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Examining the field of marketing automation vendors

Don't be afraid of software migration if there's another technology that better fits your company's needs and if long-term benefits outweigh short-term costs, experts say.

Over the past decade, marketing automation tools went from a luxury for marketing departments to a necessity in a company's martech stack.

But companies need to ask which marketing automation vendor is best. The market for automation tools has ballooned in recent years. Some products are aimed at B2C, and others are focused on B2B; some are easier to use, while others have more options but might be harder to learn.

When examining the field of marketing automation vendors, several products stand out due to a loyal customer base and market share. Eloqua, Pardot, Marketo Inc. and HubSpot Inc. have grown as leaders in the space, but differentiate themselves based on integration with other products, target audience and other factors.

Like buying a car with all the options

Eloqua, which was purchased by Oracle in 2013, is a top choice if your marketing team is experienced and your company's employees have previously implemented it. That's why it was an attractive option for executives at MongoDB Inc., makers of a document-oriented database platform.

"Eloqua is like buying a really fancy car with every option extra," said Celia Heywood, vice president at RelationEdge, a Salesforce consultancy. "If you have a highly sophisticated marketing organization and access to a healthy marketing budget, then Eloqua would work. It's not a place to start, but rather a place where you go when you're good at what you do."

About three years ago, the marketing team at MongoDB was looking at marketing automation vendors, since the company's license with Marketo was 30 days from expiration. "Marketo does a lot of things well, especially for SMB markets, but the biggest challenge was you can't create customer workflows inside Marketo," said Ryan Schwartz, vice president of marketing, worldwide demand center, at MongoDB in New York City. "If you don't want to do things the Marketo way and want to do it your way, you can't make those changes very quickly."

Schwartz said the team evaluated marketing tech options from Marketo, Pardot and Eloqua and eventually licensed with the latter, despite having existing Salesforce workflows. As a Salesforce acquisition, Pardot ostensibly would have made sense for MongoDB to implement, but due to Pardot's lack of deep integration with Salesforce, Schwartz and his team chose Eloqua.

"Pardot has a good workflow engine but doesn't have that data manipulation layer," Schwartz explained. "It became clear that there wasn't a strong integration with Salesforce."

You can take it with you

Pardot's integration with Salesforce and Eloqua's with Oracle point to an important component in the marketing automation vendor space. To get the most out of a marketing automation product, it needs to be closely tied to a CRM product, which stores the majority of customer information. Pardot and Eloqua have latched onto leading CRM providers, yet Marketo remains somewhat independent among marketing automation vendors.

"There certainly was a time when I thought [Marketo] would get bought, particularly by SAP, but that deal did not materialize," said Michael Fauscette, chief research officer at G2 Crowd. "As an independent, Marketo doesn't have the existing customer base to sell into, so that is something of a hindrance to growth."

To combat that market inequality, Marketo, about a year ago, tied its core product together with Infor's CRM software in the hopes of jointly selling the products, according to public reports. By joining forces with a CRM provider, Marketo tapped into some areas of potential growth.

Just because we signed today doesn't mean we will renew tomorrow.
Ryan Schwartzvice president of marketing, worldwide demand center, MongoDB

As for Marketo's functionality, RelationEdge's Heywood said that any difficulties it may have in initial setup could be negated by its loyal following of customers. "You have marketers that take Marketo with them from company to company," she acknowledged. "Once you're good at Marketo, you can do incredible things."

Still, that lack of customizable workflows can hamper growth. "There are ways to work around the lack of workflows, but they aren't pretty," she noted.

Pardot's integration with Salesforce

VMWare's product marketing vice president discusses B2C, B2B, and product-specific versus audience-specific marketing.

While marketing automation vendors like Marketo and Eloqua include advanced features -- Marketo's lack of workflow notwithstanding -- Pardot can be easier to implement yet shallower in capabilities. "Pardot has an easier UI but also has limitations around how strong of an email engine it is," Heywood said. "Like Marketo, you have to buy add-on modules to do more, but it's an easier product for a first-timer to learn."

Despite industry concerns regarding Pardot's integration with Salesforce, New York-based Elegran Real Estate reported that Pardot worked in harmony with its existing Salesforce workflow. "We chose Pardot for two main reasons," said Tigh Loughhead, marketing director at Elegran and a Salesforce MVP. "The ease of the UI -- it was very intuitive and easy to use regardless of your level of marketing expertise. The second reason was its alignment with Salesforce."

We found four categories where marketing automation tools could address our needs.
Tigh Loughheadmarketing director, Elegran Real Estate

Elegran's workflow is heavily invested in Salesforce with a substantial amount of customization, Loughhead said, adding that even though he heard from other customers about syncing headaches between the two systems, that wasn't a problem for his company. "If I'm logging into one call-tracking system, then into Salesforce, then into a marketing automation platform -- that inherently diminishes the value of any product," Loughhead surmised. "We don't need to leave Salesforce to access data or send emails."

The main objective Loughhead wanted to achieve with Pardot was lead re-engagement. By implementing one of the marketing automation tools available, Elegran's marketing team was able to segment their list of prospects and better target potential customers.

"We found four categories where marketing automation tools could address our needs," Loughhead explained. "They were awareness, follow-up, nurture and re-engagement. Those buckets of consumers required different messaging and different pitches. It brought us down this path of trying to understand our consumer lifecycle."

Planning for the long haul

Whether a company is like Elegran and meeting with marketing automation vendors for the first time or more like MongoDB and looking to migrate to a different vendor, there are several aspects to think about before making a decision, according to customers and analysts. "Just because we signed today doesn't mean we will renew tomorrow," MongoDB's Schwartz said.

Yet that mindset isn't common among companies that worry about migration difficulties, training costs or content concerns. "The biggest challenge I see is people aren't prepared with content," Heywood observed. "I often see companies don't have enough content or anyone to keep up with it. You've created this organism, and you need to keep feeding it and keep having relevant content, or you're just wasting your money."

It can be a daunting move from one vendor to another, but that shouldn't prevent performing due diligence when determining whether migration is a better long-term option. "I have this mindset: If we were to start today, what would be the right [technological] choice for the business?" Schwartz reasoned. "After you make that choice, then you look at the opportunity cost and the amount of work needed and decide if that long-term change outweighs the short-term pain of migrating everything. You can't let the fear of pain and migrations prevent better technology."

This was last published in April 2018

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What led you to choose your marketing automation product?
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Having used Hubspot and Act-on I am a bit shocked they were not included here. Act-on isn't just for small companies, has a very intuitive interface, and Gartner recognizes it as a visionary. It integrates with Salesforce and the Webinar integration is second to none. Their tech support is a real live person, anytime. 

I am using Pardot now and finding it incredibly clunky and not intuitive at all. 
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