Comparing Marketing Automation Platforms - Pardot vs Marketo

PUBLISHED: 10/14/2020

Pardot? Or Marketo? Which should you choose?

The old adage, “people buy from those they know, like, and trust” is true. A good relationship with a salesperson goes a long way and can influence your purchasing decision. But remember too, a product will always shine during the sales pitch. It’s after the sale is over when the reality of your decision kicks in.

With that being said, this guide is intended to help you make a more informed purchasing decision between marketing automation platforms (MAP) Pardot and Marketo.


A MAP is a big investment, not only in the software cost but the time and resources an organization will put into the implementation and ongoing maintenance, not to mention whether or not its performance will meet your expectations. Choosing wisely from the start can save you time, frustration, and a potential migration to a new platform down the road.

For the purpose of this guide, we review only the features and not the costs, because if the features aren’t sufficient, then the cost is irrelevant. Additionally, using price as a reason to choose one platform over another can be a costly mistake.


As you’ll see in this guide, Pardot and Marketo have similarities but also significant differentiators—  and those differences can amount to more than you may realize. Let’s dig in.


Basic Functionality – The Similarities


When looking at both Marketo and Pardot side-by-side, they appear similar. And to some extent, they are. Both platforms, of course, are designed to help organizations execute, manage, and measure multi-channel marketing campaigns and track prospects throughout the buying cycle.

Functionalities common to both platforms:


  • Email Marketing
  • Engagement and Nurturing Programs
  • Lead Scoring
  • Prospect Tracking
  • Segmentation
  • Social Marketing
  • Website Visitor Tracking
  • Analytics and ROI Tracking
  • CRM Integration
  • Third-party Native Connectors


On the surface, both Pardot and Marketo have commonalities and appear to meet basic marketing automation objectives. But do they?

How Marketo and Pardot Differ


Choosing one platform over another is often based on core functionalities, but it’s the subtle, or many times, hidden differences that greatly impact whether your marketing automation platform will be able to accomplish your desired outcomes and how efficiently (and effectively) your marketing team operates.


As an example, ease of platform use may be initially attractive, although a simpler platform may also mean less sophistication to accomplish more complex tasks, thereby limiting your capabilities as your organization grows and scales.


Let’s break down a few specifics to consider— features not always covered in the sales process or included in product brochures.


Automation Rules


Automation rules are the engine of your marketing automation platform, and allow you to perform specific actions based on the criteria you stipulate. Marketing automation rules are typically used for managing data, creating tasks, sending alerts, and assigning leads.


This is one of the areas where Marketo and Pardot greatly differ, so you’ll need to carefully consider how you’ll be using your marketing automation platform, now and as your marketing maturity advances.

Examples of how automation rules are used:

Customized Follow Up


Scenario 1: A prospect downloads and views a video on your website and you want to wait 2 hours after the video play to email a complimentary ebook, to further engage the prospect. 


  • Pardot: Automation rules and completion actions do not have wait steps.  Engagement programs have a 1-day minimum, so your desired action is not easily accomplished without workarounds or hacks.
  • Marketo: Wait flow steps are standard, allowing you to easily send the secondary email. 

Scenario 2: You want to send an email to anyone who filled out a specific form in the last 2 days. 


  • Pardot: You will need to date/time stamp that form into a custom field, as Pardot automation rules only look at anyone who completed the form (batch) or at the time of submission. Pardot does not look at the submission date on form submissions, emails, or web pages. Automation rules and completion actions are ineffective here too, as they either run in real-time (at qualification) or when there is processing time, making scheduling difficult.
  • Marketo: Easily accomplished with wait flow steps.

Data Management 


The scenario: Let’s suppose you want to run a nightly campaign for state/country normalization, evaluating records who have state abbreviations, translating them to full spelling. 


  • Pardot: The process in Pardot would include building an engagement program for each state value to change or building an automation rule for each state that was an abbreviation.
  • Marketo: Marketo offers a much more direct option: create one smart campaign with multiple-choice steps.


Automation Rule Limitations


All marketing automation platforms come with certain out-of-the-box features; automation rules enable a marketer to customize the platform to meet specific organizational needs and objectives. As you advance and grow with marketing automation, it’s not uncommon to create more rules— be sure to understand your options and limitations between Marketo and Pardot upfront.

  • Pardot: Rules are limited per your contract level. All rules— drafts, active and paused— count toward your limit. Additional rules are available for an additional cost. Additionally, Pardot automation rules lack advanced filtering as well as choice-based logic for more advanced builds.
  • Marketo: Unlimited rules, regardless of contract level.


File Storage


Every marketing automation platform comes with file hosting, typically used for hosting content assets, such as email images or .pdf content. File storage limits will vary by platform and contract level, which means depending on how many images you have, their size, and your storage maximums, you may need to actively manage your assets to stay within your limits or upgrade to increase your capacity. Here’s how Marketo and Pardot compare:

  • Pardot: 100 MB for the lowest plan up to 10 GB for the higher plan. Additional storage is available for an additional cost.
  • Marketo: Unlimited/no charge for file storage, regardless of contract level.



Tokens aren’t essential to how a marketing automation platform functions but are a key component for the efficiency of those using it. Tokens are editable variables and eliminate repetitively and manually keying the same data point. Additionally, using tokens can reduce program build times by as much as 50%.

As an example, let’s say you’re doing the same event in 15 different cities. The difference between the events might only be “Location”, “Start Time”, “End Time”, “Hero Image”, etc.


These data values are included in many program assets, such as invitation emails, landing pages, registration confirmation pages, etc.— wouldn’t it be nice to copy/clone/duplicate an event program and only change those variables that are different instead of building each asset from scratch for each individual city?


Tokens are what enable these types of efficiencies and if you’ve never used marketing automation before, you will absolutely use them more than you might initially expect. How the two platforms compare:

  • Pardot: No tokens or similar feature is available.
  • Marketo: Tokens are a standard, unlimited feature.

Global Forms


The benefit to global forms is much like tokens— they improve staff efficiency and save build time as well as standardize data collection. Using a global form allows a team to create one form, then reuse it across web properties/landing pages. Updates are also easily accomplished with a single effort vs. manually updating every occurrence. But, how Marketo and Pardot handle global forms are very different.

  • Pardot: Cannot dynamically manage form completion actions; multiple automations are required to support follow-up actions based on the specific form completed.
  • Marketo: Global forms and dynamic completion actions are standard features.

Global forms are tremendously impactful for marketers, and the use cases for them are abundant. Organizations that have multiple products or higher education institutions are prime use case examples. To illustrate: if you have a 150-course catalog, and a web visitor requests information on multiple courses, in Pardot, this would require 150 emails and 150 forms. But in Marketo, you can accomplish the same thing with just one email and one form, using tokenized programs.

API Calls and Webhooks


Every time your marketing automation system accesses data from your CRM, it uses either an API call or a webhook to sync the two systems. Webhooks function similarly to an API call and can help to stretch your API allotment, which is typically managed across an organization.


If, however, your marketing automation platform is using excessive API calls resulting in organizational overages, it can result in incremental costs. How the two systems compare:


  • Pardot: Zero API calls for the lowest plan up to 100,000/day for the highest plan. No webhooks or similar feature is available.
  • Marketo: 50,000 API calls/day for all plans. Webhooks are a standard feature.

Counting and Tallying

This one might sound basic on the surface, but tallying is another significant differentiator between Marketo and Pardot. As marketers, we know there’s a big difference between an email being opened once versus being opened eleven times, which may indicate the email has been forwarded. And, this information will absolutely impact what you do with that lead.

Counting and tallying are what allow marketers to track repeat behaviors, such as multiple visits to your website in a single day, multiple clicks within an email, repeat visits to specific pages of your website within a short time period— indicators a lead may be ready to make a purchase.


If tracking this nuanced customer behavior is part of your strategy, only one of the platforms will easily support your objective.

  • Pardot: No tallying or counting capabilities built-in; requires workarounds to set-up.
  • Marketo: Tallying and counting capabilities are standard.

Automated Actions


Automated actions are used to automatically send messages and control the user experience, based on the behavioral activity of your prospect, customer, or anonymous web visitor. As an example, a prospect downloads a white paper; it’s common practice to send a confirmation email.


Additionally, your sales team may also want an automated email sent a short period later. (After all, no one wants to feel like their every action is being watched!) Automated actions are the driving force behind both operations, but how Marketo and Pardot handle them is wildly different.

  • Pardot: Pardot has “completion actions” and they are tied to a form completion. Meaning, after a form is filled out, the action you’ve defined immediately happens. Delayed actions require adding a tag to your form and building an automation rule or creating a wait step in Engagement Studio.
  • Marketo: Marketo has extensive and flexible automated workflows that aren’t restricted to form fills or time sequences, giving marketers dynamic and virtually unlimited options. This is a major advantage over Pardot.

Platform Implementation


Of course, when purchasing a marketing automation platform, you want to know how easy it is to set up and how quickly before you can send your first email. Using an agency partner for either platform is best practice, to ensure your foundational framework is solid and reliable, and to jumpstart your success.

  • Pardot: Setup assistant is standard with all levels. An agency partner is recommended for platform migration.
  • Marketo: A Marketo agency partner is recommended for implementation and platform migration, but consulting services are also available directly from Adobe.

A Comprehensive Comparison of Pardot vs. Marketo


Now that we’ve highlighted a few of the operational similarities and differences, let’s take a look at how the features compare, per the sales materials produced by each company.

Note both Pardot and Marketo have one higher tier— Pardot’s Premium and Marketo’s Enterprise level. For more information on either, please contact your account representative.

Pardot vs. Marketo FeaturesThe scenario: Let’s suppose you want to run a nightly campaign for state/country normalization, evaluating records who have state abbreviations, translating them to full spelling. 

The scenario: Let’s suppose you want to run a nightly campaign for state/country normalization, evaluating records who have state abbreviations, translating them to full spelling. 


Pardot vs. Marketo Features


User Reviews


Before making your investment, it’s well worth your time to read the comments of actual users of the two platforms. Of course, any product will have its advocates and critics. As you read the comments, look for common trends as well as the recency of the reviews. G2, the world’s largest review site, also provides a comparative breakdown of features and user satisfaction.

We’ll give you a summary of notable variances here but, again, encourage you to read the complete comparison as well as actual user comments on G2.

Total reviewers


  • Marketo: 2,110, with an average of 4.1 stars out of 5
  • Pardot: 1,725, with an average of 3.9 stars out of 5


Reviewers by Company Size


  • Pardot is clearly used by more SMBs, 33.7% vs. Marketo’s 17.5%
  • Mid-Market adoption is similar between the two platforms, with Marketo at 57.2% and Pardot at 54.7%
  • Enterprise company adoption is another differentiator with Marketo dominating the review category: 25% vs. 11.6% for Pardot.




  • Ease of use ratings slightly favor Pardot, with a 7.5-star rating and over 1,300 reviews vs. Marketo’s 7.1-star rating and over 1,800 reviews.
  • Marketo dominates the ratings for email marketing, online marketing, lead management, campaign management, social, and reporting and analytics.


Most significant variances:


  • Marketing Lead Database Management: Marketo comes out on top, with an overall higher score and more reviews: 8.5 stars and 1,055 reviews vs. Pardot’s 8.0 stars and 964 reviews.
  • Program Management: Again, Marketo is the winner here with 8.3 stars and over 1,300 reviews vs. Pardot’s 7.6 stars and 800 reviews.
  • Platform Customization: Pardot lags significantly in this area, with only 6.8 stars and 569 reviews vs. Marketo’s 7.6 stars and 670 reviews.
  • Performance and Reliability: Pardot edges out Marketo slightly, with 8 stars and 605 reviews compared to Marketo’s 7.6 stars and 671 reviews.
  • Meets Overall Requirements: Marketo wins this one, with 8.3 stars and 1,853 reviews vs. Pardot’s 7.9-star rating and 1,354 reviews.


Lastly— the Financial Discussion


Your marketing investment is much more than the price of a marketing automation platform. We encourage you to focus on the features and if the marketing automation platform you’re considering will support your marketing objectives.


As you enter financial discussions, remember too, there is a difference between price and cost. Price is the dollar amount paid at the time of purchase, whereas cost is the investment you make to achieve a desired outcome in the future.

If your marketing automation platform doesn’t improve efficiency, enable better targeting and campaign insights, or isn’t structured to grow and scale with your organization, you’ll quickly outgrow it, resulting in lost time, missed opportunities— and expensive technology that can’t accomplish your objectives.

Basing your decision on the platform price is an expensive mistake. While Marketo may have a higher price than Pardot in many cases, Marketo’s cost, when compared against the return it delivers, is undoubtedly far lower than that of Pardot’s.


Carefully consider the operational differences and the outcomes you’re trying to achieve, because at the end of the day, it’s the outcome that will determine your ROI, and it’s ROI that matters the most.