Marketing Automation Primer: Why You Need It & Choosing a Solution

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Approx. 8 min. read
Last updated: October 31, 2016

Opting for a marketing automation tool is a big decision, but it pays off in the long run.


With dozens of marketing automation (MA) platforms on the market, most marketers will have heard of these tools. Several of the big names include Eloqua, Marketo, Hubspot and Act-On. Eloqua, the first major contender in this space, was launched in 1999. However, the industry didn’t truly begin to explode until the last three or four years, as companies began to recognize that not spending on marketing tools would diminish their chances of success, compared to their competitors who were adopting the latest in marketing tools.

In fact, adoption has risen steadily since 2011 – there are over 11 times more B2B (business-to-business) companies using marketing automation today than in early 2011. While B2B adoption has been more pronounced than the B2C (business-to-consumer) space, B2C organizations are also adopting marketing automation software at a good rate; 53% of B2B and 43% of B2C organizations have adopted MA.


Marketing automation – what’s the big deal?

The name “marketing automation” for this class of tools is somewhat a misnomer. While the automation functionality is of primary importance in these tools, they can do so much more: sales enablement, social media management, analytics and accountability, and content marketing distribution.

Also, while these tools are not full-fledged Employee Advocacy platforms, they can be used to automate some internal marketing efforts in order to strengthen Employee Advocacy platforms like Smarp. For example, a good Employee Advocacy solution will help curate employee-generated content for internal distribution and help the marketing team identify who the internal brand advocates are.

As employees become more active in promoting their company, you’ll see an increase in inbound traffic and this is where marketing automation comes in – it helps to capture the lead, nurture the lead into a prospect and eventually a customer, and then can be used to help onboard that new customer with strategically timed drip content that is emailed, text messaged or communicated to the customer within an app.

In short, marketing automation tools allow marketers to do less repetitive marketing and have more time for creation of great content, advertising copy and then spend time generating leads and transactions. Whether you’re a small five-person company, or a booming 10,000-person multi-national organization, marketing automation will empower both your marketing and sales teams and help make a sizable difference for the organization’s bottom line – revenue.

Related: First Steps for Creating a Digital Content Strategy

Which marketing automation platform should I choose?

Choosing a marketing automation platform is a big decision. Because a marketing automation platform requires significant resources of money (to pay for the platform) and employee time (to set it all up), it’s a decision you’ll need to spend some time on. This article is not intended to give you enough information to finalize your purchase decision, but should give you some good insight into how important marketing automation is, and which MA tools are the major players in the space.



If you’re a large company, with an extensive IT team, marketing ops team, and some good money to throw at a powerful tool, Eloqua may be right for you. As the first real solution on the market it quickly expanded its customer base and functionality. So fast actually, that Oracle acquired Eloqua in 2013. Eloqua is now officially called Oracle Marketing Cloud though many active users still call it Eloqua.

Eloqua has powerful enterprise features such as the HyperSite builder, a tool that allows you to build micro-sites that use dynamic content to be better personalized to the target market. It’s visual campaign builder is also one of the most intuitive, allowing you to drag and drop campaign elements onto a canvas, insert logic points and action points, and put together your campaign in an easy-to-understand view. It’s the most expensive of the tools outlined here, starting at $2k/month for a very basic package.



If Eloqua is the tool of choice for enterprise-sized businesses, Marketo fits the bill for medium-sized businesses and smaller businesses quickly on their way to a medium classification. Marketo provides a rich set of features, from industry leading A/B testing tools to the most active customer community base of any marketing automation solution.

Their smart list functions, which allow you to easily segment customers into actionable groupings, and file system organization, which allows you to easily organize hundreds of campaigns and marketing assets, are two customer favorite features.

The customer community that Marketo has built is a huge asset. No matter what you’re trying to do, you can generally find a discussion thread (or twenty threads) in the Marketo community explaining how another company has done something similar to what you’re trying to achieve. Marketo is priced competitively to Hubspot, the other leader in the medium-sized business space – with beginner packages starting under $1k/month.



While it didn’t coin the term inbound marketing, it did turn it into a marketing-worthy practice. Inbound marketing is all about attracting prospects with valuable, thought leadership content, and moving them along your sales funnel to turn them into a customer and then an advocate. What Hubspot may lack in enterprise functionality, it makes up for in ease-of-use. As one of the easiest solutions out there, it is the solution of choice for many small and medium-sized companies.


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Even though its features aren’t as robust as those offered by Marketo and Eloqua, it does a good job of offering a LOT of functionality. One plus it has over Eloqua and Marketo is a native integration with Zapier. Hubspot’s integration with Zapier allows it to connect with hundreds of other tools. For example, do you have an outside party that needs some access to information on certain leads? Instead of giving them full access to your CRM or your Hubspot instance, you can set up a Google Sheet that is automagically populated with information as leads enter your funnel that have certain characteristics.



Act-On is the most affordable solution discussed here. It is a good starter solution and the budget-conscious choice for many small business users. It doesn’t have the robust features that Marketo and Eloqua have, nor really the functionality that Hubspot does, but its limited functionality is often seen as a plus for small business owners. Instead of having to take considerable time onboarding a new tool, getting sufficient training, and spending hours each week maintaining a system, it’s easy to get going quickly with Act-On. It has, by far, the quickest time to launch of any of the solutions discussed here.

Another area where Act-On shines, in comparison to the other solutions here, is in its integration with SugarCRM. If you’re using SugarCRM it’s likely you’re doing so because you don’t want to pay the high cost for SalesForce. Act-On is smart in positioning itself as the best integrated platform with SugarCRM, and prices itself accordingly. For under $500/month you can get a good starter package with Act-On.



After seeing how valuable these marketing automation solutions can be, you may be asking yourself “what resources do I have to aid my purchasing decision?” Have no fear! A simple Google search of “best marketing automation solutions” will turn up 3.5 million results. So you don’t have to read them all, though, we recommend you getting a start with a few of these resources:

  • G2Crowd – crowd sourced reviews of the marketing automation solutions
  • TrustRadius – another review site that often presents a valuable, different angle
  • Forbes – This article (and many others searchable on the site) provides a good primer into several of the “big dogs” in the marketing automation space.


Be warned, the two review sites above give some of the most comprehensive information on how the marketing automation solutions stack up, but they also take advertising revenue from the vendors and there are ways that the vendors can game the system – for example, Hubspot does a great job of getting current users to leave reviews, giving them an edge over some solutions that may not be actively soliciting reviews.

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