the lead. This enables technology to predict if the lead follows a pattern to conversion or not based on tested probability measures, leading to more accurate lead scoring.
  2. Artificial intelligence. It’s the mother technology that drives machine learning and predictive analytics, among others. Its application to marketing automation is broad, from personalization of campaigns based on aggregated big data to replacing humans in a number of marketing-related jobs like marketing assistants and the entire account-maintenance team. AI frees marketers to focus on creative pursuits leading to innovations.
  3. Content marketing integration. Having engaging content is half the problem solved to attract leads. The other half is how to show content at the right time to the right person. By integrating content distribution to marketing automation software, you can now deliver the appropriate asset at exactly the moment a lead demands it from whatever channel.
  4. As a CRM module. We believe more CRM solutions will feature marketing automation features that, eventually, this category will be absorbed into the CRM niche. The reason it isn’t the other way around is because the central customer database is hosted in the CRM system, where all other systems tend to gravitate to.

By Nestor Gilbert

Senior writer for FinancesOnline. If he is not writing about the booming SaaS and B2B industry, with special focus on developments in CRM and business intelligence software spaces, he is editing manuscripts for aspiring and veteran authors. He has compiled years of experience editing book titles and writing for popular marketing and technical publications.

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