Evaluating Entry Level Marketing Automation Systems

Choosing the right marketing automation tool for your business is one of the most important marketing decisions you could make in the next five years. Let me preface this blog post by revealing that, as an agency, we have made A LOT of mistakes when it comes to content marketing and marketing automation. However, it has been an educational process all the same, and I am happy to share some of my learnings and insights so that you can make a more informed decision for your business. As a marketing agency, we can share many years’ worth of insider scoop to help you out when evaluating your own strategy!

Over the years, we have tried a number of systems for our own agency including Silverpop (now IBM), Pardot, HubSpot, and MailChimp. We have integrated these into various CRM systems for our clients like Salesforce.com, Sugar, and Microsoft Dynamics. I want to share insights from our own experience.


Our agency has been using Salesforce since 2005 and everybody in our company has a license. We have heavily customized our installation with Traction on Demand. Throughout our offices, we display real-time metrics on dashboards using Hoopla.


MailChimp email automationGoing back 10 years, we were happy MailChimp customers. MailChimp reinvented the email marketing and distribution game, and to this day, they still offer an awesome product for companies who are sending basic campaigns to subscriber lists in the 10,000-50,000 member range. They blew away their competition like Campaigner and Constant Contact. Their product has continued to evolve nicely over the years; for the price and functionality, it could be the right low-cost tool for your business.

However, if you are looking to prospect to new customers that have not opted in to receive your email communication and are buying contacts from Data.com or The List, then MailChimp is not the right fit for you as their policies restrict that type of prospecting. MailChimp integrates nicely into Salesforce and I view it more as a distribution tool. While it has some triggered email functionality, it doesn’t allow you to lead score or easily integrate with multi-step drip marketing campaigns.


After MailChimp, we moved to Silverpop and used it for about one year. Silverpop was extremely challenging (in my experience) as the UX was confusing, deliverability was much lower than MailChimp, and it generally wasn’t the right fit for us. It has changed drastically for the better since IBM acquired Silverpop in 2014, though at that point we’d already moved on.


In that move, we’d switched to Pardot and spent two years using Pardot deeply integrated with Salesforce.com. Pardot is a wonderful tool and we recommend it highly. We are also Pardot certified implementation consultants. However, with our WordPress-based landing pages, we have had problems with embedded forms and iframes that dropped cookies. If you are going to use the Pardot landing page system and generator you will avoid these challenges, but if you are looking to integrate into another CMS, this should be taken into consideration.

We worked with ExactTarget, Data.com, and Pardot before they were all acquired by Salesforce.com and managed campaigns through the rocky transitions.

We have a number of enterprise clients on Pardot who love it, and we still fully support the platform. Pardot is a great marketing automation tool, but is not as intuitive or user-friendly. However, it has an exceptional feature set and its integration into Salesforce is spot on.



We are now on HubSpot and love it. Don’t get me wrong, we are only nine months into the relationship and we are still working out minor kinks and challenges, but it has been the most intuitive inbound marketing system by far and also has the best customer service.

Similar to MailChimp, HubSpot’s interface is a dream to use, while their capabilities are far more robust. From customer personas and landing page builders, to campaign management and detailed prospect tracking, it is an all-in-one program that is great if your company has the budget. Managing multiple marketing channels in one platform is efficient for businesses with a large number of prospects.

Content that Works

  • You can assign blog articles, landing pages, emails, and social media posts to specific campaigns, which means you can see how each marketing activity contributes to a particular campaign for aggregate results.
  • As prospects move through the buyer’s journey, you can see all of their interactions with your website in one spot — visits, clicks on emails, conversions on landing pages, etc.


  • HubSpot focuses heavily on buyer personas, which means you can deliver different campaigns and content to decision makers vs. influencers.
  • Personas help you understand what your customers are looking for. You can segment your database, and use personas to drive specific, targeted marketing messages to the right people.

Integration into Other Marketing

  • Track Google AdWords campaigns and LinkedIn Sponsored Updates right in HubSpot. When visitors to your website come from a tracking URL, HubSpot separates that traffic out so you can see how well it performed.
  • The HubSpot Ads Add-on allows you to create and manage search or social ads without leaving the platform.

HubSpot does a wonderful job of cultivating a support community. The community is well managed and is an excellent resource for your marketing team.

Enterprise Marketing Automation Systems

In terms of enterprise marketing automation systems, there are three that need to be considered and they are Marketo, Eloqua, and Adobe. We have limited experience with these three and are interested in working with them in the future. Marketo recently changed their certification process and is charging $30,000 USD in order to get certified, which includes one client license to resell.

Gartner produces an excellent annual whitepaper that evaluates the pros and cons for each marketing automation system called the Gartner “Magic Quadrant for CRM Lead Management.” I highly recommend downloading this resource to continue your evaluation!

Getting Started

Here are some questions to consider before investing in a marketing automation tool:

Q: What resources am I going to need externally and internally to launch this project?
A: Something that I learned the hard way is buying the license too early before we had all of our resources in place and a strategy developed. There is a lot of work to do prior to implementation and launch; I would give yourself 4-6 months of preparation before you start paying for a license that costs thousands of dollars per month out of your marketing budget. Is your role going to be the editor and are you going to utilize a content writer to help produce the content? You will also need this writer’s help to create email content. You will need a graphic designer to create great imagery for each piece of content, as well as corresponding social media images and potentially remarketing ad creative. If you are going to produce video, you will need resources there as well. Do you need an external agency like 6S Marketing to help?

Q: What content do I need to develop?
A: As a rule of thumb, I would look at developing 3 pieces of web content per each stage in the buyer’s journey to start. This means3 for the awareness stage, 3 for the consideration stage, and 3 for the decision-making stage. I would break these down by one blog post each; one educational piece like an infographic, comparison chart, or video; and one piece of gated content like a whitepaper. This means that you need to produce 9 pieces of content prior to launch, and then have a plan to produce 3 pieces of new content every quarter to add to your drip marketing and lead nurturing streams.

Q: Where do I start in terms of process?
A: Launching a new content marketing automation campaign, regardless of whether you have done it before, can be a daunting task. It’s important to map out a process and then break down that process into a list of tasks and to-do items. We have a strategy and process document that you can download and get ideas from to help get you started.

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