Evaluate Weigh the pros and cons of technologies, products and projects you are considering.

Make marketing automation software choices to fit business needs

Examine what core features leading marketing automation software vendors -- including Adobe, HubSpot and Oracle -- and CRM vendors -- including Microsoft, Salesforce and SAP -- offer.

When it comes to marketing automation software, choices abound. There are more than 5,000 products by some counts. Different vendors offer varying services and functionality. By closely examining specific products and the vendors offering them, decision-makers can determine which marketing automation platform is right for their organization.

The marketing automation market can be divided up in a number of ways, but here's a useful distinction: Some vendors offer marketing automation-specific tools, while others provide native marketing automation features as part of their CRM platform. This puts an interesting twist on things: If the organization doesn't need a full-blown CRM suite with features beyond automated marketing, a product from a vendor in that first group may be sufficient.

Sometimes, an organization already uses a CRM suite that generally fits its needs, but lacks a level of automation specificity its marketing workflow requires. In those cases, the business may consider replacing it with a product that does. Or it may even wish to investigate if one vendor's marketing automation platform will integrate with the company's existing CRM suite.

Core features of a marketing automation software suite

Most marketing automation software offers these features:

Lead nurturing. The nurturing of leads is detailed, often customized and laborious. Automating this important marketing process provides systematic tracking of leads so the organization can pinpoint where that lead is in the sales cycle, thus helping ensure a sales opportunity isn't missed. 

Campaign management. Campaigns are often multichannel and detail-intensive, so every task that's automated saves marketers precious time. It's more efficient to create a message once and send it out across many channels from a single point, rather than sending it separately many times.

Integration with CRM. Although this is redundant in the case of CRM platforms with native marketing automation features, this is an essential feature for stand-alone marketing automation tools. The data gathered and milestones achieved feed into the bigger CRM picture.

Lead scoring. The ability to evaluate leads upfront and monitor them as they develop is a critical step in an efficient sales and marketing process. Automated lead scoring improves the quality of that step by ranking the most-likely-to-buy customers and putting them at the top of the list so businesses can concentrate on those customers most likely to close sales.

Social media marketing. Increasingly, social media is the essential touch point of customer sentiment. Effective social media campaigns drive engagement, leads and revenue.  

Email marketing. Automated marketing via email remains a cornerstone of an effective campaign and its automation can be sophisticated. For example, passive welcome, thank you and birthday messaging can be created for stimulating follow-up page views. In addition, product feedback systems and renewal notifications with offers can be all fully automated, with content selected and embedded passively.

Analytics. Automating analytics delivers insights into how people are engaging with marketing efforts and gives organizations options for sharing important stats on landing pages, complex updates of progress tracking and passive refresh of visualizations.   

Products from top marketing automation vendors

Some vendors offer marketing automation-specific tools, while others provide native marketing automation features as part of their CRM platform. This puts an interesting twist on things.

Let's examine some leading marketing automation software products:

Adobe Marketing Cloud. This account-driven management framework focuses on revenue-driving leads and revenue attribution, the gathering of strategic customer data that increases the understanding of a marketing campaign's impact.

HubSpot Marketing. This highly automated lead nurturing tool includes an email drip feature and personalized workflows that are constructed with an easy-to-use visual user interface.

Marketo Engagement Platform. An Adobe acquisition, Marketo is a broad engagement platform with marketing automation features that include lead identification and nurturing, as well as relationship management features directed at long-term development of prospective sales leads.

Oracle Eloqua. Oracle's Eloqua marketing automation tools offer users strong personalization features and the ability to construct dynamic customer journeys.

Salesforce Pardot. A B2B-specific Salesforce tool, Pardot is strong on analytics, particularly the consolidation of customer information in a centralized location and format.

CRM vendors offering marketing automation modules and tools

These leading vendors offer CRM suites that include marketing automation:

Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Marketing. This platform has several marketing automation strengths, including strong tracking of marketing performance and AI-driven market insights that exploit social media.

Oracle Marketing Cloud. Oracle's Marketing Cloud focuses not only on customer acquisition, but also customer retention. This tool is flexible with channels and provides exhaustive analytics, from multichannel ROI analysis to buying pattern analysis to Infinity, its big data insights toolkit.

Salesforce Marketing Cloud. Salesforce's general marketing automation tools are broad in scope, covering B2B, B2C and the ability to build out one-to-one customer journeys.

SAP Marketing Cloud. Strong on customer engagement, SAP's Marketing Cloud enables customers to be grouped into segments for more efficient communication and features useful scenario fit functionality. This helps users configure communications and content supplementation around specific campaign models.

Which marketing automation products integrate with other systems?

Integration is a major consideration when buying marketing automation software. Marketing systems -- especially automated ones -- often must integrate with other systems in order to achieve the desired automation.

Integrating data between systems is seldom easy. It isn't just moving the data around. It's typing the data, the metadata surrounding it and differences in data structures where specific items reside -- so plugins really are important. When researching a vendor's product, look for proven integrations with products and systems the organization already has in place to see if plugins are available and what integration support the vendor offers.

Editor's note: Using extensive research into the marketing automation market, TechTarget editors focused this article series on marketing automation vendors with leading market share. Our research included internal reports, as well as material from other respected research firms, including Gartner and Forrester Research.

How big is the company?

Another major consideration in a marketing automation software purchase is the size of the business.  While many vendors cater to organizations of all sizes, some only serve enterprise-level businesses, and others market to smaller companies. The organization's size may eliminate some vendors from consideration.

Criteria for first-time buyers of marketing automation software

When buying marketing automation software for the first time, as opposed to considering a replacement for a current deployment, there are several special considerations to factor into the buying decision:

Training and expertise. While the point of marketing automation is largely to conserve marketing personnel resources, it's essential to have strong in-house understanding of both the marketing automation software being implemented and, more importantly, the processes being automated. What does the vendor offer in terms of training? How deep and accessible are the vendor's instructional resources? Are they a good match for the business's required level of in-house knowledge?

Support. Support needs vary by organization. Look into the vendor's service desk, how it works, how many channels it uses and its track record per previous and existing customers.

Integration from scratch versus reintegrating. If the organization is a first-time marketing automation buyer, the integration of new marketing automation processes with existing CRM systems must be considered, both in terms of cost and development bandwidth required. How seamlessly does the selected software integrate with software and processes already in place? This is something that can be determined ahead of time. Even if the organization is ripping and replacing one marketing automation toolkit with another, it's still an important question to ask.

The road ahead. Another step that should be part of every major software purchase is a review of all potential vendors' roadmaps for their software. An upcoming change to a product could end up costing the organization time and money, so it's imperative to know these things before making a purchase decision. For example, many vendors offer their software suites for local installation or via cloud-based services. If an organization requires the former, but the software will be a cloud-only offering in the next two years, this could have a huge impact. There's usually a roadmap for the near- and long-term evolution of the software on the vendor's website, or a sales rep can provide that information.

Editor's note: TechTarget offers account-based marketing and project intelligence data, tools and services.

This was last published in March 2019

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