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SharpSpring is a relatively new name in the marketing automation arena but it’s turned a few heads since hitting the market in 2014. The platform now has a reputation for being an affordable yet highly-capable option for businesses of all sizes.

Naturally, this caught our attention when we were looking to find the right CRM/marketing automation mix here are Venture Harbour. So we thought it might be helpful to share our experience of using SharpSpring to show you where it shines and where it could do better.

SharpSpring pros & cons

Before we get into any specifics, let’s start by quickly running through the pros and cons we experienced while using SharpSpring.

SharpSpring pros

  • Solid CRM and automation features
  • Unlimited users on all plans
  • Cost-effective for larger teams

SharpSpring cons

  • Not particularly intuitive for non-marketers
  • Landing page & email builders behind competitors
  • Occasional bugs and slowdowns
  • Features fall short for advanced needs

SharpSpring is clearly trying to offer businesses of all sizes everything they could need from a CRM and marketing automation combo. The list of features is strong and the company is very transparent when it comes to pricing.

At a quick glance, SharpSpring probably looks quite expensive compared to lowest prices shown by its competitors. But all SharpSpring plans support unlimited users whereas most providers list their prices per user.

More on this later.

Essentially, SharpSpring is very cost-effective for larger teams and its feature set will be enough for many businesses – at least to begin with. However, we find its features start to fall short when you try to automate more advanced marketing strategies.

While we found the platform a bit too unintuitive and the occasional bugs/slowdowns frustrating, it was ultimately the fact that SharpSpring’s features weren’t comprehensive for us that made us look elsewhere.

It all comes down to what you need to accomplish with the platform.

How much does SharpSpring cost?

If you’re new to the CRM and marketing automation software game, then pricing can easily catch you out. Providers aren’t always transparent about what they charge but this isn’t a problem with SharpSpring.

The company’s pricing policy is simple and clearly stated on its website. Rather than paying the fee displayed per user, you get unlimited users on every plan and SharpSpring quickly becomes a cost-effective choice for large teams.

The downside of this is it ends up being on the expensive side for smaller teams looking to grow.

At least SharpSpring makes it clear how much you can expect to pay for the platform – something we don’t see enough in this industry.

You also get access to all of the features on every version of the platform. Pricing is purely based on how many contacts you need to manage.

What can you do with SharpSpring?

SharpSpring positions itself as an all-in-one marketing automation suite and it packs an extensive list of features to match. Here’s a quick look at what you’ve got to work with:

  • Marketing automation
  • Email marketing
  • Web forms
  • Visitor IDs
  • CRM
  • Landing page builder
  • Blogging
  • Social media marketing
  • Multi-device tracking
  • Analytics & reporting

That pretty much covers all of the bases but let’s talk about how well the platform actually helps you automate key marketing strategies.

Marketing automation

Above all, SharpSpring is a marketing automation platform and its visual workflow builder allows you to create custom automations to guide contact along the buying process.

You can score new leads upon capture and assign them to workflows, based on your chosen conditions. You’ll then send out messages designed to nurture them along your sales funnels and each lead will be moved on to the next process after they complete the desired action.

When it works well, SharpSprings workflow builder is a pleasure to use but we found ourselves having to deal with some bugs and freezes that forced us to start again on occasions.

Behavioural email marketing automation

Email is always at the heart of any automated marketing strategy and SharpSpring equips you with all the essential tools. You get a library of email templates to work with, a drag-and-drop email builder for creating custom designs and content personalisation to make your messages more relevant.

Combine this with the automation builder and you can create email drip campaigns that send out emails to users based on their actions and guide them towards the purchase.

Customer relationship management (CRM)

SharpSpring’s built-in CRM allows you to manage contacts on an individual basis, reach out with personalised messages and automate workflows with them – all while keeping track of their progress along the sales cycle.

It’s a decent enough CRM offering the same features you’ll find on most platforms like this but a lack of intuitiveness means it takes that bit longer to get things done. This only makes the occasional bugs and slowdowns more frustrating but SharpSpring isn’t the only platform we’ve used that suffered from this problem.

Analytics & reporting

In true SharpSpring fashion, you’ll find a lot of different analytics and reporting capabilities crammed into this platform. You get email analytics, campaign tracking, behaviour tracking, multiple device tracking, ROI reports, custom reports and all kinds of other insights.

Sadly, the familiar side-effect of this is that SharpSpring’s reports often don’t offer the depth we would normally expect from a CRM and marketing automation suite. Likewise, the platform doesn’t give you a lot of freedom to segment data, which can make it difficult to extract meaningful insights from its relatively basic data.

How does SharpSpring compare to the competition?

Now that you have a good idea of what to expect from SharpSpring it’s worth comparing the platform against a couple of its main competitors.

SharpSpring vs HubSpot

SharpSpring and HubSpot essentially offer the same thing in a combined sales and marketing automation suite. If you actually use both platforms, though, you get the impression they’re targeting different types of business.

HubSpot is incredibly intuitive and easy for pretty much anyone to pick up and use. It also becomes very expensive for large teams – far more expensive than SharpSpring, although you could argue that usability is all the more important for larger teams.

That’s up for you to decide.

For smaller teams, HubSpot will probably end up being the more cost-effective and intuitive approach.

SharpSpring, on the other hand, has been designed with agencies in mind that will use the platform to manage marketing campaigns for their clients. the company offers a dedicated Agency plan but the software has been built from the marketer’s perspective, not the average business owner.

SharpSpring vs ActiveCampaign

ActiveCampaign was the CRM/marketing automation platform we ended up settling with and it has a lot in common with SharpSpring. Its pricing policy is simply more balanced for smaller teams (pricing is based per user), meaning the platform remains cost-effective as your business grows.

It’s amazing how marketing automation providers forget the crucial fact that businesses want to use these platform to grow their business – kind of the whole point, isn’t it?

ActiveCampaign’s pricing policy was a big deal for us, especially after realising how expensive other providers can become as your business grows or automation needs become more advanced. Our demands are quite high on the automation front and ActiveCampaign doesn’t hold us to ransom on its more sophisticated features.

Crucially, the platform is both robust and usable, meaning we don’t get any of the glitches we’ve experienced elsewhere and new members can pick up the software quickly.

SharpSpring verdict

SharpSpring offers a lot for SMEs with relatively large marketing and sales teams. If you find platforms priced per user are becoming too expensive, you should definitely see if SharpSpring provides the features you need for a more reasonable price.

We’re pretty confident most SMEs can make genuine progress with SharpSpring and agencies will be able to manage multiple clients. However, companies with more advanced automation needs might find its features don’t go far enough.

Aaron Brooks is a copywriter & digital strategist specialising in helping agencies & software companies find their voice in a crowded space.

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