At its best, marketing automation is software and tactics that allow companies to buy and sell like Amazon – that is, to nurture prospects with highly personalized, useful content that helps convert prospects to customers and turn customers into delighted customers. This type of marketing automation typically generates significant new revenue for companies, and provides an excellent return on the investment required.
Email marketing is a great first step toward developing solid communications with your customers and prospects. But once you have moved past one-off messages and have decided to create prolonged, personalized messages powered by customer data, it's time to try marketing automation. No tools better exemplify the simplicity, effectiveness, and scalability of marketing automation software than two of our three Editors' Choice tools: HubSpot and Pardot.
Marketing automation is the process of using software to complete repetitive marketing tasks designed to nurture sales leads, personalize marketing messages and content and in the process, save marketers’ time and effort. By automating many of these tasks, users can more effectively send the right message, to the right user at the right time, according to Chris Davis, director of education at ActiveCampaign, which provides marketing automation software. “Marketing automation is all about understanding your audience so you can adapt the way you communicate to them based on their unique buying journey,” said Karra Hendrix, product marketing manager at Act-On, a provider of marketing automation software. 
When designed well, marketing automation solutions make your job easier. They perform the difficult, tiresome work that is a natural part of running a marketing campaign while drawing from various data sources. The software compiles information, such as the number of opened emails, abandoned e-commerce carts, and data from web forms, to help inform your marketing decisions. When you maximize the features that these solutions offer, they can truly improve your company's bottom line.
While Adobe says that it builds its estimates by tracking transactions at 80 of the biggest retailers online in the U.S., Mastercard tells us that SpendingPulse uses “national retail sales across all payments types in select markets around the world. The findings are based on aggregate sales activity in the Mastercard payments network, coupled with survey-based estimates for certain other payment forms, such as cash and check.”
When designed well, marketing automation solutions make your job easier. They perform the difficult, tiresome work that is a natural part of running a marketing campaign while drawing from various data sources. The software compiles information, such as the number of opened emails, abandoned e-commerce carts, and data from web forms, to help inform your marketing decisions. When you maximize the features that these solutions offer, they can truly improve your company's bottom line.
As far as I’m concerned, Hubspot doesn’t offer enough to justify its enterprise price tag. While Pardot isn’t much cheaper at this level, it does have the added benefit of integrating directly into Salesforce and Marketing Cloud – while I’ve never been a fan of these tools myself, they do tend to be popular in larger businesses, giving Pardot an edge here.
The latest version of IBM Campaign brings many innovations to the sophisticated marketing team enabling you to work smarter and faster, and to keep your customers more engaged and loyal than ever. Marketers use IBM Campaign to maximize revenue and responses via personalized and optimized campaigns and offers. Increase results with powerful segmentation against the largest data sources and provide the right offers to the right contacts at the right time in the right channel. Boost ROI by optimizing contact communications and marketing spend. Choose to deploy fully to the cloud or on premise. Improve engagement and ROI: Easily integrate with the rest of your marketing ecosystem to seamlessly execute personalized, offline and digital campaigns to take your customers on targeted journeys. Work smarter and faster: With AI-powered Watson Assistant available with IBM Campaign, work smarter and drive to insights more quickly than ever. Save time, make better decisions and drive customer engagement. Optimize ownership for your enterprise: Choose the deployment and ownership approach that works best for your organization. Deploy on premise or via subscription and fully to the cloud — managed and hosted.
Some people have said Amazon gets a pass from investors on the investments it's made to grow sales, such as acquiring grocer Whole Foods. Analysts say investors are less concerned about Amazon turning a profit and care more about top-line growth. Traditional retailers such as Walmart and Target, however, continue to be punished by investors for announcing initiatives that drag on earnings.

Thanks Marcus for the comparisons, but I am somewhat confused by this post. It says 2018 in title, but yet comments are from 2014-17. I’m assuming it was originally written earlier and you’ve updated. I’d be curious what edits were made; how your opinions may have changed; who are the new top contenders for 2018. With all the growth in the marketing automation space in past 3 years, it couldn’t be simply updating the title. Also curious if a company is already tied to Salesforce for CRM does that necessarily lift Marketing Cloud as the premier choice?
Buy online pick up in stores continues to be a popular option for shoppers this holiday season, with "click-and-collect" orders up 73 percent from Thursday to Friday, Adobe said. Target, Kohl's and Walmart are just a few companies that have been touting that option this year, hoping that when customers arrive to pick up their items, they'll buy more.
For companies that can’t decide on how to kill all the birds with one stone, it’s good to know that most of marketing automation functionality can be supported within a CRM system too! For example, everything that falls into lead management (lead segmentation, personalized email marketing, lead nurturing, analytics) can be activated within CRM software through either in-built tools or customization, depending on how complex requirements are. I tell more on the benefits of this approach for SMEs here: https://www.scnsoft.com/blog/benefits-of-crm-software-for-smes
Adobe estimates that the “three golden hours of retail”, between 10:00 pm and 1:00 am Eastern, brought in $1.7 billion, “roughly $300 million more compared to an average full day in the year.” The idea here is that shoppers catch final Cyber Monday deals right before bed or after work on the west coast. Subsequent conversion rates peak above 7.3 percent for the season (almost 2.5 times higher compared to the rest of the year).

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Propsect.io does one very specific part of marketing automation (finding cold leads and engaging them to become warm), but it does it very well. One particularly good feature about Prospect.io that’s not easy to find elsewhere is that the automation emails can be triggered directly from your mail server (e.g. G Suite or Microsoft Exchange) so your emails appear identical to if you had sent them manually.
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2. Deliverability – Deliverability is always a hot topic, and I’m aware there are a million caveats at play here. That said, several notable studies on the topic have turned out quite unfavourably for SendinBlue. Fortunately, we actually use SendinBlue for one of our ventures and I can confirm that our deliverability rates are nowhere near as low as indicated in suggested in the linked article, but equally, they’re not the best I’ve seen.
At its best, marketing automation is software and tactics that allow companies to buy and sell like Amazon – that is, to nurture prospects with highly personalized, useful content that helps convert prospects to customers and turn customers into delighted customers. This type of marketing automation typically generates significant new revenue for companies, and provides an excellent return on the investment required.
iContact Pro provides marketing automation software and services for marketing teams to drive quantifiable results. The iContact Pro platform integrates email marketing, landing pages, social media management and robust analytics in a simple but comprehensive cloud-based solution that helps customers outsmart the competition and grow their business. ***ICONTACT PRO INCLUDES***: BUSINESS-CLASS EMAIL: Creating effective email campaigns is easy with 650+ professional templates and top class deliverability. SEGMENTATION AND TARGETING: Target your leads based on who they are and how they interact with you. LANDING PAGES: Create great looking, mobile responsive landing pages in minutes. Drive, track, and measure action on email, social, and your website. WORKFLOW AUTOMATION: Nurture customers with the right content, at the right time, by creating custom experiences using the most intuitive workflows in the industry. LEAD SCORING: Customize scoring criteria and the software automatically qualifies your leads so you can engage with confidence and increase your marketing efficiency. CAMPAIGN MANAGEMENT: Create, track, and measure your integrated marketing campaigns, from Tweets to email with powerful and easy-to-understand analytics. SALESFORCE INTEGRATION: Sync contacts and leads directly between your Salesforce.com and iContact Pro accounts, so you can quickly and effectively close your newly qualified and ready leads. SOCIAL CRM: Track and record every engagement with your prospects across email, social media, landing pages, news releases, and website visits. ***ICONTACT PRO BENEFITS*** DO MORE Nowadays, a marketer’s life is full of long hours, distractions, and beeping devices — it’s time for you to work smarter, not harder. iContact Pro was created to help companies engineer more calculated ways to send personalized communications to customers. No advanced degrees required. LIBERATE YOUR IDEAS Automation is not rocket science. But with most big enterprise solutions, getting started with marketing automation might feel a lot like planning a complicated rocket launch. iContact Pro was built to work fast for any size team, so when you say “yes” to marketing automation, you say “no” to complicated implementation. Simply login, pick an activity, and take off! TARGET YOUR MESSAGE Email marketing is at the heart of any results-driven strategy. iContact Pro is your virtual segmenting machine, helping you create individual CRM profiles to provide subscribers with the most relatable experiences for them — no matter how they engage with you. NURTURE RELATIONSHIPS Bringing in more leads doesn’t always mean more revenue; prospects demand a higher quality experience from you. iContact Pro helps you nurture relationships throughout the entire customer lifecycle in a way that feels personal, but is in fact highly automated. Reach out to the right people, at the right time, with the right message. ENGAGE YOUR NETWORK Get more mileage from existing content. Turn social fans into subscribers by including links to your own landing pages and invite people to download valuable content in exchange for their email address. Flexible, built-in tools allow you to schedule a calendar of social activity in advance or join in on trending conversations as they happen. CAPTURE MORE LEADS Everything you need is now easier to do. From designing professional landing pages and email templates, to setting up intuitive workflow triggers based on customer actions, our interactive tools make it easy to cross marketing tasks off your to-do list. MAKE DATA ACTIONABLE Great results come from consistently testing and drilling down into your performance data to make campaign tweaks on-the-fly. Engagement reports let you count up and compare the success of your social posts, landing pages, and emails. Ask us how you can integrate data from other tools with your dashboard for convenient, one-screen viewing. KEEP MOVING FORWARD We’re not doing our job if questions block your way to making things happen on your terms. We work hard to take the guesswork out of success. You can count on our experts and software to flatten learning curves along the way so you can just get up and get going.

Marketing automation focuses on the needs of the marketing team and CRM is focused on the needs of the sales team, Hendrix said. “Marketing automation is your communication engine, while CRM is your database of record,” she added. Some marketing automation systems support native integrations for CRMs like Salesforce, SugarCRM and Microsoft Dynamics. These integrations help marketers create a connected and automated lead management process that enables optimization over time, with the right reporting.
Your customer list is getting too big to manage manually. Are you lucky enough to have thousands of contacts on your email list? That’s great! But how are you handling all those emails? You need marketing automation software to make sure each contact goes through the right stages of your marketing funnel to nurture them into a good lead for your sales team.

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Some people have said Amazon gets a pass from investors on the investments it's made to grow sales, such as acquiring grocer Whole Foods. Analysts say investors are less concerned about Amazon turning a profit and care more about top-line growth. Traditional retailers such as Walmart and Target, however, continue to be punished by investors for announcing initiatives that drag on earnings.

B2B enterprise buyer. These buyers work for firms that market to other businesses, and engage in longer sales cycles. They are primarily seeking capabilities that help them nurture relationships with prospects. Lead nurturing, lead scoring, sales force automation (SFA) and sales coordination and enablement tools are all critical for optimal performance.
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Buy Online, Pickup In-Store (BOPIS) over the weekend saw a record 50 percent increase year-over-year. As the online and offline retail experience continues to blend, retailers with physical stores drove 28 percent higher conversions online. Top sellers on Cyber Monday included the Nintendo Switch, Little Live Pets, Red Dead Redemption 2, LG TVs, drones (DJI, Air Hogs, Sky Viper), Dell laptops, FurReal Pets and Amazon Echo devices. Revenue from smartphones will hit $2.1 billion on Cyber Monday ($1.4 billion in 2017), making it the highest ever at 48.1 percent growth YoY, while smartphone traffic share grew 16 percent. Mobile overall represented 51.4 percent of site visits (43.6 percent smartphones, 7.8 percent tablets) and 34 percent of revenue (26.3 percent smartphones, 7.7 percent tablets), making it the first Cyber Monday where more than half of visits came from mobile.
"The impressive sales acceleration reported by both Walmart and Target in the most recent quarter implies both company's expanding omni-channel initiatives are resonating with shoppers," Bank of America analyst Robert Ohmes wrote. "This growth has outpaced that of other brick and mortar retailers as well as online players like Amazon, and has been supported by the rapid expansion of buy-online, pick-up in store options at both retailers."
Walmart's U.S.-owned e-commerce growth accelerated to 43 percent in the third quarter, while Target posted a record 49 percent year-over-year surge, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Given the robust gains, analysts at the brokerage wrote to clients Thursday that investors should buy either stock as shoppers log on to do last-minute shopping.

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Marketing automation: HubSpot says that marketing automation is crucial to the ‘closing’ stage of marketing. We disagree. We think that marketing automation is more than just email and it spans the entire marketing lifecycle. It is, however, crucial to your company’s ability to close deals. You need to move customers through your sales conversion funnel – this process will be continuous and require some degree of nurturing, guiding, and even hand-holding. Marketing automation can help your company take the lead in guiding prospects through the sales conversion funnel.
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Definition: A campaign management system that drives prospect interactions with the brand, measures prospect response to marketing programs, and delivers prospect information to sales representatives through the company’s CRM or salesforce automation (SFA) systems. When used effectively, marketing automation systems will deliver a continuous flow of qualified leads to the sales force, as well as the data needed to close sales with those leads.
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Meet Pardot: B2B marketing automation on the world's #1 CRM. Pardot empowers marketing and sales teams to work together to find and nurture leads, close more deals, and maximize return on investment. Pardot's lead management features CRM integration, email marketing, lead nurturing, lead scoring, and ROI reporting to help marketing and sales teams work together to generate and qualify sales leads, shorten sales cycles, and track marketing ROI. Track all prospect interactions on your site — from downloads to page views — then score prospects based on parameters you set. Put time back into your sales reps’ day with automated lead nurturing and real-time sales alerts, which allow reps to prioritize their time. Then, measure the true ROI of your marketing efforts with closed-loop reporting. Accelerate pipeline, drive revenue, and align marketing and sales with Pardot Marketing Automation. Learn more here: http://bit.ly/1yhEwPa
According to Hendrix, there are two types of "bad" marketing automation: People who use a marketing automation platform ineffectively, and platforms that label themselves as “marketing automation” even when that’s not the case. “True marketing automation allows you to track each touchpoint that a person has with your brand, take that in and adapt your messaging accordingly. It should enable you to not only automate processes, but anticipate your buyers' needs and accelerate their buying journey. Marketers need a solid marketing automation strategy, rather than just automating the same tasks they’ve been doing all along," Hendrix said.
Even with the early sales figures, costs, including investing in digital, and comparable results are still hurting retail stocks. Heading into the weekend, retailer shares were hit hard, with Target shares down 16.6% for the week, Kohl’s Corp. KSS, +3.45%   stock down 12.8%, off-price retailer TJX Cos. TJX, +0.39%   tumbling 12.6% for the period, and Costco Wholesale Corp. COST, -0.59%   down 4.3%.
Large Versus Small Retailers: Large retailers ($1 billion or more in annual e-commerce revenue) saw 6 percent higher conversion rates on smartphones, a sign that investments in improving the mobile shopping experience are paying off. Smaller retailers, offering more specialized products, were better at getting shoppers to close sales via desktops with 7 percent higher conversions.

Let’s think with our shopper brains for a moment. You’re shopping online, add some items to your shopping cart, and go to check out. As you enter your billing address, you realize that you left your credit card in the kitchen. It’s midnight and you’re exhausted. You decide to put off your purchase until tomorrow. Then you totally forget. You’ve contributed to the phenomenon that online merchants call “shopping cart abandonment.”

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