Marketing Automation Review Eloqua vs Marketo vs Pardot vs Hubspot

Cody Boyte | March 2014

This review is from 2014. Much has changed in the industry since I wrote the review. However, much still applies. Your mileage may vary and products may be different now. These were my experiences at the time.

Let’s talk about marketing automation – the critical, but expensive email software every B2B marketer buys at some point.

At Axial, we’ve had a bit of marketing automation schizophrenia. In the five-year life of the company, we’ve had Hubspot, Marketo, Pardot, Marketo and Eloqua – in that order. During my time at the company, I’ve managed the moves from Marketo to Pardot to Marketo to Eloqua.

Through the process of selecting new marketing automation I’ve been on demos for Hubspot, Silverpop, Act-on and a number of other smaller providers. I’ve also used smaller ESPs that aren’t marketing automation like Mailchimp, Aweber, GetVero and Intercom, but mostly on my side projects.

I should note, so my biases are clear up front, that every time I’ve been in a place to influence the buying decision I’ve recommended Eloqua for Axial. It’s not right for every organization, but it has been the right choice for us – with some caveats.

Why Do You Need Marketing Automation?

Marketing automation hasn’t cured all of our ills. It isn’t a magic potion that just delivers leads nicely packaged on our doorsteps. But it does, when implemented correctly, make running a marketing organization tremendously more effective.

The two major benefits of marketing automation for our marketing team are being able to send the right emails, with the right content, to the right people at the right time after they’ve interacted with our company and being able to connect our work to the work of the sales team. We can pass on the leads that make sense and continue to market to the rest of the potential prospects until they’re ready.

Marketing automation is to our marketing team what Salesforce is to the sales team.

In a B2B context especially, a tight integration between Salesforce and our marketing automation solution is critical. We regularly use the data in Salesforce to include or exclude people from campaigns or individual emails. We pass the data into Salesforce to make it obvious what has happened with each lead, whether they asked to learn more about Axial.

Without marketing automation, we’d be flying blind. We could do everything we need to do by building out emails in an email service provider with some tricky logic and an internal database, but we’re marketers not developers. Our time should be spent marketing. And, why should we rebuild what already exists?

So, of the providers that already exist, which one is the best? In which context?

How I’m Evaluating

I should note a couple of things about the evaluations below. First, these are in the context of a fast growing B2B startup. We have aggressive needs and are growing quickly. Second, we send a fair amount of email for a company our size. I think at last count we were averaging around 750-800k emails a month. Third, we tend to try to do fairly creative things with our marketing automation software like use the APIs to automate as much as possible, pass immense amounts of data between Salesforce and the marketing automation software, and run campaigns based on what’s happening in our application itself.

We’ve always had a very open use of marketing automation. When we implemented Pardot, there were probably 4 or 5 of us using the software to send emails at a 20 person company. Now there are probably 12-15 people regularly creating campaigns and sending email in a 90 person company. We haven’t had a ’email marketing manager’ or ‘director of lead generation’ or ‘marketing operations’ to run marketing automation full-time. Though, based on the size of our company and the new adoption of Eloqua, we’re now looking for someone to own lead generation and nurturing. Update: he was just hired. Feel free to apply for other opportunities at Axial though.

I’m also going to discuss email deliverability as part of my reviews. The way we judge deliverability is based on the results of sends to one internal list of known members of our network. The list is made of paying accounts – the people our customer service team is emailing manually on a regular basis. We know their emails work. For all four providers, we’ve sent emails to this list and got delivery results. In all four cases, we used their standard shared IPs. We’ve never had a dedicated IP address.

Also, one last note is that we haven’t had very much luck with any of the providers in using their analytics. Part of this is the complexity of our business and part is our crazy Salesforce history. Axial is a network for business owners, their advisors and capital providers. Because of the nature of our business, about 1/3 of our leads have successful outcomes that aren’t recorded on Salesforce Opportunities. Instead, success is measured by the lead’s interactions on our network. That’s tricky for us to deal with internally, let alone using an external generalized analytics program. So, while we’ve never had good luck with analytics, you may have a set of requirements that are more reasonable.

I hope the reviews are helpful. Your mileage may vary.

Hubspot

I’ve never used Hubspot personally, so this is a short review. In two separate cycles I’ve been on demos for Hubspot and one of my co-workers was an intern at the company while he was in college. So, while I don’t have direct experience using Hubspot, I have a pretty good understanding of the full capabilities.

Hubspot is probably the single best integrated product in marketing automation. It takes a significant effort to coordinate your analytics, website and marketing automation tools to match what Hubspot offers right out of the box. But, for some organizations, the integration can get in the way of what you’re trying to do in marketing.

The product is amazing if you’re an early stage startup or a small business that wants to run most of your marketing through Hubspot. They’ll give you a blog, social media software, dynamic calls to action based on who is viewing the page, and a very nice email editor. Plus all of their analytics tie everything together very nicely to help you optimize what you should double down on and what didn’t work very well. There are a number of startups that really love it because they’ve gone all in on it. Check out the discussions on GrowthHackers.

When we were working with Hubspot to see if they would be a good fit for us, they gave us a demo account to play around with and let us use the product to do a single email send to our internal members list. The delivery was excellent – 99.4% I believe – and better than any other provider. Hubspot also has one of the best CRM style setups of the marketing automation platforms. You can see a complete picture of each contact with all of their social media contact info, pictures pulled in, and the ability to add notes. If you’re small enough that you don’t need a full-fledged CRM, you could use Hubspot as your only piece of internal marketing/sales software.

Unfortunately, the product isn’t very compelling when you start pulling it apart. If you’re only going to use it for email and social media, most of the awesome tracking disappears. The dynamic content also isn’t very valuable if you’re trying to use it piecemeal outside of their internal proesses – at least when we reviewed the software. And most of all – their marketing automation is pretty basic.

From a marketing automation standpoint, they didn’t seem to have folders or the ability to create very long-running, complex nurturing campaigns. We manage hundreds of campaigns from a dozen different people, so foldering is critical to keep us from stepping on each others toes. While the email editor was nice for non-technical users, the lack of folders would have made it ridiculous tricky to use for a large team, even with good naming conventions.

Their integration with Salesforce – from reports I’ve heard talking to other marketers who have Hubspot – is pretty basic at best. It doesn’t sync campaigns and doesn’t support syncing custom objects from Salesforce. For us, Salesforce more deeply optimized than any marketing automation software so it’s critical that we’re able to deeply integrate our data both ways.

As a growing tech startup, we’re constantly rethinking the way our website is laid out. In the last three years we’ve redesigned or rebuilt different sections 3 or 4 times. With your website running on Hubspot, it can get very tricky to do anything that isn’t designed into their software. One way around the website issues we attempted was to use their API. Hubspot does have one of the better documented and easier to use APIs, but we found that we were unable to get some of the most critical information out of the system, primarily individual user actions.

I’d suggest Hubspot to early stage startups with small marketing teams that have limited technical resources or to small businesses with no in-house technical staff. If you go all-in on the software, you’ll find good results early in the life cycle of your business. We considered it heavily and loved a lot of the features they offered, but it’s no longer a good fit for our business. We’re getting too big and complex to adequately manage our needs in Hubspot.

Pardot

We were last on Pardot in 2012, just before the company was acquired by ExactTarget. A year later, Salesforce acquired ExactTarget, so I’m not entirely sure how the reporting structure or development resources are working internally. It seems as though, in the next few years, Pardot could turn into a viable competitor for Marketo and Eloqua in the enterprise space. For the time being, it has a fair ways to go.

One of the interesting indicators, from rumors I’ve heard, is that Salesforce actually resigned Eloqua as their internal marketing automation software for the next 2 years. That seems to be a clear indicator that Pardot isn’t fully ready for large, complex organizations yet. Then again, that’s rumor and speculation.

We made the choice to switch from Marketo to Pardot just before I joined the marketing team at Axial. So, while I don’t know how Marketo was integrated before, I was part of the transition to Pardot. The reason we went with Pardot then was because it’s a much easier to use product than Marketo or Eloqua and we only had a single marketer – my prior boss.

The interface is very clean and the process for sending out an email is very simple. You simply press “send email” and it has a 7 step guide that walks you through the process of selecting a list, setting up the email, testing the email, and sending the email. Unfortunately, there isn’t really any sort of organization for the emails. They all end up in a giant list with no real order. You can search the list, but if you forget what you called something, well… sorry about that. You’ll be searching for a while. I believe they may have added folding in the last release cycle after Salesforce acquired them, but I’m not entirely sure.

From an email deliverability standpoint, Pardot was very good. I believe when we were using them their emails were going through ExactTarget – which they clearly are now. We never had any trouble with deliverability. Sends to our known list of members saw delivery rates in the ~97-98% range. Whenever one of our sales guys went rogue and sent to a bad list, we’d get an immediate email threatening to shut down our account. They were vigilant and it showed.

When we were using Pardot, the best way to serve forms on your own site – not through their landing pages – was to actually set up a landing page and then iframe the page on your own website. This created a few issues when it came to getting Google Analytics to track goals correctly. Because the conversion is actually happening on another domain (Pardot), you have to do some pretty tricky javascript tricks along with serving the analytics tag on their landing pages, to get goal conversions to register in GA. It took us probably a month to get it all set up correctly with help from their developers. At the time, we served our public website securely over https and created some of the tricky issues. If the site wasn’t being served securely, it would have been much simpler.

Speaking of their developers – our experience with Pardot was that they had some of the best support of the providers we’ve used. At the time they hadn’t been acquired twice yet, but it was very easy to call our account rep and get the help we needed. She would help put us in touch with a developer who actually knew what was going on to help us solve the problems. It was a great experience.

Pardot also has the cleanest and simplest API. We were able to get everything we needed out, very quickly and simply. While Pardot’s analytics are sub par, by using the API we were able to pull out all the data and build our own analytics dashboard. I wouldn’t recommend it, as it’s not an ideal solution, but it was possible to get access to every bit of data in their system through the API. If that’s what you care about, you can get it and the API is well documented.

I’m not entirely sure what Salesforce will change or plans to change with Pardot, but historically they had four major downfalls that made them untenable for us.

First, it was nearly impossible to organize emails, campaigns, etc in a reasonable way. Naming conventions help, but without folders it is very tricky to find old assets as I mentioned above. Especially when you have a large team sending dozens of emails a day to different lists.

Second, their reporting was almost nonexistent. While we could do some things, like tracking email opens/clicks and individual form submissions, it was hard to get very deep data. Their integration with GoodData might work for other organizations, but it was mostly useless for us. We did end up building our own external analytics program, but it wasn’t a great solution.

Third, their nurturing campaigns were very cumbersome to use at the time. If you branched a program and wanted similar things to happen on both sides of the branch, you’d have to duplicate work on both sides. Based on our recent demo, they’ve fixed some of these issues but it still looks pretty hard to do anything more than fairly basic nurturing. I can see it getting very tricky to decide if someone is in multiple nurturing campaigns at once, to pull them out of a campaign, etc.

Fourth, our sales team likes to follow-up on form submits almost instantly. We’ve found that our close rates go up dramatically when we respond in ~5 minutes as compared to a half hour later. We need marketing automation to integrate with Salesforce quickly so we can kick out the right email to the right person at the right time. Pardot’s integration is once every 20 minutes. So our leads synched somewhere between a few minutes after the form submission and 20 minutes later. That didn’t work for us and how responsive our team is. On a similar note, many of the fields we tried to sync had issues with bidirectional synchronization. We had to change check boxes into drop downs to get them to properly coordinate with SFDC. I’m sure this has changed after the Salesforce acquisition, but it’s something to ask about.

Overall, Pardot is probably the best fit for a company that is in early stages and only one or two people use the product. If your nurturing is fairly basic and you’re going to primarily be using marketing automation for forms, emails and integration with Salesforce it’s a fine solution. Especially if you don’t want to run your entire marketing through Hubspot.

Marketo

While Axial used Marketo twice, I was only involved in managing the product for a year. Our CEO is friends with someone on the Marketo board, so when push came to shove he decided we should use Marketo after we decided Pardot was too simple for our needs.

Don’t get me wrong – I think Marketo is a fine product. It’s better than Pardot and Hubspot in terms of complexity. But, it has a number of problems that made it completely unworkable for us. So unworkable, in fact, that 9 months after signing the contract our CEO started hate tweeting Marketo.

My word of warning up front is simple: if you’re going to use Marketo, get your own IP. Do not use the product without an individual IP address.

Our single biggest problem with Marketo was that our email deliverability dropped dramatically as we ended up a massive number of spam lists. Our salespeople complained within a week or two of the switch, saying that they were getting not only fewer responses from our automated emails – they weren’t even getting a similar number of out of office replies. Our testing on the internal known list of emails, where we had 96-98% deliverability on Pardot, only saw 87-88% deliverability on Marketo.

Noticing the issue, we reached out to Marketo support. We ended up in a loop of bad customer service where we’d get passed from person to person, none of whom actually solved the problem. When we finally got the problem “solved” as per their instructions, it wasn’t actually fixed. Six months later, still dealing with deliverability issues, a different support person told us that it was still set up wrong. So we “fixed” it again, but that still didn’t help. The email deliverability issue easily cost our company significant amounts in lost revenue, well in excess of the contract value of Marketo for the full year, from both existing members who didn’t renew and new prospects we never reached.

The funny thing is that because our CEO knows a board member, the board member reached out on our behalf and we got pushed to the top of the support queue. But it didn’t really matter – the problems were never really resolved. Support was an issue for us generally with Marketo. They’re also the only company that limits who can actually contact support. Only 4 people are allowed on the ‘authorized support list’, requiring internal coordination around who will contact support with each issue. The follow-up times on the internal tickets weren’t terrible – usually in 48 hours – but often the reply was just to push the issue to someone else. It would often take us 2-3 weeks to get even minor issues resolved.

While it might seem like I hate Marketo, I actually think it had a fair number of things going for it. I find it interesting how campaigns are constructed in their model. All of the assets – emails, campaigns, and forms – are organized into folders. That way, when you’re running a campaign, you know where everything is. While there’s no default organization, you can keep your company well-organized if you use good naming conventions and folder structures.

Marketo seems to have the cleanest and fastest integration with Salesforce. Almost out of the box, any fields you sync from SFDC are bidirectionally set up to match every few minutes. They have the fastest syncing, at least our level of data (150k records). Our average sync time for records that filled out a form was in the 30 seconds – 1 minute range.

The SFDC sync does have one drawback however. In order for a field to ever connect with Salesforce, the filed must exist as a Salesforce field first before being mapped and created in Marketo. Otherwise, Marketo can’t connect to the field later. So there’s no way to try something ad-hoc in marketing, see if it works and then send it to sales later. Also, any field you want to use on a form must be a field on the contact record in Marketo which leads to interesting, tricky situations. There’s no way to add a couple of fields to a single form – like a quick survey – without also adding the fields to the permanent contact record. It also means that if you want to run multiple surveys over time either you end up with a bunch of fields on the contact record or you have to overwrite past data.

One of the things I really miss from Marketo though is the ease of setting up a quick ‘operational’ campaign to change the values on a set of contact records. A form, in Marketo, does nothing except change the values of fields on a contact record. All of the other operations that come later happen in stand alone ‘programs’ which allow you to do things based on different triggers (or no trigger at all). The separation of processing code from the form itself leads to being able to do really aggressive things to change the contact record or account records. Did the contact just enter a new nurturing campaign? Change the contact record. Want to see if they should enter a nurturing campaign? Check the contact record and override if your conditions are met. Simple and powerful.

There is one minor issue with the ease of setting up operational programs – it means that nearly anyone can set them up and modify contact data easily and en-masse. While it’s easy to do, it’s probably too easy to do and can cause marketers who are experimenting to wreak havoc on your data. We luckily only had the issue once or twice and I was able to quickly reverse the issue, but if the data that had been overwritten wasn’t uniform it would have been a massive problem.

One of the other things that caused us to move was the way their wait steps work in programs. While you can set up long, if straightforward, marketing automation campaigns in Marketo, there are some underlying technical issues in their execution. From both our experience and from talking to a number of support staff, once you start a program there’s not really any way to reliably stop it.

One of our experiences illustrates this perfectly. We set up a program to send an email to a group of people on a Monday, then it would wait two days and send a second email, then wait a week and send a third email. While we were running the campaign, we were also testing some of the emails manually with salespeople to see what kind of responses we were getting. We decided, a few days into the program, to switch out the second and third emails. So we did the logical thing and just changed the emails. Since everyone was still in the wait steps, it seemed like they should get whichever email they were scheduled to get next. Except that didn’t happen. Instead, the people who were in the wait steps got the old email. So we stopped the program, set up a new one that would only send the last email on the date we wanted, and then waited. Our prospects got two emails – both versions.

Apparently, once a program starts, there’s really no way to stop it. Or rather, you “may or may not” be able to change it. But you won’t really know. Anyone who has already started the campaign may or may not get the new email, may or may not stop, etc if there are wait steps involved. The only way we could solve the issue was to simply not run programs with wait steps. Instead we’d have to set a date every time we started a first program, use Salesforce to turn the date into a number (by first running a formula field, then by copying it into a static field), then trigger the next program based on the number in the field. Complex marketing automation became nearly impossible without the ability to reliably trust our wait steps or our ability to experiment with programs.

Though Marketo provided us code to embed forms in our own site, the code was complex to say the least. For our non-technical marketers, we eventually figured out a way to reconstruct the code using a bunch of hacks and a shortcode in WordPress, but it wasn’t simple. There may be a plugin for WordPress that could work for other Marketo users if you’re using GravityForms, but it wasn’t ideal for us. We did look into using their API, but found it to be more complex and cumbersome than we were willing to sort out. Additionally, when we attempted to get access to our data through the API, we ran into some pretty massive data access limit. It took us an exceptionally long time to sync the data we needed, evening using their ‘bulk data’ tools.

From a reporting perspective, Marketo is both good and bad. It’s quicker and easier to get to some data – like which links prospects clicked in emails – than it is in other marketing automation providers. But it was very hard for us to get to all the data we needed. We attempted to use the Revenue Cycle Analytics, but often found we couldn’t get even basic answers to questions like “how much revenue did each channel generate” or “What is the value of a given lead” – at least from working with the support people helping us. Additionally, we have a number of long-running forms – like our general ‘request membership’ form – that don’t have a date attached to the running of the campaign. Despite spending hours with a coach, we couldn’t figure out how to reasonably report on the data correctly.

I’m sure that if a company had a reasonably straightforward sales process, where leads come in and turn into opportunities that close or don’t, the analytics could potentially work. But, in that case GoodData would also work reasonably well in Pardot. If you have a sufficiently complex set of interactions happening across a number of sales teams, it’s likely that none of the reporting structures are going to work for you over the long run.

In the end, Marketo became an issue for us primarily for a few critical reasons. The email deliverability issues were costing us too much money, plain and simple. We could have upgraded to a dedicated IP address, but based on our interactions with the support team over 6-9 months we no longer trusted the company. Plus the issues of not being able to trust the wait steps, having reporting issues and being unable to store complex information about prospects anywhere but the contact record caused us to switch. Marketo could be fine for an organization with straightforward processes and few resources to implement robust marketing automation. Or potentially a company with much deeper engineering talent to throw at using the API to fully integrate with a product. It just wasn’t suitable for us.

Eloqua

We’ve used Eloqua for about three months now. While it’s been good, it hasn’t been a perfect breeze. Many things are frustrating for us, but we are starting to see the payoff for the team. Our non-power users have started creating more complex nurturing campaigns in Eloqua than we’ve done in any other product already.

I should state up front that Eloqua is more complex than Marketo, Pardot or Hubspot. You have to decide what’s right for your team, but you can’t get powerful control over everything that happens in marketing automation without the complexity that comes with it.

One of the immediate things we’ve noticed in Eloqua is the way it integrates with Salesforce. The integration is slower than Marketo – usually taking a 2-3 minutes to sync a record after a form submission vs the nearly instant connection Marketo had. The connection is also much more granular. Fields exist independent of each other in Eloqua and SFDC, allowing you to choose which fields you want to sync and which direction you want them to go (or both ways). The field can be synced now, later, or never and it doesn’t matter. This level of detail allows us to add fields to contact records in Eloqua without worrying about whether the field exists in SFDC until later, when the sales team decides they need the information.

The problem with the granularity of SFDC integration and the legacy that Eloqua has (they’ve been around for nearly 15 years) is that their naming conventions don’t always make sense. In order to sync a new custom object from Salesforce to Eloqua, you have to set up an internal call that hits an external call that was triggered by an autosync elsewhere. It’s difficult to know where everything is and it’s easy to miss a step or two. We’ve already noticed and fixed a few areas where our onboarding specialist missed or didn’t completely set up everything the way we needed. There are so many options and buttons that you should expect that to happen if you switch.

One of the tradeoffs points where Eloqua goes one direction and Marketo chooses the other direction is forms. As I mentioned before, Marketo treats forms as a separate object and you run stand alone programs to process the forms for anything other than strictly updating a contact record. Eloqua is the opposite. A form in Eloqua is, by default, just a form. Nothing updates just because a contact submits a form. Instead, you have to program the built-in processing setup that tells Eloqua what to do with the form data. If you want to update contact records with values from the form, you have to tell the form to update the contact record. If you only want to update the contact record conditionally, you can do that. It might seem hard, but it’s actually helpful in many ways.

By separating the form from the contact record, you can use forms to do all kinds of things. You can have form fields that don’t exist on a contact record and use the submitted value to make decisions. Which fields are updated on a contact record, which campaigns they should enter, whether the contact is instantly synched with Salesforce or not, etc. You can also create conditional post-form submit steps easily. If a lead checks a box on submission, update these five fields with this set of values, if they don’t check the box, update the fields with a different set of values. You can also choose to append a field, overwrite the field, or only add a value if the field isn’t already full. As a complete package, the form and processing combination is excellent.

The inherent problem with the model though is that there are only two ways to update a contact record in Eloqua. Either a lead fills out a form so you can get to the processing step or you have to build a complex program – part of Eloqua 9 (where development has stopped). The programs are also inaccessible to anyone who isn’t an admin (and for good reason, they’re hard to use). That means that the way most people update records from their users is to use “cloud connectors” which basically do fake form submits for a user to access the processing steps in the post form submission area. This is a hack at best and is probably something that Eloqua needs to fix eventually. Forms remind me of their API, since we’ve used their REST API to serve forms on our site. Our marketing team has found the API rather under-documented, but fairly straightforward to use. We use it to pull back all the Eloqua forms into WordPress, do some light post-processing, and then serve them on our site in an easy to use fashion for our non-technical marketers. Since the forms are available through the API, as full HTML including validation, the integration was fairly simple and robust for us. We’ve deployed 150+ forms already and haven’t had any issues.

Eloqua sits somewhere between Pardot and Marketo in terms of campaigns and assets. In Pardot, to send an email, you do all the email construction in the email itself, including selecting a list and selecting a time for the email to be sent. In Marketo, the email is nothing more than an asset deployed by a program. All assets – forms, emails, etc – are grouped into self-contained folders. In Eloqua, there are four major assets – a segment, a form, an email, and a campaign. To send an email, you have to create a campaign consisting of a segment and the action “send email”. The email is then sent to the contacts that are part of the segment once the campaign is activated.

From a foldering perspective, Eloqua keeps all of their assets completely separate. Emails live with emails, forms with forms, campaigns together and segments together. In order to have reasonable folders and naming conventions, you have to replicate your folder structure across all of the asset types. It’s a pain when you’re setting everything up, but not very hard to support later. While you don’t always know which assets are grouped together in one campaign like you do in Marketo, it’s easy to find all the forms or emails as single assets since they’re in type groupings.

Speaking of email, the deliverability from Eloqua has been excellent. We’re seeing 98.6% deliverability to our internal list. We don’t have a custom IP address. Also, while they just released their new email editor, we’ve enjoyed using it so far. There are a couple small bugs that they seem to be working out, but otherwise it’s a great way to allow our technical users to make changes to the HTML while letting our non-technical users just point and click.

As for sending an email, all of the actions required to send an email exist on the ‘campaign canvas’ – the visual representation of the series of actions, decisions and wait steps in a campaign. Since the process of creating a campaign is so visual and easy to use, we’ve noticed our team constructing more complex campaigns 3 months into the Eloqua deployment than we ever did with our other marketing automation solutions. A huge part of that is the visual nature of seeing how your entire campaign will run in front of you. The other part is the flexibility of thinking about how you can branch, rejoin and send different emails with decisions based on outside actions. By being constantly given choices or actions, it’s easy to start thinking non-linearly about campaigns.

While the visual element of the campaign canvas is great, it’s still a bit incomplete. Since there’s no way to change a contact record except through either a cloud connector or through a very old program builder, some parts of campaigns start becoming complex or difficult to manage. Also, some of the decision rules are pretty limited – allowing you to select only one value or requiring free-form text lists for multiple selections – which is difficult to debug if they don’t work perfectly. Or, you’ll often have to chain together a bunch of decision rules to get the right filter. The process can get cumbersome in some cases. But, for the most part, if you’re willing to drop into their old school “program builder” you can build pretty powerful updates/decision rules that run easier to understand campaigns. Just make sure you have a couple of deeply engaged power users before you go that route.

The biggest difference for us as compared with Marketo and Pardot, though, are Custom Data Objects. The objects allow you to create custom sets of data stored separately from an individual contact, that are associated with a contact or account. I believe they were first built to help manage Salesforce Campaign inclusions and event attendance, but they’re really flexible for other types of data. We use them to include custom objects from Salesforce in our Eloqua database. In our case, we’re pulling back data from our network application which helps us run campaigns based on what our existing users are doing. But, other companies use them to keep track of which products people have purchased, which items they’ve put in their carts, etc. It’s an amazing way to customize automated email campaigns.

While there are still some sticky points in using the custom data objects – especially in the E10 version of Eloqua – they’re incredibly useful for any sufficiently advanced marketing team. In many cases, if you can only store data on the contact record you’ll end up with issues. On a regular basis, you’ll find yourself overwriting data which makes reporting difficult and sometimes entirely unreliable. From a reporting perspective, the standard reporting is fairly simple. It’s not tremendously different from what’s available in Marketo or Pardot. The upgraded reporting may be better, but we don’t have the upgrade so I can’t comment on it. We have a sufficiently complex sales process so it’s difficult for us to get the reporting we need no matter which provider we use – so we end up pulling a lot of the data we need out into our own data warehouse to do the reporting. In that sense, the API from Eloqua is robust enough to give us everything we need. And our marketers are able to get to what we need quickly enough in the standard reporting. It’s solid, but not great.

We’ve only had Eloqua for a few months and we’re just scratching the surface of the capabilities, but it’s a significant step up for us. I certainly wouldn’t recommend it to any teams that aren’t ready to invest significantly in marketing automation – there is a lot of set up, configuration and customization to do. But, it’s very good if you have a complex set of needs and priorities. You’ll be able to address things with Eloqua that you can’t address easily with other providers.

Overall Recommendations

Last week someone asked me which piece of marketing automation software I’d recommend, since I’ve used three of them. I said that it depends pretty heavily on what you’re hoping to do and the stage of your company. Here’s what I told him:

I hope the reviews from my personal experience were helpful. I know that they won’t apply to every organization, but more information is always good when you’re reviewing your options.

A couple of other reviews that are very good and can help inform your decision: