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Marketing automation focuses on the lead acquisition and demand generation activities within a marketing group, as opposed to the sales activities, where CRM systems as a whole tend to focus. Simply put, these tools automate marketing processes — everything from strategic planning and campaign design to customer segmentation, lead generation, nurture campaigns, prospect scoring, and closed loop analytics.
The consequence is that marketers begin buying lists of email addresses to nurture instead of generating inbound leads. While it seems like a quick fix, it's not a long-term solution, nor does it create the fertile ground for a healthier, longer relationship with your future customers. In our plant analogy, it's sort of like using artificial chemicals or enhancers to make your plant grow faster. Sure, it seems like a good, quick fix--but it doesn't set you up for future, long-term success.  
Similar to standard email marketing software vendors, marketing automation software vendors have created workflow templates that help guide you through the automation process. This way, you don't have to build new sequences from scratch. These templates usually start with a basic interaction, such as a "Welcome" or a "Thank you for making a purchase" message. Once a contact receives the initial email, he or she is guided through a sequence based on his or her actions. For example, if John receives a welcome message and he clicks a link to an offer, then that action automatically pulls him onto a distinct email marketing journey. Conversely, if Sally deletes her welcome message, then she may automatically be pulled off the workflow to conserve your email output.
From there, marketing automation does all the work: streamling segmentation and targeting processes to determine the right audiences, quickly and at scale. Tailoring messaging to each customer automatically based on their profile. Creating relevant and personalized messaging across email, mobile, social, web experiences, and beyond with a few simple clicks. Delivering personalized experiences for your customers, whether you have 100 or 100 million, efficiently and effectively.
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If you’re producing effective inbound marketing content, you’re generating a steady flow of new, organic leads, and you’re ready to scale your successful efforts, chances are it’s time to focus your efforts on a marketing automation strategy that will nurture those quality leads into paying customers. Below are some good questions to ask yourself when deciding if marketing automation is the right move for your business.
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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.

Marketing automation brings value and ROI to your numerous marketing efforts. The right marketing automation platform, combined with smart organizational and process alignment, makes it possible to connect the dots between that promotional email you sent last month, that webinar you hosted last year, and the revenue your CEO sees this week or can expect to see next quarter.
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Great post and clarification. Personally I use http://www.myconversionbrain.com as it’s cheap and designed for small business owners like myself. It’s not so much of a crm but more of a marketing automation tool and lead tracking which helps my marketing efforts. The problem I find with most marketing automation systems is that its way too expensive for small business owners.
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Through Leadformly (a lead gen tool we own) we work with a lot of Salesforce/MC users looking to integrate our lead forms into their CRM/automation environment, and the complexity is much greater compared to more intuitively-designed tools such as ActiveCampaign, Hubspot etc. However, having all of the data in the Salesforce environment does have a reporting/tracking advantage – but nothing that can’t be achieved using other tools connected via tools like Zapier.

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.”
As every small business owner knows, wearing a lot of hats is how you keep your company in the black. The problem, of course, is that any business owner only has 24 hours in a day. Cramming business development, customer service, marketing, production, financials, and everything else on one to-do list is a recipe for disaster (and a complete lack of sleep).
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We’re fond of saying that Net-Results is the 1st choice of people buying marketing automation for the 2nd time. This wasn’t devised in a marketing meeting, it's something we discovered talking to customers who love us. Marketers who've spent time using our competitors' software - those who've experienced what it's like to work with those vendors and their products - are consistently the ones who love us the most. Let's talk. You may love us too :) 																

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Marketing automation creates relevant content and messaging at scale across many channels. Send email messages with dynamic content that personalizes far beyond sticking a customer’s first name in the subject line. Integrate mobile messaging with your email and social campaigns through SMS/MMS, push notifications, and group messaging. Generate digital ads that appear for the right person at the right time. Plus, recommend the right products on your website for each individual user — automatically.
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Kohl's, which has partnered with Amazon to accept Amazon returns in some of its stores, said last week it had a record day for sales online Thanksgiving Day. The retailer kicked off some deals online ahead of the weekend, and it wasn't the only one to do this, either. Many companies were seen pushing promotions earlier this year, turning Black Friday as a single day into more of a weeks-long shopping extravaganza.

Eventually, your company’s marketing program will get so big that you can’t — possibly — manage everything via Outlook, Word, and Excel spreadsheets. You could always hire a team of marketing specialists, but eventually, you’re going to start wasting cash on redundant tasks like emailing new customers, setting up social media-to-email programs, and emailing your users every time you post blog content.

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. 
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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Constant Contact is for the small business owner who wants to quickly get started with organized email marketing and doesn’t anticipate needing any advanced functionality down the line. The tool is a great choice for you if you fit this description, but if you plan to expand your marketing automation efforts in the near future, this isn’t the tool for you.

Established Enterprise software providers at the big end of town including IBM, Oracle, Salesforce, Adobe and Teradata started building their own platforms. But to accelerate their evolution they started acquiring technology start-ups that added features and market share.  Salesforce bought Exact Target, IBM purchased SilverPop and Oracle bought Eloqua.
The goal of the platform is to spark new relationships and rekindle old ones — Autopilot has found that two times as many leads are generated by businesses that maintain contact every two to four weeks. By capturing data from a small business’s website or app, the platform can integrate with other systems to fuel personalization and segment customers. It then monitors the performance of each journey and delivers insights into how messages are converting so entrepreneurs can adjust instantly.
Now take the example of a much smaller company. The company’s 20 sales reps might have an on-demand sales force automation system, and the company might have one marketing rep who manually collects, scores and transfers leads. But as the leads grow or become more complex due to multiple products or sales regions, the marketer will need an automation platform from which to plan programs and execute campaigns. Again, the marketing automation system is the tool for the job.
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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.
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?

GetResponse is a web-based, all-in-one marketing platform that helps business owners to build permission-based mailing lists, maximize conversion ratios, increase profitability and build customer confidence. GetResponse serves more than 350,000 active users from 182 countries, engages more than 1 billion subscribers every month, and delivers 10 billion permission-based emails per year with an average deliverability rate of 99.3 percent. GetResponse platform includes: Email Marketing With GetResponse Email Marketing, send beautifully-designed, responsive emails. Increase your sales and subscriber engagement through comprehensive email marketing campaigns. In just a few easy steps you can have an entire campaign up and running, whether you’re an experienced marketer, or just starting out. Use newsletters to send updates or announcements to your list, autoresponders to nurture and educate, forms to grow your list, and 99% deliverability to ensure your messages always reach your subscribers’ inboxes. Features: Newsletters, 99% deliverability, autoresponders, mobile-responsive email templates, dynamic content, advanced segmentation, responsive design, perfect timing, advanced analytics, AB testing, forms, list building apps Landing Pages With the simple to use drag and drop landing page creator, create 100% responsive landing pages and web forms. GetResponse landing pages include hundreds of professionally designed, ready-to-go templates. Create top-notch web pages for opt-in, thank you, sales, webinars, and more in less than ten minutes without touching a single line of code. Features Video integration, 150 responsive templates, mobile design, custom domain, image editor Webinars Nurture your leads with complete webinar marketing solution. GetResponse is the first email marketing service to provide a complete webinar marketing solution. With GetResponse Webinars, you can not only acquire new leads but also nurture existing customers, thanks to an advanced integration with GetResponse email marketing. Use GetResponse Webinars to host trainings, product announcements, trainings, demos, and more. Features: Desktop sharing, polls, presentation sharing, chat, moderation tools, VOIP camera and voice capabilities, attendee management. Marketing Automation Scalable workflows based on customer journeys. Create marketing automation workflows in an easy drag-and-drop creator to track subscriber behaviors in real time. React to completed purchases, abandoned carts, key web page visits, message engagement, and much more. Features: Email marketing automation, lead scoring, web traffic tracking, cart abandonment, automation segmentation CRM Create customizable, drag-and-drop sales pipelines to nurture your leads and turn them into repeat customers. Spot opportunities using deals and stages that fit your sales process. Add notes and comments to your deals to easily keep up with daily activities and smash your sales and marketing goals. Features: Pipeline view, deals, stages tasks, notes, reminders.

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