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?
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When there’s no top-of-the-funnel foundation put in place to support middle of the funnel marketing automation. Many marketers invest in marketing automation before they have fertile ground for advanced lead nurturing campaigns to blossom. Marketers won’t have the ingredients they need for effective marketing automation until they have both a steady flow of organic leads coming through the funnel. Too many marketers without inbound lead generation strategies spend their time figuring out how to take the tiny fraction of the market they already have in their database as leads and squeeze more out of them. While they’re doing that, their competition is figuring out how to get more out of the 99.99% of the market that’s still out there. Do you have all the existing leads needed to hit your revenue goals in your database already? Are you getting your fair share of the available market?
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. 																

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Social media capabilities – Some marketing automation tools integrate with Facebook and Twitter, enabling you to control social advertising or build social apps from within the service. Some also offer social media monitoring, to pull comments made on social media platforms into your CRM. These features are usually nice-to-haves, but it might be worth considering whether or not they would be useful for you or not.
Spending on smartphones, meanwhile, continues to climb at a rapid clip, as companies like Macy's and Target have poured money into improving their mobile apps. And as bricks-and-mortar retail traffic continues to fall, some retailers are now trying to find ways to use their apps to lure shoppers back to stores, where sales are typically more profitable. Walmart, as one example, has added store maps to its app ahead of the holidays, letting customers pinpoint exactly where an item is and plot out their trips before they arrive.
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.

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.

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In addition to an organic integration with Salesforce, Pardot offers one of the cleanest user interfaces (UIs) and one of the largest variety of prebuilt templates on the market. But its best features are designed to improve your workflows once they've been created. For example, you can pretest the process of an automated program to see how it reacts. This is essentially a fire drill automation campaign to ensure your complex branching doesn't lead to a dead end or a duplicate email. Pardot also lets you schedule social media campaigns and post in real time to Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter simultaneously. If you really want to manage your marketing program from within one solution, then Pardot also offers a search marketing tool that plugs into Bing, Google, and Yahoo. You can check search engine rankings, monthly volumes, and ranking difficulties as well as run competitor analysis and monitor your paid search campaigns. No other tool we reviewed offers search marketing functionality.

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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.
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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.
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Incentives can help you zight these external forces. Let’s go back to that example where you were shopping online but left your credit card in the kitchen. If you had a one-night-only 30% off coupon, would you have been more inclined to get up and walk to the other side of the house? If your shopping cart purchase was $20? Probably not. But if you were planning to spend $100 or more, the answer is likely to be a clear ‘you bet.’


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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.
With ActiveCampaign, you’ll be able to create powerful automated marketing and sales processes. These intelligent processes “listen” and “learn” about the needs and interests of individual contacts. Then you can send more relevant, personalized messages at the moment they’ll have the most impact. You’ll have more customers, happier customers, and more loyal customers. MARKETING AUTOMATION: Our automation workflow builder is praised by G2Crowd users as the perfect balance of power and ease-of-use. With our drag-and-drop builder, you can easily create sophisticated follow up sequences that treat your contacts differently on the basis of who they are and what they’re interested in. This “intelligence-driven” follow up has proven to be more effective, and will keep your customer engagement high because you’re sending the most relevant, personalized messaging possible. SALES AUTOMATION: With an intuitive sales automation CRM tightly integrated with your marketing automation, you’ll be able to seamlessly transition leads back and forth between your marketing and sales processes without losing any data or missing a beat. Having your sales CRM and marketing automation under the same roof means that your sales process can benefit from the same automation features marketers use to send perfectly-timed messages. EMAIL MARKETING: We’ve been perfecting our email marketing solution since 2003. Today it is one of the most mature and fully-developed email marketing services on the market. Our professionally designed templates are fully mobile responsive and we offer time-saving tools like content blocks you can save and reuse across campaigns, message variables that allow you to update content once across all your campaigns, and conditional content, which allows you to change the content of an email based on who a contact is and what they’ve done. CROSS-CHANNEL MESSAGING FOR THE ENTIRE CUSTOMER LIFECYCLE: With ActiveCampaign, you’ll be able to deliver the perfect message at the perfect time because you’ll collect more insight about the customer at each stage of the buying process. With Attribution, you’ll know the source of a visitor and what marketing and advertising they’ve interacted with. With Goals, you’ll be able to define important events and then pivot in response to conversions. With Site Messaging, SMS, and email marketing, you’ll be able to reach your contacts exactly where they are — whether they’re out and about on their mobile, browsing your website, or going through their inbox. We offer a free, no-credit-card-needed, 14-day trial so you can experience ActiveCampaign first hand.
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3. Sending limits – My biggest pet peeve with SendinBlue is the limits they impose on how many emails you can send. Unlike most marketing automation tools that limit the number of contacts you have, SendinBlue limits the number of emails you can send. While it appears to be a monthly limit, it’s actually a daily limit (the monthly limit is divided by 30). This has caused us several issues when going over our quota has meant emails end up being put on hold until the next day.
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