Marketing automation is a confusing market to many: How does any one vendor differ from any other? Unfortunately, many would-be buyers wind up comparing dissimilar vendors because they just don’t know any better.

Only 5 percent of businesses are currently using marketing automation, yet those that do are generating outsized leads, conversions, and revenue.

Here’s what you should know. Marketing automation…

  • Delivers value: 80 percent of users see their leads increase, and 77 percent see conversions increase.
  • Is hard to choose: The top challenge in vendor selection is simply understanding the differences in features between them.
  • Isn’t easy to implement: Only 29 percent said they had no issues or delays in getting results.

These findings come from VentureBeat Insight’s latest survey of marketing automation users and vendors. The full marketing automation report is now available on VB Insight.

The objective of marketing automation is to help identify, qualify, convert, and grow (up-sell or cross-sell) customers, although some vendors help in specific areas more than others (like lead generation vs. lead nurturing).

Marketing automation platforms (MAPs) refer to software designed for marketing departments to automate repetitive tasks. However, today it is just as much about coordinating and delivering relevant messages and experiences, regardless of channel.

Marketing automation 2015 - customer journey

We found that marketing automation reaches throughout the customer journey.

  • 43 percent of respondents said that marketing automation enables them to touch at least half of the customer journey
  • Nearly a third (30 percent) of respondents said marketing automation touches over 70 percent of the customer journey.

Ultimately, marketers are looking for that single tool through which to manage customer experience. Marketing automation is not an all-in-one solution, but it has made impressive inroads and is beginning to fill that role.

Because these tools differ, though, it’s critical for marketers to have the appropriate marketing automation solution for their customers’ journeys.

Marketing automation 2015 - vendor quadrant

Choosing a vendor is complex — it’s not a homogenous market.

Many people think of marketing automation as a single category, but there are substantial distinctions to take into account. Two important distinctions are company type (business-to-business vs. business-to-consumer) and size, ranging from small businesses to large enterprises.

Marketing automation in the B2C category are even more confusing, with different features and often even different category names (for instance, they’re not even referring to themselves as marketing automation).

But even if you know which vendors align with your company size and type, that does not guarantee a good match, as you also have to consider specific features, services, integrations, support, etc.

Marketing automation 2015 - feature breakdown

There are many features: some standard, others specialized.

Email and leads top the list, but features can vary significantly by vendor. For example, less than half of the total respondents say they use only their MAP to manage landing pages, but every survey respondent using HubSpot is using it as the exclusive tool for landing page management.

Comparing this many features across dozens of vendors is a major undertaking for would-be buyers. Plus, over two-thirds (71 percent) of current marketing automation users report delays in getting results from their MAPs after they purchase, citing a variety of issues.

Yet those that make the investment are seeing substantial gains in efficiency, leads, and conversions. The result? The vast majority of users plan to spend the same or more next year on marketing automation.