Most digital marketers use CMS and marketing automation tools on a daily basis. Increasingly, these features are being combined into one platform, and software vendors on both sides are fighting for who owns the one platform to rule them all. We’ll look at reasons for and against going with an all in one solution vs. selecting separate tools and integrating them to work together.

Before we dive in, let’s define some terms. Marketing automation refers to a class of software that enables digital marketers to identify, segment and market to prospects and customers using tools like tracking codes, analytics, email, content personalization and progressive profiling. These tools also help automated otherwise repetitive tasks like sending out drip campaigns and posting content to social media. Marketing automation platforms include Hubspot, Pardot, Eloqua and Marketo.

A CMS or WCMS (web content management system) is the software marketers use to create and manage web content. The CMS is the hub of all activity on and through a marketing website, and as such plays a key role in the collection of prospect data and display of personalized content. WCMS platforms include WordPress, Umbraco, Kentico and Sitecore.

Software Platform Consolidation

CMS vendors like Sitecore and Kentico have added marketing automation to their product suites in recent years, while Marketing Automation vendors like Hubspot and Adobe have included CMS capabilities within their marketing suites. To complicate things further, Pardot, a widely used marketing automation platform, is now owned by Salesforce and is tightly integrated with the company’s eponymous CRM. Even enterprise resource planning (ERP) vendor heavyweights like SAP, Oracle and IBM have entered the fray with cloud marketing solutions of their own.

Marketers now find themselves at the table with IT in selecting these systems. While a review of all these systems is beyond the scope of a blog post, here are some points to consider in platform selection.

Consider the Source in Integrated Solutions

In general, each platform is great at either CMS or marketing automation and is usually playing catch-up with the other. Each vendor started with one side of the equation and either built or bought the other side. In cases where a vendor built the other side, it may not be as robust and mature as what the company has focused on for a decade or more. And those that bought the other side, it’s important to look critically at the level of integration they’ve achieved with the new platform and their core product.

For example, when Kentico first added marketing (dubbed EMS) to its very mature CMS platform, the marketing functionality did not measure up to the CMS functionality. After several releases, both are fairly robust, but it may have been a bumpy road for early adopters. On the buy side, Sitecore purchased its ecommerce platform from Microsoft back in 2013 and is just recently able to say it has a fully integrated solution. A third example is Hubspot. That product started as a marketing automation platform. While it has capable content management features for a simple content site, it lacks the ability to code dynamic or data-driven functionality that most B2B websites require.

Integrating Best of Breed Solutions

Rather than settling for an integrated solution that may not excel at both CMS and marketing automation capabilities at the level desired, you can choose to hand pick the best fit for each and integrate them. Stand-alone marketing automation systems like Pardot, Eloqua, Marketo (and even Hubspot) generally integrate well with external websites. A basic, low-effort integration typically includes:

  • Tracking code on the site to identify and track visitors, prospects and customers through their buyer’s journey.
  • Embedded IFRAME conversion forms to prompt visitors to identify themselves. More advanced solutions offer progressive profiling to not overburden visitors with long forms.
  • Spot personalization via an embedded code snippet that shows different content from the marketing automation platform based on the visitor’s assigned persona.

While this type of integration meets the needs of many customers, there are drawbacks to having two systems instead of one:

  • Forms must be managed in the marketing automation tool, not the CMS. If your CMS has a great form builder, you can do a more complex integration allowing forms generated by the CMS to submit to the marketing automation platform rather than using embedded IFRAME forms.
  • Personalization content is limited to areas where you embed the code from your marketing automation platform. If your CMS offers personalization as a feature, using it alongside an external marketing automation platform typically requires a fairly complex integration. If you intend to do substantial content personalization, consider using the marketing automation capabilities offered by your CMS.

Leveraging Existing Systems

Another factor to consider in CMS and marketing automation platform selection is whether your business already has an existing system that meets your requirements. For example, your ERP system might offer marketing automation that isn’t best of breed, but already works with your CRM and other data housed within the same ERP. Or if you’re using Salesforce as a CRM, Pardot is a shoe-in for marketing automation given its tight integration with that platform.

When considering whether to leverage existing systems, the decision comes down to the cost/benefit of gaining features in a best of breed tool vs. the integration effort and cost that decision presents. Software vendors tend to gloss over the effort and cost of such integrations, so it’s best to seek the advice of a systems integrator who can help define the level and complexity of integration required in each scenario.

In summary, software vendors are getting closer and closer to integrated solutions that offer best of breed options in a single platform. But unless a vendor nails ERP, CRM, CMS, ecommerce and marketing along with whatever software needs might be specific to your business, some level of integration will almost always be required to attain a seamless flow of information from visitor to customer.