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Updated Jan 13, 2024

Marketing Automation Buyer’s Guide

Learn everything you need to know about marketing automation software before purchasing a solution for your small business.

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Shayna Waltower, Business Operations Insider and Senior Writer
Verified Check With BorderEditor Reviewed
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Editor Reviewed
This guide was reviewed by a Business News Daily editor to ensure it provides comprehensive and accurate information to aid your buying decision.

Table of Contents

Open row
  • Marketing automation software is useful for all types of digital marketing channels, including email, social media, text message and web.
  • The benefits of using marketing automation software include better leads, increased employee productivity and improved customer retention.
  • Pricing varies based on the provider, the size of your contact list and the features your business needs.
  • This guide is for small business owners and marketers who want to learn about marketing automation software and how much it costs.

Marketing automation is a must-have tool for modern marketers looking to streamline tasks, boost productivity and lower costs. According to Acumen Research and Consulting, marketing automation is one of the fastest-growing technologies available, with a projected 12.1% compound annual growth rate through 2030. This guide will explain what marketing automation software is, how it works, its benefits, pricing and where to buy the software.

Editor‘s note: Trying to choose an online marketing solution? Use the questionnaire below to receive information from a variety of vendors for free:

What is marketing automation software?

Marketing automation software allows marketing teams to streamline, automate and analyze marketing tasks and workflows, including lead generation, segmentation, lead capture and nurturing. Marketing automation allows you to nurture leads using well-targeted content to convert them into satisfied customers, improving customer retention and providing access to detailed analytics.

“[These] solutions help marketers to automate repetitive tasks and communication touchpoints for more effective marketing campaigns,” said Rafal Kloc, head of product marketing at LiveChat. “They’re usually used to automate processes, such as product onboarding, reactivation campaigns, feedback-gathering, upselling campaigns, etc. They speed up the work significantly and, once implemented, facilitate data flow and bring a more personalized experience to customers.”

Marketing automation software can be used to complete several key marketing tasks, including:

  • Tracking and optimizing user engagement
  • Converting leads into customers
  • Fixing a “leaky” sales funnel
  • Lead qualification
  • Closing marketing inefficiencies and tech gaps

Marketing automation won’t do everything for you, though. The software is designed to automate certain processes to make your job easier, but it still requires human input from sales and marketing teams.

Key TakeawayKey takeaway
Marketing automation is the process of automating tedious or time-consuming marketing tasks. It is designed to streamline your marketing process.

Who uses marketing automation software?

Though any business can use marketing automation software, businesses with a strong online presence tend to use it the most.

“All departments can use marketing automation software, but above all, marketing, sales and product teams,” said Kloc. “These teams most often decide to implement such solutions when they see a repetitive process of communication with the customer that can be automated.”

The top industries using marketing automation software include:

B2B companies

Business-to-business (B2B) companies sell their services directly to other businesses. Marketing automation software offers B2B companies control over their audiences, customer data and campaign success markers while reducing the risk of wasting money on unsuccessful marketing campaigns.

Primary B2B adopters of marketing automation software include:

  • Software and internet companies
  • Telecommunications companies
  • Computer and electronics companies
  • Financial services companies

B2C companies

Business-to-consumer (B2C) companies use marketing automation software to improve their multichannel marketing strategy by identifying areas for improvement, tracking progress and automating menial tasks. B2C companies also use marketing automation to lower overhead costs, generate leads and improve data analysis.

Primary adopters B2C adopters of marketing automation software include:

  • Retail and e-commerce businesses
  • Manufacturing companies
  • Real estate companies

Main components of marketing automation software 

“In general, the main point of marketing automation software is to free up key resources within businesses that are done in a manual fashion while also enabling companies to explore concepts such as microsegmentation and personalization at scale,” said Sohum Talreja, expert consultant at Boston Consultant Group.

There are four main components of marketing automation software:

  • A central marketing database: This is where data on prospective leads, customer interactions and user behaviors are stored and analyzed to help you segment and tailor your marketing messages to customers.
  • An engagement marketing engine: This component is where you create, manage and automate your marketing processes and conversations on all of your channels, both on and offline.
  • An analytics engine: This is how you will test, measure and optimize your marketing ROI and revenue impacts. This engine helps you see what is working well, what isn’t working and which areas of your marketing strategy need improvement.
  • A marketing technology stack: Also referred to as a MarTech stack, this stack comprises all the other applications you use (SaaS platforms, social media tools, content management systems, communication tools and analytics tools) to accomplish your marketing goals.

Marketing automation features

It’s important to know which features are critical for your business when choosing a marketing automation software solution. For those who are not familiar with the software, below is a brief explanation of the most common features.


Segmentation is the practice of dividing your customers or audience into groups based on a common factor like demographic information, buying behavior, needs or interests. Segmentation helps you target your marketing so customers receive content that is interesting and relevant to them.

Mobile optimization

Marketing automation software helps ensure that your content is sized to fit mobile screens and is scrollable. This is also a key SEO consideration so your web content ranks highly on search engines.

A/B testing

With A/B testing, also known as split testing, you run two versions of the same campaign. The goal is to test audiences and determine which version performs better. Marketing automation software sends the tests, analyzes the results and automatically sends the better-performing version to the rest of your customers.

Lead nurturing

With this feature, the software tracks, segments and communicates with your leads to convert them from prospects to customers. Lead-nurturing capabilities vary from basic to advanced depending on the provider. Basic capabilities include segmentation and lead scoring; advanced capabilities include cross-channel engagement tracking and journey flows.

Drip campaigns

With drip campaigns, customers are sent a series of pregenerated emails or texts that encourage them to complete specific actions, such as make a purchase or subscribe to a newsletter.

Task automation and alerts

With this feature, employees are notified when a task is completed or needs their attention. For example, when a drip campaign is sent out to customers, the marketing automation software can send an alert to the appropriate employee to check that the campaign was sent to the correct groups.

Lead scoring

Lead scoring ranks prospective consumers based on certain factors to determine how likely they are to engage with your company and buy from you. Scores are calculated based on the type of communication the lead receives from your business, the frequency of that communication, and the customer’s demographic and behavioral information. The score helps you know when it’s time to contact a prospect directly during their buying journey.

Automatic lead assignment

You can program the software to automatically assign a lead to one of your sales representatives to continue moving the lead through the sales funnel.

Visitor tracking

Visitor tracking informs you who is viewing your website, how long each visitor spends on each page and what content the visitor engages with. Visitor tracking helps you see which types of visitors are attracted to your content and which content performs the best.

Marketing content hosting

This feature allows you to host (i.e., upload and publish) content for your website through the marketing automation tool.

Marketing content tracking

By hosting content through the software, you can track its traffic and performance. This data can provide you with valuable information about which content is and isn’t working and where you need to make improvements.

Progressive profiling

Forms are a great way to capture leads – if they are the right length. Progressive profiling decreases the number of fields in forms to include only those that are strictly necessary, shortening the amount of time leads spend filling out the forms. After the lead has been created, they are shown additional fields that they can choose to fill out.

Dynamic content

Dynamic content allows you to display custom content based on who is viewing your site. Dynamic content can be used on landing pages, emails, web forms and templates.

Contact management

Contact management stores and organizes your contact lists so you can segment and pull contact information for your audience. It also enables you to view customers’ buying and contact information and save notes from sales representatives.


The ability to integrate with other tools can further synergize your productivity and bolster the capabilities of your marketing automation software. Popular integrations include webinar connectors, social media, URL shorteners, communication tools, paid advertising and CRM.

Analytics and reporting

Analytics and reporting features are an integral part of any marketing automation software, since they inform you about what is and isn’t working, with detailed reports on campaigns, costs and followers.

Some of the main features you should look for in a marketing automation software solution are analytics and reporting, integrations, contact management, and visitor tracking.

How to use marketing automation software

To get started with your marketing automation software journey, follow these four steps:

1. Plan.

The most important step in using marketing automation software is creating a detailed plan that outlines how you will use it, how you will track your success and what goals you want to accomplish using the software.

Think about your overall marketing strategy and what you want marketing automation software to do for you. Then, make a list of features you want the software to have.

Notify your provider of any other business software you want the marketing automation software integrated with, as many marketing automation tools integrate with other platforms.

2. Implement the software.

Once you’ve decided on a solution, most providers offer implementation and onboarding services, though most providers charge extra for this service. Train the appropriate people on your team, and designate your leaders. Have frequent check-ins with everyone who uses the software to ensure that it is meeting their needs and working as it should.

3. Determine how you will measure success.

Have a plan in place to properly measure and track your marketing efforts. The four key performance indicators (KPIs) you should focus on with your marketing automation software are:

  • Acquisition: Are you gaining new customers?
  • Engagement: Are your customers interacting with your content?
  • Conversion: Are your leads moving through the buying journey?
  • Retention: Are your customers remaining with your business?

4. Optimize where necessary.

Once you have enough data collected, you’ll use that information to optimize your content and marketing strategy for better results. Evaluate which marketing strategies your audience responds best to, and apply those strategies to areas where you are struggling.

Customizing marketing automation software

Marketing automation is a highly customizable process that you adjust to achieve your specific business goals and objectives. Below are three ways that marketers use marketing automation software:

1. Determining criteria

To gain the greatest benefit from marketing automation software, you will want to specify the criteria and precise outcomes for specific tasks and processes you want the software to do. Those criteria are then interpreted, stored and acted upon by the software. 

For example, with email marketing, you may want to set up a drip campaign so that every customer who opts in to receiving your email marketing communications gets a personalized welcome message. Similarly, you could create an automation so customers who leave items in their cart on your ecommerce website receive a message reminding them to complete checkout, reducing cart abandonment rates.

2. Utilizing cookies

Cookies track visitor behavior on your website; they collect user data and can inform your marketing strategies. Data collected via cookies can tell you things like what content visitors are engaging the most with, what other websites visitors are going to and what they’re searching for online. This information allows you to optimize your content to improve its appeal among your customers by making it more relevant. 

Marketing automation software can be used in conjunction with the data captured by cookies to better serve ads to your customers. It can also be used to personalize marketing communications across all channels.

3. Using forms to collect information

Web forms are a great way to collect customer information. Marketing automation software allows marketers to create web forms, and then automatically collects data and sends communications to the user who filled out the form. It also automates lead qualification based on user responses to these web forms (as well as data collected by cookies), helping sales and marketing teams identify which leads are most likely to be converted into customers.

Benefits of using marketing automation software

These six benefits make marketing automation software an effective tool for any sales or marketing team, and could help boost your bottom line:

1. Higher conversion rates

Marketing automation can direct your marketing content to customers who are interested in your business, which can help you boost the likelihood of a sale or converting a lead into a customer. This is because marketing automation software ensures leads are properly nurtured at every stage of the sales funnel, preventing a lapse in communication from causing a lost sale.

2. Increased employee productivity

By automating tedious, manual marketing tasks, your employees can devote time to more important tasks. Marketing automation software can help create a smoother process by assigning and tracking tasks, alerting team members to new developments, automating scheduling, facilitating communication, and enabling collaboration.

3. Personalized buying journey

According to McKinsey’s Next in Personalization 2021 report, 71% of consumers expect companies to provide them with personalized buying experiences. Marketing automation software collects information from each customer, analyzing their user behavior and capturing data that your team then uses to craft customized content for each customer.

4. Better leads

It’s tempting to believe that the more leads you have, the more successful your campaigns are. However, you have a higher chance of success by converting those leads into customers if you adopt a targeted approach. Marketing automation software helps you hone your strategy by identifying which leads have the most potential based on a scoring system you determine.

With your leads in hand, you can automate drip campaigns and other communications to keep consumers interested in your business. The software does this by analyzing the customer’s behavior and deploying targeted campaigns based on that information.

5. Centralized reporting and analytics

Using all of the pertinent data that is stored and organized about your customers, you can put that data to work for you in your marketing campaigns. With all of your data in one place, salespeople and marketers can easily access information on the complete marketing ecosystem and use it to refine their strategies and tactics.

6. Rich customer profiles

By pairing marketing automation software with a customer relationship management (CRM) system, you can create an in-depth database of your customers. Customer profiles come complete with detailed behavioral tracking information, demographics and user behavior – all of which help you tailor the customer experiences.

Did You Know?Did you know
Marketing automation software can have many benefits, including increased revenue, better leads, measurable indicators of success and improved workflows.

How to choose the right marketing automation software

With dozens of marketing automation software applications to choose from, it can be difficult to know which one is right for you and your business.

“A marketing strategy is never purchased and is never software,” said Bryant Lau, head of demand generation for Flockjay. “The decision about what solution to purchase should be first based upon an understanding of what your marketing strategy is, as well as the skill set of your team or your hiring plan for the near term.”

Here are six factors to pay close attention to as you evaluate marketing automation software:

1. User interface

The user interface is how the platform looks; it determines how you use and navigate the software. The interface should be clear and easy to use, and it shouldn’t have a steep learning curve. Ask whether the provider offers a demo (or a free trial). In your demo or free trial, look for clear, logical navigation and prompts that provide context when you hover over certain fields or explain what the feature or function does.

2. Features and native integrations

Consider the features and integrations the platform includes. We recommend that you test platforms with different features – even ones you don’t think you need or will ever use – so you know which ones can help your business. Additionally, consider the technologies you already use, and verify that the software integrates with them.

3. Customer support

When you’re learning a new system and introducing it to your team, you want dedicated support that will help you set it up and provide technical support when you need it. Customer support typically varies depending on the provider, so think beforehand about the type of support you want (e.g., phone, live chat, email) and the level of support (general, dedicated, 24/7 help line). When talking with companies, ask how long the response times are, which types of support are offered and what other resources the provider offers so you can resolve issues on your own.

4. Resources

Consider what resources are available – how-to guides, webinars, frequently asked questions. Also, look at what those resources can teach you, how you can access them (i.e., whether you have to log in or if they’re posted on the website) and how often those resources are updated.

5. Pricing

As you consider pricing, ask the provider how quickly and easily the platform can scale should your business change in size, which features affect the pricing and what other fees you are responsible for. Look for companies that are upfront and transparent about their pricing. You should be able to easily determine how much you’ll pay.

6. Setup and onboarding

Marketing automation software requires setup and onboarding from the provider, and the level of assistance can vary depending on whom you choose. Ask what kind of setup and onboarding support is offered, if you have to pay extra for it and how much that fee is, whether the process is done remotely or in person, and whether you need to migrate from one system to another.

Marketing automation pricing

There are many different marketing automation software providers, each of which offers different price structures and features. Depending on the provider, pricing may be a monthly subscription (SaaS – software as a service), or you may have to provide specific information about your company to get a custom quote.

With most SaaS solutions, expect to pay anywhere from $15 to $90 per month for basic plans with limited capabilities and features. More advanced plans cost $100 to $270 per month, while the most comprehensive plans cost $300 or more per month.

Providers typically price their plans in one of these two ways:

  • Monthly subscription plan (SaaS): Most vendors offer a monthly subscription plan with various tiers based on the features and number of contacts supported. The highest pricing tiers generally include integrations with sales platforms and advanced features such as data encryption, predictive content and website retargeting. This plan is the most common type and is suitable for companies that are looking for a multifunctional tool that allows them to run analytics, nurture and convert leads, and collaborate with other teams.
  • Per-contact, per-month plan: This plan type is less common. In this structure, the vendor charges you based on the number of contacts you have in your database. These providers often have a calculator on their website – you input your number of contacts and the vendor instantly remits a quote. This plan type is ideal for B2C companies that have a high volume of potential leads.

There are other costs to be aware of when looking at marketing automation software. The four most common are:

  • Implementation and onboarding: The provider may require you to purchase an implementation and onboarding package, which covers migrating your company’s data, setting up your dashboard, training your staff and holding post-implementation check-ins.
  • Additional features: If you want features that are not included in your original monthly package, some providers let you purchase these for an extra fee.
  • Customer service: While most plans include some form of customer support with the monthly subscription fee, you may need to pay extra for priority support, 24/7 access or a dedicated customer support representative.
  • Consulting: Some providers offer consulting services, which may be offered as one-on-one sessions, webinars or feedback on campaigns.

Marketing automation software providers

Below are samples of pricing plans we encountered for marketing automation software during our review of leading software providers:

1. ActiveCampaign

ActiveCampaign has four pricing plans. The Lite plan is $29 per month for up to 1,000 contacts, three users, unlimited sending, email marketing, and chat and email support. The Plus plan costs $49 per month for 1,000 contacts, 25 users, CRM integration, contact and lead scoring, and custom branded forms and landing pages.

The Professional plan costs $149 per month for 1,000 contacts, 50 users, site messaging, attribution and predictive sending. The Enterprise plan offers custom pricing options that reflect the features you need. It allows unlimited users, custom reporting, a dedicated account representative and design services.

2. Ortto

Ortto offers five pricing tiers. The first is a free option for 2,000 contacts. The Campaign plan is $29 per month for 2,000 contacts along with some additional features, such as email support and geotargeting, that aren’t included in the free version. The Professional plan is $99 for 5,000 contacts. The Business plan is $299 per month for 20,000 contacts.

The Enterprise option allows you to customize a plan to fit your business’s marketing strategy. Ortto offers several add-ons (fees apply), including Salesforce CRM integration.

3. AWeber

AWeber has a free plan that offers many marketing automation basics, including web push notifications and email templates for up to 500 contacts. Its paid plan offers unlimited emails, integrations, image hosting and templates. AWeber’s model charges customers based on the number of contacts they have:

  • Up to 500 contacts: $16.15 per month
  • Up to 2,500 contacts: $26.15 per month
  • Up to 5,000 contacts: $46.15 per month
  • Up to 10,000 contacts: $66.15 per month
  • Up to 25,000 contacts: $146.15 per month

4. GetResponse

GetResponse offers four pricing plans – here, too, pricing is based on the company’s number of contacts. Here’s more about its four plans:

  • GetResponse has a free plan that includes unlimited newsletters and a basic website builder.
  • The Email Marketing plan ranges from $15.58 per month for 1,000 contacts to $441.98 per month for 100,000 contacts. For that monthly cost, you get email marketing, autoresponders, unlimited landing pages, basic segmentation and integration options.
  • The Marketing Automation plan ranges from $48.38 per month for 1,000 contacts to $491.18 per month for 100,000 contacts. Included features are everything in the Email Marketing plan, plus marketing automation, advanced segmentation, webinars, auto funnels and contact scoring.
  • The E-commerce Marketing plan ranges between $97.58 per month for 1,000 contacts and $573.18 per month for 100,000 contacts and includes everything in the Marketing Automation plan, as well as advanced automation features, product recommendations, transactional emails and abandoned cart recovery.

Finally, the Max and MAX2 options offer more advanced marketing features at custom prices. A dedicated IP address, unlimited users, marketing automation strategy consulting and webinars for up to 1,000 viewers are some of the features that come with the MAX2 option. 

Marketing automation FAQs

Below are some common frequently asked questions entrepreneurs have about marketing automation software. 

How should cost factor into your selection of marketing automation software?

Cost should be an important consideration, but it should not be the deciding factor. After you have researched companies and have an idea of which features your business needs, set a budget and then ask the providers what you can get within that budget.

How does email marketing automation work?

Marketing automation automatically completes key marketing tasks like drip campaigns or lead scoring through the manual input of guidelines, rules and triggers that tell the software what to do and when.

What marketing tools can be automated?

Many marketing functions can be automated, including email marketing, lead scoring, form filling, drip campaigns, lead nurturing and social media marketing.

What do you need to understand about your business to choose the right marketing automation software?

Know what your marketing goals are, what you want the software to do for you, which marketing activities you want to automate and what your audience wants to see from you.

How does marketing automation software improve continuous relationship maintenance?

Marketing automation can automatically respond to many regular customer interactions or questions, which maintains relationships and saves you time. It also helps build trust with customers, since they know they can count on a response from you.

What are the keys to implementing a successful marketing automation solution?

To ensure your marketing automation efforts reap dividends:

  • Have a detailed and well-thought-out marketing strategy.
  • Understand your audience and what they want from you.
  • Know what your customers’ buying journey looks like.
  • Gather plenty of data, and know how you will apply it to your marketing strategy.

What free marketing automation options are available?

Several providers offer free versions or free trials of their software, including Mailchimp, 366 Degrees, Ortto and Drip.

How do you choose the right marketing automation software vendor?

When choosing a marketing automation vendor, do plenty of research on what each provider offers, and know which features you need, which features you want and what type of customer support you are looking for. Finally, consider your business’s goals and how the provider will support and enable those goals.

Automating your marketing strategy

Marketing automation software can take all kinds of tedious manual tasks off your plate. It’s a common way for businesses of all shapes and sizes to simplify their marketing work – and you can follow their lead. As you research which marketing automation platform to use, consider options with seamless integrations, easy navigation and robust support. With the right tools, marketing can become that much easier.

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Shayna Waltower, Business Operations Insider and Senior Writer
Shayna Waltower is a business journalist with a multimedia background. She spent years doing on-the-ground reporting in local communities from coast to coast before narrowing her focus to helping small businesses nationwide streamline operations, attract customers and improve profitability. Waltower, with her previous experience in storytelling across mediums (broadcast, social media, etc.), enjoys not only producing digestible guides for business owners that break down complex topics but also helping entrepreneurs competently convey their brand stories to consumers. Over the years, Waltower has developed expertise in a number of wide-ranging but critical business areas and topics, including POS systems, workplace management and cybersecurity.
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