Securing marketing budgets is one of the biggest challenges for any small business marketing manager. That’s why a small business marketer needs to be extra cautious when making marketing-related investment decisions.
One such investment decision is about which marketing automation solution to purchase. If you invest in the wrong solution, not only will it fail to meet all your business needs, you’ll also lose all your investment. That’s the last thing you want when you have limited investment capital.
To avoid the above risk, we recommend testing a free or freemium product before you purchase a solution or marketing automation software suite. Here’s what these options allow you to do:
- Get a hands-on experience of a marketing automation solution to assess whether you really need the software or not (this is especially helpful for first-time buyers).
- Evaluate a product before purchasing its full version.
- Move to another product at no cost if the existing product doesn’t fit your business needs.
- Invest only in the features that are relevant to your business.
Trying out a free solution before purchasing a paid one will help you be a better judge of the available marketing automation software suites. It’ll also be cost effective for your small business, as you’ll avoid wasting precious funds.
To help you identify the right software for your business, we’ve rounded up the top five free marketing automation software that you should check out. The products are listed in alphabetical order. Learn more about our selection methodology at the end of this piece.
Mailchimp: Extensive email, social media marketing features in free version
Mailchimp is an email marketing and marketing automation solution for businesses of all sizes.
The free version of Mailchimp offers the following:
- A/B testing module that lets you compare different variations of emails and select the most optimal one.
- Segmentation on attributes, such as age, gender, and location, to help you create customer lists.
- Date-based email automation for events such as birthdays and anniversaries.
- Social media management for Facebook and Instagram campaigns.
- Landing page designer to create web pages for sign-up requests.
We’ve included Mailchimp in this article for the breadth of email marketing and social media marketing it offers in the free version.
Newsletter analytics in Mailchimp (Source)
Pros: Capterra reviewers find Mailchimp easy to set up and use. They like its detailed reporting functionality. They also like the breadth of email marketing features in the free version, with different email types such as for cart abandonment, welcoming new users, and birthdays.
Cons: While reviewers like the number of template options, they feel that the templates could be more fashionable and appealing.
Cost to upgrade: The free version supports up to 2,000 subscribers and lets you send up to 12,000 emails per month. If you need to manage more subscribers or emails, you need to upgrade to one of the following plans:
- Grow: Starts at $10 per month for up to 500 subscribers and unlimited emails. The pricing goes up if you need to add more subscribers.
- Pro: Charges you a premium over the “Grow” plan. This plan charges an additional $199 per user (over the Grow plan) for access to premium support, advanced segmentation, comparative reports, and multivariate testing features.
Mautic: Open source, feature-rich solution
Mautic is an open source marketing automation solution for SMBs. It offers a variety of marketing features such as:
- Email marketing module to help you create and send marketing campaigns.
- Account-based marketing to personalize campaigns and separately track the ROI of each account.
- Website tracking to track website traffic and provide reports for content planning purposes.
- Social media management to handle Facebook profiles.
- Landing page designer to help you design sign-up pages.
Campaign reporting in Mautic (Source)
Pros: The biggest advantage of Mautic is the breadth of its features. While the other products in this list focus on email and/or SMS marketing, Mautic also offers social media and content marketing in the suite.
Capterra reviewers find Mautic’s email templates easy to use and customize. The contact lists help them customize contact fields and add notes for each customer interaction.
Cons: Reviewers highlight that Mautic being an on-premise system requires some level of technical competence during installation. In addition, the many features make for a relatively longer learning curve compared to the other products on this list.
Cost to upgrade: As the product is an open source solution, it’s available free of cost.
Mobile apps: N/A
Sendinblue: For efficient newsletter campaigns
Sendinblue is a cloud-based marketing automation software that offers features to run SMS and email campaigns.
The free version of Sendinblue includes the following:
- Workflow editor that allows you to design and customize email campaigns.
- Personalized email campaigns to customize fields, such as names and titles, in emails.
- Webpage tracking that tracks customer behavior on web pages and lets you customize campaigns accordingly.
- A built-in library of email templates.
Email campaign reports in Sendinblue (Source)
Pros: Capterra reviewers like the number of emails included in the free version—you can send up to 300 emails per day (9,000 per month). If you exceed the daily quota of free mails, the “Requeue” functionality adds the leftover emails to the next day’s queue.
Reviewers also said that Sendinblue is effective for newsletter campaigns as it offers numerous templates and has a drag-and-drop functionality.
Cons: While Capterra reviewers have rated the product highly for its simplistic email campaign interface, they feel that the user interface of other features, such as reporting, could be simplified.
Cost to upgrade: If you’re looking for an upgrade, Sendinblue offers the following pricing plans:
- Lite: Charges $25 for up to 40,000 emails per month (no limits on daily use).
- Essential: Costs $39 for up to 60,000 emails per month.
- Premium: Starts at $66 per month and lets you send up to 120,000 emails.
Mobile apps: iOS
SendPulse: Multichannel solution for emails, newsletters, push notifications, SMS marketing
SendPulse is a cloud-based marketing automation solution that offers email marketing, SMS marketing, and web push notifications.
The free version of the product includes the following features:
- Email automation for different stages of a customer’s journey, such as sign-up, outreach campaign, as well as up-selling and cross-selling campaigns.
- Email templates for different stages in a campaign such as sign-up, welcome email, and newsletter.
- A/B testing module to experiment with different versions of email content and select the best one based on the performance.
Campaign reporting in SendPulse (Source)
Pros: Capterra reviewers like the low cost of upgrade as it’s beneficial for budding startups and small businesses. They think the solution is easy to set up and configure.
Cons: While reviewers like the API functionality that integrates with most CRM software, the functionality is difficult to learn and use. They also said that the solution slows down while handling large email queues and lists.
Cost to upgrade: In addition to the free version, SendPulse offers various upgrade options for SMS marketing, SMTP, and web push notification campaigns. Here are the starting prices for the different feature-based plans:
- Email: Charges $7.88 for up to 2,500 emails per month (with premium features).
- SMS: Works on “per SMS” basis, depending on the recipient’s country. The cost of sending SMSes within the U.S. is $0.022 per SMS.
- Web push: Includes features, such as customized branding and API access, in addition to the free version of “Web Push”, for creating rule-based, web push campaigns. It costs $9.85 per month.
- SMTP: Lets you send transactional emails such as for account creation, order confirmation, and recovery password. While the free version lets you send up to 12,000 emails, the paid version starts at $7.08 per month and lets you send up to 25,000 emails.
Zoho Campaigns: Email marketing software for sales teams
Zoho Campaign is a cloud-based email marketing solution designed for SMBs.
The free version of the product includes the following:
- Customizable email templates for email campaigns.
- Segmentation tool to bucket customer lists based on their attributes.
- Timezone-based email delivery to schedule campaigns across different timelines.
- Social media marketing lets you manage Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn campaigns.
- Customized reporting on campaign performance metrics, such as open rate, bounce rate, and social media performance.
Analytics in Zoho Campaigns (Source)
Pros: Capterra reviewers like Zoho Campaigns for the numerous report templates in the free version. It includes reports on open rate, bounce rate, email list, and customer demographics.
Reviewers also like the number and ease of integrations it offers. Its free version lets users connect with solutions such as G Suite, SurveyMonkey, Shopify, and Eventbrite.
Cons: Capterra reviewers feel that there could be a greater number of email template options. While they find the interface user friendly, users say that it looks slightly dated and could use a revamp to look like the other similar marketing tools.
Cost to upgrade: The free version lets you send up to 12,000 emails per month. After you’ve used up this quota, you can upgrade to any of the following plans:
- Subscription pricing: Lets you access premium features, such as subscriber scoring, Webhooks, emails polls, and attachments, which aren’t available in the free version. It has tiered pricing based on the number of emails or subscribers. The starting price for email-based plan is $32 for up to 500 emails, while the subscriber-based plan starts at $54 for up to 500 subscribers.
- Pay as you go: Charges you for the number of “email credits”, i.e., the number of emails. The plan starts at $6 for up to 250 email credits.
Next steps and additional reading
The article aims to give you an overview of the top marketing automation tools that will benefit your business. Testing out these solutions will give you a preview of marketing automation software. And when it’s time to purchase one for your business, you know which features you need.
But before you consider upgrading to a paid version or purchasing a solution, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Shortlist products based on features. After reviewing the above products, list all the features you need for your business. Shortlist only those solutions that offer these features.
- Evaluate your marketing needs. The free software we mention have certain limits. E.g., Mailchimp has a limit of up to 2,000 subscribers and 12,000 emails per month. Therefore, estimate your needs to narrow down your shortlist.
- Consider the upgrade costs. You need to thoroughly plan your software purchase decision to avoid unnecessary costs. Therefore, when you’re upgrading, shortlist only those products that fit your budget.
Our assessment of products for this list was completed in three stages.
In the first stage, we looked at products in Capterra’s database to identify marketing automation solutions. To be included:
- The product must include email marketing and reporting functionality.
- The product must allow users to design, execute, and manage marketing campaigns.
In the second stage, we assessed whether a freemium version of the product was available. For the purposes of this article, we classified a product as free if:
- It offers a free, standalone version of the software.
- It is not a trial version of the product, requiring users to purchase a different version after a specified time period elapses.
In the final stage, we scored each shortlisted product based on the following parameters:
- Native capabilities: Number of standard features in a product. The standard features we used to evaluate the products were email campaigns, segmentation, landing pages, campaign reports, lead management, and social media management.
- Mobile: Availability for all device types (iOS and Android) and overall review scores from app stores.
- Customer service: In-product assistance (help topics, FAQs, and communities), text/email-based support, availability (24 hours, limited, U.S. only, or global).
- Security: ISO/IEC 27001 qualification, HIPAA, SP 800-53, AES, TLS/SSL, 2FA, and/or DIACAP Level 2.
- Ease of use.
The resulting scores were used to create a list of the top five solutions and these products were organized alphabetically.