In my conversations with clients and prospects over the past few years, I’ve gotten a lot of questions about which marketing automation tool Newfangled prefers. This is a topic we’ve taken very seriously and reevaluate every six to twelve months. Starting from the first time I attended Salesforce’s annual Dreamforce conference back in 2011, I realized that marketing automation was going to be a very significant part of the overall web marketing landscape and made it my business to spend my time there researching all the different vendors.
As I’ve mentioned before, the nice thing about Dreamforce is that it’s not really about Salesforce. It’s more about how digital marketing works. Every major player in the digital marketing space has a booth on the expo floor at Dreamforce, so I knew going in that I’d be able to speak with all the top marketing automation vendors and present them with a few use case scenarios and see how they all stacked up side by side. The other nice thing about Dreamforce is that the vendors’ expo floor is extraordinarily expensive, so the businesses that choose to take part in it spend a lot of money and a lot of time preparing. What that means for the consumer is that there’s not a single question about each vendor that you wouldn’t be able to have answered — they have their key people there with them on the floor.
I went to all the major MAT providers at Dreamforce, including Eloqua, Marketo, HubSpot, Pardot, and Act-On, and asked them to make their best case. At that time, it was clear as day that Act-On was absolutely the best firm for Newfangled to partner with and — in my opinion — the best provider for mid-sized firms in general.
Why? Here are the three primary reasons we use and recommend Act-On, followed by one poignant caveat that anyone who’s considering marketing automation should be aware of.
1. Features for the Dollar
The primary reason we think Act-On is the best choice is that they provide the best offering in terms of features you get for the pricing. Obviously, tools like Eloqua, Marketo, and the Exact Target Marketing Cloud that Salesforce has developed can do amazing things. But unless you’re an exceptionally large organization with exceptionally complicated and diverse global marketing needs, you simply don’t need that much functionality — and you probably can’t afford it, either.
Act-On focuses on features would be of most benefit to mid-size businesses, which are typically defined as businesses with between five million and one billion in revenue per year. That’s a huge swathe of the marketplace in a very broad range, but they targeted that midsize segment and were really smart about it. The result is that they have the right features you need for the right price point. If you compare Act-On’s pricing with some of the other popular vendors, their price often comes in between 25% and 30% of the competitors’ pricing, and you’re really not sacrificing anything that you’re likely to need.
2. Ease of Use
Another thing I really appreciate about Act-On is that their interface is relatively intuitive and easy to use. Some of the competitors’ systems are so complex that it’s hard to figure out how to do anything, and we know that for ourselves and our clients it’s not developers who will be managing it — it’s marketing people. These folks are certainly smart and fairly tech-savvy, but they don’t necessarily have the time to learn a very deep, complicated system. With Act-On, you’re ready to pick up and run with it almost out of the gate with just a little training.
3. Act-On is a True Marketing Automation Tool
The third reason we chose Act-On is because it’s a true marketing automation tool. These days, because of the amazing growth in the marketing automation sector, many businesses are trying to get in the game by putting out second-rate products that they’re calling “marketing automation tools.” But when you really examine the feature sets, it becomes clear that many of these vendors aren’t really offering marketing automation as we would define it. In order to be a true marketing automation tool, you need to have progressive profiling, lead scoring, automated programs, A/B testing, allow emailing to paid lists, and, most of all, manage email deliverability. Act-On provides all of those things and then some. For example, Act-On allows you to send email to both earned and paid lists, while some tools only let you send mail to earned lists. Act-On also makes it incredibly easy to integrate with your website, CRM tool (such as Salesforce), and with other vendors, like webinar providers GoToMeeting and WebEx.
When I was at Dreamforce this past fall, I did the same thing I’d done in 2012: I went through and did an audit of all the marketing automation firms that were there and once again came back with the same answer: that Act-On is the right choice for our business and for most other mid-size businesses.
The market has been validating that decision, as well. Act-On just got a huge round of funding to the tune of $43 million in venture capital, and their sales went from $9 million annually in 2012 to $23 million in 2013. That market validation is certainly encouraging. It wouldn’t be a top point for me when assessing a tool, but it reinforces our thinking nonetheless.
The Caveat: You’re Going to Need Consulting
One thing Act-On doesn’t do a great job of — and in my experience, none of the marketing automation technology providers do a great job of — is the consulting side. For most marketing automation providers, the model is to create an excellent tool that’s available to users in a software-as-service model: everyone gets the same version, and when there’s a new update, everyone gets that roll-out automatically.
These firms are very heavy on the sales side and the development side, but long-term consulting (which is entirely different than support) is not something they focus on. That’s why Newfangled decided to offer marketing automation consulting to our clients. In working with our consulting clients, we spend at least an hour every single month doing our own research in advance of our calls. We look at their site, their Salesforce installation, and their marketing automation installation; check out the analytics and content strategy; look at the leads that have been developed; and take note of the sales attributions that show exactly which marketing techniques, channels, campaigns, and assets are impacting actual revenue dollars. We take a look at all of that, develop a deep understanding of what’s going on in the site, and then talk through it all with the client, showing them what’s important, what’s going on in the site that matters, what they should be doing more of, and what they should be doing less of.
That consulting element brings a human touch. Our consulting clients are businesses with revenues anywhere from two million a year up to and even beyond the billion-dollar level. All across that spectrum, we find that there are really interesting, exciting things to talk about month after month because the business is always changing, as well as the state of marketing automation. There’s always something to talk about.
Another thing to keep in mind when it comes to marketing automation, which we’ve written about before, is the failure rate. Three out of five marketing automation installations fail. That has pretty much everything to do with the people using it and not the software itself. The reason so many businesses fail is because they don’t really know how to use their marketing automation tools, and they don’t have the time to learn it as thoroughly as they should, so they basically use it as a fancy email tool. That’s an incredible waste of money, assets, and features.
As one of our clients likes to say, Newfangled is in the business of protecting our clients’ marketing automation investments. When they work with us and let us install their marketing automation tool for them, we also run it for them and consult them on it each month. That way, they know they’re getting every bit of value they can out of the tool — and that’s true regardless of whether it’s Act-On, Marketo, HubSpot, or any other provider. That human touch is really quite critical. Plus, when you go with the bundled Newfangled and Act-On cost, which starts at $1000 per month, the bundle is typically less than half the price of the competitors’ software alone, without any consulting.
So, that’s why we choose and recommend Act-On. Of all the marketing automation providers, Act-On allows us to deliver the right tools to our clients, and it allows us to do so at an extraordinarily affordable price point.