Salesforce Marketing Cloud Review: Features, Pricing and Alternatives

By: Puranjay Singh   Last updated: 20 Sep 2017

Marketing automation solutions from one of the world's leading CRMs. Packed full of features, integrates nicely with Salesforce and built ready for the enterprise. As a downside, might be too complex or expensive for startups and small businesses.

Features

User-Experience

Pricing & Support

Overall

Best for: Enterprise customers and established businesses with large sales teams

Plans from: $400/month

Salesforce Marketing Cloud Review: Overview

You might know Salesforce primarily as a maker of sales software. The company's marquee offering - "Sales Cloud" - is incredibly popular among small to medium businesses. But with the lines between marketing and sales increasingly getting blurred, Salesforce has shifted some of its focus to marketing automation, email and personalization.

The result? Salesforce Marketing Cloud.

Salesforce bills Marketing Cloud as a "digital marketing platform". It aims to help you personalize customer experiences across mobile, social, email, advertising and the web. Think of it as a hybrid marketing automation + content personalization solution.

There is some confusion between Salesforce Marketing Cloud and Pardot. There is significant feature overlap between the two offerings, though Pardot's focus is largely on B2B marketing automation while Marketing Cloud focuses on creating 1-to-1 customer journeys. The Marketing Cloud lists Pardot's offerings under "B2B Automation", which is a common source of confusion.

If you're a B2B business that wants to generate leads through content and marketing automation, you will likely do better with Salesforce Pardot. But if you have stronger personalization requirements or work in B2C industries, you'll likely want to use Salesforce Marketing Cloud. The pricing for the two solutions varies a lot as well.

Understand Marketing Cloud Offerings

Salesforce Marketing Cloud essentially has two components:

  • Studios for marketing on individual channels, such as email, web or mobile.
  • Builders such as "Journey Builder", "Audience Builder", etc. for creating marketing automation campaigns

Essentially, you buy a "studio" package based on your needs (say, an "advertising studio" package if you run a lot of ads). The studio package will usually include access to most or all of the builders. You can then use these builders to create marketing automation campaigns on email, mobile, etc.

Confusing? Yes. But nothing that a quick call with the sales rep can't solve.

About Salesforce

A marketing automation solution is a major investment; you want to buy something that will actually be around in 3 years.

This isn't an issue here - Salesforce is one of the biggest tech companies in the world. It is publicly traded (NYSE: CRM) and has a market cap of over $60Bn. The employee count is just above 19,000 and total revenues topped $6.7Bn last year.

Which is to say: Salesforce is going to be around for a while.

Review Methodology

My review methodology focuses on three aspects of the software:

  • Marketing automation capabilities and features
  • User-experience, pricing and support
  • Insight from industry professionals

My target market in these reviews is small businesses, startups, and infopreneuers. Large businesses and enterprise customers have very different requirements and some of the recommendations here might not apply to them.

As a marketer myself, I also approach the software from a marketer's point of view. I have used several of the tools reviewed in these pages and the insights come from extensive personal testing.

Salesforce Marketing Cloud Review: Features

Features and capabilities define any software solution. While user-experience and pricing are important, most customers will buy based on what the software can do. In this section, I'll look at Salesforce Marketing Cloud's key features, how they work and what you can expect from the software. I will also compare features across different plans.

What I like

  • In-depth personalization capabilities across email, web and social
  • Works seamlessly with Salesforce CRM for easy handover to sales
  • 1:1 customer journeys across multiple channels

What I don't like

  • Can be confusing for those new to marketing automation
  • Geared towards enterprise customers; not small business friendly
  • Expensive, especially if you want automation across multiple channels

1. Setup Automation Rules with Journey Builder

The Journey Builder is where you'll set up your automation rules and map out customer journeys.

What I like is the ability to gather data from any source and use it to create custom journeys for different customer segments

The winning feature, for me, is Salesforce's "predictive intelligence". This feature can predict customer behavior based on past data, so you can send them more relevant offers = more conversions.

Salesforce Journey builder

The Journey Builder helps you map out your entire automation flow. You can bring in data from nearly any source.

2. Strong Segmentation and Audience Insight

The Audience Builder was spun off from Salesforce's acquisition of ExactTarget. You'll use this tool to get a "single window" view of all your customer data. Extensive filtering capabilities (example: "last click 30 days ago > browsed women's running shoes") help you create highly targeted segments.

Winning feature: behavioral targeting based on collected data and Salesforce's predictive intelligence.

The Audience Builder's extensive segmentation capabilities can help you zero down on your target audience.

3. Powerful Personalization Capabilities

Personalization and marketing automation go hand in hand. Personalizing content and offers usually improves conversion rates for any automation flow.

This is handled in Salesforce through the Personalization Builder. This tool uses data from the Audience Builder to let you create personalized journeys for different customer segments.

What makes Salesforce stand out is its predictive capabilities. Salesforce uses machine learning to predict the optimum journey for each customer so you can serve them just the right offers and content.

You can use the Personalization Builder to create "scenarios" for showing the right offers to the right audience segment.

4. Helps Keep Track of All Your Content

Marketing automation involves creating a lot of content. You'll likely create separate offers, emails, etc. for every segment in your automation flow. Keeping track of all this content can be hard.

Salesforce has a "Content Builder" which is essentially a library of all your content. It plugs into the Journey and Audience Builders so you can send the right content offer to any customer segment or journey. There's also an inbuilt editor to help you create custom content.

The Content Builder houses all your content. Great if you produce a lot of offers and need to search them quickly.

5. Built-in Analytics is Pretty Useful

Successful marketing automation demands continuous analysis and improvement. The Analytics Builder is the go-to tool for this.

Analytics Builder is primarily an email analysis tool. It will tell you who clicked on each email and how any particular automation flow is performing. The tracking is real-time, which can improve decision making, especially on large projects.

For most users, this will be the only analytics tool they'll need to measure up marketing automation performance.

Analytics Builder shows you a lot of data. Choose the right properties to get the data you need.

6. Extensive Integrations are a Big Plus

One of Marketing Cloud's best feature is its extensive list of integrations. You can import data from virtually any source and send it out to hundreds of integrated apps.

This is always one of the advantages of using software from a large company. Because of the sheer number of users, you know that no matter what software you use, you'll likely find an integration for it.

For a quick look at the integrations, just hop over to AppExchange.

Some of the popular apps on Salesforce AppExchange

7. No Built-in E-Commerce Capabilities

Need to create a checkout form and accept payments? Unfortunately, Salesforce Marketing Cloud doesn't support this out of the box. You will have to get third party integrations.

I know that checkout/payment capabilities aren't important to everyone, but when competitors like InfusionSoft offer it, I have to count this as a negative. Third party integrations are great but that means extra cash.

Another issue: Salesforce doesn't have a built-in CRM. You can easily plug into the Salesforce CRM, but that's another extra step (and extra money).

Salesforce CRM is extremely feature rich, but it's not a "built-in" feature, just like e-commerce.

Salesforce Marketing Cloud Features

As I mentioned before, Salesforce Marketing Cloud doesn't have "plans". Instead, you buy different "studio" packages. Different studio packages have different features available at different pricing tiers.

Broadly speaking, here are some of the most important features in Marketing Cloud. You will have to consult Salesforce to know whether they are available in your selected package. In most cases, you can buy a specific feature on an a la carte basis as well if it isn't available in your plan.

Availability Feature What it does

Visual Automation Builder

Create automation flows/journeys in a visual, drag-and-drop builder.

Drag and Drop Segmentation

Drag and drop segmentation makes it easy to create detailed segments. Use it to zero down on a specific audience.

Optimized Templates

Create email and landing page templates optimized for email and mobile.

Content Management

Helps you manage your content and workflows. Very useful if you have a lot of content or automation campaigns.

A/B Testing

Built-in split testing tools to test different offers and creatives. Essential for CRO.

Built-in CRM

Although plugging into Salesforce CRM is very easy, it isn't built-in - you'll have to pay the fee for the CRM separately.

Content Predictions/Recommendations

Use it to create "scenarios" and serve recommendations (content and offers) based on the scenario settings. Very useful for increasing conversion rates/AOV

Automation Capabilities

Helps you create and manage data automation and messaging. A MUST-have feature if you're going to run a marketing automation campaign.

E-Commerce Capabilities

You can't have a checkout form or accept payments right out of the box; you'll have to get third-party integrations.

Triggered Communication and Workflows

Use it to send communication (emails, messages, etc.) based on customer actions, or plug customers into different automation workflows based on activity.

1:1 Customer Journeys

Create customized customer journeys at a single user level. Great for in-depth personalization

High

Email Deliverability

Salesforce's deliverability is very high (99% and up). Better than most competitors.

Payment Processing

Can't accept payments right out of the box. You'll have to get additional integrations

Affiliate Program Management

If you need to run an affiliate program, you'll have to look elsewhere. There is no built-in support, though there are some integrations that can help.

Summary

Salesforce's features are designed primarily for small-medium growing businesses. There are no payment processors, shopping carts or affiliate management tools, mostly because most small businesses already have existing solutions for these.

Think of Salesforce not as a "zero to one" marketing tool but as a "one to ten" marketing tool. That is, it won't help you set up the core foundation of your business (e-commerce forms, accepting payments, etc.), but it will help you amplify your marketing effectiveness.

As such, the features are too extensive and complex for most starting businesses. Growing businesses with established marketing channels, however, will benefit greatly from its robust capabilities.

To sum it up: Salesforce has more features than most other marketing automation tools on the market. But some small business-focused features are missing. This impacts its usefulness, especially for new businesses.

Salesforce Marketing Cloud Review: User-Experience

User-experience is often overlooked in B2B software. There is almost the assumption that B2B software has to be hard.

In personal experience, I've found that a good UI/UX translates into higher productivity. You are far more likely to use a software tool if it is easy and pleasant to use.

This is why user-experience is a big part of my review process. I consider what the software feels like, whether it is well-designed, easy to buy and easy to get help with.

Below, I'll take a look at the Salesforce Marketing Cloud UI/UX.

What I like

  • Solid support and documentation for nearly every aspect of the software.
  • Individual tools are (relatively) easy to use
  • No "mandatory" training or onboarding.

What I don't like

  • No self-sign-up; you have to go through a sales rep.
  • Difficult to understand feature variations across packages.
  • Extensive documentation that can be overwhelming

1. Journey and Personalization Builders Work Great

The Journey Builder is where you'll create and manage your customer journeys. The Personalization Builder - you guessed it - is for managing content personalization.

Although incredibly powerful, both these tools are relatively easy to use. Since you'll spend a lot of time creating/managing automation rules here, this ease of use is highly welcome.

You can use different "blocks" to create complex journeys/automation flows in the Journey Builder

2. Clean and Modern UI

Salesforce is no Slack, but it definitely isn't some legacy software from the '90s. The entire suite of tools feels modern (though with an enterprise bent, of course). The UI is clean, the UX is breezy. You might not be able to understand specific features, but you won't walk away from a demo thinking "that's confusing".

The left nav menu gives access to different "builders". The top nav takes you to different features within the tool.

3. Confusing Plan/Packages

Although you can sign-up for a free trial, you'll most likely just get confused about which plan to choose. Marketing Cloud has different "studios" for different channels. Each of these studios has different plans for differnet needs. Understanding which studio + plan combo is right for you can be tricky.

Expect to talk to a sales rep if you're actually considering buying it.

Too many different packages and plans can confuse new customers.

4. Can Overwhelm New Users

I wasn't sure if I should add this point - anyone who is seriously considering buying Salesforce likely has some experience with marketing automation.

But if this doesn't describe you, the sheer breadth of features and options can be overwhelming. Between navigating the features, setting up campaigns and analyzing results, you will have your hands full. This isn't something I recommend for very small teams.

Despite the visual flair, the list of features can be overwhelming.

Summary

Salesforce is pleasant enough to use. The UI/UX don't have a lot of gaps. I was never particularly confused, though it is possible that people new to advanced software might get overwhelmed.

The pricing and packages are a bit confusing and it discourages self-sign-up. The plus side is that you can get a demo without speaking to a sales rep - something a lot of tools in this category don't have.

To sum it up: Salesforce is user-friendly and has a modern UI. The user-experience is pleasant, if, at times, a bit overwhelming. If you've used advanced software before, you will be right at home here.

Salesforce Review: Pricing, Support, and Community

Marketing automation is an expensive category of software. Most competitive tools will cost you at least $500/month. Some - such as Salesforce - will also have a lock-in period of at least a year. Essentially, don't consider buying marketing automation if you can't spare at least a few hundred dollars each month.

Support, of course, is important. Marketing automation can be complicated. Having someone at hand to ask questions and solve issues is a huge plus.

Finally - comunity. Although often overlooked, a vibrant community means that you get better insight, learning and networking opportunities. It isn't essential for good software, but it is definitely a great bonus.

Let's see how Salesforce fares on these counts below.

Pricing

Salesforce is an enterprise-grade marketing automation tool and is priced accordingly. Expect to pay over a thousand dollars each month if you want access to features that make Markteing Cloud actually useful. You'll also want to use Salesforce's CRM, which will further add to the cost (starting at $25/user/month).

On the positive side, there is no onboarding fee which shaves off a few zeroes from your initial costs.

Studio Plan-Type Min. Billing Pricing Onboarding Fee Min. Total

Email, Web and Mobile Studio

Basic

Pro

Corporate

Enterprise

12 Months

12 Months

12 Months

12 Months

$400/month

$1,250/month

$3,750/month

On Request

None

None

None

None

$4,800

$15,000

$45,000

On Request

Social Media Marketing Studio

Basic

Pro

Corporate

Enterprise

12 Months

12 Months

12 Months

12 Months

$1,000/month

$4,000/month

$12,000/month

On Request

None

None

None

None

$12,000

$48,000

$144,000

On Request

Digital Advertising Studio

Advertising Studio

Active Audiences

None

12 Months

$1,250+/month

$4,200/month

None

None

$1,250

$50,400

B2B Marketing Automation

Standard

Pro

Ultimate

12 Months

12 Months

12 Months

$1,000/month

$2,000/month

$3,000/month

None

None

None

$12,000

$24,000

$36,000

A few things to keep in mind:

  • There is an annual lock-in period of 12 months
  • You can purchase additional features not included in your plan for an extra fee
  • B2B marketing automation plans all have a 10,000 contact limit (you'll have to pay extra for more than 10k)

At a starting price of $1,000/month, Salesforce isn't cheap. But the initial contact limit is high (10,000). There is also no onboarding fee.

Competitor Pricing

How does Salesforce compare against its chief competitors? Below, I've compared the cheapest plan for its major alternatives:

Software Cheapest Plan Min. Billing Period Onboarding Fee Min. Total

Salesforce

$400/month

12 Months

None

$4,800

ActiveCampaign Cheapest

$17/month

None

None

$17

ConvertKit

$29/month

1 month

None

$29

Eloqua Most Expensive

$2,000/month

12 months

None

$24,000

HubSpot

$200/month

12 Months

$600

$3,000

InfusionSoft Best Value

$199/month

12 Months

$999

$3,397

Marketo

$895/month

12 Months

None

$10,740

Ontraport

$79/month

1 month

None

$79

SharpSpring

$400/month

1 month

$1,800

$2,200

I chose InfusionSoft as the "best value" because it has the most comprehensive list of features for marketing automation at the lowest possible price tag (for the features you get).

Of course, there are cheaper alternatives - ConvertKit, Ontraport and ActiveCampaign - but they don't have nearly the same features as InfusionSoft, HubSpot or Salesforce

Most people starting out with marketing automation, however, will do quite well with a basic tool like Ontraport. If you want only email marketing focused automation, I recommend starting with ActiveCampaign or ConvertKit

Support

Salesforce support is a mixed bag. On the one hand, it has probably the best library of support documentation in existence. On the other hand, full-time, 24x7 phone support will cost you an arm and a leg.

Self-support is Salesforce's strong suit. Just take a look at the sheer amount and variety of support options it offers:

You can choose from extensive documentation, interactive training sessions, or seek help from the huge Salesforce community. There is also email support available 12/5/365 with response within 2 business days (too slow in my opinion).

If you want 24x7 phone support, however, you'll have to pay an extra fee. For CRM customers, this can be as high as $250/user/month. Not cheap, obviously. But you'll get your questions answered, guaranteed.

To sum it up:

  • Documentation and self-support is excellent.
  • Phone support is paid and expensive

If self-learning is not your thing, you'll struggle with Salesforce unless you're ready to pay the exorbitant support fee.

Community

Salesforce's community is one of its biggest strengths. Its sales tools are used by thousands of businesses. There is a whole army of consultants and professionals ready to help you. And its conferences and events are among the biggest, if not the biggest in the business world

Salesforce actively encourages you to join and participate in the broader Salesforce community. In fact, it has a success community" with over 2.5M members.

Hands down, this is the best community within the B2B marketing automation space.

Summary

Salesforce is expensive, but feature-rich - like any enterprise-grade software. Support is great if you're okay with self-support. And the community is the best in its category.

In short:

  • Pricing: Expensive with a long lock-in period. Average
  • Support: Excellent self-support, poor phone/email support Average
  • Community: Easily the best in the industry Excellent

Alternatives to Salesforce

InfusionSoft

Powerful marketing software with a focus on marketing automation; has built-in CRM. Targeted at small to medium-sized businesses.

Rating:

HubSpot

Inbound marketing-focused marketing automation. Perfect for small businesses starting inbound/content marketing campaigns.

Rating:

Marketo

Enterprise-grade marketing automation with a focus on personalization and predictive intelligence. Ideal for growing small-to-medium businesses.

Rating:

Salesforce Review: Final Verdict

Salesforce is a highly capable marketing automation tool, but it is also expensive and too feature rich for many users.

If you want to make the most of Salesforce's marketing automation capabilities, you will need at least 2-4 people on your marketing team. Lower than that and you'll find that you are simply overpaying for features you won't even use.

Very small businesses, startups, solopreneurs, and bloggers - stay away. Salesforce is an enterprise-grade tool. Unless you have the traffic, budget and business maturity to use it, you'll just be wasting your time and money.

On the other hand, growing businesses with expanding marketing teams should definitely give Salesforce a shot. The software is robust, scalable, and stable with a massive feature list. If you're an existing Salesforce CRM customer, this should be your first stop when choosing a marketing automation software.

Choose Salesforce if You:

  • Want an enterprise-ready marketing automation tool
  • Already have your inbound needs sorted and want something that plays nice with your existing tools
  • Want to sell online without any involvement of sales



Not sure if Salesforce is for you? Check out some Salesforce Alternatives such as InfusionSoft and HubSpot