Marketing Automation Software
Small Business BuyerView | 2015

Every year, hundreds of small businesses contact Software Advice searching for the right marketing automation software for their needs. These interactions provide us with valuable insight into the preferences of software buyers and the factors that influence their purchase decisions.

This report will guide marketing automation software buyers by revealing the top reasons their peers seek these types of systems, the functionality they desire most and other important factors that affect the selection process.

Key Findings:

  1. Nearly all buyers (98 percent) are looking for dedicated marketing automation software for the first time, and nearly half (47 percent) are still using manual methods.
  3. A combined 73 percent of buyers want either email marketing or drip campaign functionality, while only 4 percent request social media marketing.
  5. Real estate is the most represented industry segment (37 percent of buyers). The highest percentage of these buyers (31 percent) use industry-specific software.


Along with managing vast databases of customer data, marketing automation software is used to develop, execute and track marketing campaigns. Lead generation and management functionality helps ensure that a business’s sales department receives qualified leads, while campaign management helps marketers foster relationships with leads and contacts. Reporting and analytics tools measure the performance of campaign initiatives.

Together, these functions can help align marketing and sales teams and streamline their interactions. This can be particularly advantageous for small businesses, for which driving revenue and profitability is often one of the biggest challenges.

To learn more about what functionality is most important to prospective marketing automation software buyers, Software Advice analyzed a random sample of buyer interactions. This report will highlight the primary pain points individuals have with their current methods to help guide other professionals seeking a new solution to automate their marketing efforts.

98 Percent Seek Marketing Automation Software for the First Time

Almost all of the prospective buyers in our sample (a combined 98 percent) are seeking a dedicated marketing automation system for the first time. However, a good chunk of these buyers currently use some type of software—either industry-specific (17 percent) or customer relationship management (CRM) (15 percent).

What’s more, nearly half of buyers (47 percent) still rely on manual marketing methods, such as pen and paper, spreadsheets and one-off emails. Meanwhile, a small percentage (9 percent) use nothing at all.

Prospective Buyers’ Current Methods

Prospective Buyers’ Current Methods

Marketing automation software has historically seen slow adoption. In fact, many marketers seem to have a poor understanding of these systems: A 2015 survey by Autopilot, a marketing automation startup, found that 44 percent of marketing professionals in the U.S. who don’t use marketing automation software have no idea what it is.

It’s not surprising, then, that many buyers in our sample say they are overwhelmed with managing clients, contacts and leads, and are primarily seeking software to improve lead management (27 percent). Another 15 percent say dissatisfaction with their current system is the top reason for seeking new software.

For other buyers, a need for software with greater functional breadth and depth (13 percent) or pressing company growth (10 percent) is the main impetus driving the decision to invest.

Top Reasons for Evaluating New Software

Top Reasons for Evaluating New Software

Paul Roetzer, founder and CEO of inbound marketing agency PR 20/20, explains that marketing automation is starting to get more attention from businesses, particularly as more vendors offer such solutions.

There’s so much more movement in the marketing technology space, as a whole, and so many more marketers are starting to pay attention and are understanding that there are lots more [software] choices [than in the past].Paul Roetzer, PR 20/20

Roetzer also believes marketing automation software will only become more in-demand as it begins to offer more advanced capabilities. While the technology behind these systems is still relatively elementary, he predicts marketing automation software will evolve to have more nuanced sentiment analysis, recommendation and reporting capabilities and predictive abilities—which will lead more companies to seek this software.

“Marketers will become curators of information,” he explains. “The [software] will advise on the things that will give the greatest probability of a successful campaign, and then the marketer will provide that human layer of logic.”

For Buyers, Traditional Marketing Trumps Social Media Functionality

Next, we looked at which functionality prospective buyers cite as most important in a new system. Contact management is the clear winner, at 74 percent. Interestingly, while nearly three-quarters of buyers request email marketing and/or drip campaign functionality in a new system (73 percent, combined), only 4 percent request social media marketing functionality.

Top-Requested Marketing Automation Functionality

Top-Requested Marketing Automation Functionality

It makes sense that contact management is frequently requested, given how many buyers currently say they struggle with it. But a recent Social Media Examiner report on the state of social media marketing finds 92 percent of marketers indicate social media is important for their business. So why do so few buyers request this functionality?

Angela Hausman, owner of digital media marketing company Hausman and Associates, has a few ideas. First, she notes that the way marketers see the social media space is starting to change. They’re moving away from the idea that social media marketing is a siloed activity, and towards a more holistic view of digital, or Web, marketing, where social media is just one of many integrated components.

For example, digital marketing can also encompass email marketing, banner advertising, search engine optimization (SEO), pay-per-click (PPC) and many other practices. Thus, some buyers in our sample may assume that any marketing automation solution will deliver this combined functionality.

“Asking for social media marketing, specifically, might be taking a step back from where they currently are in their thinking,” Hausman explains. But on the other hand, she notes, some buyers are simply wary of social media marketing altogether.

“There’s been an awful lot written about the negatives of social media marketing, and some famous social media ‘fails’ [have] made some companies look insensitive,” she says. “Companies grew fearful of social media automation.”

Prospective Buyers’ Current Methods 

In one social media marketing “fail,” Epicurious enraged Twitter followers with
tweets about the Boston Marathon bombings

Finally, Hausman adds, companies that fail to see a direct return on investment on social media efforts may assume that it isn’t working, and revert to the more traditional marketing approaches they found successful in the past.

“With email marketing, it’s easier to show that ‘something’ happened—people opened your email,” she explains. “With social, especially if you don’t have the right listening tools in place and you’re only looking at engagement on your pages, you’re not really going to see a whole lot.”

As such, Hausman advises companies to avoid being “button-pushers,” and to instead take an active role in communicating with consumers on social media.

“The takeaway is that social media isn’t a ‘set it and forget it’ environment,” she says. “The whole idea of social media is to be social.”

Many Buyers in Real Estate Seeking Marketing Automation Software

Marketing automation software buyers span myriad industries. However, the highest percentage of buyers in our sample (37 percent) work in the real estate industry. What’s more, 31 percent of these real estate buyers are currently using industry-specific software.

  • Prospective Buyers by Industry

    Prospective Buyers by Industry
  • Real Estate vs. Other Industries: Prospective Buyers’ Current Methods

    Real Estate vs. Other Industries: Prospective Buyers’ Current Methods

According to Hausman, this finding makes sense: After all, she says, “the real estate industry seems to lag behind almost every sector [in terms of adoption].”

Vinny LaBarbera is the founder and CEO of, an Internet marketing firm. He adds that there is an older generation of real estate agents—those who have been in the business for a few decades—who harbor some fear of automation.

“They strongly feel that their business is people- and service-oriented, and they’re afraid of automating anything that may come off as impersonal,” LaBarbera explains. “That’s a legitimate concern for people [who] have built their business off of referrals.”

Regardless, the fact that such a large percentage of buyers are in real estate may signal a shift in perspective about how marketing automation software can address some of these buyers’ unique challenges.

“Real estate transactions are fairly complicated in the sense that they involve quite a few different people—from the realtor to the customer to the appraisers—and there’s a lot of paperwork involved,” says LaBarbera.

“The paperwork hasn’t been automated or digitized well enough where it can be standardized or funneled through one simple system or CRM [solution]. Agents are forced to use a lot of different things, and a lot of those systems are fairly archaic.”

LaBarbera also explains that there is a new breed of realtors tilting the scale:

These realtors are more technologically savvy; [they] understand the importance of technology and that, if you leverage it right, it will help your business grow. They’re looking for ways to automate what they do so they can actually spend more time with their clients—not doing paperwork or follow-ups that can, and should, be automated at this point.Vinny LaBarbera,

As marketing automation software capabilities continue to evolve and even outpace those offered by industry-specific solutions, it’s possible the market will see even broader interest in how it can be used. Indeed, PR 20/20’s Roetzer feels the adoption of this software will continue to expand across all industries.

“Humans only have the ability to process so much information,” he says. “It’s only logical that [software] will continue to simplify that process.”


It’s clear that interest in marketing automation software is growing. Even industries that have previously shied away from adoption, such as real estate, are now moving towards it to solve some of their most pressing challenges. Indeed, Roetzer believes we’re just seeing the beginning of what marketing automation software can accomplish.

For software buyers, these changes will likely result in more choices and options. However, more choices can also make for a more daunting software-selection process.

Real estate buyers should look for software that streamlines their most common daily activities. Whether by facilitating social media interactions, more personalized marketing communication tools or by automating and digitizing transaction paperwork, software can help agents free up time to connect with clients.

In regard to social media, however, Hausman stresses that personalization is still key. Companies using marketing automation software must make critical choices about what communications to automate, and to what degree, to avoid potential mishaps.


We isolated our sample to include only buyers from small businesses (those with $50 million or less in annual revenue). Of these buyers, most are from very small companies: 67 percent have less than $1 million in annual revenue, and a combined 61 percent have five employees or less.

  • By Annual Revenue: Prospective Buyer Size

    By Annual Revenue: Prospective Buyer Size
  • By Number of Employees: Prospective Buyer Size

    By Number of Employees: Prospective Buyer Size


Our advisors regularly speak with buyers who contact Software Advice seeking new marketing automation software. To create this report, we randomly selected 365 of our advisors’ phone interactions with U.S. small-business buyers (from companies with annual revenues of $50 million or less) during 2014 to analyze. The data presented was collected from those interactions for business purposes rather than for market research.

These findings exclusively represent those buyers who contacted Software Advice for guidance on software selection, and may not be indicative of the market as a whole. Expert commentary solely represents the views of the individual. Chart values are rounded to the nearest whole number.

If you have comments or would like to obtain access to any of the charts above, please contact

Twitter screenshot courtesy of Digiday.

Luke Wallace

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