Your Guide to Software Selection

Quick Start Marketing Automation Comparison Guide (Expanded Version)

Are you ready to arrive in the promised land that marketing automation software boasts of to transform your organization’s marketing and sales abilities into superhuman powers? Then let’s do a proper marketing automation comparison project!

Do you long to: never miss a follow up, send behavior triggered emails automatically, run complex lead nurturing campaigns, optimize your marketing funnel and have an overall improved marketing management experience.

Don’t we all.

All of these are pledged by many a marketing automation companies. Is it reality or too good to be true? Let’s find out.

One major obstacle between you and this amazing, well-oiled marketing automation solution is the ability to understand how to effectively find and compare the sea of marketing automation solutions and their many features.

This marketing automation comparison guide (written by a seasoned marketing automation pro) seeks to guide the weary technology shopper toward a marketing automation platform fitting of your team and organization.

Just looking for a side-by-side marketing automation platform comparison? Use this top marketing automation vendor report.

Where to Begin

Do you know what your marketing department actually needs out of a marketing automation tool? Marketing automation technology isn’t always tailored specifically to each business or business category, so the wrong choice could actually make your marketing department less productive.

To accelerate your understanding of marketing automation, start with this marketing automation requirements and features list – it’s comprehensive and gives you a baseline of all that is available from these marketing automation tools.

compare marketing automation with this requirements/features listIt can also help you find which platforms are best suited for your business.

Sales and Marketing Alignment (We’ve Heard That Before)

Sales teams and marketing departments need to collaborate to find out what everyone’s priorities are. Questions will be aplenty, including:

Are you replacing current email marketing, social media management or other marketing management software or just supplementing them?

Are you using this exclusively for inbound marketing efforts or multi-channel marketing?

How does the platform integrate with your current content marketing campaigns?

Does it have a seamless integration into your CRM platform as well?

Not only do you want answers to these questions, you want all stakeholders (e.g. marketing AND sales executives) to have all of their questions answers as well.

Too often these software solutions are purchased without key stakeholders getting involved and the project then gets delayed or canceled altogether; not a situation you want to be in.

These questions are merely a sample…I’ve outlined a more professional selection process in the next section…follow it and we’ll make you look even smarter amongst your co-workers 🙂

How An Executive Would Run a Marketing Automation Comparison Project

Know Your Purpose (In Life AND with Marketing Automation)

Ask yourself why you need marketing automation software. (Save the soul searching questions for later.)

Are you dissatisfied with the limitations of your current email marketing software?

Is your lead attribution model or conversion tracking no longer cutting it?

Are all the cool kids doing it?

Your goals are unique; it’s imperative that your software includes the features that support them. By clearly defining your purpose before you look at different marketing automation tools, you decrease the chances of being swayed or misled by needless bells and whistles…and marketers of marketing automation are masters at distracting you with shiny objects. 😉

Marketing Automation Requirements Gathering

With goals set, consider the kinds of features and capabilities (aka requirements) you’ll need to achieve them. Even though Forbes and other outlets note the similarities between competing marketing automation tools, they also say that each solution typically focuses on specific automation actions and workflows in varying degrees.

It’s important to understand, too, that marketing automation solutions that market themselves as being comprehensive or “all-in-ones” won’t necessarily make it equally easy to perform different kinds of common tasks.

Considering the long list of marketing automation features to choose from, how do you know which ones are best for your organization?

My recommendation is build and prioritize your requirements with a marketing automation requirements gathering template. By doing so you can get input from all stakeholders in the selection project and have a better view into what everyone needs/wants from a marketing automation platform.

Aside from specific technical requirements, other example considerations include:

  • The projected training time needed for complete adoption,
  • Monthly licensing and operating fees,
  • Immediate ROI potential
  • User accommodation capacity.

Don’t settle for whichever software package boasts the longest list of features. No app is perfect out of the box, so no matter what field you’re in or how flexible your needs may be, there will come a time when you have to make changes to the way your marketing automation tools function. Picking an option that fights you every step of the way could mean you end up wasting valuable effort.

Once you’ve done the requirements gathering exercises, find the marketing automation vendors that match these requirements.

Better yet, take your requirements matrix or checklist and start inputting how vendors meet your specific criteria. To simplify this process, use a marketing automation requirements template (match it with existing marketing automation vendor features).

Compare Marketing Automation Vendors

You have a list of marketing automation vendors meeting your requirements, now it’s time to compare them! In many cases, your shortlist is still a relatively long one, so it doesn’t make sense to bring in each option for a demo.

Just a reminder here to think about whether the marketing automation platforms you’re considering serve any or all of the following objectives: lead generation, demand generation, campaign management, inbound/outbound marketing, lead management, lead nurturing, lead scoring, crm software integration, sales enablement, customer engagement and more.

It’s a lot and emphasizes the need to be thorough – that’s why I’m painstakingly writing this super-advanced guide – for you, my marketing compadre.

If you use the free interactive template we provide to prioritize specific marketing automation requirements, compare your potential vendors with side-by-side reports and scorecards.

Want to see one of these sample marketing automation scorecards? Have a peek.

Make Formal Inquiries

Before you start requesting live demos for your shortlist, create a formal marketing automation request for proposal (RFP) and submit it to your chosen vendors. Part of your RFP is going to include the specific prioritized requirements you and your colleagues have defined.

During this formal process, some vendors may disqualify themselves because they refuse to complete an RFP. This is a sign they are not capable of or wanting to support your project. It is good that they’ve ruled themselves out at this point, saving you time when making your final evaluation.

Compile and Analyze RFP Responses

You can choose to analyze responses to your RFP as they roll in or wait until all responses are received and do a single, comprehensive analysis. There are pros and cons to both. I recommend analyzing as they roll in as it:

1) allows stakeholders to fit the analysis into their available schedule

2) If you are using a platform to manage your selection process, it can auto-tabulate and compute responses as they arrive based on your pre-defined criteria

3) Vendor’s may also respond with questions and you don’t want to wait until all responses have been submitted to catch these questions (it will delay your selection process).

Jumpstart your marketing automation RFP with our free MA requirements template.

Get Demos, Proof of Concepts and Other Information

After analyzing your RFP responses, select the vendors that closest match and engage with them directly. Ask for live demos, trial information, proof of concepts, customer references and anything else you need to make your final decision.

You’ll likely be working with just 2-3 vendors at this point but there is no set rule. It’s most important that vendors are matching your requirements closely and your team has the time to evaluate all the options and responses.

You’ll want to engage in a trial period with the software making sure it does what has been promised. (Be watchful for the “it’s on the roadmap” bait and switch).

During the trial, test the system and also engage with support. The responsiveness and competency of your marketing automation’s support team will be a good gauge for your future happiness and success with your chosen platform.

Negotiate and Complete the Contract

After receiving all the qualification materials, watched demos and taken it for a trial run, you’ll likely have decided on a vendor. From here you’ll go through the normal pricing and contract negotiation. Be sure to reference back to other pricing information you collected.

By having pricing from competing technologies available, you’ll have a better time getting an offer that fits your budget.

To make your life easier, here’s a price and cost guide/questionnaire so you really understand the true cost and get the best price. You’re welcome.

Marketing Automation Pricing and Cost Guide

From free, open source platforms to complex, enterprise-level solutions, there are many vendors out there that dub their platform, “marketing automation”.

Because of the huge range in marketing automation technologies, the pricing varies as much as the 200+ platforms out there. To make matters more complicated, companies with enterprise software pricing often go unpublished or are hard to find, pricing tiers are constantly changing and published pricing/terms are often up for serious negotiation.

That aside, when evaluating marketing automation pricing, there are key issues to answer to know the true cost. Here are some questions to ask when evaluating the price/cost of marketing automation:

What features are you getting with your selected pricing plan?

It’s common for marketing automation vendors to have tiered pricing models that offer different feature sets depending on your selected pricing tier. Sometimes you will find a marketing automation vendor that offers all features under one pricing tier, however you will still want to analyze feature sets against the marketing automation requirements you’ve defined. (You did that already, right?)

What are the setup and implementation fees for marketing automation?

This is a mixed bag among marketing automation vendors. Some vendors will offer some basic marketing automation set-up and onboarding services while others try to upsell you into paid implementation programs. I’d be weary of marketing automation vendors trying to upsell into a paid set-up/implementation program. If you are in this situation, ask for the difference between the paid implementation services and the standard getting started support available.

Is ongoing training an additional expense?

You should expect to get initial training for free from most marketing automation vendors. I would be hesitant to move forward with any marketing automation company that tries to charge you for initial training. In fact, many of the best marketing automation companies offer ongoing free training (often via regular live webinars). Training in marketing automation is so critical because it is a newer technology – charging for it is counter-intuitive for any vendor that wants to build a long-term, valuable relationship from the start.

If you are being told there is a fee for training, make sure you aren’t talking to a VAR or a white label marketing automation solution.

Will you have to pay an additional price for multiple users?

Again, this is different among marketing automation vendors. Some vendors allow for unlimited users while others have user thresholds with additional fees for additional users. Make sure you plan accordingly for how many users you see using the platform. If you are scaling rapidly, having unlimited users without paying per extra users may be a high priority requirement. You could also negotiate the number of included users with the vendors you are considering.

What if you go over the number of contacts or email sends included with your plan?

Make sure you know what the pricing is per contact or emails sent that go over your plans allocated amounts. Don’t get a surprise bill from your marketing automation vendor because you added an extra 10,000 contacts to your database over your allowed amount. Know what these overage costs will be and also negotiate the price of overage as well. The difference between 2 cents and 5 cents per extra email sent is substantial when you are sending high volume emails.

Does support cost extra?

You will find a wide range of support services available at different marketing automation vendors including support forums, wikis, phone, email and chat support. Usually all of these support services are free. Sometimes you will need to pay an additional amount if your support request is related to strategy or tactical implementation versus troubleshooting more common issues. This tactical/strategic support will most often come from a vendor’s partner network instead of an in-house team, thus the reasoning for an added cost.

Will I have to pay to integrate other technologies with my marketing automation platform?

Generally there is not an additional fee to do 3rd party integrations aside from the cost of each of the technologies themselves. We have rarely if ever seen a technology charge a one-time or ongoing fee for integration with another platform. However, if the platforms you are connecting don’t have native integration, you may have to pay for a service like Zapier to manage the integration. (Zapier does have a free plan depending on how many “zaps” you require).

Knowing the true cost of marketing automation

Getting a price off of a marketing automation vendor’s site often only shows part of the true cost. By asking these questions of any marketing automation company you’ve shortlisted in your selection process, you’ll have a better understanding of the true cost of marketing automation. Then, once you’ve estimated the true cost, you can move onto estimating the ROI of marketing automation.

Leading Marketing Automation Platforms

Now that we’ve outlined a formal process, helped you understand the price and cost, let’s check out some of the leaders in marketing automation.

In today’s fast-paced world, marketing automation is essential for remaining on-par with or ahead of your competition. Without the use of marketing automation software, you’re leaving money on the table. Knowing that, you need to find a marketing automation platform that best fits your needs and organization.

We’ve matched the 20 most important marketing automation requirements against more than 50 marketing automation vendors. Each vendor was scored around how closely they met those requirements, with scores per requirement/category and compiled into an overall score.

marketing automation comparison chartVendors who lead the marketing automation comparison report included Marketo, CallidusCloud, Act-on, eTrigue, OutMarket, HubSpot, Oracle Marketing Cloud and InfusionSoft. Other recommended platforms include Hatchbuck, Genoo, Pardot, Salesfusion and Net-Results.

These programs are some of the top marketing automation software on the market and can be used to help your business succeed. Some of them are more suited for different company and market sizes so make sure you do a thoroughly vendor analysis before you select:

Act-On Software

Act-On enables businesses to set up automated marketing campaigns to generate more inbound traffic through the use of SEO, website design, social media, and much more. List management and A/B testing allows you to determine what is the best option for a specific group of people. Through intelligent workflows, the program will react to different scenarios based on your pre-programmed commands. For example, if someone emails you with a specific keyword, you can have Act-On reply with the proper response message.


A study demonstrated that companies using marketing automation software see an increase in revenue of about 10%, and CallidusCloud takes this to heart. The software helps business to discover insights about their customers and find potential prospects they weren’t previously aware of. It also allows businesses to nurture potential leads, gently nudging them towards conversion into buyers.

eTrigue Demand Center

The world of marketing has changed. Customers have certain demands at certain times, something which has become known as the buying cycle. If you can’t provide them with what they need when they ask for it, it becomes much harder to improve your conversion rates. Automated processes are almost required in order to ensure this demand is met. eTrigue enables businesses to easily respond through the use of email, social media, and even banner ads.


Every lead is different. However, they can all be approached in a similar way. HubSpot enables businesses to gather information about their leads in order to create a sort of ‘behavior’ profile. With this valuable information at your fingertips, you know exactly which way to approach an individual lead to maximize the possibility of conversion. The powerful list management software that comes included helps to create customized marketing messages that can appeal to each individual lead in their own way.


Pardot prides itself on providing a centralized marketing automation platform.  Offering email marketing, reporting, sales intelligence, social marketing and tons of lead gen features, Pardot is one of the most comprehensive platforms out there.  It also includes easy CRM integration to keep your customer and lead data synced at all times.


Marketo makes it easy to generate more interest through SEO, and to capture those leads through list-building tools. The analytic tools provided make it easy to measure how effective individual campaigns are, as well as to nurture those individual leads and urge them through the buying funnel. And with mobile software, your campaigns are accessible right from your smartphone.


Eloqua implements something known as cross channel marketing to reach customers across a variety of mediums, from social media to email to content marketing. By using a variety of different methods, Oracle’s Eloqua helps businesses reach out to customers who may not be properly targeted through traditional marketing methods.

OutMarket Marketing Automation

OutMarket makes email marketing both easier and smarter. Not only does this program enable companies to create a streamlined approach to capturing email addresses, but it makes it easy to automate messages to users. By implementing a variety of workflows that direct users to your landing pages when they’ve decided to buy, OutMarket enables companies to increase revenue through tried organic sales methods.


I hope this step-by-step marketing automation comparison guide provides you with a useful process to select the right marketing automation platform for your organization. I’m happy to field any questions you may have – find Michael on Twitter.

Michael ShearerQuick Start Marketing Automation Comparison Guide (Expanded Version)

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