Modern  marketing involves seemingly endless amounts of data generated by a smorgasbord of  digital channels. In fact, the ocean of marketing data available is so vast that it's hard to know  what to focus on, particularly when a company is young. Fortunately, a wealth of inexpensive and easy-to-use cloud platforms exists to help sift through and make sense of all the noise. Take some pointers from Nikhil Hasija, CEO of Seattle-based Azuqua, a company helping businesses like General Motors, GE, and Starbucks connect cloud apps and data, doing things such as linking Twitter to Marketo to Salesforce to Zendesk to Jira. Here are his words regarding the best digital tools any company should start with.

Website Content Management System (CMS)

Every company needs a website, but it's amazing how many companies create a website without a content management system. There is absolutely no reason to waste precious resources updating website copy. I use  WordPress because it doesn't require engineering talent, there is a huge community of users to tap for help, it offers millions of themes to choose from, as well as a huge ecosystem of consultants, agencies, and developers.

Web Analytics

For most startups, the free tier of Google Analytics is enough. However, once you have more traffic, you may want to try advanced, yet more expensive, tracking tools like Kissmetrics, Mixpanel, Omniture, or Webtrends. No matter which tool you use, web analytics is absolutely critical for running experiments, and improving the impact of your content.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM)

If you have leads coming in, you need to start managing them.  Salesforce is the most common CRM system, but it has grown bloated over the years, to the point where it is actually pretty difficult for a startup to get it up and running. The good thing about Salesforce is that every sales and marketing person knows how to use it. The downside is that it's more complex than it needs to be. I'm a big fan of Pipedrive as an alternative.

Marketing Automation

Once you start spending money on acquiring leads through things like paid media or events, you'll want to track and optimize your spend to ensure those leads mature and drive revenue. This means you need a system to create landing pages and gate content, send out newsletters, and create nurture campaigns. If you are focused on email marketing and newsletters, tools like MailChimp, SendGrid, and Constant Contact will suffice. However, they don't really generate leads. Marketo or HubSpot are much better for this. The biggest issue many companies have with marketing automation is that managing the tool becomes a full-time job. Azuqua--my company--addresses this issue.

Design Tools

Every marketing team needs design work. Marketing is inherently visual, especially in the digital age. While larger companies have design teams dedicated to marketing collateral or agency vendors focused on creative, small teams need to do much of this in-house. Many teams still use Photoshop, but Sketch is quickly overtaking Photoshop in popularity with startups because it's lighter, easier to use, and covers the functionality that non-design professionals need 95 percent of the time. I also recommend Canva to easily create social media creative and Unsplash to find free, high-res stock images.

What marketing tools are your favorites, and why? Sound off in the comments.