20 min read
Ian C. Tomlin
We’ve spent the last 6-months looking into the best of marketing technology, considering what works best for tech startup businesses. In this article we uncover our findings.
Why Every Business Needs MarTech
We live in a digital age, an era that’s made it much more difficult for startup businesses to reach their audiences. Without automation in the background to help you, the manpower needed the hand crank a marketing campaign is sure to hasten your business into an early grave.
Your potential customers are ‘out there somewhere.’ To attract them to your website, you will need to be clear in your message, forensic in your targeting, and you will need to develop an outreach agenda that gets messages to your prospective buyers (at the right time) and presents your case in a persuasive way.
What Marketing Technology Do You Need?
It could be argued that Marketing Technology is like an onion; it has many layers!
Top 10 marketing tech startups need to engineer business growth
- Customer Relationship Management (CRM)—To manage customer data, create a single version of the truth regarding customer data, with segmentation possibilities for marketers and an easy-to-manage sales pipeline view for sales leaders.
- Marketing Program Management—To manage the activities of marketing teams as they amplify the brand, build content, run events, campaigns, etc.
- Social Content Programming—To organize social communications
- Email Campaign Management—To design email templates and program email outreach campaigns
- Marketing Automation—Tooling to configure conversational journeys from your landing pages (that are the places you will be directing your audiences to), using sales magnet content and rich media eBooks, videos, and other articles to evidence, educate and demonstrate the value of your offer
- Public Relations Programming—To develop an influencer database (including social media influencers, bloggers, independent writers, and journalists, etc.) and manage outbound newswire distribution of press releases and inbound requests from editors, bloggers, and journalists.
- Behavioral Analytics—Tooling to identify who is visiting your landing pages and to monitor what they look at, where they go, what interests them, what they do next, etc.
- Marketing Performance Management—Tools that bring the ability to monitor the progress of marketing efforts across all outbound channels
- Content Store and Collaborative Workplace—To manage and share work and ideas.
- SEO Performance—Monitor your website presence performance and make sure you are doubling down on the right keywords and long tails to beat your competitors.
Some caveats before we start
We haven’t surveyed every product in existence. That would take too long. Instead, we concentrated on the major MarTech brands we’ve encountered over the last 6-months. There are other products out there!
We carried out this review based on the need to better serve our B2B tech startup and high-growth clients with end-to-end program solutions. Naturally, if you are a B2C enterprise, you’re going to need something slightly different.
As an outsourced marketing program solutions provider, our natural bias is towards platforms that deliver end-to-end solutions over standalone best-of-breed tools. Nevertheless, where possible, we do mention the best-of-breed tools that exist if that sounds more like your agenda.
You need a way to manage your sales pipeline and prospect lists. Enter stage left Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems.
Back in the day, it used to be a simple card index. Then, with the advent of computer relational databases, the data fields sales teams could capture to slice and dice their customers became much broader. This was great for marketers, but the downside for salespeople was that key-fill into a CR system like Act!, Salesforce, Oracle Sales On-Demand, Microsoft Dynamics CRM, and Zoho CRM became a growing productivity killer.
Hopefully, common sense has come into play a little more to find a happy medium between the needs of marketers and salespeople.
In our 2022 review, we didn’t revisit Salesforce, Zoho CRM, Microsoft Dynamics CRM, etc. because we already knew what to expect if we did. Instead, this year, we took a look at the new kids on the block – a.k.a. HubSpot, PipeDrive, the latest version of Act! and Zoho Bigin. These lightweight tools offer salespeople maximum control over their sales pipeline with minimum fuss. Meanwhile, they give marketers sufficient flexibility in adding custom fields to get the essential forensic chopping up of contact data for sales campaigns.
In our review, all of these products scored highly in their productivity tools, like auto-populating data when they can, and integrating with email and LinkedIn communications platforms—something that has become essential in today’s market to present a ‘single view’ of customer contact data.
The biggest motivator for these products, however, is the top-down visibility they bring to the sales pipeline. At any time, sales leaders are able to see a left-page to right-page top-line view of the sales pipeline (see below).
Zoho Bigin Sales Pipeline View
In our final analysis, Zoho Bigin came up on top for startups as the star buy.
Bigin is very much a small business solution. It’s remarkably affordable compared to the big boys of the industry, and somewhat benefits from being ‘low-tech’ by reducing the overheads on setup and use. It has to be said, PipeDrive and HubSpot beat Bigin hands-down on the productivity tools and scaling options they offer. But the price is an issue. While HubSpot particularly offers a FREE FOREVER entry point, the extra features you’re going to need definitely aren’t free… so the costs will soon mount up (or you will end up compromizing on the potency of your marketing—not good).
I suspect, startups will find the headroom of features Bigin offers will be good enough for the first few years of growth for any tech startup—and it won’t break the bank.
2. Marketing Program Management
These are project management and activity management tools you can use to organize your marketing activities.
Top of the list in terms of usability and functionality in this category comes Monday.com. This very friendly app supplies you with plenty of templates, calendar views, GANT style charts, and KANBAN structures, that any person that gains enjoyment from going into a stationery shop to buy folder tabs and colored markers to organize their desk will just love what they can do to manage their marketing. The downside though is that Monday isn’t cheap—and you have lots of things to spend money on.
The other option then is to look at the FREE options. There are two obvious contenders, TRELLO and Airtable. Both of these products are really easy to use and allow marketers to set out their marketing activities in a friendly ‘card style’ drag-and-drop format. It makes making lists SO easy. The thing about Trello is that it isn’t that flexible on relationships between categories, and we often need to look at tasks by CLIENTS and by RESOURCE. This is why we moved to Airtable.
Airtable wins hands-down for its flexibility and ability to create multiple ‘BASES’ to cover different aspects of your marketing activity. For example, we created BASES (a.k.a. sheets/databases) for brand guidelines, another for Editorial, and another for Activities. It’s easy to personalize, very friendly to use, and great for sharing across dispersed teams. There’s also a lot you can do with the FREE version.
While we think Airtable is far more versatile and flexible than any other FREE app on the market for marketing program management, Zoho Marketing Automation comes with its own Brand Studio to manage activities by Objective, Owner and Type, conveniently ordered by deadline/delivery date. It’s far from stunning but does the job if you’re after a single version of the truth for marketing plans—and you see a benefit from having all your marketing automation tools in one place
3. Social Content Programming
Note that every social media platform has ‘sweet spot’ time windows when you can get more outreach from your content and article publishing. This means you will want to schedule your social media outreach a few weeks ahead. Doing this allows you to populate the schedule while offering regular postings that reach your audience at the optimal time, every time.
There are some notable names in this space, best known of all is HootSuite. One of the first software companies to do social outreach well, HootSuite has everything in the box to do a good job of Social outreach. Its reporting and scheduling tools are excellent, and there are a host of productivity tools built in that really help marketers. The only other product that comes close for us in features and convenience is BUFFER , which you could view as the ‘new kids’ in the segment. Like HootSuite, BUFFER is a perfectly serviceable tool and ticks all the boxes. Some would argue that BUFFER’s UI is somewhat more modern.
It will arguably be more an issue of price and preference that determines whether you feel HootSuite or BUFFER is the best-in-class solution for social post scheduling, distribution and reporting for your business.
While we can’t argue that, as standalone tools, HootSuite and BUFFER are where it’s at in social distribution state-of-the-art, we would recommend ZOHO Marketing Automation’s Social module as a decent offering for those looking for an integrated offering. In our experience, this software is perfectly serviceable to meet the needs of most startup businesses—it does the job. Using Zoho Social as part of Zoho’s Marketing Automation subscription means that you can combine Social post results reporting as part of your marketing performance dashboard—which for our clients makes all the difference.
4. Email Campaign Management
The role of an email campaign tool is to design and manage email marketing campaigns. On this point, we underline that nowadays with data privacy regulations so stringent, the expectation is that you have consent from individuals to send them content via email before you do. Should you like these permissions, then it’s ever more likely that unsolicited emails blasted out to hundreds of contacts will find themselves in the spam list of recipients. Even worse, your IP address might get blacklisted. Neither of these outcomes are desirable. Therefore, if you want to send unsolicited emails to a contact list, then the best way to do this is to seek expert advice, and probably consider using a third-party to facilitate your plan.
There are a huge number of software products in this space. Market leaders include Intuit Mailchimp, ActiveCampaign, HubSpot, Clickfunnels, Constant Contact, Campaign Monitor, Moosend, and GetResponse. In this review, we considered MailChimp, Active Campaign, HubSpot, Clickfunnels, and Zoho Campaign as a reasonable sample base.
While all of the top products in the category have reached a good level of completeness and are strong on usability for non-technical people, we did find that Clickfunnels were aggressive in their sales approach and pricing agenda, which put us off almost immediately from treating them as a contender.
In the end, we decided that Zoho Campaigns was friendly (enough) and capable enough to deliver the campaigns we run for startups, and benefits from being part of the Zoho Marketing Hub (yet again). This means, marketers have a good chunk of the tech tools they need to execute joined-up marketing campaigns in the same too-kit, and it’s extremely affordable for startups.
N.B. Zoho Campaign does lack some of the cool nuances offered by HubSpot (boy do those guys produce slick software!). We should therefore put a shout-out for HubSpot which has an excellent module for Campaign Management. It’s an obvious consideration if you’re happy to pay the big bucks for the HubSpot solution.
5. Marketing Automation
Underpinning every online sales journey is automation, generally formalizing the workflow of events that kicks off the moment someone arrives on your web page. These workflow tools are nowadays wizard-driven and use intuitive drag-and-drop interfaces to build up the if/then/that/or logic that dramatically cuts the time needed for marketers and salespeople to hand crank their sales pipeline building efforts.
This category of technology is bewildering to most non-expert marketers. It’s the moment you drop into a netherworld of know-how and behavioral programming that most business people would rather steer clear of. When we delved into the products in this space, we found the tools were very similar in their approach to designing workflows and the underpinning rules. Products like ActiveCampaign HubSpot again score on the broadness of their ready-to-use templates, etc. for different circumstances businesses might need to think about, such as upselling products on a product catalog page, etc.
In our case, we found there was (yet again) enough horsepower in Zoho’s Marketing Automation tooling to automate the workflows that are common to business-to-business tech startups (that make up the majority of our clients). That said, if your business is an Ecommerce player and you have an online store, I suspect you would find ActiveCampaign and HubSpot better choices.
6. Public Relations Programming
Public Relations is often ignored by modern digital marketers as being old-fashioned and out of date. It would be a mistake to ignore newswire and editorial channels for your messaging because they offer a broad landscape across which you can paint your message. Additionally, they tap into a broader influencer audience that can do much to progress your ambitions.
Until recently, there wasn’t much you could self-serve in the PR space that worked, so businesses had to employ costly PR agencies that don’t normally get out of bed for less than $20k/year. That has changed somewhat with digital newswire services like IssueWire and Pressat. These companies offer very affordable routes to newswire channels.
Ian addition to these two press release distribution services, there are a host of other vendors including PressBox, PRIUS, PR.com, ereleases, etc. In truth, our usability experience with these platforms hasn’t been impressive. Their free services are VERY limited and the whole experience of working with some of these FREE press distribution tools can quickly become exhausting.
While both IssueWire and Pressat are worthy of consideration for your PR distribution, our pick of the lot is JournoLink. This platform is unique in the market in that it began with a focus on managing and harnessing inbound requests from writers and editors. You will imagine that people writing columns and articles need good content and contributions from experts to add depth to their writing. JournoLink puts these enquiring minds in touch with you.
In addition to this very useful INBOUND feed (that brings you into the fold as an expert on your topic), JournoLink offers you similar press release distribution options as the other digital newswire tools. What’s more, you can create a custom list of your own influencers, bloggers, independent writers and editors for your own circulations.
Pricing is around £60 / month making JournoLink a well-priced solution for any startup business that wants to start building its brand profile.
7. Behavioral Analytics
Behavioral analytics is about interpreting what site visitors do when they land on their website—and why. It’s important to do this to glean insights on how to tweak your conversational journey and marketing approach. For example, you could try two different designs of the same landing page (in the trade this is called A/B spilt testing) to learn which is the more impactful. The only way you can really understand this is to monitor the habits of site visitors.
Targeted landing pages are useful enrichment for this exercise because they help to split your audience down to a smaller group (i.e., you know the visitors for a specific landing page are responding to a particular outbound message or article).
There are a VERY large number of marketing technology products in this space—too many to cover here. Man of these require separate investments that few startup companies can afford in the early days.
In our case, we decided that Zoho Marketing Automation’s behavioral analytics are good enough for what we need them to do for our B2B customers. Were you running an E-commerce store serving consumers, no question you would want to be looking for something a little more granular.
8. Marketing Performance Management
If you can’t measure, you can’t manage. Every business needs to track the performance of its marketing end-to-end, from the first point a website visitor lands on your site, to the outcome it results in. To do that you need a joined-up performance management approach.
There are a great many companies and products that offer to put together a dashboard or reporting layer on top of what you’re doing today. Ultimately, if you have to pay a little money to manage your business and track your progress, it could be argued that would be money well spent. Given that startups have so many other things to spend on, ideally, tracking progress should not be one of them.
When we reviewed our possible options for integrated packages (remember our review list included HubSpot, Act!, Active Campaign, MailChimp, and ClickFunnels), a big consideration was how practical and possible it was to put together an end-to-end scorecard on performance.
None of the platforms we reviewed did a good job of the reporting bit from our perspective. This is clearly a ‘work in progress’ area for the MarTech industry. We found Zoho Marketing Automation does a reasonable job of providing the tool-ware to build your own performance reporting solution, albeit it’s not so easy to get it configured and you might need some help.
9. Content Store and Collaborative Workplace
It’s very rare nowadays for marketing teams to be all in the same place. That’s why a collaborative digital workplace makes sense. There are a few fundamentals that a digital workplace should offer:
- A place to connect with colleagues, share ideas and solve problems that makes it easy to engage in discussions and wrap people into conversations as you’re going along
- The ability to have chat, voice, video, screen sharing, etc.
- The ability to quickly create GROUPS or CHANNELS that could be private or public depending on the requirement, together with the ability to invite guests (potentially external to the company) to share in discussions and content.
- A content repository for files, images, gallery content, etc.
- A way to recognize and award team members for great work
- A mechanism to manage team events
- A learning space to share learning content and check who’s seen it
- A knowledge center to house important learnings, artifacts, documents, and records
Not unlike other companies, we have subscriptions with Microsoft and Google that provide us with FREE access to their collaborative tooling. Perhaps more surprisingly, we’ve decided to PAY MORE and buy Facebook Workplace regardless.
We found Microsoft’s products to be very disjointed in the way they work, and Microsoft Teams has a frustrating approach to content sharing that requires users to upload a document in one place, copy the link, then share it in a post. It doesn’t get more frustrating than that when you have to keep doing it time and again to share content with colleagues!
Facebook (Meta Group) Workplace makes for a great virtual office. Like other tools, you know who’s working and who is taking a break thanks to its traffic light notifications. Additionally, it comes with chat, voice, and screen sharing (a.k.a. everything you get from Skype and Zoom) to keep in touch with colleagues. One of the big advantages we see in Facebook Workplace is the Learning functionality that allows us to manage our learning online, albeit Microsoft is in the process of launching something similar in the coming months. We use it to publish training materials that we ask our entire team to learn. Having this content in a Learning space inside our collaborative workplace means everyone can refer back to the training content at any time to refresh themselves on content as time moves on.
10. SEO Performance
The role of this software category is to monitor your website performance and make sure you are doubling down on the right keywords and long tails to beat your competitors.
Most will be familiar with the great tools offered by Google and Microsoft to meet these needs for FREE… and there’s not much wrong with those though they are quite technical platforms.
If you want a simpler roundup of your site performance, the option we would recommend is SE Ranking. Unlike other products, SE Ranking gives you everything you need to tweak and tune your SEO over time. It includes the ability to check out keywords and long tails, offers a competitor section to track competitor website behaviors, allows you to plug-in Google Analytics and Console feeds (in addition to your Social channels) to draw together an excellent overview of how well your website is performing. Another capability so often overlooked is your Authority status and this is helped with off-page SEO optimization tools, for example making sure you are registered with major directories, etc. All in all, we think it’s a feature-rich SEO optimization platform and a very affordable price.
The out-and-out winner in our 2022 review was Zoho Marketing Automation, not because of its great usability and breadth of features, but because it DOES ENOUGH for determined marketers to have what they need to build an end-to-end marketing automation answer that meets their marketing needs on a budget.
Invest in Zoho Marketing Automation, and you get all of the following product categories covered in the one subscription.
Then, you only have to consider the following categories that stand outside of this core platform:
Public Relations Programming
Content Store and Collaborative Workplace
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