Nitro-Net.com – A Global Marketing Group Company
It’s been nearly 41 years since American marketer Gary Thuerk sent the first-ever mailout, in the hope of shifting a few computers for his company, Digital Equipment Corporation. Little could Thuerk have realized the consequences of his experiment.
Today the marketing automation industry, which traces its lineage to that very email, is booming.
Forrester predicts that global spending on marketing automation tools will surpass $25 billion by 2023 — a 14% annual growth rate.
What’s more, it’s an industry evolving at breakneck speed — driven, rather fittingly, by digital disruption. Technologies such as artificial intelligence are having a transformative influence at all points in the chain. And they enable us to generate more relevant content and nurture our leads more effectively.
Thuerk is remembered today as the “father of spam.” Yet the industry he inspired is becoming more subtle and personal with each iteration.
Some things, however, remain the same. Three companies — HubSpot, Marketo, and Salesforce’s Pardot — have dominated the marketing automation scene for years. Together they account for over 50% of the market.
But which of the three is best, you ask? It’s a question we hear all the time, despite the reams of coverage they’ve all received. Well, if you want us to provide a definitive answer, it’s worth saying right off the bat that we can’t. All three are strong products, with their own strengths and weaknesses.
What we can do, however, is identify the best product for each specific type of company. Here, we draw on the advice of automation consultants to assess several key metrics including versatility, accessibility and integration.
HubSpot, Marketo, Pardot: Conventional wisdom
It’s long been assumed that HubSpot is best for smaller firms, Marketo for the mid-market, and Pardot for bigger, wealthier organizations.
Their price points certainly reflect this assumption. HubSpot offers its core CRM free of charge, and its paid packages vary from $50 to $3,200 a month. This compares favorably with Marketo (whose three primary marketing automation packages range from $895 to well over $3,000) and Pardot ($1,250 to $4,000).
However, we should be wary of reaching any definitive conclusions. For one thing, while HubSpot breaks down its price per user (it ranges from $50 to $80 per head, if you’re wondering), its competitors drill down by contacts rather than licences, making life-for-like comparisons extremely tricky.
For another thing, each product carries a plethora of ancillary costs. The most obvious is the Salesforce CRM, a de facto requirement for all Pardot clients which will probably cost several thousand dollars for larger organizations. But it’s far from the only example. In all three cases, new users will likely face a significant investment in onboarding, either via a third-party service or the provider’s own in-house specialists (for example, HubSpot’s onboarding service costs up to $3,000).
Okay, enough about the costs. What about the functionality?
Well HubSpot remains extremely strong for smaller companies, to be sure. The entry-level features are fantastic, notably a CMS which lets users build templates for emails, blogs, landing pages and questionnaires using drag-and-drop. Pardot and Marketo require an existing CMS, and both demand a small amount of HTML and CSS nous for the initial templates (although it’s pretty easy to then tweak them using drag-and-drop and WSYWYG editing).
On the flip side, both Pardot and Marketo offer outstanding features for those with in-house tech knowledge. Marketo has used AI to hone a seriously impressive nurturing tool, which harnesses cookie data to analyze a prospect’s behavior, then funnels them into a specific stream with tailored content. Unlike the HubSpot alternative, you should be able to use Marketo’s nurturing technology without any technical support.
Pardot, meanwhile, leverages Salesforce for deep-dive analytics on each prospect’s behavior, and offers lead scoring to grade the prospect’s interaction with various marketing channels. Another awesome feature is the bird’s-eye campaign builder, which lets users plot individual prospects’ journeys using drag-and-drop options.
Potential for customization
Perhaps the clincher for higher-level users is customization. While HubSpot’s out-of-the-box platform is very user-friendly, adding new features isn’t particularly easy without a developer’s help. By contrast, both Pardot and Marketo are designed to grow.
Once a user is onboarded, the possibilities of both platforms are practically limitless, particularly Marketo. One automation expert, who’s used both Pardot and Marketo, says about the latter:
“If you ask if something’s possible, nine out of 10 times the answer’s yes. And there’s usually several ways to accomplish it.”
In terms of UX design, a distinct gap has opened up between these three rivals. Marketo has started to lag behind, hamstrung by a static, unintuitive interface (as you’ll see if you check its reviews online). The company is currently in beta mode for a new user interface, but it’s not yet ready for build-out.
HubSpot and Pardot, meanwhile, have both made UX a major priority. The former has created a step-by-step ‘wizard’ to help newbies find their way around, and it rolls out regular improvements thanks to its team of UX writers. Pardot’s design is equally sleek, all self-explanatory icons and well-ordered site maps. It’s definitely become one of the platform’s key strengths.
Integrations and partners
Another strength is the sheer number of integration partners Pardot commands. Thanks to the patronage of Salesforce, its app exchange unlocks over 3,400 apps including popular platforms such as Slack, Zapier, CloudAmp and Eventbrite.
HubSpot and Marketo don’t have quite this reach, but they’re getting there. HubSpot says it now has more than 200 plug-in partners, including mainstream favorites such as MailChimp, Slack and HotJar.
Marketo, meanwhile, offers over 500 partners, and its top-level users get programmatic access to the entire platform via myriad web hooks and APIs.
Yet, all three companies are keen to stress there’s no need to buy or install any additional technology to use their product (apart from the obvious case of Salesforce for Pardot users). Each of the three platforms is designed to stand alone, making its plug-in partners a bonus, rather than a necessity.
If users run into problems, it’s far easier to get support from HubSpot and Pardot than Marketo.
The latter’s sluggish customer service, specifically its inability to resolve unusual queries, is another common user complaint. However its huge community (which numbers around 50,000 people) does offer a form of compensation, enabling users to crowd-source the answers they can’t get in-house.
So, which product is best for you?
Well, if you’re a smaller firm, without much technical knowledge on site, HubSpot remains your best bet. Its core inbound marketing platform is on-point, after-sales support is highly efficient, and the CRM needs little tinkering. For larger companies with more in-house technical wizardry, Pardot and Marketo offer more competitive options.
In truth, Marketo throws up more pain-points than Pardot for the average user, and it takes longer to resolve them. On the flip side, however, Marketo really is as adaptable as the user needs it to be. If you’re a visionary like Gary Thuerk and you want a product that can keep pace with you, this could be a particularly inspired investment.