How to choose the best marketing automation software in 2021

By Geoffrey Keating

Marketing automation software is quickly becoming a priority for competitive companies—businesses that are looking to raise customer satisfaction, boost ROI, and work more efficiently. 

But not all marketing automation software is created equally. Before you choose a tool, assess your software needs and the goals you want to accomplish. Then, evaluate the marketing automation software landscape so you can choose the best tool to help you reach your marketing goals.

For your marketing automation efforts to be successful, your data needs to be well-managed. Bad data can lead to misguided engagement efforts and frustrated customers. A customer data platform like Segment will power your marketing automation software with clean, organized data.

Table of Contents:

Familiarize yourself with the basics of marketing automation software

Before choosing marketing automation software, you’ll need to understand the basics of these tools and why you might want to use one. Then you can decide if it’s time for your team to invest in a marketing automation tool.

What is marketing automation software?

Marketing automation software is a tool that streamlines your digital marketing activities and delivers targeted messages to your customers and prospects based on their behavior and preferences. It helps marketers acquire new customers, nurture existing relationships, and analyze campaign performance across channels.

Marketing automation software functions by tracking user actions on your website, app, digital product, email campaigns, and other events. Then, this behavioral data triggers targeted content via email, SMS, push notification, in-app messaging, social, web, and more.

Using customer behavioral data, marketing automation software can help you create curated experiences—displaying a different landing page to a returning customer, delivering ads based on recent browsing history, or sending an email introducing products related to the customer’s interests, to name just a few.

Personalizing the customer experience can get complicated with so many customer interactions across channels and devices. But, with the right behavioral marketing automation software, you can track customer behavior and then deliver targeted customer experiences at scale while reducing the amount of time you spend on marketing processes.

Why use marketing automation software?

Customers want personalized experiences. According to Epsilon, “80% of consumers are more likely to make a purchase when brands offer personalized experiences.”


But, it’s not as simple as sending a follow-up email after a purchase to advertise products that are similar to the purchased product. You need to be able to anticipate what a customer would like to buy, even if they haven’t shown a direct interest in that product.

In a consumer survey by McKinsey, one shopper noted that after buying a puffy jacket, she received an email recommending similar jackets. “‘Regarding this product, you only need one. Why send an email for other similar coats?’ she asked.”

This company would be better off recommending winter boots or a scarf that reflects the customer’s style based on their first purchase. To deliver this level of personalization, companies need a tool that uses complex algorithms to make smarter campaigns and foster relationships by providing value to customers.

Through marketing automation, you can give a personalized and relevant experience to your customers while saving time by automating the process. You can put the time gained back into your marketing strategy development and leave repetitive tasks to the robots.

Assess your marketing automation software needs

Marketing automation platforms are not a cheap investment, so you want to make sure you pick one that meets your company’s needs. Consider these three questions to develop your criteria to find the best marketing automation software for your business.

What are your goals?

By knowing your goals, you can make sure the software you choose has the marketing automation features, functionality, and reporting you need to succeed. Some goals that marketing automation software can help with are to:

  • Boost customer LTV

  • Acquire new customers via inbound marketing

  • Increase upsells and cross-sells

  • Raise customer satisfaction

  • Conversion rate optimization

  • Elevate ROI

Mention your goals to marketing automation software sales reps when you take a product demo. They can share relevant success stories and show you features that will help you reach your objectives.

Look for reporting features in tools, so you can find one that provides the insights you need to track your progress toward your goals and improve your marketing workflows.

What other marketing tools do you need to integrate with?

While many marketing automation platforms will cover similar channels, each will likely integrate with different marketing tools. Find a marketing automation tool that connects with your existing marketing and engagement tools, such as your:

When you take a demo, ask to see these integrations in action, so you can envision how they will work for your use cases.

How much control do you want over your marketing automation flows?

If you already have marketing flows in mind that you want to automate, make sure the tool you choose will be able to react to specific user actions or a series of actions in the way you want it to.

You’ll likely want to develop multiple series of complex triggers based on different customer journeys and actions. Bring these flows up in the demos as well.

Most marketing automation software can handle complex marketing flows for SMBs. Enterprise businesses will benefit from the greater flexibility provided by more comprehensive marketing automation tools that help companies fine-tune their marketing orchestration.

Review the best marketing automation software in 2021

Now that you know what you need from marketing automation software, consider these top marketing automation tools. Bonus: They all integrate with Segment, so you can power your marketing efforts with clean, standardized data.

1. HubSpot

HubSpot is an all-in-one SaaS marketing automation tool that will help you attract new leads and turn them into customers.



Features include email marketing automation, landing page creation, analytics, lead scoring, and a built-in customer relationship management (CRM) system. HubSpot also has plenty of educational materials and strong customer support.

Best for: CRM and lead generation

2. Autopilot

Autopilot is a marketing automation tool focused on helping small businesses create engaging customer journeys.



Build lifecycle marketing campaigns with an easy drag-and-drop interface. Autopilot includes A/B testing, customizable CTAs, landing pages, and lead scoring. Autopilot even offers annotation and collaboration features right on the platform, so you can add context to your customer journeys and review with your marketing team. Dozens of integrations mean you can create a powerful marketing tech stack.

Best for: Lifecycle marketing

3. Iterable

Iterable is a marketing platform that prides itself on integrating your customer data and then using it to create targeted campaigns.



A/B test campaigns with up to 50 variations and automatically implement the most successful variant. Iterable also helps you easily test messages on different email clients, which can be tricky to get right. Plus, they offer a clean visual interface for creating campaigns.

Best for: Lead nurturing and customer retention

4. Intercom

Intercom allows you to analyze customer behavior on your site and communicate with customers 1-to-1 in real time or via automated campaigns.



Use Intercom to guide new users through an onboarding process and streamline customer support. In addition to robust customer service features, Intercom also has powerful prospecting tools for lead generation and nurturing, A/B testing, and the ability to customize CTAs.

Best for: Customer service, lead generation, and acquisition

5. Pardot

Pardot by Salesforce is a comprehensive marketing automation platform ideal for helping B2B enterprise businesses identify and engage high-quality leads.



Track pageviews, form fill out, downloads, and social interactions. Create dynamic emails right from the platform. More features include the ability to deploy landing pages, manage social media marketing, and integrate with Google Ads to track ROI and keyword performance.

Best for: Lead generation and engagement

6. Taplytics

Taplytics lets you target users across platforms to ensure a consistent experience.



Design complex user journey campaigns to engage customers with the intuitive drag-and-drop interface. Perfect your campaigns with A/B testing and roll out new features and digital products with feature flags. Taplytics prides itself on working with businesses 1-on-1 to make sure you get the most out of the platform.

Best for: Lifecycle marketing for digital products

7. Extole

Extole is a referral marketing tool to turn your customers into brand evangelists.



Encourage your current fans or subscribers to bring in new customers by rewarding them with Extole’s wide range of advocacy products. Enterprise businesses will benefit from advanced features like fraud protection, A/B testing, APIs and webhooks, and the sophisticated reward engine.

Best for: Referral and loyalty programs

8. is designed to help companies reach customer activation and retention goals with a focus on automated messaging.


With, you can create multiple branches in a single campaign to customize messages based on conditional statements, user attributes, or segments. Enhance your efforts with comprehensive reporting and A/B testing for more relevant and personalized customer interactions.

Best for: Customer activation and retention

9. Drip

Drip is primarily a B2C ecommerce marketing automation platform that allows you to send personalized messages to customers and leads.



Segment customers by tag, event, and even custom fields, so you can understand how different customers are interacting with your company. Create messages with dynamic content to personalize the customer experience with things like product recommendations and unique discount codes.

Best for: Customer acquisition and retention

10. Marketo

Marketo is another all-in-one solution ideal for B2B marketing that helps align marketing and sales teams.



Use Marketo for lead management, email marketing, and predictive web content. Marketo organizes leads for sales reps and provides context for them to understand how a lead has interacted with your website and marketing campaigns. Offering a variety of pricing plans, Marketo is a viable option for nearly any B2B company.

Best for: Lead generation and engagement

11. WebEngage

WebEngage is a multichannel B2C engagement platform.



WebEngage supports real-time segments, so you can engage customers based on their behavior. They offer pre-built templates for easy campaign creation. Use funnel and behavior analysis to better understand the effectiveness of cross-channel marketing campaigns throughout the customer lifecycle.

Best for: Lifecycle marketing

12. Blueshift

Blueshift automates behavior-based messaging across many marketing channels, including email, push notifications, Facebook, and display ads.



Use Blueshift’s behavioral segmentation to identify users who are more likely to perform actions like a repeat purchase, activation, or churn. Then, create automation workflows based on those segments to get more customers on a successful conversion or retention path. Campaigns in Blueshift are self-optimizing, so you’re always getting the best results from your efforts.

Best for: Segmenting and multichannel messaging

Supercharge your marketing automation with a customer data platform

A marketing automation tool will provide synergy between your marketing efforts and your customers’ actions and preferences. Amplify your marketing automation platform’s capabilities even further with a customer data platform like Segment.

Segment gathers, cleans, and standardizes data from all your data sources and sends it to your marketing automation platform to help you create hyper-personalized campaigns.

Segment even has pre-built infrastructure, so you can test different marketing automation tools with just a few clicks before choosing one. See how Halp used Segment to test and select a marketing automation solution and then improved their customer onboarding flow and increased activation by 4x.

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