The Best Marketing Automation Tools of 2021 to Turbocharge Your Online Sales

Last Updated on October 5, 2021 by Marcelo Beilin

There’s no question that developing a growing and thriving email list of followers is key to earning sustained online income. What’s not clear to many is the true reason why this happens. 

Many people think that the money lies in the size of your email list—the bigger your list, the more money you'll make. Yet, while list size is important, this isn't entirely true. 

In fact, you could have a huge list that generates pennies and a small list that generates thousands. Why? Because the money is not on the email list itself, but in the relationship of trust that you develop with your subscribers. 

And in order to build this relationship in a way that can scale your online income, you’ll need to arm yourself with marketing automation tools like the ones recommended below.

Disclosure: Although I receive affiliate compensation for some of the links below at no additional cost to you that compensation in no way influences my recommendations, which are strictly informed by my years of digital marketing experience working with clients large and small. My aim is to always recommend tools that will offer you the best return on investment.

It’s a known fact that people don’t like to buy from businesses they don’t trust.

If you see a product you're looking for on Amazon selling for $18.99 and you see the exact same product listed for $15.99 on a site called ABC Holdings Ltd. that you know nothing about, who are you going to buy from?

So, before you can sell anything over the Internet, you first need to develop a relationship of trust with your potential customers. You need to get them to know you, like you and trust you before they'll be willing to open their wallets.

How do you do that in a way that can scale with your business?

You can either do massive amounts of advertising at a loss for many years (Amazon's strategy) or you can do what most successful solopreneurs do: develop a "lead nurturing" strategy using marketing automation tools.

In short, as subscribers get added to your email campaign you need to do more than just enter them into an autoresponder sequence. You need to analyze their every online move and take the appropriate nurturing actions in response.

What are the typical actions your subscribers can engage in?
  • Opening informational pages on your website
  • Opening product pages on your website
  • Reading specific blog posts that indicate where they currently are in your marketing funnel
  • Opening your emails
  • Clicking on specific links in your emails
  • Making a specific purchase in your eCommerce store
  • ...plus many other possibilities

Each one of these will send a signal to your marketing automation tool so that you can take effective nurturing actions in order to develop a relationship of trust.

For example, if a number of your subscribers opens an email you sent them in your autoresponder sequence, then clicks on a link to a relevant post, and finally visits a product page on your website, then you can create a nurturing path with a new highly-targeted email sequence just for them.

In that sequence you'll want to nurture those leads by guiding down your marketing and sales funnel with the right information to nudge them towards a purchase.

Toward the end of that sequence you can then begin to engage with them directly to bring the potential sale to a happy conclusion.

Now, depending on the nature of your business there are multiple nurturing paths you could take, so what you need are flexible marketing automation tools that allow you to easily take care of any possible scenario.

The tools recommended below are the best in class for their flexibility and ease of use, and they all have visual editors that allow you to easily create nurturing paths (called workflows) using a simple drag and drop interface.

Without further ado, here are the best marketing automation tools for online solopreneurs.

What Are the Best Marketing Automation Tools?

Best Overall: Drip

When it comes to offering the best set of marketing automation features for solopreneurs building a profitable online side hustle, in my opinion, Drip wins the race by a long shot.

Aside from easy integration to the most popular platforms used to generate online income, and a proven record of high email deliverability, Drip offers advanced marketing automation tools at a very reasonable cost.

When I started out working on lead nurturing and marketing automation over a decade ago, the closest thing to Drip cost almost $1,000/month, way outside the reach of most online solopreneurs.

Only large businesses could afford to do lead nurturing at the time, but not anymore!

In fact, Drip's powerful automation tools allow you to intuitively program it (no coding required) to implement a virtually unlimited number of lead qualifying, nurturing and conversion strategies.

For example, you can program the system to notify you whenever a lead achieves a predefined number of steps that indicates strong purchase intent, like reading a well-targeted email, followed by reading a specific post followed by visiting a specific product page on your website.

All done in real time so you can strike while the iron is hot.

You can also used Drip automation to segment your leads depending on where they currently are on your marketing funnel, so they can receive customized email marketing sequences that are specifically designed to entice them towards a purchase.

Let’s now look at their feature set:

Drip Features that Stand Out

  • Visual email builder
  • Programmable notifications based on subscriber behavior
    Lead scoring
  • Lead capture from multiple third-party platforms
  • Supports multiple domain names for the same monthly fee
  • Rules-based automation (e.g. when this happens do that)
  • Workflow based automation (e.g. if this happens then do that, else wait 2 hours and then do the other)
  • Tag-based subscriber segmentation (more flexible than list-based segmentation)
  • Powerful A/B testing (this is miles ahead from the competition!)
  • Email analytics/ROI tracking
  • Both campaign and broadcast emails
  • Conversion tracking

Now the Cons...

  • Currently, they don’t offer phone support—only email support is available. Also, it seems they’ve been growing much faster than their ability to ramp up their support staff, which may result in a long wait before you hear back from them.
  • They don’t have a built-in landing page feature like some competitors do, so you’ll need to instead use third party tools like Thrive Leads (WordPress), Leadpages (they own Drip), Unbounce, etc.—this is not not a big deal, really.
  • They have a bit of a steeper learning curve than other services due to their advanced automations. Having said that, once you take the time to learn how to program Drip to best monetize your leads (there are lots of how-to videos and marketing blogs available) you won’t regret investing the time to learn it.

Find Out More About Drip Here.

Best Budget Option: Mailerlite

MailerLite offers some of the same features as Drip, but is more restricted due to its lower cost. That means that you can still do pretty cool automations to qualify and nurture your leads, but the choice of triggers is more limited.

For example, Drip offers 15 internal triggers to launch your automation, whereas MailerLite only has 6. Drip has 19 actions you can take in your automations whereas MailerLite has only 6.

Also, Drip allows any of the 30 third-party integrations to trigger your workflow or rule-based automation (e.g. an action in Shopify, like “Order Created” can trigger an automation inside Drip to send customers who’ve ordered a particular item an email sequence that adds value to the product they just purchased).

MailerLite can only trigger automations based on triggers that are internal to the tool.

This is not meant to discourage you from using it because it’s a great product with many raving fans. It’s just that you'll pay less but you also get less.

However, what you do get will be sufficient to support your online business with adequate lead nurturing when you’re just getting started.

But once you reach a level of growth in your subscriber base, you’ll begin to experience some of its limitations. When you get to cross that bridge, all you have to do then is to simply migrate your campaigns to Drip.

MailerLite Features that Stand Out

  • Lead capture from multiple third-party platforms (many require paid integration services like Zapier and PieSync)
  • Workflow based automation
  • Group-based subscriber segmentation (similar to tag-based segmentation)
  • A/B split testing of email subject lines
  • Integration with Google analytics
  • Campaign emails
  • Click-through tracking
  • Custom landing pages

Now the Cons...

  • There are no rule-based automations, only workflow-based ones
  • Broadcast emails aren’t supported
  • There’s no A/B testing at the workflow level (i.e. ability to A/B test every aspect of your campaign). Only email subject lines can be A/B tested)
  • MailerLite allows 6 automation actions vs. 19 for Drip (these are the different actions your workflow automation can take when triggered — e.g. sign up subscribers to a new nurturing campaign when they click on a link on your newsletter)
  • MailerLite comes with a handful of third-party integrations built-in, but requires a paid integration service like Zapier or PieSync to connect with many popular platforms like PayPal, Stripe and Magento. Drip comes integrated right out of the box with 30 popular platforms such as Shopify, Facebook, WooCommerce, Clickbank, Paypal, Stripe, Magento, and MemberPress among others.

Find Out More About MailerLite Here.

Best Runner-Up: ActiveCampaign

ActiveCampaign is without a doubt the best runner up to Drip. It has a terrific graphical workflow automation interface that’s super flexible and it’s as feature rich as Drip's when it comes to what’s essential if you want to create a profitable online side hustle.

Like Drip, it is a solid, easy to use solution for email marketing, advanced marketing automation, behavioral automation, tagging and audience segmentation, and so on.

The graphical workflow automation interface is as user-friendly as Drip's and it has an extensive library of pre-built workflow automations to get you going quickly.

Also like Drip, ActiveCampaign has lead scoring and even A/B testing at the workflow level.

So, why is it the runner up, you might ask? Its cost structure.

Although the basic tier cost about the same as Drip's, many of the key features needed for a successful online business, such as lead scoring and workflow-based A/B testing, are not available in this tier. Instead you have to pay twice as much to get access t them.

Also, they limit the basic tier to just 3 users, while Drip has no user limits.

Finally, they don’t offer nearly as many integrations to third-party platforms without having to resort to paid integrators like Zapier and PieSync.

ActiveCampaign Features that Stand Out

  • Programmable notifications based on subscriber behavior
  • Lead scoring
  • Lead capture from multiple third-party platforms
  • Workflow based automation
  • Tag-based subscriber segmentation
  • Powerful A/B testing platform (as powerful as Drip's!)
  • Email analytics/ROI tracking
  • Campaign and Broadcast Emails
  • Conversion tracking

Now the Cons...

  • Restating from above, several features that come with the basic package with Drip, like lead scoring and A/B Testing at the workflow level, only come through upgrading to much more expensive tiers.
  • To have access to third-party integrations such as Shopify, WooCommerce, Square, etc. you have to once again upgrade to more expensive tiers, and even at that, they don’t have nearly as many integrations as Drip has in its basic tier.
  • The basic tier is limited to just three users, whereas Drip has no user limits.
  • The email builder can be a bit clunky for those of us who are used to the elegance of visual builders.
  • While they offer chat-based support in real time, which is better than Drip's email-only approach (especially if you’re stuck), it can take some time before someone picks up the call —often 7-10 minutes and as high as 15 minutes during peak times.

Find Out More About ActiveCampaign Here.

Best Free or Freemium: Omnisend

If you’re just starting and don’t want to commit to a monthly charge from the get go, Omnisend allows you to start for free with a cap of 15,000 emails per month (no cap on the size of your email list).

Now, as they say, there’s no free lunch. For this “free” introductory rate, you don’t have access to email automations, A/B testing, you’re limited to five subscriber segments and you have to pay for any third-party platform integrations.

But at least, you can get your feet wet at no cost so that you can test out your messaging. If you want to upgrade to the first paid tier in order to have access to workflow automations, your cost will be slightly lower than Drip’s, but you’ll have to add a separate monthly fee to pay for your integrations.

The other limitation is that they cap the number of emails you can send per month (Drip, MailerLite and ActiveCampaign allow you to send unlimited emails).

Now, this is not an issue if you have a small list, which will be the case at the beginning. But once your list begins to bulk up, you may start hitting the caps.

For example, if you’re capturing 20 emails per day and you send them an initial email with your lead magnet followed by a sequence of three follow-up emails every few days, that’s almost 2,500 emails/month so far.

And if on top you have an email list of 1,000 subscribers getting two broadcast emails per week, you’re already taking up about 12,000 emails per month.

Omnisend Features that Stand Out (Free Tier)

  • Email campaigns
  • Email templates
  • Signup forms (up to 3 active at a time)
  • Up to 5 subscriber segments
  • Landing pages
  • Campaign reports
  • Single user
  • Email support
  • 15,000 emails sent per month

Now the Cons...

  • Paid integrations only
  • No workflow-based automation
  • No rule-based automation
  • Cap on emails sent
  • No email A/B testing
  • No workflow A/B testing
  • No custom events
  • No lead scoring
  • No visual email builder
  • No programmable notifications
  • No broadcast emails

Find Out More About Omnisend Here.

What to Do Next?

Now that you have a pretty solid handle on what marketing automation tools can do for you, the next step is to create an account and become familiar with the lead nurturing process.

While these platforms are more expensive than regular bulk email services, keep in mind that they incorporate their functionality plus they add marketing automation on top, so you won't need two separate sets of tools.

All of the above platforms, DripMailerLite, ActiveCampaign and Omnisend offer a 14-day free trial.

About the author

Marcelo Beilin is a Digital Marketing Consultant and blogger who helps clients take their traffic and online revenue to the next level.

He also helps readers find the perfect tools to earn online income at BestTech2EarnOnline.com.

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