Marketing automation software can be your small business’s secret superpower. It can change the way you run your business and the results you get – and certainly for the better. We’ve created a comparison of the best marketing automation tools for small businesses so you can weigh up the pros and cons for your team and boost your results going forward. These apps are all super easy to integrate using PieSync, so you can know your data is always in sync, too.
What is marketing automation?
Marketing automation uses the data you know about your contacts and their behavior alongside your ideal lifecycle journey to deliver the most relevant content, emails, and messages. These are sent at exactly the right time for each contact, without any action required from you. You can use this alongside sales automation such as lead scoring and task creation for results across your organization.
Why is marketing automation worth it?
Automation scales your marketing with minimal time and effort from you. You can nurture leads to customers without any extra work once your workflows are set up. To identify if you need marketing automation, ask if your marketing results depend entirely on you and your team’s hustle and grind. Manual work for repetitive tasks doesn’t scale!
What is the best marketing automation software for small businesses?
While there are a lot of great marketing automation tools, some are unnecessarily complex for small businesses. We recommend ActiveCampaign, MailChimp, HubSpot, Prospect.io and SendinBlue as five of the best tools for SMBs to automate their marketing. Keep reading for our comparison of these platforms...
The best marketing automation tools for SMBs
Choose this if: You have the budget and want a great all-round CRM with strong automation features.
Email automation is made simple – HubSpot is a really handy tool to create unique workflows for email nurturing. What makes it even better is that these workflows are customized around lead behavior and properties. Once a contact gets to the end of a workflow or reaches its goal, they can be automatically moved to another workflow. This makes it simple to guide your leads down the funnel and towards converting.
Build (nearly) anything you want with workflows – HubSpot’s marketing automation goes way beyond just email. Workflows allow you to create nearly any “if this, then that” sequence you want. An external workflow could send an email to a lead that views your product and feature pages. An internal workflow could assign new leads to reps based on geography or annual revenue, as collected via custom properties in website forms.
You can also use workflows to assign tasks, trigger internal notifications, send internal emails or SMS, and much more.
Scaling – HubSpot is designed to grow with your small business, and you can choose to upgrade your Marketing Hub plan as you need more features, or also add their Sales and Service Hubs. However, this doesn’t come cheap, which is by far the main drawback of the tool…
Cost – The HubSpot CRM is free, but for HubSpot Marketing Automation you will need their Marketing Hub add-on (Professional Plan), which starts at $800/month for 1,000 contacts. For sales automation, it starts at $400/month. Even if you can get their startup program discount, HubSpot is unlikely to be in the budget range of most small businesses.
Limited workflow functionality per Hub – If you already have the HubSpot Sales Hub, you have access to some sales-based automation tools. However, these are limited and won’t cover your marketing needs. Alternatively, if you only have the HubSpot Marketing Hub, you won’t be able to automate deal-based workflows for your sales processes.
There are many tools you can integrate HubSpot with to make your marketing team’s job easier. Here are some of our favorites:
Mailchimp: Be certain that you have the right leads from HubSpot ready to receive your newsletter in Mailchimp.
Google Contacts: Keep a backup of your top clients in an easy-access Google Contacts account.
Outlook: Update fields or folders in Outlook or properties and lists in HubSpot according to their behavior.
ActiveCampaign: Take your marketing automation further by connecting the two tools. Or, just use HubSpot’s free CRM with ActiveCampaign automation layered on top.
Choose this if: You want powerful marketing automation features at the best price point.
ActiveCampaign’s goal is to provide “true marketing automation” and we love how powerful its features are. This is the reason it’s one of our top recommendations for small businesses looking for easy-to-set-up automation software.
Strong marketing automation features – ActiveCampaign is designed with automation as the top focus, which differentiates it from most of the other tools on this list. If that’s your top priority, we’d recommend you start their free trial.
You can do a lot more automation with ActiveCampaign than email tools like Mailchimp and Constant Contact. Not only does it cover all the core parts of email automation, but it also enables automation of your contacts, list management, and 'Deals' in their CRM system. With Deals, you can streamline sales appointments, direct messages, and notes.
High email deliverability – In tests by EmailToolTester, ActiveCampaign was the tool with one of the highest deliverability rates (97% in Jan 2019, compared to Mailchimp's 81.6%).
Price – Automation starts on the Lite plan, which is $9 month/paid yearly for 500 contacts. For the CRM and sales automation, you'll need to opt for the Plus plan for $49/month paid yearly for those same 500 contacts. As your contacts increase, you'll pay more – but that has advantages, too. You pay for what you really need.
Their CRM can be too simplistic – ActiveCampaign is automation-first, and their CRM might not fit every single one of your requirements. It’s more simple than alternatives like HubSpot, which offers a strong CRM and automation features (albeit at a much higher price point). If you love ActiveCampaign’s automation but want a better CRM, consider using integrations to solve your problem.
Boost the power of ActiveCampaign’s automation features by integrating your team’s other go-to tools. We’ve heard from PieSync customers getting results with these connections:
Pipedrive: Connect ActiveCampaign to fill in Pipedrive’s automation gaps while making the most of its strong CRM system for small businesses.
Teamleader: Combine one of the most complete CRM solutions on the market with ActiveCampaign’s top automation features.
Intercom: Keep all contacts, customers and conversations in sync across both Intercom and ActiveCampaign.
Choose this if: Your focus is on lead generation and prospecting and you already have a strong CRM.
Although Prospect.io is geared towards “sales automation for modern sales teams”, this might align more with your goals than some of the other tools on this list. With Prospect.io, you can speed up your email prospecting and automate outreach to these new leads.
Lead generation – Prospect.io is designed for email prospecting and helps you to find contact details in a fraction of the time you would traditionally need. You can do this by using their handy Chrome extension on any website or social profile.
Drip campaigns – After you’ve collected and verified new email leads with Prospect.io’s email prospecting tools, send drip campaigns to engage with them. Once they reply, click, or convert, you can sync them with a list in your CRM. If they unsubscribe or aren’t interested, you can end the process there without cluttering your CRM.
It’s not a stand-alone tool – For best results, use Prospect.io alongside a strong CRM like HubSpot, Pipedrive, or Teamleader to organize your contacts. We recommend qualifying contacts with a Prospect.io drip campaign before syncing them to your CRM with specific properties or a list membership alongside source so you can customize communication.
Sync Prospect.io with your other marketing tools and keep everything connected for better results.
HubSpot: Feed HubSpot CRM with fresh leads after they have been collected with Prospect.io and qualified via a drip campaign.
Mailchimp: Update descriptions or list membership based on their activity or categorization in either Mailchimp or Prospect.io.
Zoho: Immediately connect new emails with your favorite Zoho apps, including Zoho CRM.
Choose this if: Your main goal is email marketing automation, such as nurturing and event-based workflows.
Mailchimp is the most popular email marketing tool on the block, and it’s the ideal solution for small businesses with a low budget. Their free plan can fit the email marketing needs of many small businesses – and it offers email automation, too.
Free email marketing automation software – The biggest advantage of Mailchimp is value for money. You get a huge amount from its feature set, including marketing automation, without paying a cent.
User experience – Mailchimp has a great brand experience and is very intuitive to get started with as a smaller business.
Limited to email automation – While email marketing is a big part of automation, it’s not the whole story. With Mailchimp, you won’t be able to automate tasks or notifications like you can with HubSpot or ActiveCampaign, for instance.
Email deliverability – Mailchimp’s delivery rate isn’t the best in the market, but for SMBs this is unlikely to cause problems. If you experience issues and cleaning up your email marketing strategy doesn’t fix it, consider alternatives like Constant Contact or ActiveCampaign that tend to have better deliverability.
To make Mailchimp even more powerful, integrate it with the other tools used by your marketing team...
Nimble: Enrich your Mailchimp contacts with Nimble’s social data, or update lead status based on email engagement.
HubSpot: See if Mailchimp’s email tool can tick your automation needs, rather than needing HubSpot’s pricey Marketing Hub.
Pipedrive: Keep lists and labels updated across both Pipedrive and Mailchimp based on engagement and behavior. Zoho: See the full picture in either app and trigger actions in Zoho CRM based on a contact’s email activity.
Choose this if: You want to automate transactional emails or maintain a highly personalized relationship with your contacts.
SendinBlue is designed for relationship marketing. What is relationship marketing? It's about using marketing tactics and actions to create and maintain a personalized relationship with your prospects. With relationship marketing, you focus on your customers the whole time – right from the very first touch point on your website, to the conversion and purchase process, and on to long-term loyalty.
Here’s what we think of SendinBlue’s automation features...
Easy-access marketing automation. “Do more with less using automation”, says the SendinBlue website. SendinBlue breaks down the common barriers to setting up automation as a small business and keeps things simple.
Transactional automation. SendinBlue is a great tool for transactional emails and its workflows take this further. It’s easy to create workflows based on product purchases, page views, or engagement with transactional email types.
Starting price for automation: SendinBlue has affordable (and free) plans for email marketing, but for marketing automation, you will need to be on their Premium plan (starting at $66/month or $52.80 with annual payment). However, this is much better than some of the other tools on this list, and it’s a much cheaper alternative to HubSpot.
To get even more results from SendinBlue, integrate it with your most-used marketing tools:
HubSpot: Add contacts to SendinBlue email lists based on lead score. Or, update HubSpot based on email actions, campaigns, and behavior.
Capsule CRM: Keep a 360-degree-view in both SendinBlue and Capsule and avoid duplicate data or errors.
Salesforce: Use SendinBlue to send newsletters and drip workflows on top of Salesforce as your CRM.
Intercom: Update both Intercom and SendinBlue as contacts interact with either, keeping you and your team up-to-date.
Our top automation apps & other special mentions
As a larger or enterprise business, you might want to check out marketing automation tools such as Salesforce Pardot (starting at an eye-watering $1,250/month). But as a small business, there’s really no need.
Tools such as ActiveCampaign, SendinBlue, Mailchimp and Prospect.io are likely going to provide all the value you need at a much lower price point. If you have the budget, HubSpot is also a brilliant all-rounder for CRM, automation, and sales.
Our top choice is ActiveCampaign, as it offers the most solid automation features at the most accessible price point for small businesses.
Of course, we couldn’t fit every one of our favorite tools in this comparison post. Some other automation tools for small businesses that are worth a mention include:
- Zoho Campaigns for email marketing automation
- Zoho CRM for workflow automation
- Ontraport CRM & marketing platform to connect, automate and optimize your marketing
For best results, sync your tools with two-way integrations such as what PieSync offers. It is especially worthwhile to connect your CRM with email marketing tools like Mailchimp or SendinBlue, and to sync both your CRM and email marketing with lead gen tools like Prospect.io.