Marketing automation has become an incredibly vast topic within marketing, and has grown to the same levels of complexity that other areas of focus such as SEM and SEO did back in the early 2000’s. As a discipline, marketing automation has created and opened up new career opportunities within mid to large companies that didn’t exist just 5 years ago. Beyond that, the most progressive companies have entire marketing operations teams, of which marketing automation represents just one fractional piece of. We’re looking at a practice that one could argue is still in it’s infancy, but at the same time has progressed to a level of acceptance to where widespread adoption has been reached. It’s easy to see why. In an age where the people who are going to buy your products have already committed long before they talk to you, we need a way to educate prospective buyers at scale, in terms of both time and money, and marketing automation does just that.
There are a multitude of enterprise marketing automation solutions available, from Eloqua and Marketo on the very high end to Hubspot and Pardot in the mid-tier. Still, these solutions are very much enterprise focused and for that reason, come with the enterprise price tag you’d expect. So what are small companies supposed to do? The ones with small budgets and less than 10 employees? These are the companies that know they need a solution to choreograph their sending of emails to everyone in their database and time all of the messages in a way that still feels personal. We’ve spent so much time talking about marketing automation for large companies (and they’re great case studies mind you), that we’ve forgotten about the little guys who are scrappy, so I took it upon myself to vet out the top marketing automation solutions for small companies, down to those of you building your business while flying solo. The list below is in no particular order, and made the cut based on personal use, price, and feature set.
ActiveCampaign actually came recommended to me by one of my connections. For an entry price of $9/mo, you get marketing automation for up to 500 contacts, and here’s the kicker: unlimited sending. ActiveCampaign is a Chicago-based company who’s been in the ever saturated email marketing game since 2003. They have a lot of experience and their product has evolved, just as marketing as a whole has, to include automation capabilities. Their feature set is relatively similar to #2 on the list, MailChimp, who I use for my own business. The key difference between the two is that ActiveCampaign supports lead scoring, which is incredibly valuable for companies with a fully developed marketing/sales funnel.
Everyone who’s ever done email marketing knows MailChimp. They’re one of the most popular (if not the most) email products solutions available today. Like ActiveCampaign, MailChimp’s product has evolved as well to include automation capabilities. MailChimp’s entry level price starts at $10/mo. For this price, you get marketing automation for up to 2,000 contacts, trumping ActiveCampaign’s 500, but with a 12,000 sends/mo. maximum. I’ve come to love MailChimp for the attention to detail they put into their UI/UX. I’ve been using MailChimp for years, but I’ve only been using them for marketing automation for less than one year, and the only shortcoming I’m seeing thus far is the inability to add a new email in-between other emails in a preexisting workflow depending on what the overall objective of the workflow is. New emails can only be added at the very end of a flow. This has troubled me in a few instances where what should have been a quick edit ended up taking a number of days to fully rebuild a new workflow and shut the old one off. That said, this limitation doesn’t apply to tim-based workflows, but unfortunately those are less common and therefore aren’t suited to most applications.
Drip is my hidden gem nomination. Drip flew under the radar but after digging into their product further, it makes a great option for small businesses. Drip’s price starts at $49/mo, and with that, comes support for 2,500 contacts and unlimited sending. Is that worth the premium over ActiveCampaign and MailChimp? That’s something you’ll need to vet against your business needs, but what may sway you in Drip’s direction is the fact that Drip’s platform is dedicated to marketing automation. It’s not an ancillary add-on. Marketing automation is what they do. Additionally, Drip has a number of third party integrations. That alone may be worth the cost of admission to you. Do you use Unbounce, Leadpages, or Paypal? Drip supports all of them and more. This is one large advantage over the other providers on the list.
Autopilot is very competitively priced at $4/mo. For this price, you get email marketing and marketing automation support for 500 contacts. If you’d like to bump up to 2,000 contacts, you’ll pay $20/mo, but annual payments will see a 20% discount. Autopilot calls their automation capabilities “journeys,” which similar to the other options, let you build out a series of emails to be delivered based on either triggered events or time-based options. Autopilot is a bit different from the other options in 3 key ways. First, they offer capabilities beyond automated email series’. If a prospect clicks your email, you can follow up via SMS. Second, Autopilot presents it’s product as a full-funnel platform with insights to help you measure the performance of the overall acquisition and onboarding experience. Last, Autopilot gives you visibility into a prospect’s behavior using activity feed reports. This is a key component of many enterprise-level offerings (albeit limited) at a fraction of the price.
If you were to conduct your own research on options for small businesses, you’ll most certainly come across Leadsius, because they position themselves in the market as specifically being tailored to small companies. What makes them unique is that they’re completely free for the first 2,500 contacts. That’s right. zero dollars. Leadsius is based in Sweden and doesn’t do much marketing, so I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve never heard of them. Don’t let that fool you, however. Their feature set packs a big punch and is a great option for 80%+ companies who are just getting started. You can take all of your data with you if you were to ever leave the service, but you just may find they’re a great long-term solution as well. From behavioral based triggers to staggered delivery, Leadsius rivals any of the other companies mentioned on this list. If you’re not currently doing any marketing automation but know you should be. The only risk you assume is your time in getting started.
These are the best marketing automation solutions currently available for small businesses and individual entrepreneurs. This is becoming a more saturated space as well so there a a number of runners up for the mid-size company segment, but they didn’t make it onto this list given the breadth of their offerings and that they roll many other features/functionality into their platform, in addition to being priced higher in the $150+/mo. range.
Are you using a different solution or know of a good one not mentioned here on this list? Let me know in the comments.