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Once upon a time, you could launch a product or a service with a newspaper, radio, or TV ad; deliver orders to middlemen; or provide services yourself and watch the dollars roll in.

That fantasy world is long gone, and in its place is a complex and quickly moving reality in which you need to source demand, manage leads, nurture prospects and make them customers, sell, deliver — and keep doing it over and over while maintaining and enhancing relationships.

lemonadeIn other words, yes, you actually have to talk to people, in a lot of different ways and via many different media.

That’s where marketing automation comes in. These technologies help you find customers, maintain relationships with them, nurture those relationships, and make the most of your marketing efforts.


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Marketing automation is growing fast — 50 percent annually, according to some numbers — and is already a billion-dollar industry in the business-to-business market alone. Solutions range from $199/month to hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, and companies are adopting solutions from both massive long-time enterprise vendors such as IBM and startups that no one knew of five years ago — and barely anyone outside of the field of marketing automation knows today.

VentureBeat’s Marketing Automation Index is now available.
See the announcement here, and get the report here.

But the costs of picking the wrong marketing automation solution — or failing to plan — are massive.

”People who don’t have their processes planned out when they turn on their system take two to three months to recover,” says marketing automation expert David Raab.

The interesting part is that we’re in the middle of a revolution — a cloud-fueled revolution where marketing automation is transforming from something the leading and bleeding edge does to something that every midsized company needs to do,just in order to keep up. As as that change occurs, VentureBeat wants to be there, helping startup, small, and medium-sized businesses grow alongside them.

Oh, and we want your input. What follows is our initial report, but we’ll be updating it in the coming weeks as we hear from you.

Click through for each part of our initial report:

Marketing automation: An overview

Marketing automation can be confusing simply because it is such a big concept. Essentially, everything that falls or could fall under the heading “marketing” can be systematized and fit under “marketing automation.”

VentureBeat’s Marketing Automation Index is now available.
See the announcement here, and get the report here.

This includes demand generation, traditional marketing activities, inbound marketing generation, search engine optimization, pay-per-click advertising, and social media marketing. It includes website optimization and customization via segmented visitor analysis software that tells you who is visiting your website, where they’re from, and what they’re likely to be interested in.

robot spyIt also includes lead qualification, lead nurturing, and lead management via thought-leadership activities, blogging, white papers, newsletters, and case studies. Actual sales themselves are naturally part of the process, along with steps in which you contact customers or pre-customers via email, social channels, or even by phone. And, of course, there is ongoing campaign analysis, sales effectiveness tracking, and sales intelligence.

The oft-cited statistic is that 70 percent of the buying process is complete before the purchaser ever engages with a salesperson. Whether that number is accurate or not, in these days of search engines and social networks, more and more power is being transferred from sellers to buyers, who can easily perform company and product research that 20 years ago would have been a dream.

A good marketing automation suite should provide the tools to drive traffic to your various sites, subsites, and social channels; help you understand who that traffic really is; help you customize your messages to those people; and then invite them into a complex opening dance with your company that ultimately leads the ultimate prize: Cash in your pocket.

Along the way, email marketing, landing pages, CRM integration, social marketing, and analytics and reporting are key.

Next: The big (new) boys: Hubspot, Eloqua, Marketo … and Salesforce

The big (new) boys: Hubspot, Eloqua, Marketo … and Salesforce

There’s no doubt that the big boys and big names in this space — the three horsemen of marketing automation, if you will — are Hubspot, Eloqua, and Marketo. And while you may not hear Salesforce mentioned along with these companies, the new Salesforce1 platform means that the massive customer relationship management company — with its existing capabilities and its new vision — is also going to be massive in this conversation.

All four have been around for at least seven years, with Eloqua the eldest, having been founded back in the dark ages of the dot-com bubble in 1999. All have thousands of clients and at least a hundred thousand users. That means they all have a “can’t get fired for choosing me” flavor reminiscent of old-school IBM software buys.

Image (1) hubspot.jpg for post 135447There are some significant differences, however.

Hubspot excels at content management. In fact, Hubspot can actually power your website — perhaps a little simplistic, but a full-fledged content-managed website nevertheless. As such, integration with your website can be no integration at all, although that may require migrating your site over to Hubspot’s platform.

It has a full-fledged app marketplace with over 150 apps that integrate with just about anything you would want and over 100 service providers who can come in, train, work on system and processes, and build custom integrations as you need.

As a content-management system, Hubspot has some of the best search engine optimization tools, including link tracking, keyword analysis that’s built into its content-creation interface, and more. The service is pricy, but it’s not the most expensive, at between $200/month for very limited functionality and $1,000/month for full service. You’ll pay extra per 1,000 managed contact records over a small included number, however, and for very big installations, you can get custom pricing that runs higher.

Screenshot of Eloqua dashboardEloqua, which will show up on the next page as well, is one of the real pioneers of marketing automation and does not hesitate to call itself the “most powerful” of marketing automation solutions — while also claiming to be the largest.

It is a powerful solution, with strong capability in targeting and segmentation, measurement and analytics, and in building and running marketing campaigns. Oracle acquired it in 2012 for $871 million, which is at one and the same time a signal of quality, a signal that it integrates well into Oracle’s other enterprise solutions, and a big red flashing alert that its pricing is not cheap.

Eloqua has excellent tools for customer-lifecycle marketing, and its AppCloud hosts over 100 apps integrating your marketing automation solution into lead scoring, data validation, communication (e.g., SMS, email, Twitter, WebEx), and contact data enhancement solutions.

Pricing ranges from $2,000 to $5,000 per month (and up), and integration tends to be a bit of a chore (understatement alert!). It does not currently integrate with Google Adwords to track pay-per-click campaigns.

blog-marketo-logoMarketo was founded the same year as Hubspot, 2006, and experienced explosive annual revenue growth of 3,545 percent in the years leading up to 2011, which could be a good sign that the company eats its own dogfood and the taste is good.

While also a bit on the pricy side, Marketo prides itself on offering a complete solution that, it says, simplifies a marketer’s world. That includes marketing automation across all your channels, a specific email marketing solution, a social media marketing campaign manager, a marketing budgeting and forecasting tool, and analytics and sales insights. CRM, however, is separate, and relies on integrations with third-party providers, such as Salesforce.

The company is also not shy about calling itself the “leading” marketing automation platform, which is difficult to argue as it has perhaps 2,500 customers and manages over five billion campaigns and 25 billion lead-generation activities every year.

Marketo can easily cost $50,000 a year, with prices from $1,200 to $12,000 per month and up, depending on what you want.

salesforce platformSalesforce is somewhat in a class of its own, because it is a hybrid between a massive integrated platform like what you might expect from an old-school enterprise vendor, and a mix of supporting apps and services in the thousands from hundreds of other companies. And it’s all on a modern, mobile, cloud infrastructure with no software installation required and, theoretically, no integration pain.

Of course, Salesforce’s genesis is in CRM, which is a bit more narrow than marketing automation.

But within Salesforce, you can add to established marketing automation tools from Marketo and Hubspot, plus other marketing automation platforms such as Pardot, LeadFormix, SalesFusion, Act-On, and Silverpop (see up-and-comers).

Oracle’s Eloqua, of course, is not there, as Oracle has its own marketing cloud.

But the point is that if you have bought into the Salesforce1 concept and have integrated it into your company’s processes, plenty of marketing-automation tools are within the Salesforce AppExchange. They will require additional payment, of course, and therefore you will be paying for not just your CRM tool but also your automation tool, but the integration and ease of having all your data in one platform might be just the ticket for you.

And you’re likely already paying other vendors, if you’re not on Salesforce already, for similar services.

Next: The old-guard enterprise and marketing automation

The old-guard of enterprise software and marketing automation

Despite that Eloqua, Marketo, and Hubspot are not founded-yesterday startups, they’re not the grand old men of marketing automation. That distinction belongs to blue-chippers like IBM, Oracle, SAP, and SAS.

These companies have long specialized in big software for big companies with big price tags.

sales-upA company like SAS has “solution lines” (aka sets of inter-related products) for marketing, including analytics, business intelligence, and customer intelligence. But it also has a specific, single product labeled “marketing automation,” which, it argues, offers unmatched usability, unrivaled analytics, and superior data management — and which the company has tested and developed over 10 years with insider insights from the world’s biggest corporations.

SAS’s solution enables you to segment your market, create multichannel campaigns, run A/B tests, and manage all your marketing activities centrally.

Ultimately, however, its biggest asset — and the largest fly in its ointment — might be its tight integration with other SAS business and data tools. And if you’re not in the SAS world, it may not make sense for you. And, of course, pricing starts well in the six figures and goes — you guessed it — up from there. But if you’re a Fortune 1000, it may just fit your budget, and your needs.

Like SAS, IBM has any number of software solutions for marketing.

The company bought marketing automation startup Unica for almost $500 million in 2010 to “help companies automate, manage, and accelerate core business processes across marketing, demand generation, sales, order processing, and fulfillment.” It also offers other products in the areas of data, analytics, and commerce as well as a package of solutions it calls Enterprise Marketing Management, which includes enterprise-scale marketing optimization as well as pricing, product mix, customer experience, and web optimization and performance modules.

ibmpos_blurgbThe Unica purchase now resides in what IBM calls “Marketing Operations,” and focuses on budgets, processes, and collaboration, as well as asset tracking.

Again, costs are high — well into the six figures — and integration is key. If you’re an IBM shop, and if you’re a massive company, this is worth considering. But simply due to the number of solutions and modules and complexities, don’t expect an easy, short, or cheap route to marketing automation.

VentureBeat’s Marketing Automation Index is now available. See the announcement here, and get the report here.

Oracle has the unique distinction of offering blue-chip services and support from a big, old-school company while also offering the focused, fairly simple, and straightforward solution of a marketing automation startup. That’s because Oracle bought Eloqua (see previous page) and smartly kept it functioning as a standalone company. While pricing isn’t exactly cheap, it’s not Bill Gates-expensive either, and you still get massive integration capability into other Oracle solutions.

Which, along with Eloqua’s already mentioned marketing automation chops, makes this a solid choice for medium-sized companies.

Image (1) sap_logo.jpg for post 182688SAP has many of the same challenges of old-school SAS and IBM, without the benefit of a recent targeted acquisition that is laser-focused on marketing automation. The company presents its CRM solutions as a marketing automation suite, with varying degrees of success.

As one SAP sales target put it, “At times the scenario feels like this: ‘SAP is the answer. What was the question?'”

SAP did buy Hybris in a billion-dollar acquisition in 2013, but that company, while focused to a degree on customer experience, has largely been targeted on B2B commerce, not B2C. And it lacks many of the tools that Eloqua and Marketo offer, which offer a direct link between planning marketing campaigns and actually initiating them right within the same tool, with all the capabilities you need immediately present.

SAP shares one other challenge with many of the other enterprise-level solutions, Oracle’s Eloqua excepted: Do not imagine that you will implement these solutions with extensive help from IT personnel. Hubspot and Marketo, on the other hand, are not nearly as large a technical challenge to integrate and use.

Next: The up-and-comers and a host of helpers

The up-and-comers and a host of helpers

There are literally dozens of other companies in the marketing automation space that are worthy of consideration by a company looking for either a full solution or a piece of the pie.

Image (1) foreclosure-home-sales-up1.gif for post 108665That includes full solutions such as Pardot, which was founded in 2007 and has over a thousand customers with just 60 employees. It’s focused on B2B marketing automation and features a full suite, including email marketing, lead generation, ROI tracking, and social marketing. Acquired for almost $100 million by Exact Target in 2012 (which was then acquired itself by Salesforce), Pardot isn’t strong on social and doesn’t have the most sophisticated tools, but is very affordable.

Another option is InfusionSoft, which is B2C and bigger than Pardot, with over 10,000 clients — and built-in e-commerce capabilities. The company bills itself as CRM for small and medium firms, and it offers drag-and-drop campaigns with landing pages, special offers, email marketing, sales events, and reminders. More designed for small business and growing startups, it’s even more affordable at around $500/month.

Others include the very, very simple Net-Results;LoopFuse, with pricing from $350 to $1,495 per month); Silverpop, with a strong emphasis on email marketing; MindMatrix, which has a strong focus on sales; SalesFusion, which is similar but runs up to $3,000/month; and LeadFormix.

Those who have chosen a platform for their marketing automation plans also often need additional tools, like Multichannel, which tracks your marketing spend; Custora, which helps you track your costs of customer acquisition; or Referly, which enables you to create your own rewards network. Whether it’s for content marketing or social media marketing, there are always additional tools to pick up, test, and use.

The key is ease of data integration — and there, Salesforce has a significant edge.

Next: The top 10: superheroes of marketing automation

The top 10: Superheroes of marketing automation

As we’ve seen, the massively growing marketing automation field is busy and complex. Rendering that down to a top 10 list is inherently simplistic, but we look forward to your help to making it better and better.

Here’s our VentureBeat Top 10 list so far. It will likely change — largely due to the results of our marketing automation survey.

  1. Hubspot: Simplicity and accessibility, plus power, all in one package
  2. Marketo: Explosive growth and a wide range of tools
  3. Eloqua: The power of enterprise and the usability of a modern startup, nicely married
  4. Salesforce: A vision of ultimate connectedness in Salesforce1, and a lot of present reality in AppExchange
  5. SAS: Power, power, power. Pricy, but perhaps the most user-friendly big-company solution
  6. IBM: Power to spare but be prepared to integrate and train and launch
  7. InfusionSoft: Built-in e-commerce, drag-and-drop campaigns
  8. LoopFuse: Very affordable starting pricing
  9. MindMatrix: Strong focus on sales, with vertical solutions
  10. Silverpop: Amazing for email

Agree? Disagree?

Here’s who made it into the final report.

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