Top 4 marketing automation tools and why you'll love (and hate) them

A handful of professional digital marketers weigh in on their favorite marketing automation tools, and spotlight pros and cons of each. Some of the picks were the usual suspects — HubSpot and Hootsuite — while others were surprises.

digital marketing

Modern marketing isn't just about funnels and conversions. Really, it's all about the tools.

Hundreds of SaaS marketing tools exist that are designed to handle everything from scheduling tweets to helping marketers better understand their audiences. To determine which tools are worth the money, we asked digital marketers to weigh in. Here are the top four marketing automation tools (in terms of votes) cited by our 28 respondents, along with a few alternative utilities that are also worth a look.

1) HubSpot

HubSpot's marketing platform received the most votes (nine) by far, and pricing starts at $200 a month.

Why marketers love HubSpot: 

Great all-in-one platform. "HubSpot is the best all-in-one marketing platform I've found. It not only does a great job with marketing automation but with social media, content marketing and CRM. All data is in one place, which helps anyone who uses the platform become a better marketer." — Darin Berntson, founder, Bernco Media

Boosts website traffic. "Honestly, HubSpot changed my life. I was working for a startup tech company that was starved for awareness and leads. How do you 'get found' when you're new and surrounded by large, established competitors? We adopted HubSpot, started blogging, optimizing Web pages, creating premium content and calls to action. Our website traffic shot up by three times and our contact database grew by six times in just three months." — Bill Peatman, business writer, Alaniz Marketing

Better understanding of audience behaviors. "We can manage contact history on the macro and micro level. That means I can see the entire prospect and customer base, segments and groups, and the individual customer's history. This helps our team understand audience behavior from one tool and lets everyone (sales, marketing, customer service) see the same picture." — Curtis Peterson, digital marketing manager, SmartFile

Intuitive interface. "The software makes my work easier because the whole site is intuitive. If you can do one thing, you most likely can adapt it to the whole site. Everything you do in HubSpot can make a difference in your conversion rate and leads." — Christina Kay, PR specialist and inbound marketing consultant, Bluleadz

"The easy-to-use interface allows you to aggregate all your marketing efforts in one place, giving you numerical-proven insights into exactly what is and is not working. The depth that the information goes into in the platform is simply invaluable. It drives everything that our team does." — Erin Wasson, vice president of marketing, UrbanBound

Solid reporting. "HubSpot provides closed-loop reporting, making it easy to know which marketing activities are effective. With HubSpot's tools, I know which activities are most effective during particular time frames." — Adam Bockler, communications manager, Float Mobile Learning

hubspot screen shot

Hubspot dashboard

HubSpot's room for improvement

Contradictory approach toward content. "HubSpot speaks out of both sides of its mouth when it comes to content quality. I'm working a pretty serious segment — biotech and medical device manufacturing. You have to know what you're talking about to be credible. HubSpot acknowledges the need for high-quality educational content — people aren't looking to be sold when researching online. But they also offer $10 bloggers for hire and canned ebooks, which to me contradicts that message." — Alaniz Marketing's Peatman

Poor access to data. "Let me do SQL queries. Let me tie my data together. HubSpot has gates in front of the data, as many of these companies do. That makes it easier to use, but I'd love the ability to do better analysis and create better segments by giving me access to manipulate my data in new ways." — SmartFile's Peterson

Sales and CRM capabilities aren't fully realized. "HubSpot is one of the first automation tools that's spending more time building out the sales and CRM section of the platform, but they still have a little way to go. I believe that connecting marketing automation and sales is one of the most powerful things you can do for your business. It allows you to get the full picture when viewing your marketing analytics and see your real customer acquisition cost by traffic source. One of the things we are looking forward to is a CRM mobile app for HubSpot." — Caleb Edwards, founder, CEO, GreenHouse Agency

Not as many features as competitors. "HubSpot is wildly overrated. It has a nice interface but it has one-third the functions found in Marketo. HubSpot has done an A+ job of marketing themselves and building community. To me, it is a cult, not an enterprise-grade marketing tool. Their low-end $200 offering is almost not functional enough for Marketing 101. I've used it for startup clients with small budgets, and it's only slightly better than nothing." — Susan Roberts, managing director, Strata Consulting Services

2) Hootsuite

Hootsuite (five votes) is a freemium social media management dashboard that lets you write a single status update and post it simultaneously to multiple networks, as well as measure reactions. Paid plans start at $10 a month.

Why marketers love Hootsuite:

Streamlines social media management. "I don't believe in using automated tools for all social media, because social media should be real-time engagement. However, in terms of driving programs and promoting specific content and ensuring consistent communications, Hootsuite is an invaluable tool that enables me to manage and report on social media engagement." — Erika Goldwater, vice president of marketing, ANNUITAS

Saves time. "Hootsuite allows us to push content out to multiple social sites, which saves us a significant amount of time. It also allows us to auto-schedule our future social media updates. This lets us plan much of our marketing ahead of time as well as when the content needs to go out. We also use their reporting features frequently." — Mark Tuchscherer, president, Geeks Chicago

hootsuite dashboard

Hootsuite dashboard

Hootsuite's room for improvement

Better Instagram integration. "Instagram is our fastest-growing channel, so naturally we were excited when integration was announced between Hootsuite and Instagram. Much to our disappointment, we quickly learned that while we could use Hootsuite to schedule Instagram posts, that really only means we would receive a push notification (basically a reminder) from Hootsuite, which then prompts us to open the Instagram app and publish the image. Sure, the reminder is helpful at times and allowed us to distribute posts across multiple channels at the same time. But Hootsuite doesn't truly automate the process with Instagram." —Ryan Worthen, owner, Reel Special Productions 

(Note: Instagram currently doesn't permit posting from third-party tools, but Hootsuite offers "several handy time-saving features" for social teams that use Instagram, according to Marketing Land.)

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