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Marketing campaigns get more complex by the day.
Which… is great news for the consumer experience but a nightmare for you as a marketing manager handling thousands of moving parts (and countless employees) on a daily basis.
To put it lightly, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes.
Especially complex technical challenges that most consumers and employees will never see or fully understand.
But thankfully more and more automation tools are popping up to make your life a bit easier.
However, that means choosing the best marketing automation software for your business and team is harder than its ever been.
From enterprise-grade solutions to the most affordable options, my team and I have researched, tested, and used just about every software you can imagine. And I can honestly say… that’s not an exaggeration.
But the good news is that I narrowed it down to my top six recommendations, reviewed them, and developed an all-inclusive list of what to consider when making your final decision.
The top 6 options for marketing automation software
- Freshmarketer – best for small to midsize businesses
- Pardot by Salesforce – best for B2B companies
- ActiveCampaign – best for email marketing automation
- Acoustic – best for enterprise multi-channel marketing automation
- HubSpot – best for sales, customer service, and marketing automation
- Act-On – best for marketing agencies
How to choose the best marketing automation software for you
I stand behind all of my top recommendations. However, choosing the right one for you isn’t always easy because it depends on various factors.
So, before we dive in, let’s talk about how to narrow things down and find the best marketing automation software for your business.
Type of business
B2B businesses have different marketing needs than D2C companies.
Furthermore, marketing agencies present a new set of marketing automation challenges. Because of that, specialized software may be necessary to meet your specific needs at a reasonable price point.
The size of your business matters too. Large companies run complex, massive-scale campaigns and have bigger pockets. So, small business tools aren’t a good match.
However, smaller companies will probably find enterprise-grade features confusing and wildly out of budget, which is why those small business tools exist in the first place.
So, pay attention to who the software is built for when making your final decision.
Number of contacts
Most pricing plans depend on the number of contacts or leads you have. The larger your list, the more you need to pay to maintain it and stay in touch with them.
If you have tens or hundreds of thousands of contacts, enterprise-grade solutions are probably more cost-effective. However, that’s not the case if you have a few hundred or even a few thousand leads on your list.
Just be sure to keep this in mind and remember that specific plans may limit the maximum number of contacts you can have.
And if you hit those limits, you’ll need to upgrade to a higher plan or pay an extra fee.
Your marketing channels
Different marketing automation software supports various marketing channels.
And there’s no one-size-fits-all solution.
From SMS and email marketing to social media and push notifications, it’s crucial to choose a software that handles everything you need.
Smaller businesses with simple campaigns may not utilize a wide range of channels and can get away using a more affordable tool.
However, large businesses with complex campaigns spanning numerous channels need something more robust to manage all the moving parts.
Furthermore, some software includes varying channels in different pricing tiers. So, you may start on one level and need to move up to gain access to more marketing channels. Or you may need to move to (or integrate) a new tool altogether.
It may help to map out your upcoming campaigns and decide which channels you plan to use.
Automation is at the heart of every tool on this list. But some offer more advanced automation features than others.
Do you need to score leads and prospects? Maybe you want to combine SMS, email marketing, and Facebook ads in the same customer journey. Or perhaps you need the ability to send hyper-targeted emails on autopilot.
Regardless of the complexity of your campaigns, don’t forget to consider:
- Split A/B testing
- Automated email campaigns
- Event and website tracking
- Contact management
- Visual customer journey mapping
- Automated segmentation and personalization
- Prospect and lead scoring
- Dynamic content
- Transactional emails
- AI-powered recommendations
- Action and logic-based triggers
- Reporting and analytics
You may not need all of them, and some tools don’t include them. So it’s critical to understand what you need (and don’t need) before making your decision.
It’s not uncommon for marketing automation software to include a handful of features typically found in a CRM tool, like live chat or customer support capabilities.
Before making a final decision, it’s essential to understand which additional features you need to fill the gap between marketing and sales or customer service.
You may already have these systems in place. So, you won’t need these additional features. But if you don’t, you might be able to save money, hassle, and time by choosing a software that includes everything you’re missing under one roof.
Hubspot is an excellent example of this.
It includes customer service, sales, and marketing automation tools in a centralized location to streamline data movement and foster automation across your entire business.
The different types of marketing automation software
Marketing comes in all shapes, sizes, and complexities.
From physical mailers and print campaigns to social media and email marketing, the best marketing automation software helps you build, automate, and optimize all types of marketing campaigns.
Marketing automation software is often confused with customer relationship management (CRM). However, the two aren’t the same or interchangeable.
CRM software focuses on sales activities, while marketing automation software focuses on marketing tasks. Going further, marketing automation software is for generating, nurturing, and qualifying leads.
On the other hand, CRM software is to close the sale and foster communications or relationships after the sale.
In a perfect world, the two systems play well together and create a seamless flow of data from your marketing team to your sales team.
Taking things further, there are numerous subsets of marketing automation software, including:
- Email marketing
- Social media marketing
- Advertising management
- SMS marketing
- Live chat
Each different tool is powerful on its own. But true marketing automation software lets you create and optimize customer journeys across marketing platforms for varying complexity campaigns.
#1 – Freshmarketer Review — The best marketing automation software for small to midsize businesses
Around here, we’re big fans of Freshworks (if you couldn’t tell).
Freshmarketer is their intelligent marketing automation platform built to help small to midsize businesses save time, attract the right people, nurture their audiences, and make more money.
It’s my #1 recommendation for most users—and for a good reason.
From awareness to retention, you get all the automation features you need to gain more leads, turn those leads into customers, and keep those customers around for life. All while doing less work with better results.
Plus, you don’t need any technical skills or a dedicated support team to get started. And it takes about a minute to get up and running.
You also get access to incredible features like:
- Email campaigns and contact management
- Visual drag and drop customer journey builder
- Website, form, and offline event tracking
- Conversion rate optimization tools
- A/B and split testing
- Advanced personalization
- Dynamic heat maps
- Audience segmentation
- Real-time funnel analytics
Furthermore, the software seamlessly integrates with Freshworks’ other tools, so it’s an excellent choice if you currently use or plan to use any of their business software.
You can try Freshmarketer on their limited free forever plan or a 21-day free trial of their paid plans, which are incredibly affordable and accessible for businesses of all sizes. However, they depend on the number of contacts you have, so keep that in mind.
Their plans include:
- Sprout — Free for up to 500 contacts with limited features
- Garden — $49 per month for 1,000 contacts (ideal for growing teams)
- Estate — $99 per month for 1,000 contacts (best for large teams)
Just remember the cost for each plan goes up after you max out your 1,000 contacts.
#2 – Pardot by Salesforce Review — The best marketing automation software for B2B businesses
As a B2B business, you market to other companies, which presents a unique set of marketing challenges. As such, you need a marketing automation tool built for the job.
Pardot exists to help B2B companies build relationships and turn those relationships into revenue. Plus, it’s a fantastic marketing automation software built around the world’s #1 CRM.
So, you know you’re in good hands.
From lead generation to sales alignment, the software offers a wide range of features, including:
- Dynamic content and data-based personalization
- Lead-nurturing email automations
- Prospect and lead scoring
- Visual multi-part automation creator
- Advanced segmentation
- Landing page builder
- Smart forms + drag and drop builder
- Social media scheduling, profiling, and analytics
- Lead activity tracking
- Campaign performance reporting
- Lifecycle and funnel reporting
- Pardot Einstein for lead and behavior scoring
Furthermore, over 2.8+ million worldwide users rely on Pardot for their marketing automation needs, making it one of the most popular platforms on this list.
But it is a bit expensive, so it’s best suited for larger businesses. Their paid plans include:
- Growth — $1,250/month for up to 10,000 contacts and basic features
- Plus — $2,500/month for up to 10,000 contacts with deeper automation + analytics
- Advanced — $4,000/month for up to 10,000 contacts with AI and all features
- Premium — $15,000/month for up to 75,000 contacts with supercharge features
They also offer a few add-ons that come free in the Premium plan. Those add-ons include Salesforce Engage ($50/user per month), Analytics Plus ($3,000/month), and Engagement History ($300/year).
All plans and add-ons are billed on an annual basis.
#3 – ActiveCampaign Review — The best for email marketing automations
Email is one of the most important aspects of digital marketing. All the tools on this list include email marketing in one form or another, but ActiveCampaign specializes in it.
So, it’s an excellent option if you want to hone in and focus on improving your email marketing strategy. It’s also a super affordable tool that includes numerous automation features for leads anywhere in your funnel.
With that said, they also offer omnichannel automation, including instant messaging and SMS, live chat, and Facebook.
So, you’re not limited to just email marketing automation with ActiveCampaign.
Their most popular features cover leads at every point in the funnel, including:
- Engage – Automation maps, site tracking, and subscription forms
- Nurture – List segmenting, dynamic/predictive content, and event tracking
- Convert – Contact and lead scoring, split actions, and win probabilities
- Support – Predictive sending, SMS, A/B split testing, and ecommerce
You can also set up numerous types of emails like autoresponders, targeted or triggered emails, broadcasts, scheduled emails, and automated funnels.
And you can design those emails using their intuitive drag and drop designer, or start from one of their 25+ pre-made mobile-responsive design templates.
Whether you’re just getting started or interested in scaling and optimizing your email marketing strategy, ActiveCampaign is an excellent choice. They offer everything you need to capture, nurture, and close leads at scale.
ActiveCampaign offers four plans, with the price of each starting at:
- Lite — $9 per month with up to three users
- Plus — $49 per month with up to 25 users
- Professional — $129 per month with up to 50 users
- Enterprise — $229 per month with unlimited users
Each tier includes more advanced features, and pricing is based on the size of your list, starting for up to 500 contacts.
So, keep in mind that you will have to pay more than the prices above as your list grows.
#4 – Acoustic Review — The best enterprise-grade multi-channel marketing automation software
Acoustic offers an array of marketing automation products for centralized cross-platform multi-channel marketing. From personalization and email campaigns to web content management and experience management, they offer something for everyone.
Acoustic Campaign is their marketing automation tool, encompassing mobile apps, push notifications, SMS, group chats, social media, ads, email, print campaigns, and more.
You can also combine this with Acoustic Personalization and Acoustic Analytics for a powerful combination of campaign management, data, and using that data to deliver the right message at the right time.
With Acoustic Campaign, you get access to powerful features, including:
- Drag and drop campaign builder
- Action, logic, and AI-recommended triggers
- Seamless mobile and digital channel campaigns
- Lead management and scoring
- Split A/B testing
- Customer journey mapping
- Planning and budgeting
- One-to-one ads and lookalike audiences
- Advanced personalization
- Reporting and analytics
Furthermore, they have a community forum where you can publicly ask questions. They also provide an online academy packed full of educational videos and training so you can get the most of your custom automation package.
Note: Acoustic is built for moderate to large volume campaigns with countless moving parts. So, it’s perfect for businesses managing complicated campaigns across numerous channels.
But it’s overkill for a lot of businesses and anyone running single-channel campaigns.
Pricing isn’t available online, and you have to schedule a consultation to learn more. So, keep in mind that you won’t be able to sign up and get started immediately.
#5 – Hubspot Review — The best sales, customer service, and marketing automation software
If you’re looking for an easy way to automate your sales, customer service, and marketing processes, Hubspot Growth Suite is an excellent and affordable solution.
And the best part? Hubspot goes beyond automating your business processes. It also helps integrate and optimize different departments in one centralized location, thus streamlining your entire business’s workflow.
This means teams don’t have to jump from software to software to get the information they need, and you can automate the data transfer process from one team to the next.
However, their marketing automation capabilities are powerful on their own, with features like:
- Blog post and SEO planning
- Ad tracking and management
- Social media management
- AI-powered live chat
- Email marketing
- Forms and landing pages
- Revenue attribution reporting
- Visual workflow builder
- Account-based marketing
- A/B split testing
- Predictive lead scoring
Hubspot offers basic features, like emails, landing pages, forms, and live chat capabilities for unlimited users absolutely free. So, you can try it out without spending a penny.
Alternatively, you can sign up for a free demo to see all of their advanced features in action.
The Growth Suite (sales, marketing, CRM, and customer service) starts at $50 per month for two users and up to 1,000 contacts, making it extremely affordable for most businesses.
But they also have advanced plans for larger and more complex campaigns, including:
- Professional — $1,275 per month for advanced features
- Enterprise — $4,200 per month for all features
Each 1,000 contacts after your initial 1,000 cost $16.67 per month. And you can add more users to your sales and service hubs for $8.33 per user/month.
Plus, if you’re a current member or alumni of Hubspot’s approved incubator, accelerator, or Venture Capital partners with a round of Series A funding under your belt, you can get up to 90% off your first year.
#6 – Act-On Review — The best marketing automation software for marketing agencies
As a marketing agency, you handle marketing campaigns for several clients (if not hundreds of them) at any given time. As such, you need marketing automation software with the ability to manage everything, including your own marketing campaigns, in one place.
And Act-On offers the perfect solution.
Their scalable software features unique child and parent campaign capabilities, meaning you can easily manage and handle all of your client accounts from a single Act-On login.
Plus, you can completely brand and customize everything to deliver custom reports to clients in just a few clicks.
With Act-On, you can learn more about your clients’ audiences to personalize and tailor their message to match. Not only does this make their life easier, but it also means your team can work less to produce better results.
When you sign up, you get access to powerful marketing features, including:
- Automated engagement programs
- Website and landing page tracking
- Customer/prospect scoring
- Behavior and demographic segmentation
- Pre-built email, form, and landing page templates
- Interactive reporting dashboards
Plus, you can build custom real-time analytic dashboards for internal and external use, so you and your clients always know what’s going on.
Furthermore, you can use this information to improve customer ROI, build better technology stacks, and optimize entire marketing campaigns on behalf of your clients. From lead gathering and nurturing to transferring contact information to sales, you’re in good hands.
Sign up for a free demo to learn more and get started today!
Wrapping things up
Freshmarketer is my top recommendation for most businesses. It’s built for small to midsize companies interested in automating their marketing processes to grow their businesses and save time.
Plus, it’s affordable, easy to use, and packed full of powerful automation features.
However, it’s not the perfect solution for everyone. So, don’t forget to use the criteria we talked about as you sort through finding the best marketing automation software for you and your team.
What are your favorite marketing automation tools?