Email marketing tools have gone from cute, nice-to-have software in the ‘90s to a no-brainer slice of the budget in 2021.
Despite the rise of newer marketing channels and tools, like snazzy social media management software and SMS marketing platforms, email marketing is still a primary channel for most B2B marketing teams — and often the lifeblood of e-commerce and DTC.
Used by 87% of B2B teams, email is the second most popular distribution channel in B2B content marketing, according to Content Marketing Institute — just behind social media.
You need email marketing tools to send messages to thousands at a time, automate sends, run A/B tests, develop drip campaigns, understand email deliverability and inbox placement, and much more.
We surveyed several expert email marketers about the email marketing service providers (ESPs) they love and loathe. Here’s how they define email marketing software, make decisions, and which tools they prefer.
What are email marketing tools, anyway?
On a technical level, email marketing tools and email software are… the same thing.
That’s not how marketers use the two terms in conversation, though. In marketing (and in this story):
- Email marketing software means all-in-one ESPs
- Email marketing tools are ESPs plus guides, archives, and add-on software that help level-up your email marketing game.
Most email software providers don’t include everything you need to run your email marketing team effectively. Advanced deliverability metrics — like why some emails didn’t send or IP scoring reports — often require upgrades or additional tools. And when you find the perfect data-focused tool, it may lack creative templates or design capabilities.
Because this article’s focused on email marketing tools — not just software — you’ll get more than a regurgitated list of the same heavy hitters.
We’ll walk through all the best email marketing resources, including freebie tools so good you'd pay for them.
Is there a difference between email marketing tools and CRM tools?
Typically, enterprises refer to email marketing software as a CRM. But CRM software is more broad and advanced than email marketing software — it can manage all your customer relationships and touchpoints.
That said, Salesforce offers a full suite of email marketing tools within its CRM software. The same is true for Hubspot. We cover HubSpot and other email-forward CRMs in this article.
If you're short on time or just want a quick overview, check out this email marketing tools walkthrough by Chaos Control CEO Chaya Gutnick, a systems and software expert who's tested 20+ email marketing tools.
The 6 best email marketing software
Time to grade the popular all-in-one email marketing software you’re deciding between.
For a tool to be considered email marketing software, it must include:
- Email templates
- A/B testing
- Real-time analytics (open rate, click-throughs, etc.)
Though, as you’ll find out, the depth and usability of these features vary significantly between software. And the “best” email marketing software “depends on the type of company and tech stack,” Sujan Patel, co-founder of Mailshake, pointed out.
"I see a lot of companies on large platforms using 10% of what they are paying for."
Gutnick says businesses should ask five questions when deciding on an email marketing software:
1. What type of automation do you need? — Simple autoresponder or multi-step?
2. What software does the tool integrate with? — Do you have a Shopify store?
3. Are templates important? — Or do you have an in-house email developer?
4. Is deliverability a concern? — What level of detail do you need on the reports?
5. What other features do you need? — Will you be using the platform for webinars, nurtures, and push notifications?
“[T]here are no best platforms,” Gutnick told MarketerHire, “There are only platforms that meet someone’s needs the best.”
“[T]here are no best platforms… There are only platforms that meet someone’s needs the best.”
To address a variety of business needs, we listened to responses from several professional email marketers and curated top choices for solopreneurs, agencies, small businesses, B2B, e-commerce and enterprise.
Ideal for: E-commerce
Pricing: Starts at $20 per month
With a dreamy UI and superior segmentation capable of conditional splits, Klaviyo was built for serious email marketers, especially Shopify-using e-commerce marketers.
“They really understand what an email marketer's needs are,” said Danae Young, CRM manager at Dermalogica. “It's easy to use, the team is so helpful, their support pages and academy videos are perfect for training and advancing your platform knowledge.”
“[Klaviyo] really understand[s] what an email marketer's needs are.”
But it’s not just the customer support that makes Klaviyo great. It can go toe-to-toe with any ESP on features, too.
“It's easy to use and allows you to analyze customer purchase history, review predictive analytics, and make informed decisions all in one platform,” TKEES email marketing manager and freelancer Niki Kanani told MarketerHire.
All of this combined makes Klaviyo the clear favorite among professional email marketers.
Freelance marketing consultant Makenna Nielsen highly recommends it for small- and medium-sized retail brands. “Especially if you run your website on Shopify,” she noted. “The Shopify integration on Klaviyo is particularly seamless.”
Ideal for: Service or agency businesses
Pricing: Paid plan starts at $9 per month
Another partnership-rich tool, ActiveCampaign is built to scale, integrating with 850+ other apps like Facebook, Shopify and WordPress.
ActiveCampaign is not just a CRM, ESP, or automation tool. It's all three. Unlike other tools, ActiveCampaign’s automation features go above and beyond with predictive content, which serves contacts the best messaging version for them based on past click data. Think of it as an A/B/C/D/E test, but automated.
After testing other email marketing platforms, Gutnick says she's "a huge fan” of ActiveCampaign.
“I’ve tried a lot of software that are much, much harder to use,” Gutnick told MarketerHire. ActiveCampaign is “very feature-rich, easy to use” — from tagging clients to lead scoring, it’s “got it all.”
Glowing reviews aside, ActiveCampaign isn’t right for everyone. If you just want to launch a newsletter quickly, it’s overkill.
Ideal for: B2B businesses
Pricing: Starts at $45 per month
Similar to ActiveCampaign, calling HubSpot an email marketing software is a huge understatement.
"Sending email is one thing," John McTigue, partner in residence at Databox, told MarketerHire. "But then you need tools for building landing pages, creating trackable CTAs, segmentation, optimizing sending and receiving rates… not to mention workflow automation and integration with CRM."
That's his case for HubSpot in a nutshell. And when I asked marketers about their favorites on LinkedIn, many seconded McTigue’s motion.
Keep in mind, the $45 per month Starter package quickly jumps to $800 per month which, compared to the standard $20-$150 per month for most email marketing tools, should cause pause. This one’s best for B2B businesses trying to solve CRM, social, webinar, landing page, and even SEO problems, not just email marketing.
“HubSpot is built for companies with higher value customers — i.e. $1000+ per year.”
“HubSpot is built for companies with higher value customers — i.e. $1000+ per year,” explained Jon Martin, founder and HubSpot CRM consultant of RevenueOps.co. “If your main clientele isn't spending $1k per yr, HubSpot might not be the best option for you.”
Ideal for: Freelancers
Pricing: Starts at $29 per month
ConvertKit was clearly built with creators in mind. You can easily segment subscribers based on past click-throughs and purchases and add content upgrades — like $49 courses and guides — to the email signups.
“ConvertKit only allows the same subscriber once and helps you give them specific tags,” said Freelance School’s Jay Clouse. “It gives me a lot of control over who I’m sending what to. And because it’s single-contact, I actually am spending less money every month on ConvertKit.”
“[B]ecause it’s single-contact, I actually am spending less money every month on ConvertKit.”
Ideal for: Enterprises
Cost: Starts at $99 per month
While expensive, Litmus backs up its enterprise pricing with enterprise features.
“Litmus is the best enterprise-level solution that includes email previews,” said Liz Krupka, owner of Nomadd Marketing. The platform also has one of the best pre-send testing checklists Krupka’s seen in the industry.
“Litmus is the best enterprise-level solution that includes email previews.”
Email marketer extraordinaire Chris Johnson also recommends Litmus, because users can browse through email templates and their underlying HTML or CSS code side by side.
When Johnson was starting out, he used Litmus to, “pull that HTML out and then edit it, and see the effects of it and essentially teach myself HTML.”
“Litmus is quite frankly — game-changing,” concluded Krupka. “It's helped a ton with nailing down deliverability and really tightening up code for emails across all platforms.”
Ideal for: Startups
Cost: Starts at $99 per month
While Klaviyo is the clear winner for e-commerce operators, Iterable holds its own on automation and segmentation. It “has the best HTML and drag-and-drop editor out there,” Vitale said. “Also, the dynamic content abilities are pretty much unlimited.”
A favorite among developers and tech-savvy email marketers, Iterable is “amazing for startups that have a lot of unique events associated with their product experience,” Frank Dorval, lifecycle and CRM manager at Empath Digital, told MarketerHire. Especially custom email automation workflows.
If you “require lots of custom events and workflows,” it’s for you, concluded Dorval.
A few other email marketing platforms came up enough in my research, survey, and LinkedIn poll that they deserve a shoutout here: Constant Contact, Sendinblue, Campaign Monitor, Omnisend, SendGrid, and AWeber.
The 3 best supplemental email marketing tools
While the above email software lay a strong foundation for an email marketing program, these are the best specialist tools — helping out with niche jobs from email list building to cleaning.
For improving email deliverability: GlockApps.
Ideal for: E-commerce and other email-heavy businesses.
Pricing: Paid plans start at $59 per month
While Aenae Digital Strategy’s Ellie Stamouli calls database hygiene “the least sexy element of email marketing,” it’s also insanely important.
A crowd favorite, GlockApps helps email marketers clean their email list and predict inbox placements before they send. Will an email land in Gmail’s primary tab? Promotions? Spam?
GlockApps helps email marketers — and even generalist marketers — navigate the nuances of deliverability and prep lists properly from the start.
For finding email addresses for outbound campaigns: Hunter.io.
Ideal for: Freelancers, content and SEO teams, and sales-led businesses
Pricing: Paid plans start at $49 per month
“Most ABM can be done without a separate and expensive tool,” says Chris Schramm, email marketing expert at MarketerHire. Investing $100 per month in email automation and deliverability tools like Hunter.io can hedge the need for a five- or six-figure per month ABM tool.
Hunter.io is one of the best tools Kelly has come across for finding email addresses of potential partners and contacts.
Its simple interface lets email marketers target every segment. You can search by email pattern or name, filter by verification score and sources before saving as a lead.
For insights and examples: MailCharts.
Ideal for: E-commerce
Pricing: Paid plans start at $99 per month
This email benchmark tool analyzes emails from 2,500 brands organized into over 80 industry groups. E-commerce marketers often turn to it for inspiration and insights when they’re building an email marketing strategy or researching their competition.
Their tools let you peruse everything from triggered and promotional emails to onboarding and follow-up emails.
The 3 best freemium email marketing tools
Mailchimp has some serious competition on the freemium email marketing front. Expert email marketers shared with us which email marketing tools they use on a non-existent budget.
Ideal for: Small businesses
Pricing: Free for the first 2,000 subscribers
Thanks in part to their infamous Serial podcast sponsorship, Mailchimp has become near synonymous with email marketing.
And for good reason.
It’s “straight-up easy all around,” said Nielsen. “It's got all the basics you'll need with a very user-friendly UI.”
Nielsen’s not wrong. Even the free plan includes a marketing CRM; website, landing page, drag-and-drop email builder; signup forms and more.
“Mailchimp is fine if you’re running a local business and just need to push out scheduled emails without any automation,” said Tatum. But, it will struggle with more demanding automation and segmentation work. While it has a WooCommerce integration, without Shopify or BigCommerce, it’s a hard sell for e-commerce business owners.
“Mailchimp is fine if you’re running a local business and just need to push out scheduled emails without any automation.”
There’s an important marketing lesson to be learned from Mailchimp. While top email marketers tend to prefer Klaviyo, Mailchimp garnered more awareness. By not skimping on their free version, Mailchimp captured a huge chunk of the market early.
Ideal for: Early-stage founders and freelancers.
Pricing: Free for up to 1,000 subscribers (12,000 emails per month)
An alternative to Mailchimp, “MailerLite is very easy to use (significantly easier than Mailchimp) while providing all functionality you could possibly want from a free email software,” Melanie Balke, CEO and Founder at The Email Marketers, told MarketerHire.
One thing MailerLite isn’t lite on: free features. Like Mailchimp, MailerLite’s free plan includes a website, automations, forms, pop-ups and support.
Ideal for: All email marketers
Another tool Kelly uses regularly, ReallyGoodEmails.com’s collection of 8,519 emails help creatives and email marketers spark new design, development and content ideas for campaigns.
Marketers can pursue email marketing campaigns by company, industry and more. For a free tool, its categories are well thought out, allowing you to sort by behaviors, like abandon cart and recent purchase, and common promotions, like holidays and discounts.
Email marketing fights: comparing the top email marketing tools
The curated list above should help you narrow down your options from 200 to 13. All are solid email marketing providers built for very different uses. And some can (and should) be used together.
But this is more than a regular listicle. So let’s raise the stakes and see how they fare in head-to-head matchups.
Klaviyo vs. Mailchimp
Both are all-in-one ESPs with CRMs, but they couldn’t be more different. Klaviyo is an e-commerce darling and Mailchimp is the layperson’s go-to. “In lieu of an essay of 2,000 words: Klaviyo is a Ferrari. Mailchimp is a Prius,” Balke told MarketerHire. Here’s why:
“Klaviyo is a Ferrari. Mailchimp is a Prius.”
“[Klaviyo] has an amazing UI, the flexibility you need to create seriously beautiful emails, and kick-ass integrations,” said Nielsen.
In comparison, “[Mailchimp] used to be an industry leader, but they have not kept up with all of the technology / segmentation improvements that their competitors are doing,” said Vitale. Plus, it has the “worst UX.”
Though we’d add an asterisk to the idea that Mailchimp is cheaper. Mailchimp’s free plan makes it less expensive to get started — but it doesn’t scale well.
In contrast, Kalviyo doesn’t withhold features on lower-tier plans and pricing scales with your contact list size.
While it depends on the number of subscribers, Klaviyo is ultimately more affordable. “[Y]ou don’t have to prepay for 2,000 contacts when you only have 500,” email marketer Ellie Stamouli explained. “And that’s a lot more approachable.”
“There's no question about this one for me — Klaviyo is the winner all around,” said Nielsen. “I see Klaviyo a step (or three) above Mailchimp.”
“I see Klaviyo a step (or three) above Mailchimp.”
ActiveCampaign vs. Klaviyo
Two full-featured, well-loved email marketing tools, there are no bad choices when choosing between ActiveCampaign and Klaviyo. However, there may be a slightly better option depending on your industry. The big deciding factor: do you sell hard goods or services?
Klaviyo was built to serve e-commerce stores while ActiveCampaign specializes in marketing automation for service-based business.
If you’re looking for the best marketing automation tool and aren’t too worried about customizations, ActiveCampaign is your best bet, said Yisrael Segall, senior marketing consultant at Geffen Resources.
A customer experience and engagement tool first and ecommerce tool second, ActiveCampaign offers more automation features than Klaviyo.
Like Klaviyo, ActiveCampaign includes all major integrations and custom automations — like the lead generation magnet delivery one diagrammed below — are its bread and butter.
Custom ActiveCampaign lead magnet delivery automation example:
Capable of nearly every automation imaginable — from mapping (shown above) to sales (CRM), dynamic, start-and-stop automations — ActiveCampaign is a system junkie’s dream come true.
Similar to the Mailchimp-Klaviyo comparison, ActiveCampaign’s $9 per month for 500 subscribers plan makes it cheaper to get started. That said, you’ll pay more than six times more for advanced features like performance reporting, attribution and A/B testing with ActiveCampaign.
“Klaviyo for ecom, ActiveCampaign for everything else,” Deep3 growth consultant (and eCommerce aficionado) Bayo Dele told MarketerHire.
“Klaviyo for ecom, ActiveCampaign for everything else.”
Why? Klaviyo has superior segmentation, he explained, but ActiveCampaign’s intuitive design and robust marketing automation make it a great choice for “virtually everything else.”
Validity vs. GlockApps
An enterprise-level product, Validity monitors blacklists and predicts inbox (and spam) placement. GlockApps is a simplified version of Validity that’s made it easier for non-specialists to tackle email deliverability challenges.
Though it doesn’t have all the premium features Validity does, like automatically delivering to top Verizon Media inbox (Yahoo, AOL, Verizon.net, ATT.net, etc.) positions the moment mailbox users are active, GlockApps is a close runner up. It offers email spam tests, DMARC messages and IP reputation monitors.
GlockApps doesn’t have a minimum number of users to get started, and lets you get started for $59 per month.
Validity requires a 10-user minimum, but gives you access to their whole suite of products — for $1,200 per month ($120 per user). That’s a good deal for enterprises, but GlockApps pricing makes more sense for everyone else.
“[F]rom my conversations with other email marketing experts (particularly in the retail space) Validity is still #1,” said Nielsen.
“[F]rom my conversations with other email marketing experts (particularly in the retail space) Validity is still #1.”
However, consultants and startups should go with GlockApps as buying under 10 licenses of Validity isn’t an option.
3 email marketing tools on the rise in 2021
Since the pandemic started, newsletter publishing platform Substack has doubled its users. It’s just one of the up-and-coming email tools seeing and solving big gaps in the market.
Ideal for: Soloprenuers, bloggers and freelancers.
Pricing: 10% fee on all paying subscribers.
Writers seem to agree. Substack enables them to get paid more and work more flexibly.
“I’m working less, and I get to write whatever I want. Isn’t that kind of the dream?” Haley Nahman, writer of Substack newsletter Maybe Baby, told The New Yorker.
“I’m working less, and I get to write whatever I want. Isn’t that kind of the dream?”
But it’s… also an email tool. Substack remains the easiest — and most popular — way to launch a paid email newsletter as a solopreneur. By capturing payment and simplifying sends, it reduced newsletter ownership to writing with a Medium-esque email editor and restricted HTML/CSS template.
Ideal for: E-commerce
Pricing: Paid plans start at $15 per month
Privy is an e-commerce pop-up software built to increase email signups. But Melanie Balke, CEO and Founder at The Email Marketers, says that description doesn’t quite do it justice.
“Privy is more than just a pop-up software.”
“Privy is more than just a pop-up software,” said Balke. “You can utilize their platform intelligently to capture emails, but also to upsell customers, increase average order value, cross-sell relevant products in cart and more.”
Ideal for: Small businesses and creators
Pricing: Starts at $25 per month
An advanced bookmarking tool built for email, Curated helps newsletter creators collect and curate links for their newsletters then self-publish and archive each issue on a custom website. It also helps optimize design for popular email clients, so writers don’t have to mess with technical design elements.
While the new brand is still working on more seamless integrations with ESPs, they’re already Pocket for newsletters and a potential Substack competitor with a Stripe payment integration coming soon.
Email marketing tools — and demand for them — will keep growing
“With better AI, data and technology, we will see a lot more functionality on ESPs that will make personalization, segmentation, testing, and deliverability opportunities bigger and better than ever,” predicted Vitale.
“With better AI, data and technology, we will see a lot more functionality on ESPs that will make personalization, segmentation, testing, and deliverability opportunities bigger and better than ever.”
In other words, as email marketing continues to mature, it will deliver more than emails. Marketers will collect more relevant data and make better strategic decisions with better email marketing solutions.
Better data will lead to more personalized — not just customized — emails, according to Vitale.
No one’s impressed by email marketers addressing them by name or sending them an automated welcome email. But, learning from the early success of product-recommendation quizzes in e-commerce, email marketers are beginning to provide more relevant, useful product suggestions based on recent buying behavior:
“Whether it's capitalizing on STO [send time optimization], dynamic content, A/B testing, or new tech abilities — like featuring videos or live updates in the email — all of these capabilities are going to take typical email marketing practices to the next level,” predicted Vitale.