Learn everything you need to know about marketing automation software before purchasing a solution for your small business.
- 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 interested in buying marketing automation software who want to learn more about what the software does 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 Forrester's Marketing Automation Technology Forecast, marketing automation is one of the fastest-growing technologies available, with a projected 14% compound annual growth rate over the next five years.
This guide will explain what marketing automation software is, how it works, its benefits, pricing and where to buy the software.
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, relationship marketing, customer retention, analytics, and account-based marketing. The use of marketing automation can speed up processes and create personalized, targeted experiences for your customers, as well as eliminate tedious and time-consuming tasks for you and your employees.
"[These] solutions help marketers to automate repetitive tasks and communication touchpoints for more effective marketing campaigns," said Rafal Kloc, product marketing manager at HelpDesk. "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 bring a more personalized experience to customers."
Marketing automation, when leveraged correctly, allows you to nurture leads using well-targeted content to convert them into satisfied customers. It focuses your efforts on creating better customer experiences.
Marketing automation, however, won't do everything for you; the software is designed to automate certain processes to make your job easier, but it still requires significant effort on your part.
Marketing automation software can be used to help solve several common marketing problems, including:
- Tracking and optimizing user engagement
- Converting leads into customers
- Fixing a "leaky" sales funnel
- Qualifying leads
- Closing marketing inefficiencies and tech gaps
Key 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.
"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:
Business-to-business (B2B) companies sell their services directly to other businesses. Marketing automation software offers B2B companies control over their audience, 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
Business-to-consumer (B2C) companies use marketing automation software to improve their multichannel marketing strategy by identifying areas for improvement and 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
Key takeaway: Marketing automation software is used by several different industries, including retail, healthcare, financial and real estate companies.
Editor's note: Trying to choose an online marketing solution? Use the questionnaire below to receive information from a variety of vendors for free:
How marketing automation software works
"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, manager of MarTech and automations at FanDuel.
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 what 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.
To get started with your marketing automation software journey, follow these four steps:
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, what you want marketing automation software to do for you, and 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 everyone's needs and working as it should.
3. Plan 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 what 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:
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. That 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 signs up for your newsletter is automatically sent an email with a link to the newsletter.
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, which webpages are least visited and more. This information allows you to optimize your content to improve its appeal among your customers.
Using forms to collect information
Web forms are a great way to collect customer information. Marketing automation software creates and hosts forms, collects and sorts data, and sends information to the customer using the contact information they provided. The software helps companies identify which leads are most likely to be converted into customers, allowing you to focus on those leads.
Key takeaway: Companies use marketing automation software to automate key marketing tasks like drip campaigns and to glean customer data from cookies and web forms to maximize their marketing efforts.
Benefits of using marketing automation software
Here are 11 benefits of using marketing automation software:
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.
2. Increased employee productivity
By automating tedious, manual marketing tasks, your employees can devote time to other, more important tasks.
3. Improved workflow
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.
4. Deeper customer relationships
Because the software helps you personalize your marketing content, you can cultivate enhanced relationships with your customers.
5. Concrete measures of success
Marketing automation software provides an easy, quantifiable way to track your successes and see which areas need improvement by providing data on KPIs.
6. Personalized buying journey
Seventy-seven percent of buyers say they want unique content sent to them at each stage of their buying journey. 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.
7. Better leads
While it's tempting to believe that the more leads you have, the more successful your campaigns are 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.
8. Easier nurturing of leads
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.
9. 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.
10. 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.
11. Increased revenue
Marketing automation can increase revenue by targeting leads that are more likely to make a purchase, as well as deploying campaigns to retain that customer.
Key takeaway: Marketing automation software can have many benefits, including increased revenue, better leads, measurable indicators of success and improved workflows.
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 high volumes 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 support: 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 personal, dedicated customer support representative.
- Consulting: Some providers offer consulting services, which may be offered as one-on-one sessions, webinars or feedback on campaigns.
Sample pricing plans
Below are samples of pricing plans we encountered for marketing automation software during our review:
1. 366 Degrees
366 Degrees has three subscription plans that include email, landing page and social media support, as well as video embedding and built-in analytics. The Ignite plan is $125 per month for 50,000 contacts with a 14-day free trial. The Grow plan is $366 per month for 100,000 contacts (and you get free training). The Expand plan is $745 per month for 250,000 contacts.
ActiveCampaign has four pricing plans. The Lite plan is $15 per month for up to 500 contacts, three users, unlimited sending, email marketing, and chat and email support. The Plus plan costs $70 per month for 1,000 contacts, 25 users, CRM integration, contact and lead scoring, and custom domain branding. The Professional plan costs $159 per month for up to 2,500 contacts, 50 users, site messaging, attribution and predictive sending. The Enterprise plan is $279 per month for unlimited users, custom reporting, a dedicated account representative and design services.
Autopilot offers three pricing tiers. The Silver plan is $49 per month for 2,000 contacts. The Gold plan is $149 for 5,000 contacts. The Platinum plan is $249 per month for 10,000 contacts. Autopilot offers several add-ons (fees apply), including a dedicated IP address for $149 per month or Salesforce CRM integration for $199 per month. There is a one-time fee of $1,699 for onboarding and expert setup.
AWeber 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 costs $19 per month
- Up to 2,500 contacts costs $29 per month
- Up to 5,000 contacts costs $49 per month
- Up to 10,000 contacts costs $69 per month
- Up to 25,000 contacts costs $149 per month
GetResponse offers four pricing plans ‒ here, too, pricing is based on the company's number of contacts. GetResponse offers a 30-day free trial. Here's more about its four plans:
- The Basic plan ranges from $15 per month for 1,000 contacts to $450 per month for 100,000 contacts. For that monthly cost, you get email marketing, autoresponders, unlimited landing pages, unlimited automation templates, one sales funnel and unlimited lead funnels.
- The Plus plan ranges from $49 per month for 1,000 contacts and $499 per month for 100,000 contacts. Included features are everything in the Basic plan, plus landing pages, webinars, auto funnels and CRM integration.
- The Professional plan ranges between $99 per month for 1,000 contacts and $580 per month for 100,000 contacts and includes everything in the Plus plan, as well as advanced automation features and webinars for up to 300 attendees.
- The Enterprise plan is $1,199 per month. You get unlimited contacts, campaign consulting, single sign-on, an account manager and a dedicated IP address.
Key takeaway: Marketing automation software pricing depends on the vendor, the number of contacts you have, as well as which features are offered.
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.
With more people than using mobile devices, marketing automation software helps ensure that your content is sized to fit mobile screens and is scrollable. This is also a key SEO consideration that is important so your web content ranks highly on search engines.
Also referred to as split testing, with A/B testing, you run two different versions of the same campaign to test audiences to 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.
With this feature, the software tracks, segments and communicates with your leads to convert them from a prospect to a customer. 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.
With drip campaigns, customers are sent a series of pre-generated 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 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, as well as 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 informs you who is viewing your website, how long each visitor spends on each page, as well as what content the visitor engages with. Visitor tracking helps you see what 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, which can provide you with valuable information about which content is and isn't working and where you need to make improvements.
Forms are a great way to capture leads‒ if they are the right length. Progressive profiling decreases the number of fields in forms to only those that are strictly necessary, shortening the amount of time leads spend filling out the form. After the lead has been created, they are shown additional fields that they can choose to fill out.
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 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.
Ease of use
"Ease of use for marketing departments is huge, as many companies are seeking a solution to offload a lot of work delegated to their engineering and analytics team," said Talreja. "Does the software allow marketing associates to create segmented audiences without the use of SQL? Is there a drag-and-drop functionality built in to set up campaigns? And how easy is it to personalize campaigns for the customer?"
Key takeaway: 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 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, director of demand generation for Banzai. "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 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 comes with. At Business News Daily, 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 that technology.
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 (i.e., phone, live chat, email) and the level of support (general, dedicated, 24/7 help line, etc.). When talking with companies, ask how long the response times are, what types of support are offered and what other resources the provider offers so you can resolve issues on your own.
Consider what resources are available – how-to guides, webinars, frequently asked questions – what they can teach you, how the resources are accessed (i.e., whether you have to log in or if they're posted on the website), and how often resources are updated.
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, and that make it easy for you to 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.
Key takeaway: As you evaluate different marketing automation providers, pay close attention to the interface, the availability of a demo or free trial, the level of customer support provided (and the number of help channels offered), the breadth of online resources that are available and the assistance you can expect to receive to set the system up.
Marketing automation software providers
For our review of marketing automation software, we isolated eight vendors. Here is what you can expect to spend, on average, and some of the features included.
HubSpot offers numerous advanced features and plenty of integration options; it caters to small to medium-size businesses. HubSpot starts at $50 per month, and may be difficult for new users to learn at first.
Klaviyo is best suited for e-commerce, B2B and B2C businesses with a focus on digital marketing. Klaviyo seamlessly integrates with platforms such as Magento, Shopify, and WooCommerce, and delivers personalized marketing experiences. Klaviyo starts at $20 per month.
ActiveCampaign combines marketing automation with sales automation, which is designed to boost lead-nurturing capabilities and, in turn, your sales. ActiveCampaign displays your sales process at a glance and provides features like lead scoring and automated segmentation. ActiveCampaign starts at $15 per month.
Drip is also popular with e-commerce companies with under 1,000 employees, and specializes in email marketing, with features like automated lead magnet delivery, custom pop-ups and automated workflows. Drip offers a 14-day free trial and starts at $19 per month.
Ontraport all-in-one marketing automation platform uses a robust CRM and built-in tools like landing pages and e-commerce to provide a streamlined, efficient experience for everyone. The platform also offers a referral program, salesforce automation and a membership site. Ontraport starts at $79 per month.
Mailchimp is another all-in-one marketing platform known for its full-featured free plans. Mailchimp offers AI-powered, user-friendly marketing tools that have easy-to-understand and navigate interfaces and customizable options to make your marketing content stand out. Mailchimp offers a free version, and their paid version starts at $9.99 per month.
Marketo is best suited for small and medium-size businesses, with features such as email marketing, lead nurturing, SEO, and lead scoring. Marketo is used by both B2B and B2C companies, but you'll need to contact the company for a price quote.
GetResponse works for businesses of all sizes, with customizable campaign automation, customer behavior tracking and drip campaigns. GetResponse starts at $15 per month, per user.
Marketing automation FAQs
Below are some common frequently asked questions entrepreneurs have about marketing automation software. Business News Daily has the answers you need.
How should cost factor into your selection of marketing automation software?
Cost should be an important consideration, but it should not be the only deciding factor. After you have researched companies and have an idea of what 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 the relationship 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 types of free marketing automation options are available?
Several providers offer free versions or free trials of their software, including Mailchimp, Freshworks CRM, HubSpot, Drip and Mautic.
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.
Editor's note: Trying to choose an online marketing solution? Use the questionnaire below to receive information from a variety of vendors for free:
Adam Uzialko and Max Freedman contributed to the reporting and writing in this article. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.