Marketing Automation for the Masses

Sharkey (c.) is flanked by Autopilot CMO Guy Marion (l.) and CRO Peter Stern (r.).

Mike Sharkey, who learned the joys of marketing automation with a real estate rental website in Australia, was shocked when he came to the States and found that the technology remained the sole province of large enterprises. Today he and his partners did something about it with the launch of Autopilot, an SaaS offering serving what he calls “the massive gulf” between Mail Chimp and Marketo. SMB’s can become users for as little as $4 a month.

“Most companies are 60 to 70 percent invested in batch-and-blast email and they want to do more, but marketing automation is fairly complex to operate and can take three to four months to implement,” says Sharkey, Autopilot’s CEO. “We saw this huge gap in the market and said, ‘Why hasn’t anyone built an out-of-the-box marketing automation system?’”

Ten months ago, Autopilot received $10 million in Series B financing, money it used partially to build out its system and operate a Beta test of more than 400 users. Sharkey claims that, with little training and setup time, the testers were successfully personalizing campaigns, tracking users in real time, connecting their Salesforce CRM databases to the system, and, more importantly, venturing beyond email into multichannel campaigns.

A user interface more akin to Microsoft than Marketo apparently makes this possible. Most functions and campaign setups can be performed in drag-and-drop style, a single interface combines digital and physical APIs, and Autopilot is able to integrate with cloud technologies through partnerships such as with Salesforce, GoodData, and InsideView.

But Autopilot is not the only company pursuing the need for marketing automation in SMB businesses. Act-On Software, founded by a number of ex-Responsys executives, has marketed an out-of-the-box marketing automation solution for SMBs since 2008. Whether or not Act-On competes at Autopilot’s price point is another matter. That $4 monthly subscription fee for Autopilot covers the first 500 contacts. For 25,000 contacts a month and over, the fee is $360.

A recent Gleanster study sponsored by Act-On indicates there’s plenty of opportunity for both. The survey of some 750 senior marketing companies at mid-sized B2B companies found that only 2% of them successfully managed customer lifecycles and exceeded their 2013 revenue plans.

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