At Catalyst, we are always on the hunt for newer, better, faster, more efficient tools. Finding the best plugins, apps, SaaS, etc. can be a job in itself, given there are so many startups creating newer, better, faster, more efficient tools for people like you and me.
We have a set of go-to tools that we use every day, and we also recommend to our clients when they ask us for advice on their tech stack. Here’s our list of tools we love and why.
We’re adept at using several marketing automation tools - Marketo, Pardot, ClickDimensions, Silverpop/IBM Marketing Cloud to name a few - but HubSpot stands above the rest. Heads above. And for many reasons. First and foremost it’s because of their CUSTOMER SERVICE. They will take your call day or night. Weekday or weekend. And their support is free. In addition to exceptional customer service, it’s so freaking simple. Kudos to the product development team, because this is the best marketing automation UI we’ve ever used. We also love the keyword research and SEO tools. The only downside to HubSpot is the database constraints. So the larger your database, the more you’ll have to spend.
This is a great tool for sending emails and building landing pages. It’s intuitive and easy to use, for the most part. While they have reporting functionality (we especially like the Lifecycle Report), we’ve found data inconsistencies. But we’ve been told these bugs are being fixed. They are integrated (and owned by) Salesforce, so it’s definitely worth a look if you’re already running Salesforce.
Our favorite part about Marketo is its ability to handle and clone complex campaigns. The system is robust and a bit complicated, so the learning curve can be steep.
We like MailChimp because it’s easy, intuitive and inexpensive (at times, free). It offers A/B testing capabilities, a wide range of email templates, straightforward web interface, built-in analytics, robust workflow process, powerful segmentation, responsive chat and email support and a free starting plan with reasonable rates as your list size increases.
Constant Contact is intuitive too, and for those that need an additional hand, they offer phone, chat and email support. You can deploy email marketing campaigns, surveys and polls, and social campaigns (for example, app for Facebook collects more email sign-ups and delivers trackable coupons).
We like this email address extracting tool the best because we have found it to be the most accurate. It’s not perfect, but it does provide a confidence rating telling you if there’s uncertainty. So if you’re wary, you discard the email addresses that have a low confidence percentage.
We have this app loaded on our browsers, but we find there isn’t a lot of data integrity. Because of that, we use this tool as a backup when Email Hunter gives us a low confidence percentage.
Website Traffic Tools
What we like about SumoMe is it provides an easy way for you to grow your opt-in email list. You don’t have to be a graphic designer and you don’t have to have HTML skills. You simply download the app and pick the pop-ups you want on your website. A word of caution - use popups sparingly. There are few things more annoying than a site riddled with popups.
This is an alternative to SumoMe, but it only works with WordPress websites. Plus it doesn’t have all of the bells and whistles as SumoMe.
Outreach and Salesloft SalesDialer
Both of these SaaS products take the repetition out of sales for sales teams. Here’s how they basically help your sales team. Once your sales team writes a series of emails (many people call this a sequence or a cadence), they can load them into the sales automation software. Both products give your sales team the ability to use dynamic fields so that each email can be personalized with the recipient’s first and last name, their company, industry, and other such relevant information. Once loaded, the sales team can then schedule the sequence to be sent starting on their preferred date and time, and then the subsequent emails can be sent at a specified pace. If the salesperson gets a response, that prospect can be automatically taken out of the sequence, and the salesperson will be notified. This makes it so much easier for the sales team. Salespeople also love the fact that they can gauge a prospect’s interest by tracking whether an email was opened or a URL was clicked on. As a bonus, they have great analytics so you can A/B test based on message effectiveness, time of day, day of week, etc. We’re big fans.
Email/Document Storage/Collaboration/General Office Tools
Google Apps for Work
Google Apps makes it so easy for small business owners like us to run our business every day. Google Hangouts for meetings and VoIp calls, Google Drive for file storage, and Google Slides for presentations so we can collaborate and build presentations together “live” even if we’re not in the same room, state, or country.
Content Quality Management
This tool is mainly for enterprises, but it’s worth noting. Acrolinx helps your writers be consistent with not only the same terminology (which is especially helpful for tech companies with a bazillion product names), but it also guides the writer’s tone of voice. This is amazing linguistic technology that helps companies speak on brand with one voice.
We heart Grammarly. If you don’t have this free app installed on your computer, you’re missing out. It’s 1000x better than Microsoft Word’s Spelling and Grammar check and it helps you adhere to those grammatical rules we’ve all forgotten. And if you’re competitive and like to play along with gamification, you get a weekly report telling you how awesome you are. Last week my vocabulary was “more dynamic (unique/total words) than 96% of Grammarly users.” That’s just bitchin’. (I wonder if that counts as a dynamic word?)
Web Analytics and Keyword Data
Thank you, Google, for offering this glorious FREE tool that is constantly tracking all of our web data. We are completely obsessed. And we are completely obsessed with monitoring it for our clients’ sites. The data continually shocks us. It makes us pivot every single week, which we see as a good thing.
This is a great tool for tracking your keywords and your competitors' keywords. You can run pretty robust reports that provide a lot of data. It’s worth the subscription if you’re managing a lot of keywords or if you’re managing a lot of sites.
You may have heard about the “Alexa Ranking.” In the simplest of terms, it’s a metric to show your site’s performance compared to all other sites on the web. This rank is important, but not terribly, especially if you’re just starting out. But what is important is the data this tool tracks. It’s a great tool to get intelligence on how people are coming to your site and your competitors’.
Did you ever think you could say you LOVE a conference calling service? Neither did we. But we LOVE Uberconference. First of all, it’s free. Which is great for a small business owners. Second - it’s EASY. You can use their call-in only feature, which works like a traditional conference call bridge, or you can call in through your computer. Participants can all share screens, mute themselves, mute others, and see who is sharing, muting, etc. There’s also a text chat feature which comes in handy when you don’t want to interrupt the speaker but have a question. They also have some fun “on hold” music that will make you smile.
GoToMeeting has come a long way. In the early 2000’s it was buggy. Now it’s highly functional and easy to use, although not very customizable.
This is another good webinar platform, but it costs more than some great free or low-cost options.
We like HootSuite. If you’re managing social media accounts on behalf of clients, or just for your own company, it makes it easy to collaborate with other team members, schedule posts ahead of time, and to measure engagement per post. You can also use it for social listening - so you really understand what people are saying about your brand or company.
Sprout Social is another great social media tool. The reporting and analytics are more sophisticated than HootSuite, so you can drill down into a little more detail, and we like the cleaner design.
Ever worked with a complicated, hard to use CRM? Many of us have, and we don’t need to name names. That’s why we’re fans of Pipedrive - if you’re a small business. It’s intuitive - loading lists, categorizing based on pretty much any kind of filter, and visualizing your sales funnel are all a snap with Pipedrive.
Microsoft Dynamics CRM
As with most Microsoft tools, this is just plain easy to use. Plus it interfaces with a lot of the Microsoft applications. So, cheers to easy, and cheers to easily integrated.
Okay, so this one was a little hard to put on the list. But it warrants its presence. It IS the CRM of all CRMs. But we do not recommend this for startups - it’s like using a sledgehammer when a hammer will do. This is a tool for the medium-sized companies and up, who have sales reps that are eager and willing to use a complex tool that will keep all of their stuff straight.
Want to create gorgeous visuals for your social media accounts, presentations, or blog headers? Try Canva. They have a free option but also a relatively low-cost option if you’re using it for work. There’s no need to learn photo editing or desktop publishing software. Canva is drag and drop, and they give you lots of beautiful inspiration if you’re looking for a template to use.
PicMonkey helps people who are not trained designers to edit photos. It’s a good free tool that’s more task-oriented, and less inspiration-oriented, than Canva.
Many web designers will say this is their website platform of choice, and there are so many tools that integrate with it. It’s often the best choice considering all of the other technologies a client is already using.
At Catalyst, we love Weebly because it’s great for startups who don’t have big budgets for custom web design. Weebly gives you beautiful template options, and then makes adding your own content an easy, drag and drop experience. It empowers our small clients because they can quickly and easily update menus, blogs, and content. Many companies will eventually grow out of this, so just know that you may need to upgrade at some point.
Project Management Tools
This is the poor man’s project management tool. It’s simple, intuitive, and the user interface is great. But this tool is not for complex projects that have a lot of resources and a lot of tasks.
We like Basecamp because it functions as a central repository for files associated with any/all of your projects, and so much (even email) can be managed within the app. However, it can be a bit clunky and if your email is tied to it, as you will get a lot of Basecamp-related emails that may feel repetitive if you are already up to speed from working within the app.
Got any other tools, apps, plugins that we should be using at Catalyst? Tell us about them in the comments. We’d love to hear from you!