How to choose the right marketing automation tools

Justin Gray

[Editor’s note: VentureBeat received several messages saying this story contains inaccuracies. The following corrections have been made: The description of Pardot has been revised to reflect that the Pardot platform does extend into sales, new information on Genius’ customer retention has been added, the spelling of Silverpop’s Vtrenz product has been corrected, and the statement that Silverpop stopped developing its marketing automation product has been removed. For an update on this story, see our followup post, “What the !@#$ is marketing automation?

Marketing automation software — software that lets you build content (landing pages, emails, deliverables, etc) and then present it at the right time to your potential buyers — is growing up fast. It’s now in that awkward stage where it’s no longer the cool, new fad but enough people have heard the buzz to know (sort of) what it is and why their company needs it.

Many companies, large and small, were employing marketing automation in some capacity before the category had a name. But thanks to a growing number of new technologies, marketing automation is becoming a defined part of every marketing budget, and corporate marketers are testing for the best solutions just like they did for CRM technologies back in the 90s.

Reputable analyst firms exist have reported on the various tools available, but they often focus only on the technology aspect and don’t include the ancillary pieces that put some MA vendors ahead of others. The most important of those “intangibles” is a strong community where MA newcomers and pros, alike, can gain expertise and best practices.

Enterprise-level marketing automation solutions handle the heaviest-duty cross-platform marketing programs needed by about 20 percent of businesses. The other 80 percent of companies will turn to MA vendors that focus on the mid-market. Let’s take a look at those pros and cons of those mid-market players and what your company needs to know about them before making a choice.

Eloqua
Eloqua does a great job for companies blurring the line between the mid-market and the enterprise – those businesses that aren’t a traditional enterprise in size, but that want to operate like one. Eloqua offers savvy marketers the opportunity to bring different messaging points into their MA programs, provides deep integration into CRM platforms, including Salesforce.com, and can tie in more advanced programs like SMS marketing.

The company struggles, though, by not offering a turnkey solution. The advanced functionality that it offers means that to use it well, a business really needs a team of people, such as a designer and a campaign strategist, overseeing the process. Additionally, functionality from an Eloqua system is limited off the shelf, but the platform’s robust API solves that problem for businesses that have development capabilities in house.

Bottom Line: Businesses that have a savvy marketing staff, a development staff available, and a need for mobile programs should look at Eloqua. But the platform might require too much development work to the API and too much high-end marketing functionality for businesses that don’t have extra hands on deck in these areas.

screenshot from Eloqua

Genius
For businesses that are on the small end of small and medium businesses, Genius makes marketing automation systems that focus on the most simple aspects of MA and that do a good job of educating the market. The company realized early on that sales departments are what drive change in an organization. So this technology does an excellent job of “playing nice” with sales. In addition to being specific about its focus – on the basics – Genius also makes it easy for small businesses to adopt a simple MA platform on a manageable budget.

Once these small businesses want to scale, however, Genius has a hard time keeping up. It’s seen massive customer attrition as customer needs have matured beyond the functionality a Genius system can offer. [Editor’s note: Genius’ customer retention appears to be much stronger than stated here. The company reports a monthly renewal rate of over 97%.]

Bottom Line: Genius is a good choice for business that are new to marketing automation, that want to educate the sales staff and need to quickly wrap their arms around MA. But businesses should be advised that transferring to a different MA platform when you scale is like trying to leave your banking institution – difficult, painful and not a great idea unless you have to.

Marketo
[Disclosure: My company, LeadMD, is a services company that works closely with Marketo clients and resells the platform.] Marketo doesn’t try to be everything to everyone. It knows its marketplace and has purposefully focused on integration with Salesforce.com. Like Genius, Marketo puts an emphasis on education, and its technology offers robust functionality, but is not so complex that you need a team of experts to run the platform. Marketo also has a strong user community, which customers can use for best practices and help.

The company’s most prominent weakness is actually by design – it does not have a footprint into other CRM platforms because it made the decision to focus only on Salesforce.com. Additionally, Marketo tends to be fairly reactive, making it later to market than other vendors with new advancements. There is a positive to this strategy, however; Marketo tends to get it right when it introduces something new, since it has learned from other vendors’ mistakes.

Business-to-business marketers tend to look past the platform because they want things like SMS, social or telephony integrations that Marketo currently doesn’t offer but has roadmap plans to. Additional emphasis should be put on Marketo’s ancillary products – such as Sales Insight – that are highly innovative and bring significant value.

Bottom Line: Marketo is a good match for businesses that are squarely in the mid-market, are using Salesforce.com, are already doing email marketing, and have a need for predictive marketing data in the future. A Marketo customer generally is an early technology adopter, is open to on-demand software purchases, is apt to have an ongoing relationship with a vendor, and will participate in a community.

Pardot
Pardot is known for its price positioning, which offers marketing automation functionality that is easy to use for about 40 percent less than other solutions. It is another vendor that is comfortable in its own skin.

For the cost, however, Pardot offers limited technical functionality. It does not extend as far into sales as some other vendors, so it’s not a great plug into platforms such as Salesforce.com. The company’s customer service will help you get going on the platform and helps customers resolve issues, but the lack of a community means that best practices are not available.

Bottom Line: If you are a US-based business looking for an affordable MA platform that offers basic functionality, keep your eye on Pardot. Like Genius, however, if you anticipate that you will need more sophisticated MA functionality in the future, Pardot doesn’t scale well for deeper functionality.

Silverpop
Silverpop did a great job of acquiring its way into the MA space by purchasing Vtrenz. The company does advanced batch and blast email very well, meaning that it can effectively serve an important and growing market segment. The platform has grown to include more sophisticated functionality such as landing page creation tracking, lead landing functionality for the sales team and even lead nurturing. Silverpop integrates well into different platforms, making its reach even broader.

After acquiring Vtrenz, Silverpop really disguised itself as a MA player when it is really a top of funnel email marketer. For businesses that need to identify better prospects, score them and deeply analyze which campaigns are doing well, Silverpop simply doesn’t support those functions.

Bottom Line: It’s not a true, comprehensive MA technology, but for customers that want superior, high-level email marketing functionality, Silverpop is hard to beat.

End Note
The MA space continues to grow, but vendors that can offer community and best practices are the ones that will help it thrive. People don’t feel lukewarm about MA the way they do about CRM. They either love it or hate it, and these vendors are shaping how the industry will play out.

Justin Gray is the CEO and chief marketing evangelist at LeadMD. The company helps businesses generate and manage leads better through marketing automation processes and technologies. He can be reached at jgray@leadmd.com.


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