A Review on Leading Marketing Automation (MA) Software

Last updated on 24 Sept 2020 

Marketing automation (MA) is a process automate marketing of a business using special software for lead capturing, email marketing, sales funnels, and promotions across multiple channels (Source: Hubspot). 

Nowadays, marketing mostly has shifted online. We have Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat and others  as social media platforms. Marketing through social media need different focus based on the selected range of age and interest, thus adding more tasks to complete everyday. 

Working smartly, marketing teams today use MA software that completely automates (with some supervision) the repetitive process of marketing and connecting with their new and old customers through multiple channels like email and social media.

What Is Marketing Automation Software?

According to Sharpspring, marketing automation software enable you to do email marketing,  leads tracking and nurturing, behavioural-based customer segmentation, analytics and social marketing in a single platform. While marketing automation platforms do all the marketing and sales-related jobs for you, they are not as easy to use as advertised. Indeed they are turnkey solutions, but come at a price, not only in terms of dollars but also in terms of the time required to understand how the platforms work.

MA software is not designed to increase your revenues overnight. Your brand is the reflection of your efforts cultivated in growing it from ground up. To give you an example, instead of putting time to manually nurturing the leads, and setting reminders on the next best course of action, these platforms do those tasks for you automatically.

Another example is monitoring the customers’ feedback on social media. It is not possible for any medium to large-sized enterprise to manually check each social media platform to see what people are talking and comment about their brand. Whereas the MA software automatically shows results from each platform in one intuitive dashboard, based on your set parameters, hashtags and other guidelines.

Once you get to know what people are saying about your brand online, you can use that data to your advantage by developing a meaningful content marketing strategy to target the right audience.

Subscription plans for MA platforms

           I know of people signing up to a MA software only to realize a month down the road that either it was too expensive, did not have enough features for their marketing activities or was not compatible with their own Customer Relationship Managements (CRM).

The subscription  plan for each MA software also varies and is usually based on a sliding scale model, where the more features you access, the more you pay. If you are on a shoestring budget, I strongly recommend going for a trial and/or monthly subscription to see the benefits you will be getting.

Tools for marketing automation are not easy to use for beginners. To have truckloads of features in one dashboard means that the software is a bit complex to understand. It is better to pay more for a user-friendly software instead of spending on training on a non-intuitive dashboard.

The ability to integrate with other CRMs and software is highly critical for your business growth and success. You need to be able to see and decide which 3rd-party apps can be integrated to streamline your data aggregation and marketing efforts. It gives the much-needed competitive advantage for businesses to stay ahead of the game. If you are a medium-sized business with revenues in several hundred thousands of dollars each year, or at least close to $1 million, then you won’t regret going with a marketing automation .

But having said that, a number of small and medium businesses can still use MA platforms. A continuous improvement in your sales and revenue numbers over the last 6 months, leading to a pile of work that needs to be completed gives a signal that it’s time to automate some tasks. During COVID-19 lockdown in many countries around the world, e-commerce (like amazon.com and alibaba.com) has  a huge burst of profit growth.  If your e-commerce account has the similar experience, you may want to use marketing automation for e-commerce for further scaling up your profit. 

           For small and medium businesses, many platforms come with a free trial, and a starting monthly subscription fee in the range of $50 to $100.

Benefits of MA platforms, their actual powers!

There are a number of benefits of using MA platform. We have already listed them in bullet points below:

1.   Automating all tasks

Instructing computers to do manual human and repetitive tasks is automation, and that’s the essence of any marketing automation software.

Picture a situation. You are in charge of a company’s digital marketing responsibilities and lead a team of executives to promote your company online. You need to constantly monitor your website traffic in Google Analytics, measure campaign success in Google Ads, create blogs using your Content Management System, develop landing pages using Unbounce/Lead Pages, and write & send emails using a dedicated email marketing platform such as MailChimp, Aweber and more. You aren’t a robot! And you can’t do all of it despite having a good team!

           Other than Google Analytics (which is free) and the cost of running ads, you are paying for every marketing software’s feature separately, a cost that can build easily over time.

Enter marketing automation SaaS (Software as a Service). It is the marketer’s ultimate dream, to have one platform that rules all!

With one user-friendly dashboard, not only are you managing your entire campaigns, but gaining complete control over content management, email marketing, blogging, PPC ads, SEO campaigns, conversions, landing page development and a whole lot more.

Instead of manually completing triggered actions, you can send emails that are action-based, notify a member of your team to change status of a lead, schedule social media posts and monitor your digital marketing efforts. But all of this comes with sheer planning of your teamwork.

2.   Email marketing

Many mediums of communication have come and gone. Some have stayed and witnessed tremendous growth such as WhatsApp, and social media, whereas others remained the king. And email, is one of them!

Till this date, email remains the oldest and the most preferred form of communications for B2B and B2C needs. Despite a consistent rise in other mediums, email hasn’t decreased in popularity yet.

Although customers have been fed-up of businesses constantly abusing this medium, if used rightly, email marketing can do wonders for anyone.

For any MA platform to properly operate, email marketing is the core marketing component. In fact, lead nurturing is most often conducted by email marketing. The power of targeted emails sent to leads that submitted their details on the website’s form, still remains an attractive form of marketing.

The following email marketing features should come pre-packed regardless of any MA software you choose to go with. Take it as a checklist to see how well MA platforms stack with each other.

Ability to send targeted mass emails in batches

If you have 10,000 customers in your database, it is possible that all of them are divided in various segments. The ability to divide a list in segments and send emails to each one of them, is at the heart of email marketing. Templates, mobile responsive design, are also a must to check in every MA platform. Mailchimp, one of the leaders in email marketing, found in a study that sending targeted emails to segmented customers in a list, increases email opening chances by up to 14%.

Action oriented emails

Whenever a customer signs up, submits a form or asks for a query, the MA platform sends emails accordingly. For example, when a user signs up, he/she receives a welcome email form the company. Each email is different and based on a specific action a customer takes on the website. Then comes follow up emails, which is an excellent way to nurture leads and keep an open communication. All of these emails are action oriented emails which are triggered once a user takes an action on the website.

Email Forms

All MA platforms come with an email form creator that you can design and generate in minutes to embed on your website and capture leads. Once a user enters details, it automatically pops up at the backend.

Mobile responsive templates

Over 50% of the traffic comes from smartphones, which means that your customers should be able to read and digest information from emails on their smartphones. (Source: BroadBandSearch) [mh1] A reliable marketing automation platform should have mobile-responsive email templates in different designs that you can then customize based on your brand and preferences.

A/B Split Testing

How would you know which emails performed better than the others? For example, if you have a list of 10,000 customers, you can run split A/B tests to see which versions of your emails have a better open and conversion rate.

This is a highly crucial feature found in many of the market’s reliable MA platforms. You can then use this data to your advantage and send better performing emails to the entire list. You can use split testing to determine the best email content, design, subject lines and design.

3.   Lead Nurturing

When leads are captured, they need to be nurtured. It’s akin to a baby who needs to be constantly monitored, and spoon fed nutritious food. Nothing different with leads.

Customers expect companies take action. Marketing and sales teams have to persistently communicate with leads by educating, guiding and eventually persuading them to buy your products. No company hard sells at first, but this doesn’t mean you can’t educate them with well-researched content.

Take a note of the following checklist of critical lead nurturing features of marketing automation software:

Drip Campaigns

As mentioned earlier, no reputable company hard sells their products/services in the first email. The leads need to be educated and given enough time to make well-informed decision.

This can be done by instilling trust through your content in the form of drip campaigns. For example, you can set up one email each week, for 4 weeks. All of these emails will subsequently help your leads in converting to customers. This is called a funnel. If someone downloaded a PDF guide from your website, follow up with them. Thank them for the download. Take their feedback. If they find it interesting, this is the time to soft sell your product.

While social media has undoubtedly become a blessing for marketers, it’s email marketing where most of the drip campaigns take place.

Audience Segmentation

You may have over 100,000 customers in your database but they would be from a number of countries. A reliable marketing automation software will allow you to segment your leads based on demographics, age, interests, location and online behavior. This allows marketers to target each category with relevant information according to their needs. Audience is engaged the most when they are communicated in their language, and times.

4.   Social media management and analytics

Just like there are dedicated email marketing platforms such as Aweber, and Constant Contact, the same is true for social media. The ability to post quickly and simultaneously alongside scheduling content for week and even months in advance across all platforms through one dashboard has become possible by social media automation software such as Buffer, and Hootsuite.

But what’s the point of having a marketing automation SaaS if they can’t schedule, and/or post on social media? Large MA platforms such as Sharpspring, Hubspot and Active Campaign have these features built in.

And it isn’t just the scheduling and posting of content. Great MA platforms allow you to track the organic/paid reach of your content on each social media site, and provide detailed analytics.

Social media listening

Social media platforms have allowed brands to redefine communication with their customers. Today, you can interact with your customers on social media. 20 years ago, this wasn’t possible through commercials and billboard ads. Social listening tools allow you to listen to the conversations about your brand, such as mentions, hashtags, tags, comments, shares and more.

Listening allows you to know what people are saying and how are they interacting with your brand. You can then use this data as a competitive edge to create and market content that tailors to your audience.

5.   Campaign analytics

There’s no point of investing in your marketing efforts when you can’t measure its ROI, also called as Return on Investment. Thanks to digital media and marketing automation software, you can do just that.

You can now measure the ROI of your marketing efforts to notice the impact on your sales and growth.

Take a note of the following checklist:

Analyzing website traffic and conversions

Great marketing automation tools like Hubspot integrate seamlessly with Google analytics so that you can monitor your web traffic. Instead of opening a new session on Analytics in a separate window, see all of your website analytics such as traffic, conversions and sales right through one powerful dashboard.

Measure results for SEO campaigns

Any changes in terms of SEO and content you make on your website can be monitored and tracked through the intuitive dashboard of the MA platform. Make sure you can integrate analytics in your MA software.

Should not be limited to website only

At times, you may be running more than one campaign. Make sure that your MA software is able to integrate and track SEO, PPC and ecommerce marketing activities.

Analyzing lead funnels

Writing content, and expecting people to click isn’t going to work anymore. You have to persuade your leads to open emails, click on the blog link and take an action, etc.

MA Platforms have gone one step ahead in showing detailed statistics about the open, click, and engagement rates to understand user behavior. This type of user behavior analysis answers a number of questions such as at which point of the funnel do users fall out? What type of content receives the most engagement and queries? And what type of content needs to be dropped off?

6.   Measuring Digital Media Metrics (SEO, PPC and Social Media)

No inbound marketing campaign can be complete without a balanced usage of social media, SEO and paid ads. And what better way than measuring and analyzing all of that from one intuitive and user-friendly dashboard?

Many leading MA platforms such as Hubspot and Sharpspring provide these features. They analyze your website’s SEO and PPC campaign results and provide you with recommendations on how to improve them.

When you are investing hundreds of dollars on a monthly basis in a marketing automation software, there should ideally be no requirement to invest the same amount in landing page builders like Unbounce and Lead Pages. Many MA platforms come with built-in website content management solutions allowing you to design your websites, create beautiful landing pages and write amazing blog posts.

Marketing Automation Software Truth And Misconceptions

Marketing automation relies on a combination of strategy and software. In reality, there is no such thing as automation, because every automation needs to be managed with good strategy.

With marketing automation, you define a strategy that helps potential customers connect with your websites, and submit queries. Those queries are then nurtured as leads, which then go on in becoming sales for companies.[mh2] 

Here’s an infographic to help you explain the entire process: