Hannah Stewart
Hannah Stewart | November 19, 2018
VP Marketing

Marketing automation tools can be a nightmare to choose between – here’s our guide to how to pick the best one for your e-commerce business

Marketing automation tools allow marketers to reach more prospective customers with less effort. While well-established as part of the B2B marketer’s stack, they’re a less common feature of B2C and e-commerce.

If you’re choosing a marketing automation tool for the first time, here’s what you need to know.

What’s a Marketing Automation Tool?

According to Marcus Taylor at VentureHarbour, “At a fundamental level, marketing automation is about optimization. From optimizing your staff’s time, to optimizing which customers your sales team focuses their effort on, the scope of marketing automation goes way beyond simply automating your marketing department’s repetitive tasks.”

In a nutshell, a marketing automation tool is a piece of software that allows you to automate a lot of the functions that marketers are used to doing manually: sending emails, scoring and nurturing leads, posting to social media – and much more. The definition is as long as the proverbial piece of string.

For a marketing or e-commerce business, marketing automation’s benefits include reduced staff costs, improved accountability, and more consistent marketing of creative – instead of repetitive – content.

There are three things that every marketing automation tool needs to have:

  • a database – you’re going to be triggering activities depending on what your contacts do, so you need all of that data captured and stored
  • a way to orchestrate actions – simply put, ‘workflows’. This is the core of what we mean by ‘automation’
  • a way to report – the point of the tool is to become more effective, so you’ll need to be able to see whether or not you’re getting it right

For an e-commerce marketer, the thing to remember is that many marketing automation tools aren’t well-built for what you’re trying to do. The likes of Marketo, for example, sit squarely in the B2B space. This is actually one of the key reasons it was recently acquired by Adobe, who seized on the opportunity to extend its reach into B2B markets. However, many marketing automation tools are realizing the potential new markets in e-commerce and developing their offerings accordingly, so watch this space.

How to Evaluate Marketing Automation Tools

Writing on CMSWire, Dom Nicastro says, “Marketers deploy strategies through their marketing automation systems in a number of ways.” These include specifying criteria, leveraging cookies, using forms for contact information, and mixing inbound and outbound strategies.

Before investing in marketing automation tools, you should know what you need automation to accomplish for your business. Do you want to track visitors? Send real-time sales alerts? Market upgrades to past buyers? Collect email addresses? Or store, segment, and select data to pinpoint the right messaging for the right customer?

It’s important to remember that not all automation is good automation. If a platform only moves certain tasks from hands to machines, it may not do enough. Alternatively, if a software provider assures you that it can automate everything, that’s an alarm bell.

Knowing what’s needed prior to purchasing a platform or software saves money, minimizes frustration and maximizes marketing benefits. At this point, your first step should be to make a list:

  1. Your goals in getting a new marketing automation tool
  2. The tool’s ‘must-have’ features
  3. What are you prepared to compromise on?

With your specifications in hand, you’re ready to start searching the marketplace. There are few good ways to see what your options might be:

  • Use a tag-monitoring plug-in such as BuiltWith to visit sites similar to yours to see which tools they’re using
  • Talk to the providers of other softwares in your stack and ask which platforms they integrate with – this can make adoption much easier
  • Visit review platforms such as G2Crowd and Capterra to check out which platforms have the best write-ups

When you’re ready to engage with a provider, Justin Gray at LeadMD recommends asking several questions such as:

  • Is there an associated community?
  • What will the ROI look like?
  • How does the functionality align with your goals?

Ready to start your search? To make things a little easier, we’ve searched the market and compiled a shortlist of some of the marketing automation tools we’d recommend taking a look at…

Dotmailer

Since 1999, this marketing automation platform has built its services around email, the number-one performing digital marketing tactic. More than 70,000 customers in 150-plus countries use Dotmailer to build automated email programs that follow the full length of a customer’s journey.

  • Pricing – Packages run from $150 per month to $600 per month with a 20% discount for nonprofits and charities.
  • Ease of use – Dotmailer is one of the simplest as well as most powerful platforms on the market. It’s a great place to start for growing businesses who are familiar with Email Service Providers like MailChimp and who now want to take the next step.
  • Features – Training, Campaign Management, Creative Studio, Strategic Services, and Custom Integrations. Integration with Yieldify.
  • Best for – Email marketing professionals who need an all-in-one package with powerful capacity in a drag-and-drop template

Oracle Bronto

Focused on high-growth e-commerce retailers all around the globe, Oracle Bronto provides email services that can integrate with all commerce platforms. Bronto also gives users the capacity to deliver responsive social and mobile media campaigns with an emphasis on cart abandonment recovery. The platform includes an array of powerful apps beyond core functionality.

  • Pricing – Free demo. Quote-based plan.
  • Ease of useRankings by 42 users at Capterra gave Bronto 4 out of 5 stars for ease of use.
  • Features – Drag-and-Drop Automation, Post-Purchase Campaigns, Cart Abandonment Reminders, VIP and Loyalty Programs, Precise Segmentation. Integration with Yieldify.
  • Best for – E-commerce retailers who need an ultra-powerful marketing automation platform with an intuitive interface

ActiveCampaign

ActiveCampaign’s pricing makes it an attractive option, with good value for money spanning across a number of features. Its feature set is more focused on acquisition than conversion, so marketers looking for landing pages will be disappointed.

  • Pricing – Starts from $17/month, rising depending on feature set and number of contacts
  • Ease of use – A simple platform with a wide variety of self-learning guides and courses makes this an ideal option for those happy to work their own way through it – more substantive services have to come from a partner agency
  • Features – Email Marketing, Site and Event Tracking, Contact and Lead Scoring, SMS Messaging
  • Best for – Smaller businesses looking for a good entry-level solution

HubSpot

One of the most-recognized names in marketing automation tools, HubSpot offers a full stack of sales, marketing, and CRM technology dedicated to business growth (we also use it here at Yieldify). Its products integrate online and social media marketing activities, including email, SEO, contacts, and analytics.

  • Pricing – Prices range from free to $2,400 a month.
  • Ease of use – Good, and improving regularly with recently-added features such as drag-and-drop email builders.
  • Features – Calls-to-Action, Progressive Profiling, A/B Testing Landing Pages, Segmentation, SEO Recommendations, Blog Analytics, Integrated Social Publishing
  • Best for – Marketers who need a powerful, all-in-one tool for segmentation, contact management, push-button social media control, and report creation. Hubspot’s weakness is that it’s not really build for e-commerce, but this is changing with features such as a native Shopify integration and ability to connect a custom store.

SharpSpring

SharpSpring concentrates on driving leads and converting them to sales through behavior-based email, blog building, dynamic landing pages, and social media.

  • Pricing – Onboarding costs $1,800. Monthly fees range from $450 to $875, and quote-based options are available.
  • Ease of use – SharpSpring provides onboarding, but the system is easy to learn and use. It integrates with more than 700 third-party tools.
  • Features – Behavioral Based Email Automation, Dynamic Forms, Lead Scoring, Robust Rules Engine, Dynamic Web Content, Daily VisitorID Email, Smart Emails, and Point-and-Click WYSIWYG Editor. Integrations with Shopify, BigCommerce and Magento.
  • Best for – Smaller retailers who need powerful analytics and highly customizable content