Marketing automation is a must for success, but you may need some help in figuring it out.

This will be the first of several posts on the value and application of third-party marketing automation software. We will cover several aspects of this to simplify your understanding including:

  • The difference between CRM and marketing automation software (surprisingly, most people are wrong)

  • How it helps your sales team (more than they might realize)

  • How does it affect content (a LOT!)

  • Where to find the ROI and prove it to the boss (easier than you might think)

But in this first part, we are going to address the two biggest questions: Who should you use? Can you afford it?

Who you should use

There are dozens of providers of this software and over the past two years, Footwasher Media has been checking out about 20 of the top rated. There are as many lists rating them as there are providers being rated so they don’t offer much help. Most of the rating is based on the number of customers using the service and their revenue. We decided on a different set of criteria: what customers say about them and whether their pricing is transparent.

That latter point is rather crucial. The market leaders (and we won’t name them but you probably know who they are) all appear to have relatively low prices published, but they don’t tell you, up front about the set up charges, the add-ons, the cost for additional services that you might think you get, etc. It’s quite annoying.  Then there is the issue of what customers say.  Marketing automation software is not easy to understand and use. There is always a three-month learning period at the least. But some of the offerings are harder than others. 

So over the past two years we’ve settled on three providers to recommend: Act-on, SALESmanago and SharpSpring. All three land in the top 10 or 20 of most ratings.

For the sake of transparency, Footwasher Media has partnership agreements with all three, but we also have partnership agreements with several others that we don’t recommend. We are agnostic regarding who you might choose, but we highly recommend that you pick one. 

You CAN afford it

Act-on is the most expensive and, in fact, is a bit higher in cost than most of the sales automation packages. The difference is that you what you see is what you will pay (here’s a link to their pricing). It gets rave reviews from customers for ease of use and that might have something to do with the 24/7 customer service they offer. The downside is that they don’t offer a CRM. Many of the big names not include a CRM and those that don’t have integrated the big CRM names, like Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics. Act-on is one of those. So in choosing Act-on, the cost is in addition to what you pay for your CRM.

SALESmanago from Benhauer Marketing Technologies in Poland comes at a significantly lower cost (here’s a link to their pricing), but it differs a bit from Act-on. SALESmanago charges a monthly fee based on the number of contacts you have in your database, while Act-on charges according to the number of leads you send emails to every month. So you might have a database of 30,000 customers, but if you only send out 1,000 emails you pay the base price, while with SALESmanago you pay for the number of names in the list. Even at that, SALESmanago is cheaper. The downside is that SALESmanago is still something of an unknown quantity. It has significant traction in Europe but is just getting introduced to the US so there is not a lot of data on customer feedback. Still they offer the same 24/7 customer service as Act-on.

Finally we have SharpSpring. We not only recommend it, we use if for Footwasher Media for a simple reason. It’s really cheap if you work through a partner agency like us SharpSpring works almost exclusively with agencies and allows them to resell the service to clients for whatever the market will bear. If you prefer to go it alone, it can be pricey (if you want to know specifics, contact me at lou @ 

Another plus is it is the easiest marketing automation software to set up, has a remarkable ability to interface with multiple other marketing and social media services and, best of all, IT HAS ITS OWN CRM!

That CRM is not as powerful as Salesforce, but we have found that most companies with Salesforce are not using the capabilities to their maximum so they are wasting money. The SharpSpring CRM is quite sufficient. In fact, I’ve even run a 100,000 name list through it flawlessly, which brings me back to cost. There are no additional costs, no tiers, and no set-up fees other than paying three months in advance.  The downside is they have limited customer service, relying on the agency partners to handle most of the simple stuff. But the relationship works.

There is an added benefit to SharpSpring. It is owned by SMTP, one of the oldest and most respected email lists houses in the industry… and SharpSpring uses that database to help identify anonymous visitors. That’s huge.

That is not to say, however, that you should pick the cheapest one.

SharpSpring is an excellent choice if you are a startup company with a limited customer list and absolutely no marketing staff. It’s easy on the budget and has a lot of great features of more expensive packages and can make the job of marketing much easier. But because customer service is limited, when things go wrong it’s hard to get them fixed quickly. The team is quite good and responsive within working hours, however.

If you are a larger company with an established customer base but a limited marketing budget, SALESmanago is a solid choice and will make the most of that budget, plus there is no long term commitment. The relationship is month to month and customer service is excellent. 

Medium-sized to large companies might want to look at Act-on, especially because they’ve been around a while, they have an extensive worldwide service network and they can just take the worry out of the whole process.

If you would like to have a deeper discussion of the options we recommend, or want to talk about another provider and get an honest assessment, fill out the form at this link and we’ll give you a free 30 minutes.

Comeback next week and we will cover what the difference are between sales and marketing automation.