How to choose a winning marketing automation platform without stress – comparing 7 leading solutions

How to choose the perfect marketing automation platform for your business? Comparing the features of seven leading solutions for you.
Published July 10, 2019
Last updated November 14, 2021

Choosing is hard.

Selecting a marketing automation platform from a landscape that includes 8000 vendors can just seem painful.

But it doesn’t have to be.

Once you’ve decided on your ‘must-have’ features and eliminated the unnecessary ‘buzzy’ tools, you’ve done most of the work.

And we can help you get there.


In our article here – we will first walk through the factors you need to consider before you commit to a solution.

After this – we will be ready to perform a comparison between Pardot, HubSpot, Marketo, Eloqua, Active Campaign, Act-On, and Ontraport.

Fasten your seatbelts and enjoy the ride.


How do I choose a Marketing Automation Platform?


Today, three out of four companies use marketing automation.

However, this doesn’t mean all of them are a success story.

Most companies still struggle with siloed systems, ROI reporting, and data management.

On top of that, there is talk of an ‘expertise gap’ among marketers today.

Sometimes, no matter how well designed the system you put in place, if your employees don’t know how to use it, you are missing out.

So before you get into the process of choosing a marketing automation platform, check your current marketing state.

This includes the strategies and tactics you use at the moment and the roadmap you want to follow in the future.

To sum up, these are the questions you need to have answers to:

It’s crucial that you look into these points to avoid ending up with marketing automation that doesn’t fit your purpose.

Every marketing automation vendor will promise functionalities; however, not all of them will really listen to your needs.

That’s why it’s your job to do the homework first.

Checking the MAP features

Based on the 2019 research Act-On performed alongside London Research, most companies that apply marketing automation software use the following tactics:

Almost all of the marketing technology systems provide a set of commonly used features. However, not all of them are set up to the same standards.

To demonstrate, Pardot, HubSpot, Marketo, Eloqua, Active Campaign, Act-On and Ontraport are robust platforms.

Most of them are used in a business-to-business (B2B) environment.

As of April 2021, TrustRadius Reviews compare the platforms’ scores as below:

Note: Oracle Eloqua is only a part of the Oracle CX Marketing suite, however, TrustRadius only offers the Oracle CX Marketing review option.

Keep in mind that some of these marketing solutions are better adjusted to certain requirements than others. For instance, while Pardot may be the lead management expert, HubSpot is better in inbound marketing.

On the other hand, if you are looking for a great out-of-the-box ROI analytics tool, you would be better off going for Marketo rather than ActiveCampaign.

We have compared the seven platforms for you based on the most common features used in marketing automation.

Please note, although we took extra care to provide the freshest (April 2021) information available from the vendor’s websites and comparison sites such as GetApp and TrustRadius – there may be some oversight.

So, please take into account any new releases, updates and developments before you decide on the best platform for you.

Email automation

Sending and scheduling emails is the one element all marketers use, no matter what the company sells.

So naturally, every marketing technology solution will have to offer email automation as a cornerstone tool.

However, they are not built the same way.

When it comes to choosing email marketing features you need to get answers to the following questions:

  1. Can this platform send triggered emails? Based on customers’ web behaviour, purchase history or upcoming events.
  2. Can this platform schedule emails?
  3. Can this platform perform A/B testing within emails?
  4. How far can I personalise emails within this platform?
  5. How can I track prospects’ behaviour within emails?

Advanced marketing automation platforms provide an interface with drag and drop tools that allow you to build emails with ease. Others have an intuitive interface, but no drag and drop features.

Additionally, consider whether the ability to track clicks through emails and validating email addresses is an essential feature for you. To compare our chosen seven platforms, let’s look at the table below:

We can see how some of the email marketing options vary according to the different vendors.

For example, Pardot didn’t have a drag and drop email builder, which (judging by the comments in the Salesforce community) was frustrating to use. But in October 2020, a new drag-and-drop email builder was announced in Pardot Lightning.

Ontraport doesn’t provide a drag and drop email builder, however, it does offer Simple Mail Editor for basic text-focused emails, OntraMail Editor for graphical newsletters, and HTML Editor for email coding options.

As of 2020, Eloqua offers Eloqua Content Blocks which acts as a drag and drop template builder for email or landing pages.


Disconnected technology systems are one of the biggest challenges that companies face in their quest to improve digital marketing.

Integrations are essential if you want to enhance your marketing efforts.

So, when choosing your marketing automation platform check for the following integrations:

  • CRM integration
  • API
  • Third-party integration

CRM integration is becoming ever more crucial the further we progress down the business automation road.

However, CRM integration is not the only integration you should take into account.

Consider this – the marketing department is not the only department that might need the insight a marketing automation platform can provide.

While the sales department is one obvious beneficiary, other departments might prosper from marketing automation as well.

For example, the HR department will benefit from running hiring campaigns. And customer support will want a complete history of users’ behaviour.

To ensure you are making the right choice, check if your chosen platform has API access. This will allow any further developments and app integrations you might want to link to your chosen solution.

However, a more important feature to look for in your marketing automation is third-party integration.

It’s similar to API integration, in that both talk to external applications, but third-party integration capability is better because you will not have to build another API from your side.

Additionally, look into API’s specifications for how the application communicates with other software. API’s typically enable integration of data, logic, and objects with other software applications, and often provide two-way sync.

Remember, this is about future-proofing your organisation and planning at least one or two steps ahead when adopting new marketing automation.

Want to know more about How We help Leverage B2B Marketing Automation To Increase Sales?



Segmentation is vital if you want to personalise your communication with customers or prospects.

It’s a starting point for marketers and one of the most used features in any marketing automation platform.

Depending on how you could (or plan to) use segmentation, we have divided it into two separate terms:

  • Market segmentation
  • Customer segmentation

Market segmentation is a process of dividing or filtering the target market into separate groups. Later, the segments can be used in different campaigns based on the characteristics they have in common.

To see the four types of market segmentation, check out the image below.

Customer segmentation, on the other hand, involves grouping your customers based on similar characteristics, from age and location to industry and company size.


Customer segmentation helps companies to:

  • Expand their offer to existing customers (cross-sell and upsell)
  • Improve customer service
  • Test new products or pricing options
  • Build better relationships
  • Personalise their existing relationships


Segmentation is used often and in many ways.

And while most of the marketing automation platforms offer segmentation as a given, there is a limit to how deep some of them can go.

Before committing to a specific solution, make sure you determine what type of segmentation you require and if the platform delivers accordingly.

To compare our chosen platforms, check out the table below:

Landing Pages

Building landing pages is a key ingredient in any marketing mix.

Depending on how many campaigns or product launches you produce, you may want to check if your marketing automation platform offers this feature.

Some platforms offer templates to choose from, others offer tools to create your own. And of course, some offer both.

Also, it’s beneficial to look for A/B testing for landing pages so you can test their effects on different audiences and optimise as you progress.

For the purpose of our comparison, we have divided the landing pages into two categories: custom landing pages (create your own) and landing page templates.

Take a look at how they compare below:

The newest addition to the Landing Page automation is ActiveCampaign.

The platform vendor introduced the Landing Page option in November 2020, providing a drag and drop interface along with the templates.



Cross-channel marketing


A unified platform results in a unified experience for the customer.

Not only is it important to be present on multiple channels – such as social media, email and mobile – but, the channels also need to be streamlined.

Having a cross-channel experience means aligning and personalising all of your communications to the customer’s needs.

For example, if a lead has spent some time browsing through a specific feature of your product, then your digital ads should logically continue that interaction between the lead and your company.

So, if the same lead goes to Facebook next, he will find an ad that addresses how that specific feature solved a problem for one of your previous customers.

Cross-channel marketing is important because it gives you a unified view of the customer. It is also necessary for both personalisation at scale and content optimisation.

Marketing automation platforms can unify channels like mobile, email, SMS & push notifications, SEO, digital ads and social media marketing.

But depending on your type of business, you may not need to integrate that many channels. So let’s check how our seven platforms compare on cross-channel marketing.

Keep in mind that some platforms can integrate with your social media accounts; however, they don’t offer a unified view of your ad performance on the platform itself.

Similarly, some solutions offer out-of-the-box SMS messaging, such as Marketo, while others integrate with third-party solutions to deliver that feature.

Eloqua integrates with Oracle Content Marketing tool (natively, although you may need to pay extra for the feature), and provides the Keyword Suggestion tool that recommends keywords to you as you write and develop your SEO-friendly content.

For social media management, most of these platforms support social media posting, retargeting or listening, but often you need to add connectors, such as in the example of Pardot and Ontraport.


Lead nurturing & Lead scoring

Lead management is a big part of B2B marketing. But to remain on top of the leads that come in you need to have a reliable marketing automation platform.

Lead management will include identifying your leads, nurturing them, scoring and grading them, and eventually passing them on to sales.

Lead scoring is one step of lead management, where you assign scores based on your lead’s activity.

For example, if a lead signs up for a webinar or downloads an ebook, you will assign points to that action, based on the likelihood of it converting the lead into a future customer.

Lead nurturing is a process of following your leads through their buyer’s journey and engaging with them with relevant content. Using the example from above, lead nurturing would be providing an ebook or webinar at the right time.

For this to work, we need marketing automation to track, analyse, score and provide insight.

To find out where our seven platforms stand when it comes to these two functionalities, take a look at the table below:

Reporting & ROI analytics

Most marketing automation platforms provide some level of reporting. Some of them offer a dashboard view where marketers can customise their reports (depending on who they report to), while others offer activity tracking based on the channel you perform operations on.

Advanced reporting tools often include deeper insights that don’t just report simple numbers like bounce rates, but actionable insights as well.

For our current needs, we will compare the seven platforms against visual analytics, ROI analytics and sales reporting.

So, let’s dive in.

Keep in mind – even if they don’t offer customisable dashboards with precise analytics, it doesn’t mean they are not able to provide insight in different ways.

For instance, Act-On offers analytics and reporting, however, it’s still a work in progress on the visual side of things. It’s good to remember that the platform also offers third-party integrations with tools that provide improved insight gathering.

ActiveCampaign offers Custom Reports as a way to track performance on your dashboard. Yet, for optimal visual analytics capabilities, you are probably better off integrating the platform with ISVs such as DataHero that provides an in-depth insight into your business through intuitive dashboards.

When it comes to ROI analytics, most platforms offer some capabilities that will support your ROI calculation. However, for some of them, as in Ontraport’s example, to access marketing ROI tracking stats and UTM tracking filters, you’ll need a Pro account license or above.

In terms of Sales Reporting, in cases such as Marketo, Eloqua, and HubSpot, you will have to tap into their sales tools offering, which can include an additional license fee or require an integration.

Bottom Line

To sum up, before making your decision, take a good look at your requirements, marketing process, campaign management procedure, customer demands, and your future goals.

Most marketing automation platforms are built in a similar way due to corresponding market demands. And they evolve at a rapid speed, continuously refreshing their toolset.

Also, don’t forget to evaluate your in-house talent. Tools are only good if applied properly.

Do you need help deciding on the best marketing automation solution for your business?

Give us a shout.

Want to talk specifics?

Click on the button below to book a FREE discovery call!
We are an omnichannel strategy consulting firm and would love to see you succeed in your omnichannel marketing initiatives.

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