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February 3, 2017

Top Marketing Automation Platforms for SMBs

Marketing automation is hot. All the notable reasons for this from three years ago still remain: limited human error, nearly infinite scalability and the opportunity to get your message out without someone always manning the controls. Marketers are continuing to take note. In October, eMarketer asked “What technologies are important to marketers?” both now and in the future. The results:



Content marketing was king in both categories, but look down at marketing automation, it is No. 4 at present and No. 2 in the future. And as we know, it’s hard to effectively manage your content marketing efforts without a marketing automation platform.

If you’re a small business, though, this presents a challenge. You need marketing automation, but you can’t throw cartoonish bags of gold at it — at least not yet. What are your different options? What are the pros and cons? Let’s take a look.


InfusionSoft has strong all-in-one functionality allowing you to track behaviors, actions, and purchases all in the same system and it has a strong learning curve for responsive e-mail marketing whereby a customer does X-action on your website and subsequently receives Y-e-mail. It is generally more expensive than other marketing automation options for small businesses, though, and oftentimes the lead tracking can be spottier than similar platforms.


Billed as “the world’s easiest e-mail marketing,” with 350K subscribers in 182 countries, GetResponse began as primarily an e-mail marketing platform. Now it’s an all-in-one online marketing solution for small businesses. It has an amazing ease of use, which provides an advantage over bigger names like HubSpot and Marketo; those platforms require a full-time CRM manager and GetResponse does not. GetResponse also has tons of tools under one roof — it has a landing page builder, e-mail marketing, an auto-responder and a webinar tool. Plus, it’s better-priced than competitors. Among the limited cons: there is a limited range of newsletter templates, and sometimes the user interface can feel clunky.


Billed as ‘marketing automation for fast-growing businesses,’ Act-On has excellent customer support in terms of training, basic tips and strategy development. Its pricing structure can be on the high side — $2,000/month for enterprise with 10,000 active contacts and six marketing users — and some users feel the reports are static. Because of the superior training and customer service, though, some potential challenges each marketing/SMB founder faces can be alleviated.


If you stumbled on this article as a SMB founder and have never even heard of the idea of ‘marketing automation,’ the name you probably have some context for is HubSpot. It’s typically thought of as the big name on the block in this space. They have strong training programs and their certifications are respected in most of the marketing industry. Their platform is generally very easy to use and learn, although as they add new integrations, that may adjust a little bit. The major drawback is a steep price creep — as your lists and contacts grow, so do your charges (and more rapidly than you might think). This works well for enterprise or established companies (or can), but it creates a challenge for SMBs. Additionally, while the personas are very strong in HubSpot, A/B testing is only available at higher price points.

Salesforce Marketing Cloud

Salesforce is best known as a CRM, but does offer an e-mail marketing automation suite. Because of its power as a CRM, one of the best functionalities is ‘cross-channel journeys,’ where you can craft customer journey experiences from e-mail to social to ads to your website. The problem is that Salesforce is an enterprise-grade product, and the Marketing Cloud is no different — the levels of complexity make it hard to manage for most resource-strapped SMBs. Additionally, Salesforce is designed around account-based marketing — reaching out to several decision-makers — while SMB marketing is often designed around marketing to individuals.


Marketo’s current slogan appears to be “If you’re going to play, play to win.” There are a vast range of features and analytics, and the A/B testing and overall interface is really easy to use. Those are pros, but there are cons as well. The naming conventions in Marketo are more confusing than any other automation suite, and it’s extremely Salesforce-centric. If your sales team is on a different CRM, using Marketo poses a challenge.


If you’re a SMB looking to scale, you will need an all-in-one online marketing solution/automation suite. Each of the above, as noted, has pros and cons. Hubspot and Salesforce are probably the most well-known of this collection, so resources and tips are easier to come by (because the user base for the products is higher). Act-On has excellent customer service, and InfusionSoft has great all-in-one functionality — but those two platforms can get expensive for SMBs (as can HubSpot and Salesforce). Marketo offers a great range of features, but unless you’re using Salesforce as your CRM, the value for your money might not be there. All told, GetResponse seems to be the best play for a small business. The value is high relative to price, and the ability to create landing pages within the automation suite is something most of the other major players on the market don’t currently offer. If you’re looking to do the widest range of marketing activities at the most affordable price point, begin your journey with GetResponse.


Dan Steiner is a technology entrepreneur, freelance writer, and content marketer. He currently runs Avila Web Firm, a California-based web design and internet marketing agency. His work has been featured by a number of media outlets, including Forbes,, Yahoo, HuffingtonPost, and a number of others.