Find Your Ideal Marketing Automation Platform (MAP)

You might already be aware of the top reasons to automate your sales and marketing . Maybe you’ve even started the search for technology tools that can take your already-growing business to the next level. Without a doubt, the right marketing automation platform (MAP) can turbo-charge your marketing efforts—helping you boost revenue by capturing more leads, closing more deals, shortening the sales cycle, and increasing the productivity of your sales team—often without increasing your marketing investment.

In our experience with companies of all shapes, sizes, marks, and missions, Bonfire Effect has gathered a fair amount of firsthand knowledge when it comes to a variety of MAP solutions. So if we may be so bold, allow us to pass along a bit of of our marketing moxie—some friendly travel tips, if you will, to help you MAP (see what we did there?) the content marketing and automation solution that’s best for your business.

There are dozens of full-featured marketing automation options on the market, not to mention hundreds of other tools that deliver limited marketing functionality at a fraction of the cost of a full-featured MAP. One of the most common questions we hear from clients is, “Do I really need all of this stuff?” And the answer is, no…not everybody does. But some companies are leaving significant amounts of money and market share on the table by choosing the wrong tool for the job.

So, to help you navigate the sometimes-overwhelming number of options out there, we’ve put together three business profiles based on size, complexity, and goals—pinpointing the marketing technology options that work best for each stage of business.

NOTE: We couldn’t fairly compare ALL available marketing automation options on the market. So we picked the six options with which we have the most experience. There may be some good options that were left off this list, but we feel that any business could find a good option here.

The Digital Marketing Novice

For many small B2C and B2B businesses, where marketing efforts are managed by the owner in just an hour or two a month rather than by a dedicated team, basic email marketing tools can be a great first step toward increased revenues. These businesses might have a website and/or basic social media accounts in place, but their digital presence pretty much ends there. Their main goals are to periodically touch base with customers and occasionally mass-email nurturing content to their entire list (i.e. coupons, specials, or other announcements).

We compared ConstantContact and SharpSpring’s Mail+ (previously GraphicMail), which allow you to set up mass emailing, give customers the chance to sign up on your website to receive emails, send coupons and promos, and even keep your contacts up-to-speed on your company and industry through a monthly email newsletter.

While both ConstantContact and Mail+ are decent user-friendly options for small businesses, we recommend Mail+ because it offers a few extras that you won’t find with ConstantContact, including basic “after-the-click” tracking, improved email deliverability, and a few features to personalize lead journeys. Because it tracks recipients’ activities on your website, Mail+ also allows you to send emails automatically based on the online behavior of a given lead and provides simple ways to start personalizing emails based on data stored in Mail+. And with a competitive month-to-month price tag, Mail+ is an attractive option for small businesses that are just embarking on their digital marketing journey.

The Mid-sized Establishment

Next in the evolution of marketing technology are full-featured-yet-simple MAP solutions, featuring more comprehensive tools that go beyond email and allow you to integrate all of your marketing channels (SEO, PPC, social media, remarketing, print, direct mail, live events, AND email). Plus, these solutions help you align sales and marketing, automate the most tedious parts of marketing, and personalize the journey for each prospect. For small-to-mid-sized B2B businesses with at least one dedicated sales/marketing employee, or for mid-sized B2C businesses with large lists and heavy competition, platforms like these can be a good fit.

Companies within this profile probably have a decent web presence—maybe even a blog or other forms of high-value content. They might have a couple thousand contacts or more on their email lists or want to grow their lists within the near future. And because they are investing more hard-earned budget dollars in marketing than ever before, they need to make sure they are getting the biggest bang for their buck.

These businesses probably have leads coming in from their marketing efforts, but now they need to improve efficiencies—directing their sales people to the right leads at the right time (to offer up the right product). They’re seeking tools to help them work smarter—building and leveraging a content marketing plan to nurture and convert leads through personalized journeys, automated best practices, and aligned sales and marketing efforts.

We recommend two marketing automation platforms for companies in this profile: Pardot and SharpSpring. They both deliver complete email marketing, landing page design and hosting, website integration, lead scoring and management, web and email personalization, and persona-based marketing. Add to that tracking of virtually all marketing channels (especially AdWords, SEO, and social media), sales integration, and rules-based automation. And both allow you to pull lead information from social media channels and run reports that provide insight into the entire revenue cycle.

While Pardot has some advantages for companies that use Salesforce as their CRM, SharpSpring delivers a rich, intuitive platform with a built-in CRM that can be stood up in a week or two with the right support. But the real difference between these two solutions is how much they leave in your pocketbook. Compared to Pardot, SharpSpring comes in at about half the price (or less) and offers a month-to-month payment option instead of an annual contract—virtually unheard of in the MAP market.

The Big Shots

Last but not least, there are the big kahunas of the business world—ranging from mid-sized companies with full sales and marketing teams to enterprise-level corporations with multiple divisions, international footprints, and complex structures. These businesses are spending at least a couple million dollars on marketing efforts each year, maintaining a complex multi-channel marketing strategy, a robust content marketing program, and a breadth of personas and buying stages for each product or service. Because they’re investing hefty sums into marketing activities, they need advanced analytics around ROI and KPIs to ensure extreme optimization of their marketing campaigns.

We recommend Marketo or Eloqua for large companies like these, and with each solution, you get the full gamut of marketing automation—including the most advanced email campaigns, web integration, ROI and “revenue marketing” analytics, sales and marketing team alignment, and virtually unlimited flexibility. These MAP monsters can segment leads down to extreme minutia to deliver consistently relevant content and engaging interactions across the entire spectrum of interactions.

Eloqua is best for complex multi-brand enterprises with a global footprint, large teams of marketing users with varying permissions and security settings, and integration with Oracle’s CRM.

Marketo is best for fast-growing companies that want to leverage advanced revenue marketing analytics right away and have built a complex and highly-customized Salesforce instance for their CRM. (Marketo has one of the tightest Salesforce integrations—rivaling even Pardot, Salesforce’s own MAP.)

Either of these tools, however, will allow you to do just about anything your business needs to do. Want to build an integration that segments your customers based on what time of day they use your proprietary iPhone app? These solutions can do that (with some beefy custom programing, of course). Want to create complex data management and lead lifecycle criteria that keeps your entire CRM system clean and aligned? They can do that, too.

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, the best MAP for you (or the decision to ditch MAPs in favor of inexpensive limited-functionality alternatives) depends on how much you have to invest in it (time and money) and how large and complex your marketing budget is.

SharpSpring or Pardot will get you in the game quickly with a single person running your marketing show, while helping you attract more leads, close more deals, shorten your sales cycle, and automatically enforce best practices. But that simplicity comes with some tradeoffs in the areas of flexibility and analytics.

Marketo or Eloqua will require some dedicated and highly-trained help, but will do all of the above with virtually no constraints. And if you need complex analytics to justify your marketing department, then these bad boys will make you look like a rock star.

As technologies advance and customer expectations change, the world of marketing will continue to grow. And if businesses don’t keep up, then more innovative competitors will blow up the market with these advanced tools in their pockets. With the right MAP, you can find your way to effective, engaging marketing and a healthier bottom line.

For an apples-to-apples view of all the systems and options we explored, take a look at our complete comparison chart by clicking the preview below.