Marketing data often lives in spreadsheets, and that’s totally okay.
No one says that you have to use sophisticated marketing software from day one. And even if someone does say that, you don’t have to listen.
Getting the most value from simple and free tools is a skill you should be proud of. But let’s be honest: One day, your business will grow up and those proven approaches will start to limit your team. You’ll need more space, more functionality, and more automation.
When you feel ready to discover the marketing automation software universe, you may get overwhelmed by the variety of tools. This guide will keep you from getting lost among them. In it, we describe the essential starter software to bring your marketing to the next level. And importantly, we go through effective and affordable tools that provide strong customer support or offer extensive how-to guides so that even a beginner can quickly learn how to integrate this new software into existing business processes.
Types of marketing automation
Marketing automation is about making your marketing efforts more efficient and delegating simple repetitive tasks to software.
But before you start comparing hundreds of top marketing tools, prepare to answer one simple question: What do you expect your MarTech solution to help you with?
Let’s talk about the tasks that marketing automation platforms can optimize.
Does your company do email marketing? If you do, most likely there are things you can optimize.
- Use customizable templates to create a unique style for your emails
- Create and embed forms to gather leads’ contact information
- Send emails automatically after a user takes a desired action (subscribes to a newsletter, downloads content, leaves a request, etc.)
- A/B test your email campaigns
- View and analyze the results of every email sent
You can move your list of leads from an endless spreadsheet to a professional tool that stores all information connected to each lead and their journey with your product. Using lead nurturing software can lead to significant conversion rate growth by allowing you to:
- Keep track of all contacts a person has with your company (blog posts, website pages, newsletter email openings, purchases, reviews, etc.)
- Move your prospects down the funnel with relevant content at the right time
- Analyze demographic and behavioral information for effective lead scoring
Social media marketing
Social media is currently one of the most affordable and at the same time efficient ways to attract new customers. To get the most benefit from this channel, consider using marketing automation tools, as they allow you to:
- Publish posts in real time or schedule posts for multiple social networks using a single interface
- Track mentions and specific keywords and interact with your active or potential audience
- Analyze the efficiency of your social media efforts and make data-driven decisions
- Look at your competitors’ social media presence and analyze their efforts
- Collect information from multiple social networks in the same place
There’s no need to explain the importance of numbers in marketing. Automation tools broaden your horizons and allow you to take a deeper dive into analytics and reporting by:
- Extracting your website analytics data and connecting it with your campaigns
- Bringing data from all your marketing channels (PPC, organic search, SMM, email marketing, phone calls, traditional advertising, etc.) under one roof
- Creating intuitive dashboards and informative reports
SEO and paid traffic
People usually get to your website from Google or other search engines. You either pay for their clicks or attract them with relevant content that matches their search queries, and marketing automation platforms can help you with both.
- Look at your competitors’ SEO and PPC efforts and analyze the results
- Perform keyword research to get ideas for relevant long-tail keywords
- Track your link-building efficiency and compare it to your competitors’
- Track your ranking in SERP and analyze the dynamics
Think carefully about the marketing efforts software should aid you with. This will help you narrow down your list of options.
Overview of marketing automation tools
There are two groups of marketing automation software: the first focuses on a specific task (SEO, data visualization), while the second brings broad marketing automation functionality under one roof and is a complex hub for all marketing-related activities.
In this guide, we review both types and list the best marketing automation software. Compare these products with your requirements to choose the best option for your business.
HubSpot — A multi-purpose marketing automation software product for small and midsize businesses
HubSpot offers proven marketing and sales solutions to match various needs. It works equally well for companies that run their marketing in-house and marketing agencies working with multiple clients. HubSpot is a complex solution combining multiple marketing automation activities.
What HubSpot features should you try?
Customer relationship management is the core of HubSpot’s software. It enables you to store all information about your customers in one place so you can always recall how many articles a user read, what emails she received from you, what products she put in her shopping cart, and what she last purchased on the website. This information allows you to personalize communication with customers and make data-driven decisions based on group behavior. And the best thing is that the basic HubSpot CRM is free.
- Email automation
HubSpot allows you to launch email campaigns, create email templates, run A/B tests, manage subscriber lists, etc.
With HubSpot, you can measure the results of your campaigns, calculate ROI, and analyze the outcomes of experiments. HubSpot gathers data from Google Analytics and social media services in one place to make reporting faster and easier.
- Landing pages
If you previously had to involve freelance designers and web developers to create landing pages for your campaigns, with HubSpot, you can do it all by yourself. Offering multiple templates and intuitive drag-and-drop functionality, HubSpot saves you much time and money.
As I’ve already mentioned, you can start using HubSpot CRM for free. Advanced marketing automation functionality is available with customizable plans starting at $50 per month.
It’s worth mentioning that most educational resources provided by HubSpot are free for everyone. Being experts in everything marketing, HubSpot provides online courses, ebooks, and articles to help you drive your business with fresh ideas, new trends, and inspiring case studies. The company also provides onboarding to make sure you don’t waste your time and make the most of your HubSpot account from day one.
Mailchimp — Delivering personal messages
If your company does email marketing, then Mailchimp shouldn’t be a new name to you. It used to be the number one email marketing service, but now its functionality goes far beyond email marketing. So what does Mailchimp allow you to do alongside its expected email-related features?
- Build tailored customer journeys depending on a user’s behavior
- Keep all your campaigns in a single marketing calendar
- Benefit from data science to have your emails delivered at the right time
- Use a website builder to launch your own website or online shop
- Generate organic and paid engagement on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter
- Create, edit, and store designs for your email campaigns
- Connect your e-commerce or event app to automate tasks
- Extract analytics from other services to improve campaign targeting
Mailchimp has grown from an email automation tool to a complex marketing hub with everything a small business would ever need.
Beginner companies will like that starting with Mailchimp costs nothing. The free plan allows you to email up to 2,000 contacts, create landing pages, manage social posting and advertising, use basic templates, and create and store your own visuals. More sophisticated feature sets come at $9.99 and $14.99 per month. The premium plan for professionals starts at $299 a month and is customizable according to your requirements.
If you’re considering MarTech software products with a narrow focus, consider the following options:
Sprout Social — Reimagining the role of social media for businesses
Sprout Social is one of the leading platforms for social media management, with a focus on businesses and brands. As of 2021, it supports Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest.
Its well-thought-out set of features will cover nearly any use case:
- Social listening
Follow related keywords, hashtags, and locations to monitor any social activity that may be connected to your brand. With Sprout Social, you’ll have a chance to quickly react to any issues and maintain a positive brand image. Also, social listening helps you better understand your competitors and detect new trends and development opportunities before they go mainstream.
- Unified inbox
Sprout Social puts incoming messages from all platforms in one place so you never get lost in hundreds of notifications and allows you to easily manage direct communications with your audience.
- Publishing and post scheduling
Publish updates to any social platform without needing to log in. You can also use Sprout Social to share a post across all platforms or schedule posts ahead of time. A sharable content calendar is a great feature for team collaboration.
- Asset library
Store, edit, and publish photos, videos, infographics, gifs, etc.
- Team collaboration
Get live activity updates, assign roles, share information, and work on drafts collectively. Sprout Social has everything needed for efficient collaboration.
- Social media analytics
Monitor the efficiency of your paid and organic campaigns and compare your metrics to those achieved by your competitors. Sprout Social enables you to create custom reports to make data sharing and teamwork even more effective. With this tool, you can work with the metrics that matter to you at the particular moment.
For Sprout Social, easy onboarding is a priority. The Sprout Social team has created a learning portal to help new and existing users benefit from the service. Along with tutorials on using the product, the Sprout learning portal and blog provide helpful tips to improve your social media marketing.
You can test Sprout Social free for 30 days, then choose one of the paid plans. Prices start at $99 per month for a Standard plan that lets you manage up to five accounts. You can purchase additional active accounts without needing to upgrade your plan.
Ahrefs — An all-in-one SEO toolset
Ahrefs is a product born from highly specific expertise. At the age of 15, the company’s CEO, Dmitry Gerasimenko, built his first document search engine. His next idea was searching PDF documents. This idea resulted in the development of a web crawler and later brought Gerasimenko and his team to create one of the best SEO products on the market.
If you or your clients count on search traffic, then Ahrefs must be in your tool stack. It’s a go-to solution for content creation and distribution and can help you with multiple tasks:
- Keyword research
- Link building
- Website SEO health audits
- Competitor analysis
- Website audits
- Rank tracking
- Content performance
Ahref’s main competitive advantage is its index of around 300 billion web pages, with about 8 billion pages updated per day. This means you can always connect the latest information and be one step ahead of your competitors.
If you decide to try Ahrefs, you can do it for just $7 for the first week. After the trial is over, you can choose a plan starting at $99 per month.
Ahrefs provides an extensive manual where you can learn about its primary features and hidden gems. Learning to use the tool properly will give you every chance of getting your website on the first page of Google search results.
Zalster — The new word in advertising automation
Zalster promises to help you reach your goals on Facebook and Instagram. Based on machine learning, this tool makes sure your ad budget is spent in the most effective way. As a Facebook Marketing Partner, Zalster strives to take over most manual actions like adjusting budgets and bid strategies. The algorithm works round the clock, constantly monitoring your ad campaign’s health.
Here is the key functionality of Zalster:
- A campaign pool budget ensures automatic budget adjustments based on the results of each ad set so you don’t miss any opportunity.
- Bid optimization is responsible for thorough testing and automatic selection of bidding strategies.
- Smart rule optimization gives you control over what decisions you’re ready to assign to an algorithm and which require your manual approval.
Zalster is a great solution for both Facebook professionals and advertising newcomers. The algorithm has learned from thousands of campaigns, and you can now benefit from this knowledge base. Besides, the experience of the Zalster team is reflected in the company’s blog, which gives valuable advertising tips.
You can start using Zalster with a 14-day free trial. Zalster then charges a fee based on your Facebook ad spending (usually around 2% of spending). \
How to choose marketing automation software?
You don’t necessarily have to choose one of the tools described above. In the end, everything depends on your requirements, expectations, and budget. But you definitely have to pay attention to these important rules:
Pay for what you’re going to use
Most MarTech software providers offer bundles that seem attractive at first. But a closer look may reveal that the plan you’re considering includes features you won’t ever need. Always investigate alternatives and pay for the marketing automation functionality you will use now. \
Consider your future plans
Of course, when choosing a marketing automation provider, you shouldn’t be choosing a lifetime partnership. However, after investing your time and efforts in integrating software into your business processes, switching may be painful. So think of where you see your company in the future and whether the service you want to choose will be able to satisfy upcoming demands.
For example, if you don’t do email marketing now but are considering doing it in a year or two, look at marketing automation software providers that offer email automation among their services.
Read the documentation before starting the trial
Most MarTech companies offer a free trial to let clients test their service before making a long-term commitment in the form of a yearly subscription. Make sure you go through tutorials and other supporting documentation before you start the trial. The educational content created by a software provider should give you tips and tricks you’d never have known just by clicking through the app. Knowing them in advance, you can take full advantage of the software during the trial period and decide whether you’re ready to pay for the functionality. \
Consider software customization capabilities
Let’s say you really like the HubSpot CRM and landing pages but the service lacks proper SEO functionality, so you use Ahrefs. Also, you started using Mailchimp a while back and you don’t want to change your email automation provider. These are three different tools you use for marketing. But what if I said you could combine all these tools in a single browser tab? Many marketing automation software providers release APIs that make it possible to integrate their services with other software. This way, you can build your perfectly tailored marketing automation system based on world-class tools. Note that API integration requires software development skills and a background in software architecture. If you lack the required programming expertise in-house, consider outsourcing this task.
The marketing automation software industry is developing rapidly. As you read this article, brand-new solutions are in development, and chances are they will become part of your MarTech stack soon.
After choosing the right software, your efforts will be rewarded. Automation makes your processes more efficient, reduces mistakes, and gives you new possibilities. So make your choice wisely.