The massive sales figures point to the solid growth of e-commerce, with more customers each year spending more online, threatening traditional retailers' networks of stores. The records also validate expectations this holiday shopping season would become one of the strongest in years, thanks to low unemployment, high consumer confidence and a robust economy.
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.
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. 
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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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.
Transactions on mobile devices were up 55.6 percent Cyber Monday from last year to reach $2.2 billion in sales, said Adobe, which tracks sales data from 80 of the top 100 internet retailers in the U.S., including Amazon and Walmart. More than half of shoppers' visits to retailers' websites Cyber Monday came from smartphones, with people making greater use of shipping options like buy online, pick up in store. So-called click-and-collect orders were up 65 percent this Cyber Monday from last year, Adobe said.
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?

What exactly is a marketing automation tool? Is it the “go-to” tool for lead management, or will your Customer Relationship Management software suite suffice? If you have a CRM system, do you need an additional marketing application for lead generation? If you are strapped for cash, is this type of tool a ‘nice to have’ or a ‘need to have’? And how exactly does “marketing automation” fit within the notion of an integrated CRM solution anyway?
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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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.
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%.

Now, with a little more than a month to go before the end of 2018, retailers will try to keep the momentum going, both online and in stores. Though many companies are expecting strong fourth quarters, there's some concern the sales growth won't be sustainable into 2019, especially if the U.S. economy's strength starts to fade or consumers lose confidence.
1. Pricing – While SendinBlue is one of the most affordable email marketing tools currently available, you’ll need to be on their $49/month plan or above to access unlimited automation workflows. While not a major issue, this tends to rule out SendinBlue for me when recommending a marketing automation tool to a small business that’s new to automation. After all, ActiveCampaign starts at $9!

Not even close. Like the term suggests, marketing automation encompasses marketing campaigns across all channels—from direct mail and phone campaigns to online, social and mobile initiatives. What’s more, it combines robust, insight-focused capabilities from your CRM, lead management system, web analytics platform, and other systems to create something that’s more than the sum of the parts.

“Converting mobile traffic to sales has long been a thorn in the side of retailers, but investments in making the experience faster and easier have paid off,” said Taylor Schreiner, director, Adobe Digital Insights. “Cyber Monday shoppers relied heavily on their mobile devices, resulting in an unprecedented 55.6 percent year-over-year increase from smartphones alone. Additionally, Buy Online Pick Up Instore saw a record 65% increase, signaling that retailers are increasingly fulfilling consumer expectations for integrated cross-channel experiences.”
While Amazon's reported sales growth each quarter includes that taken in from its other businesses, such as Amazon Web Services, the company is expected to capture nearly 5 percent of total U.S. retail sales by the end of this year, according to eMarketer. The data marketing firm has predicted Amazon will end 2018 capturing about 48 percent of U.S. e-commerce sales, or $252 billion, compared with 43.1 percent in 2017.
We were really impressed by the ExactTarget demo at Dreamforce (the company was recently acquired by salesforce.com). One thing that stood out to us about ExactTarget is the system’s ability to target communications over multiple channels. Most marketing automation tools focus on email, but ExactTarget goes beyond that and lets you target mobile app notifications, or even messages to the dashboard of a customer’s car (if, for example, you were a car manufacturer).
Transactions on mobile devices were up 55.6 percent Cyber Monday from last year to reach $2.2 billion in sales, said Adobe, which tracks sales data from 80 of the top 100 internet retailers in the U.S., including Amazon and Walmart. More than half of shoppers' visits to retailers' websites Cyber Monday came from smartphones, with people making greater use of shipping options like buy online, pick up in store. So-called click-and-collect orders were up 65 percent this Cyber Monday from last year, Adobe said.
366 Degrees is a marketing automation platform that allows small to medium businesses to communicate with leads across several channels and track their interaction with your content. With integration into the CRM platform of your choosing, you can keep your lead database up to date across your marketing and sales teams. 366 features smart content creation with pre-made HTML snippets that make creating emails and landing pages easy, no coding background needed! Then, track your leads' interactions with your content and automatically follow up with behaviorally cued automatic drip campaigns. 366 features integrations to Salesforce, Datanyze, Nimble, and now Vidyard for video marketing made easy. Drop video into emails, landing pages, or social posts and watch leads pour in.

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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.
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