Comparison: Marketing automation
Last updated: 20 September 2017
A few years ago, comparing InfusionSoft with Salesforce would have been silly. Salesforce is first and foremost a CRM software (i.e. Sales Cloud) and InfusioSoft is primarily a marketing automation tool.
This isn't true anymore. Through Pardo Marketing Cloud, Salesforce now has very robust, enterprise-grade marketing automation capabilities. At the same time, InfusionSoft has added a barebones, but effective CRM to its marketing software suite.
This isn't to say that InfusionSoft and Salesforce are competitors. In fact, they aren't even in the same category. Yet, with significant (and growing) feature overlap, you have to ask - which is the better solution for small businesses looking for a marketing automation software - Salesforce or InfusionSoft?
Enterprise-grade marketing automation capabilities with extensive customization and integrations.
Billing & Support:
Best for: Small businesses and startups with under 100 employees
Price starts at $199/month plus $999 mandatory onboarding fee.
About Your Reviewer
I'm the founder of GrowthPub, a content-focused marketing agency. Over the course of my agency experience, I've used countless marketing tools. My review approach focuses on long-term sustainability and ROI instead of price-to-price comparisons. My target market is small business owners with under 100 employees, startups and infopreneurs - all reviews are written from that perspective.
A marketing automation tool is a significant investment. You have to wonder if the business will actually be around 5, 10, even 20 years from now. There's also the issue of size - large businesses typically like to work with other large businesses, and small businesses like other small businesses.
In this section, I'll look at the company behind each of these two tools. The comparison is a little trite - Salesforce is a humongous company with nearly 20,000 employees and a market cap touching $60B. InfusionSoft is a growing company itself (over $127M in funding, hundreds of employees), but is dwarfed by InfusionSoft's sheer size.
Year Founded: 2001
Company Type: Private
# of Employees: 650+
Revenues (approx.) $100M+
InfusionSoft has been around since 2001, which is an eon ago in internet years. It's revenues and business has grown steadily over the years. This isn't a hyped-up, pump-and-dump startup you hear about from breathless Silicon Valley journalists; this is a real business with real customers and real revenues.
Revenue figures for InfusionSoft aren't readily available, but as per this recent interview, they're north of $100M. InfusionSoft has also raised some $127M in funding, which means it should have plenty of cash to go around.
If you are a small business, this large size would usually be a negative. However, since InfusionSoft is aimed squarely at small business owners, you'll get plenty of personalized attention.
Bottomline: InfusionSoft isn't going anywhere. It's a robust business with thousands of paying customers. You might get lost in the crowd, but there is no danger of this startup being acqui-hired away by a competitior.
Year Founded: 1999
Company Type: Public (NYSE: CRM)
# of Employees: 19000+
Funding: Went Public (NYSE: CRM)
Revenues (approx.) $6.67B (2016)
Salesforce is among the world's most valued tech companies. It went public in 2004 with an initial stock price of $3.95. Today, that stock is up to 81.47 - nearly 1950% growth. Today, Salesforce has a market cap of $56B with revenues in excess of $6.7B.
All this is just a roundabout way of saying: Salesforce isn't going anywhere. This is a massive company with established processes and all the money in the world to throw at problems. It has thousands of customers, ranging from small businesses to Fortune 500 companies.
While this size might be comforting for some, most small businesses might be a little unnerved . If you've dealt with a huge enterprise company before, you know that it's perfectly possible for the "little guy" to get lost in the crowd. If you have 100 salespeople and a $100k per year in billing, you'll get personalized service. But if you're just 5 people and $3k/year in bills, will you get the same attention?
To be fair, Salesforce has done a wonderful job of being small-business-first. The company has championed small businesses in all its 18 years and that won't change anytime soon. But with a business of that size, gaps can and will arise.
Above all else, you buy software for its features. Price and usability are nice to have, but if it can't do what you want it to do, lower prices and support are worthless. So in this section, I'll look at InfusionSoft and Salesforce's features in terms of marketing automation.
Keep in mind that my target user in this comparison is a small business or a startup with fewer than 100 employees. The needs of this market will be very different from those of a large enterprise customer with 1,000+ employees.
The feature comparison also focuses on marketing automation, not the CRM or any of the dozens of products Salesforce offers.
InfusionSoft does a good job of balancing features and usefulness. To get features beyond what InfusionSoft offers, you'll have to shell out thousands for an enterprise-grade software suite (like Salesforce). InfusionSoft has also been growing its offering from purely marketing automation to a complete sales + marketing solution with a built-in CRM. Most Most small businesses will find that InfusionSoft has everything they need for marketing automation - and then some more.
Unlike Salesforce, InfusionSoft focuses entirely on marketing automation. This is also its biggest plus point: its marketing automation features are second to none.
InfusionSoft makes it easy to map out entire funnels and create complex automation rules. You get an incredibly useful tagging feature to segment audiences. You also get landing pages, email templates and a payment processor to send highly targeted offers to your segmented audiences.
You'll spend the bulk of your time in the campaign builder. This is where you can visually map out your funnel and set up automation rules. The visual editor is easy enough to get used to, though you might get slightly overwhelmed if you haven't used complex marketing software before.
Setting up your automation workflow can take a while. The mandatory onboarding fee of $999 might sound like a lot at first, but it will help you get up to speed with all of InfusionSoft's features.
If you're buying on features alone and care only about marketing automation, InfusionSoft is a top bet.
Above: InfusionSoft's intuitive visual campaign builder used for setting up automation rules and funnels.
Once you've captured and nurtured a lead, what next?
In a traditional enterprise setting, marketing and sales will decide where the handoff from marketing to sales occurs (always a point of contention). Once a marketing qualified lead (MQL) turns into a sales qualified lead (SQL), you'll transfer the leads to a sales CRM. Here, you sales team will start making calls to close deals.
InfusionSoft comes in handy here as well. Instead of relying on salespeople to score leads and create custom quotes, you can use the built-in sales automation features to automate a number of sales activities.
Here are a few things you can do with sales automation:
Admittedly, this isn't nearly as comprehensive as what, say, Salesforce can offer you. But if you want something that won't cost a ton and integrates nicely with your marketing, the sales automation tool is very useful.
You can control opportunity stage, decide ownership, and schedule 'next action date' with InfusionSoft's sales automation.
As a growing business, you rely on a number of software products to grow your business. Apart from a marketing automation tool, you might have a CRM, an accounting tool, a social media monitoring tool, etc.
Unless you want your existing marketing workflow to break, you'd want these tools to play nice with your marketing automation software.
InfusionSoft does great on this count. It has a marketplace with hundreds of integrations. It also has an API to facilitate integrations for non-supported tools.
I estimate that nearly 90% of businesses will find the integrations they need through the InfusionSoft marketplace. Do remember that integrations aren't necessarily free. Having far too many integrations will increase your costs. Factor this into your marketing decision.
A few apps from InfusionSoft's marketplace.
This is one of InfusionSoft's biggest failings: you can't use your own servers to send email. You have to rely on InfusionSoft's own servers.
On paper, this sounds like a plus since it makes setup much easier. In reality, it can actually cost you in the long run.
You see, since thousands of cusomers use InfusionSoft to send their email, some email clientts might flag mails coming from InfusionSoft's servers as "spam" or "promotional". The problem is more acute in some industries than others (travel and internet marketing particularly).
Email deliverability isn't nearly catastrophic, but it can affect your reach. Since so much of marketing automation is about email, I count this as a big negative.
InfusionSoft's email campaign builder. You can send both text and HTML emails. Deliverability remains a concern, however.
I feel a little unfair clubbing Salesforce into the "marketing automation" category. It's not. Salesforce is primarily a CRM solution. As the company has grown, it has bought/developed additional solutions, including Pardot and Marketing Cloud for marketing automation. But if you were to ask a random person what Salesforce does, you'll unanimously hear: "CRM".
Keep this in mind when you consider Salesforce for marketing automation. The Marketing Cloud with its focus on 1:1 customer journeys is incredibly powerful, but the entire Salesforce still revolves around the CRM, not the marketing funnel.
Which is to say: Salesforce is for experienced teams with clear handoff between sales and marketing and robust marketing practices. The features are robust and powerful, but a smaller, inexperienced business will likely not be able to utilize them fully.
Salesforce has a *lot* of products. There are two marketing automation solutions - Pardot (for B2B marketing automation) and the Marketing Cloud (for internet marketing automation). The Marketing Cloud has 5 different "studios" to handle different marketing automation needs. These five are:
Besides the above, the Marketing Cloud platform has a Journey Builder, a Personalization Builder, an Audience Builder, a Content Builder, and a Marketign Cloud Builder.
I'll be honest with you, this can get pretty confusing, pretty fast. If you are the DIY-kindof person, you'll get lost in the sea of products.
Besides making product selection harder, it also increases your costs. You might want some features from Pardot, some features from the Email Studio and some from the Mobile Studio. This customization can increase your costs.
Which is to say, if you're new to marketing automation, this isn't the software for you.
The Marketing Cloud "Social Studio" for automating and monitoring social media marketing.
I love InfusionSoft's Visual Campaign Builder, but the Journey Builder in Salesforce Marketing Cloud is great, especially if you have your customer journey already mapped out.
The Journey Builder gives you a lot of control over your data sources. It works best when used with Salesfoce CRM, of course, but you can use other lead sources as well.
Once you get a lead into the system, you can start creating complicated journey paths. These can have multiple nodes, each node signifying an if/then decision. You can add text messages, surveys, automated email triggers, etc. as the lead progresses further down the buyer's journey.
The Journey Builder in Salesforce Marketing Cloud is where you'll create your marketing sequences.
Where Salesforce really shines is in its use of data. You can pull in data from virtually any source into the Marketing Cloud. You can then use the Audience Builder to get a single-view of all the available data for any customer.
What good is this single-view of data, you ask? Segmentation
Audience Builder helps you use this data to create complex segments using any combination of attributes. Want to target leads who came in through email, who work at businesses with over 50 employees, and who you last contacted 2 weeks ago? Sure, you can do that with just a few clicks.
As any experienced marketer will tell you, segmentation lies at the heart of marketing automation success. The more precise your segments, the more targeted your offers. The Audience Builder works wonderfully well in this regard.
The single-view of each customer makes segmentation easy while also giving you better customer insight.
The idea behind "1:1 Customer Journeys" is to create a customer experience that is tailored for an individual customer.
To make this idea possible, Salesforce offers a powerful Personalization Builder as part of the Marketing Cloud.
This Personalization Builder has all the expected bells and whistles - email integration to send personalized emails, landing page personalization, etc. But it also has behavioral analysis and predictive content capabilities built in.
What this means is that you can:
This kind of predictive capabilities is something InfusionSoft sorely lacks.
The Personalization Builder is powered by Salesforce "Einstein" and uses machine learning to predict what content to use at each stage of the buyer's journey.
|Web Content Personalization||Yes||Yes|
|Social CRM||No||Yes (with Salesforce CRM)|
|Drip Email Campaigns||Yes||Yes|
|Third Party Integrations||Excellent||Excellent|
|Built-in Video Hosting||No||No|
|Built-in Text Messaging||No||Yes|
This is, from the very outset, a battle of unequals.
Salesforce and InfusionSoft are different categories of software. The latter is more for smaller businesses just discovering the powers of marketing automation. The former is for medium to large businesses using marketing automation to hit scale (and take some burden off their sales/marketing teams).
The user-experience varies accordingly. InfusionSoft is easy enough for a solopreneur to pickup and learn. Salesforce will require singificant hand-holding and some sales experience to get the most out of.
My comparison here will focus on how well individual features in each tool work, and how well they integrate with other tools and features.
InfusionSoft's user-experience is polished, modern and intuitive. You wouldn't think so given that it's a 16 year old company, but recent changes - especially the campaign builder - have turned InfusionSoft into an experience that can almost be described as "delightful".
I've said this before: the visual campaign builder is the single best thing about InfusionSoft.
As would be obvious, the Visual Campaign Builder gives you a visual way to build complex automation campaigns by simply dragging and dropping different elements in place.
Want to direct users to a landing page after they click an email link? Or send a custom notification once someone buys a product? The campaign builder will let you do all that, and more.
I like to think of it as a whiteboard come to life. Pick up sequence elements (say, a landing page followed by a sales page) and connect them on a virtual board. Add your automation rules and you're good to go.
If you're used to mapping out your sequences on paper, then transferring them to a marketing automation tool through clunky sequence builders, you'll absolutely love the visual campaign builder. This is InfusionSoft's big feature and they do a heck of a job promoting it.
The visual campaign builder is one of InfusionSoft's cornerstone features.
As software becomes more complicated, it becomes harder and harder to find what you're looking for. Searching for a single command turns into an ordeal of digging through a dozen menus, giving up, and using Google to find help.
Marketing automation software, by its very nature, is complicated. Finding a feature or a campaign can be hard.
This was a problem with InfusionSoft as well until a recent redesign. Once clunky, the navigation is now a breeze to use. Instead of clicking through menus and consulting the documentation, you can now almost always find what you want in a few simple clicks.
This is a big improvement that significantly improves the user-experience.
The InfusionSoft navigation menu shows most commonly used features.
Large marketing automation campaigns typically involve hundreds of content assets, dozens of rules and several segments. Finding a specific content asset or contact can be hard without strong search capability.
InfusionSoft excels at search. The CRM search, for instance, lets you search contacts by name, ID, company, birthday, email, postal code, etc. The search box gets prominent placement at the top of the menu bar as well.
I find myself turning to the search box a lot in my workflow. Once you have a lot of contacts, you'll find yourself doing the same. In my case, I run campaigns for a number of businesses (besides my own) which means that my contact database alone runs the thousands.
InfusionSoft's contact search gives you a lot of ways to find what you want.
Salesforce can be difficult to understand at first. The initial hurdle is figuring out which product you actually need to sign-up for. Pardot, for instance, is B2B marketing automation. Marketing Cloud is for general digital marketing automation. Marketing Cloud and Pardot have a lot of feature overlap, but Pardot has some features specifically for enterprise sellers. Then there is the Sales Cloud with the CRM, the Service Cloud, the Commerce Cloud...
What I'm trying to say is: it's not very DIY. You will need help to sign-up, and you will help once you actually start using the software.
The good part is that because of Salesforce's popularity, any competent salesperson would already be familiar with the software. The breadth of Salesforce's training also means that any new person coming onboard will have plenty of help to get up to speed.
The Marketing Cloud is essentially a bunch of products tied together - Audience Builder, Email Builder, Personalization Builder, etc.
Each of these products works really well independently. The Email Builder, which you'll use to create your emails, for instance, has all the bells and whistles you'd expect from an enterprise-grade email creation software.
Similarly, the Audience Builder has powerful, but easy to use segmentation capabilities.
If you were to throw up any of these individual products on a standalone application, you'd never need any handholdng to get them to work. That Salesforce chooses to label them separately can be confusing, but it's largely a marketing/branding decision. They all come together pretty well on the Marketing Cloud Platform.
Just a few of the 'builders' on the Marketing Cloud platform.
If I were reviewing this from an enterprise user's perspective, I probably wouldn't mention it. But when your target audience is small businesses, "less is more" works far better.
The thing is, Salesforce has a real problem with feature bloat. There are just too many features and you're not always sure what one does over another.
It doesn't help that Salesforce's UI/UX suffers from the common enterprise problem of jargonese. The if/then statements are called "Decision Splits", "Random Splits", "Engagement Splits", etc. User-specific data is clubbed into "Profile Dimensions". These dimensions are grouped inside an "Attribute Library".
This isn't a problem in normal circumstances, but after using Trello as my project management suite and Slack as my collaboration software, I've come to expect my enterprise software to be slightly more fun. The jargon and the feature bloat isn't a deal killer, but it just makes the software slightly less delightful to use.
The Journey Builder is powerful but can be slightly hard to wrap your head around.
Features and usability are critical, but what about the other things that matter - pricing, support and community? Can you actually afford the software? Will you actually get support when you need it? Is there a community to turn to for your problems? I'll look at all the bits that matter - pricing, support, sign-up process, community, etc.
InfusionSoft isn't cheap, nor is it easy to sign-up for (you have to go through sales), but you do get excellent support for your money. Keep in mind that InfusionSoft is aimed squarely at small to mid-businesses, not small 2-person startups and solopreneurs. If you have the money, it's great. But if you're pre-revenue and struggling the pay the bills, InfusionSoft can get expensive pretty fast.
Salesforce is expensive. The close integration with the Salesforce CRM also means that you will be pushed towards buying that as well along with a host of other Salesforce products. This is both good and bad. Salesforce software is great in the long run, but if you're a smaller business, you might get tied into using something you can't fully utilize.
In my opinion, and based on who i’ve heard love and loathe Infusionsoft, I’d say that Infusionsoft is for businesses that are already turning over at least $150,000 per year from selling products online.
...Infusionsoft is FANTASTIC for a lot of businesses, especially those with physical products or ones that deal heavily in B2B sales.
Even though Salesforce.com has had an easier time with the integration process...it still has a long way to go. While its individual products are top notch, their value as a whole is still below its potential
If you have an advanced enough marketing team and, preferably, an IT department, Salesforce Marketing Cloud can be a great boon to your advertising and customer engagement
InfusionSoft and Salesforce are both highly competent, feature rich products. But they're meant for different audiences.
InfusionSoft is meant for anyone with a large email list and a product ready to sell. A solopreneur who likes to hack things together can use it, as well as a 60-person company selling physical products. You can use it to take customers from 'prospect' to 'paying customer' without ever having to get sales involved.
Salesforce is meant for a far more mature organization. Its Marketing Cloud is essentially a rebranded version of ExactTarget with social media support from Radian6. These are powerful, complex tools and require sophisticated teams to fully use them.
If you have a sufficiently advanced marketing team, some IT support, and a large enough list of leads in your CRM (better if it's Salesforce CRM), you can't go wrong with Salesforce.
For smaller players, however, InfusionSoft is your best bet to start and succeed with marketing automation.
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