The Three Levels of Marketing Automation & How to Decide

6 min

Roughly 60% of companies who adopt marketing automation tools only utilize a fraction of those tools’ features. The two primary culprits are (1) lack of a clear marketing strategy before selecting a tool, and (2) the complexity of the systems themselves.

Add to this the fact that 38% of companies were considering switching tools in 2016 and it’s clear that automation is a struggle.

Regardless of the camp you fall into — whether you’re underutilizing the tool you’ve already got or looking for something new — the answer lies in understanding the three levels of marketing automation. The goal with each is to not only streamline your marketing efforts and collect better data but to remove as many “human” steps as possible … saving you time and increasing productivity and profits.

Only when you’re able to match the correct level for your business’ present and future can you be sure you’re making the right choice.

The Three Levels of Marketing Automation

Image Credit: VirtualBusinessSolutions.Biz

Level one

Level one automation tools are for entry-level users and normally includes features directly related to email like templates, analytics, and A/B testing. Automation — in this limited sense — means creating autoresponder sequences and drip campaigns based on list signups as well as simple “triggers” like opens and link clicks.

GetResponse is one of the few providers that includes a landing-page and form builder in its basic “Email” plan as well as the ability to host webinars, automate abandon-cart emails, and implement advanced functions like scoring, tagging and segmenting with its “Pro” version.

Level Two

Software in this category is developed primarily for small to medium-sized businesses who plan to grow and nurture their customer base beyond email. These tools are likely to be used by a business owner who doubles as the marketer or by marketing teams with less than 100,000 subscribers to manage.

Platforms in this level include richer features that further help the business gain momentum, most notably, integration with CRM platforms like Salesforce.


Level Three

At the top level are marketing automation platforms used by medium to enterprise-level companies with a dedicated marketing team. These tools include deeper sales collaboration features, dedicated IP addresses and infrastructure, CRM integration, and multiple user accounts. At level three, you should also expect dedicated staff from your provider when it comes to optimization, troubleshooting, and deliverability issues.

How To Decide On The Right Level


Ease of Use

Ease of use accounts for 42% of companies being reluctant to invest in marketing automation. And it’s got to be said: any tool, no matter how basic, will require a learning curve. Obviously, the more sophisticated the features, the longer it’ll to take to get up to speed.

Naturally, some platforms are easier to learn than others, and much of this depends on you and your team’s learning style. The most crucial factor, however, is how well the tool visualizes the automation process.

At the risk of being biased, visualization is what originally attracted me to GetResponse even before I became a regular contributor to the blog. For instance, I started my own automation journey with MailChimp and while creating an A/B test was relatively simple, viewing them was not. With GetResponse, drilling down into winners and losers was incredibly easy thanks to the reports dropdown visualization.

Test results — whether A/B or multivariate — should be understandable at a glance.

The same is true when it comes to more advanced automation workflows. In fact, I wrote and began implementing The Three Easiest Ways To Get Started With Marketing Automation when I myself was very much still a novice. With each approach, GetResponse provided easy to follow overviews in visual form — rather than the usual text-based workflows — that made not only creating but managing those sequences approachable instead of intimidating.

Without workflow visualizations, text-based automation plans can get lost in the weeds of dropdown menus and “if this, then that” formulas.

Small Businesses and Solopreneurs

For new online entrepreneurs, level one tools are a good consideration because of price. Having said that, it’s important to understand the long-term consequences.

Many small business owners are reluctant to invest in marketing automation tools because they don’t know if the tool will benefit their business. That’s a valid concern because, if you choose the wrong tool, it’s going to end up being a costly mistake.

Ideally, what should drive your decision isn’t a what-will-meet-my-needs-today test but a future-looking marketing plan that maps out exactly where you want to go. Once you have an overall vision, the next step is to align it with an automation-specific plan focused on five keys:

An alternative to starting out on a level one tool and then moving to a level two tool over time would be to jump in at level two if at all possible. Failing that, ensure that the provider you select offers the features you’ll need as you expand.

Scaling can be painful and this doesn’t just apply to list growth — all providers offer expansion on that front. Instead, focus on your CRM plans, integration with additional third-party tools, and one-on-one consulting work for design and copywriting with the provider themselves.

Larger Companies With Teams

Just as the smaller business owner should base their decision on what their long-term marketing plan dictates, so should the larger company who already has a team of people working for them.

The danger here, however, is in the opposite direction.

It’s no use kicking things off or upgrading to a top-level tool — just because you can afford it — when your business model doesn’t require all the features. Do not be seduced. A mid-level tool where pricing is structured according to the amount of subscribers may be a better option, depending on your goals.

If you do invest in an enterprise-level tool, this means scheduling demos. Here, the major pitfall is watching instead of participating. When you connect with a provider, ensure that the demo (1) includes both you and any team members who will be using the tool and — most importantly — (2) puts you in the driver seat.

Remember, the salesperson you’ll be meeting with is a pro who knows the tool inside and out. If you don’t insist on interacting with the features you need most — i.e., by using your own mouse and keyboard — you’ll never get an accurate feel for what using that tool will be like. Going all in after a brilliant demo can lead to a rude awakening.

Key Take-Away

Choose your marketing automation tool wisely, depending on which level you’re at and what your long-term marketing plan needs in order to be realized.

  • Level one tools are for entry-level, solopreneurs.
  • Level two tools are for mid-range businesses serious about growing.
  • Level three tools are for enterprise companies with robust teams that need one-on-one consulting and deep third-party integration.

Avoid making the same mistake as other companies who select the wrong tool that’s either too difficult to use or includes a bloated feature set they don’t really need.

Once you identify which level is right for your needs, do your research and ensure it’ll fit both where you are today … and where you want to go tomorrow.

What has been your experience with choosing a marketing automation platform? Did you choose the right level for your business? Share your story in the comments below.

Aaron Orendorff
Aaron Orendorff
Aaron Orendorff is a regular contributor to Entrepreneur, Fast Company, Business Insider, Content Marketing Institute, Copyblogger & more. Grab his Ultimate Content Creation Checklist at Follow him on Twitter @iconiContent.