HubSpot vs. Pardot: A Marketing Automation Melee

By Juan Martinez Features PCmag

The marketing automation industry is dominated by two powerhouse vendors: HubSpot and Pardot. Both tools enable seamless workflow creation, organic integration with customer relationship management (CRM) tools, and the ability to tie workflows into social media marketing functions. Because of their broad range of capabilities, ease of use, and ability to plug into third-party software, HubSpot and Pardot are both PCMag Editors' Choice tools for marketing automation.

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However, these two titans aren't interchangeable. There are very specific differences between the platforms that are crucial to determining whether each would fit well into your business' operations. For example, do you need marketing automation on your smartphone? Do you need search engine optimization (SEO) functionality included? How much are you willing to spend? In this article, we'll break down all of these factors to help you determine which marketing automation service is right for your business.

Pricing and Plans

Pardot is the highest-priced marketing automation tool we reviewed. The Standard Pardot plan costs $1,000 per month for email marketing, prospect tracking, lead nurturing and scoring, reporting, forms and landing pages, and standard Salesforce CRM integration. The Pro plan includes email analytics, spam analysis, landing page A/B testing, Google AdWords integration, application programming interface (API) access, an integrated marketing calendar and chat support, among other features. The Ultimate plan costs $3,000 per month for custom user roles, custom object integration, a dedicated IP address, and phone support. All plans give you capacity for 10,000 contacts. You can also add Wave Analytics for $300 per month for five users, which gives your team added insights into how your campaigns are performing on a macro level. Another add-on option is called Salesforce Engage, which costs $50 per month per user, and gives you access to real-time alerts regarding prospect interactions with marketing content.

HubSpot is also a very expensive piece of software. It comes in three tiers: Basic, Pro, and Enterprise. The Basic plan starts at $200 per month for access to 100 contacts, a basic content-creation tool, an email marketing platform, a social media publishing and monitoring tool, and basic analytics. You can add additional contacts to the Basic plan for $100 per month for up to 1,000 contacts. The Basic plan does not provide you with marketing automation features but it can serve as a basic email platform. The Pro plan costs $800 per month and gives you access to 1,000 contacts, a full marketing automation suite, custom workflows, lead nurturing, and A/B testing, among other features you won't find in the Basic plan. The Enterprise plan costs $2,400 per month and gives you access to 10,000 contacts, revenue reporting, custom event automation triggers, and company-wide campaign reporting. You can add HubSpot's free Sales and CRM tools to move contact data into the sales and service funnel for very basic needs. You can also pay to turn on HubSpot's more advanced sales and CRM tools should you require more advanced features.

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Although both plans are more expensive than the marketing automation field, HubSpot is slightly cheaper and equally feature-rich. What I also like about HubSpot is that it lets users grow into the system without having had a deep email list or any experience with marketing automation whatsoever. Neither platform offers a free option but HubSpot's Basic package lets users learn the tool as a relatively inexpensive email marketing platform rather than jumping straight into an enterprise-sized marketing automation suite. Edge: HubSpot.

User Interface and Campaign Creation

As you'll find with most Salesforce-associated products, Pardot's dashboard is incredibly clean with well-labeled icons and tabs. You'll have no problem navigating the tool regardless of how deep into the weeds you go. Pardot's user interface (UI) has a left-hand navigation setup with collapsing rails that let you expand or contract the number of reports or automation sequence branches you need to see on one screen. Pardot's prospect profiles give you easy access to interaction history that you can use to plan or revise campaigns that target a specific user. You'll have information on how prospects entered your database, how they have been contacted, which emails they opened, and which emails they deleted. You can even add notes to the profile and assign a prospect to a specific marketer who might be able to better bring the prospect along the marketing pipeline.

The software features a very basic What You See is What You Get (WYSIWYG) email builder that's not going to win any awards for building one-off email templates. It's a very simple builder that lets you add text and images. If you need a fancier email, then you can drop in HTML code to create your own emails and templates. Pardot does offer 39 pre-set email templates, which should be more than enough for you to accomplish most standard email-creation tasks.

Pardot's Engagement Studio is where your automation campaigns are created. This is one of the best automation branching sequence builders we've tested, rivaled only by competitor Infusionsoft. Once you've entered pertinent campaign and contact details, you'll be directed to a map that features a start, an end, and a "plus" sign. Click the plus sign to add an action, a trigger, or a rule. Within each of these options, you'll find a drop-down list of activities that will define the next step of your sequence. It's an infinite pallet that places no restrictions on the number of east, west, north, or south branching options you provide. This means you'll be able to create a custom automation campaign that can feature endless options, actions, and reactions.

HubSpot's marketing automation workflows are created via templates and a custom builder. The 10 out-of-the-box templates are called "Recipes." Each of these can be edited to suit your specific workflow requirements. When you click "Start a New Workflow," you get three options: Standard (when a contact enrolls or joins a list), Fixed Date (an email on a specific calendar date or holiday), or Property-based (triggered by a contact date such as a trial expiration or renewal). You start standard workflows by selecting a segmented group of lists by using "and/or" conditions, and then adding an action such as "Send Email" or "Send SMS." You can then add "if/then" branching by using numerous possible outcomes and action-based responses.

Unfortunately, workflows are always based off of "Yes or No" propositions. For example, did Juan open the email? Did Juan click on the link? With Pardot, you're able to deliver a bit more customization for your branches by using other factors such as time (e.g., How many days have passed since I sent Juan an email?). As with Pardot, there is no cap on how many interactions you can add to a workflow, which means you can create and extend campaigns into perpetuity if that suits your needs.

All of your HubSpot workflows are based on lists, which are incredibly easy to create once you've loaded your tool with contact data. Think of how you would narrow down a product list on Amazon or eBay; this is how you build contact lists in HubSpot. This is a much more streamlined process than you'll find in competing tools. Once you've created a list, HubSpot shows you which contacts are on other lists, which is a super-easy way to double-check if leads are on another conflicting list. Your contact records automatically update with any contact interactions that are managed via the HubSpot platform, which is essentially a running timeline of where contacts are in the marketing funnel and how you've interacted with them in the past. "Contact Records" flow between all HubSpot products to let you see everything across all three (CRM, email marketing, and social media) disciplines. You can see deals, contact information, profile information for demographics, among all other contact data.

Although both tools make workflow creation easy and repeatable, Pardot's tool is a slightly more user-friendly palette. The Action/Trigger/Rule format provides a bit of clarity to what can become an unwieldly and complicated process. Plus, the ability to expand and contract screens gives you the power to determine whether you're getting a micro or macro view of your dashboard. (Slight) Edge: Pardot.

Unique Features

When you add a URL to a contact record, HubSpot will automatically pull in demographic information, such as the contact's company location and number of employees. You can email a contact directly from the Contact Record, and you can make a Voice-over-IP (VoIP) call if you've turned on this paid feature of HubSpot Sales. This integration lets you log and save call information within each contact record so there is a transparent history of which marketers and sales professionals interacted with contacts. You can also schedule interactions with contacts. Switching between HubSpot Marketing, CRM, and Sales is as easy as clicking the upper left-hand corner of the dashboard.

Creating new emails in HubSpot is incredibly easy as well. The software gives you more than 2,000 free and paid templates that should more than satisfy your most complex requirements. Should you need to start from scratch, you can simply drop in your own HTML or use the tool's What You See is What You Get (WYSIWYG) editor. This editor is miles ahead of what you get on Pardot, which offers fewer templates and a basic, less impressive builder.

HubSpot does offer basic social media monitoring and publishing tools. These are useful for blasting out to contacts and for automatically adding people to lists if they've interacted with your posts in any way. This is the most advanced, organic social media integration we've found on any tool we reviewed; it's one that will make life much easier for marketers who bear social media and email manager responsibilities. If you're just getting started collecting leads and planning your marketing strategy, then HubSpot also offers a free and basic lead-generation tool that is designed to help you collect and organize contacts before you begin campaigns.

Depending on which Pardot plan you choose, you'll gain access to a host of superb multi-channel features that you won't find on most strict marketing automation tools. For example, Pardot lets you create social media campaigns by scheduling and sending posts in real time to Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter simultaneously. You can create an unlimited number of social accounts and schedule and send as many posts you want. You can also use the tool to view social statistics (e.g., how many times a prospect clicked on one of your posts, if he or she shares the post, or if he or she left a comment).

Pardot also offers a search marketing tool plugged into Bing, Google, and Yahoo. You can check search engine rankings, monthly volumes, ranking difficulties, run competitor analysis, and monitor your paid search campaigns. No other tool we reviewed offered search marketing functionality. If you opt for Salesforce Engage access, then you'll be able to use Android and iOS apps to connect to Pardot to view all of your actions and leads. You'll get mobile alerts whenever users download whitepapers or enter information on landing pages. Unfortunately, there are no standalone Pardot mobile apps. Edge: HubSpot.

The Bottom Line

In the end, you can't go wrong with either of these tools. They're both excellent and capable of helping you accomplish even the most complex marketing automation processes. However, because of HubSpot's tiered pricing, which lets users begin accessing the tool at the early stages of their email marketing journey, it's the more prudent buy. Additionally, HubSpot's unique features, its email editor, its ability to log VoIP calls through CRM, and its comprehensive list of templates, gives it a slight advantage over Pardot's own impressive set of unique features. This is why I recommend HubSpot over Pardot.

However, if a tool's UI is the most important aspect of your software-buying decision or if you're a heavy Salesforce user who wants to stay locked into that data ecosystem, then there's no reason not to test Pardot. It's a powerful and attractive tool that will help you get the job done. Winner: HubSpot.

This article originally appeared on PCMag.com.