Want to provide a better experience for your prospects and customers, and make your work life a little more efficient at the same time? That’s the dream behind marketing automation. It’s about delivering the right messages to the right people in the most effective way.
Today, we’re talking to Chris Davis, director of education at ActiveCampaign. He teaches us that marketing automation goes beyond email marketing and shares ideas on how you can improve your customer experience with automation.
Nathan: What if you could provide a better experience for your prospects and customers all while making your work life just a little bit more efficient? That’s the dream behind marketing automation. It’s all about delivering the right messages to the right people in the most effective way possible.
Chris Davis is the director of education at ActiveCampaign. In this episode of Actionable Marketing Podcast, he’s going to teach you that marketing automation goes well beyond email marketing alone. You’re about to learn what exactly marketing automation is, how Chris predicts it will change the future of marketing as we know it, and you’re going to get some examples of how it works too.
I’m Nathan from CoSchedule. I’m really excited about this episode, so let’s give you some ideas of how you can improve your customer experience via automation with Chris.
Chris, thanks a lot for being on the podcast today.
Chris: Thanks for having me, Nathan. I’m really excited to share some insight to your audience.
Nathan: Oh, absolutely. I know there’s going to tons of insight. Just to begin this, I was wondering if you could just tell me a little bit about ActiveCampaign and some of the stuff that you do there.
Chris: Yeah, sure. ActiveCampaign, we’re a marketing automation tool for small businesses but we’re not limited to marketing automation. We kind of penetrated the market and made a name for our self for our easy-to-use automation platform, specifically the automation builder, and how flexible and functional it is. But in the recent months actually, we’ve been realizing that our customers need optimization across the entire customer journey. From the time that stranger touches your website all the way to when they purchased, and are raving to their friends about the experience with your business, we want to aid and provide the small business owner with tools for every step along the way.
Nathan: What exactly are you working on there?
Chris: I’m the director of education and that encompasses all of the guided content. I call it guided content—any content that guides you to understanding. All of the content is created to facilitate understanding and I oversee the internal and external creation of that. A lot of the internal processes or projects that I work on is making sure all the teams are up to speed on not just the platform but the business used cases that our users have. So that when they have a support ticket or when they’re on a one-on-one call, or when they have a sales call they’re better equipped. Then externally, it’s making sure that I’m providing content whether it be guides, manuals, courses, for our users to learn at their pace, and get the understanding they need to leverage marketing automation in ActiveCampaign effectively in their business.
Nathan: We’re talking about guiding through understanding, I was wondering—just in your own words—what exactly is marketing automation to you?
Chris: I’m so excited you asked me this question and the reason being is because I set out on a journey a few years back, typing in Google the same question, and there was no solid response. I got some good responses from other platforms like Hubspot, I think Moz had a description of it, some I think it was a, I can’t remember the name of it, but it was like a SEO website. All of these definitions were really big. They used words like analytics, measures your marketing, and this, this, and that. I was like, “You know what, that’s fair, that’s okay.” But when I think of marketing automation, it’s the process of employing technology to execute your marketing strategy.
Everytime I say that, I like to emphasize the word employing because I like to teach people to train each tool that you’re going to use in your marketing like you would hiring a person. When you hire somebody, you have a job description, “Hey, I need you to be able to do this, do that, do this, and you have to have gone to school.” You need to have a history of performance. We should be doing the same to this tools, “Hey, platform. I need you to be able to do this, this, and that,” and let me look, “How long have you been around in the space?” Then if the tool meets your criteria, you say, “Hey, I’m going to hire you by paying my monthly subscription and you do this job for me.”
Nathan: Have you ever heard of Jobs to be Done?
Chris: I have. Somebody just told me on, I think this came up on one of my podcast episodes, but I can’t remember. Refresh my mind.
Nathan: It’s where basically we need to be thinking about hiring tools—like you were saying—to solve a specific problem for us, much like you would hire a person to work on a project for you. Everything you just said kind of iterates that.
Chris: Interesting. Now I have to check it out because this is the second time it’s been brought to me, so I’m going to check it out.
Nathan: Definitely look it up. You’ll dig it. Clayton Christensen from Harvard is the guy behind that idea and it’s just an amazing concept...
Nathan: I think you’d enjoy it.
Chris: Okay. Great.
Nathan: Let’s dig a little deeper into marketing automation, Chris. I totally get it, it’s the idea of tools to help us execute better as marketers, so why is it important—than ever before—for marketers like us to implement marketing automation?
Chris: What is driving the importance is the barrier of entry is dropping. I mean, in the last few years, it’s dropped exponentially and now it still remains lower and lower, day-by-day. You can start a business faster now than anytime in history. Since that barrier of entry is so low, it also lets you know that, “Hey, when you get started, you don’t have to have a team. You don’t have to have everything built out and people in place, so that you’re not stuck doing everything.” The result of that is you have a lot of business owners that start a business and they’re wearing all of the hats.
In the beginning, you’ve got all this passion and excitement, those hats aren’t heavy, but over time, it’s just like, “You know what, I’m tired. I’m tired of being the copywriter. I’m tired of being the PR. I’m tired of being all of these hats.” What the importance of implementing marketing automation is that it allows you to take off some of those hats. Now, it’s important to know, we don’t promote it at ActiveCampaign. I’ve never personally been an advocate of automating everything. When I say, “Take off hats,” some of those hats you’ll take off and automation will be able to handle and then some you’ll take off and people will be able to handle them. But the goal is to be able to do more of what you want to do in your business than what you have to do.
Nathan: Could you give me some examples of marketing automation and how might marketers use automation to help them?
Chris: If we start at the basics, the basics is someone fills out a form on your website and they get some follow-up. We’ve heard terms like drip email and all of that. You give away a PDF or some free offer and in exchange for their email, and then they start getting a series of emails. That’s email marketing, that’s like the gateway drug into marketing automation. But I’ll tell you what I’ve been seeing—a great trend. I love seeing this trend where people are really starting to realize that automation is so much bigger than just sending emails.
In fact, I tell people that your biggest mindset shift when it comes to marketing automation is to stop looking at your platform as a means of sending out emails and look at it as a means of collecting data. Now that I have data, we can stay true to the sole purpose of marketing automation which is to scale personalization and now I can talk to a thousand people and make them feel very individualized. What that looks like with marketing automation is using the data that you’ve captured and displaying it back to the user.
These are the easiest part in an email; first name in the email. But if you’re a little more savvy, you can merge even more personal data that you’ve collected which now brings us to, we’re like an email marketing and it’s like, “okay, that’s interesting. Keep going, Chris.” What marketing automation allows me to do—the biggest piece honestly, Nathan—is it allows me to sort my contacts or segment my contacts.
I can use marketing automation like ActiveCampaign, we have website tracking, we have a deal CRM where people can move deals through particular stages, forms that people submit, emails that people open—all of these is information that we’re capturing. Why are we capturing the information? To better sort and segment our contact database, so that when we reach out and touch them, it’s a very personalized touch whether it’s somebody on the phone call or through an email.
Nathan: You’ve been mentioning segmenting and personalization, one of the things that I wanted to ask you was, what sorts of tips or advice might you have for someone just beginning, what sorts of segmentation have you seen works really well for other marketers?
Chris: You know what, Nathan, this is something that is best practice. It’s so hard to do and you don’t appreciate that you did it until later on. If you’ve never done marketing automation–no, you know what, I won’t even say that. Anybody in business, this is a great exercise to go through and it really positions you to get the most out of any platform is—this is in terms of segmentation—is sit back before you do anything technical and define what those segments in your business are.
Now, granted the segments of today may grow and be different for the segments of tomorrow but the big piece is, “Who am I going to be talking to?” Because if you can prepare those segments before hand, when you get into the application, when you get into the actual process, you’ll now be able to more clearly define that path—that personal path—for each of those segments.
My recommendation when it comes to creating segments is to do it outside of the app. Everybody has at least two segments starting out; customers and non-customers. Those are your first two segments and within those segments you’ll have more. If you’re an ecommerce platform, you’re going to have more segments on your customer side based on your products and how they relate. If you’re more service-based, you’ll probably have more segments on the non-customer side so that you can sort who those people are and effectively sell and engage with them.
Nathan: Last time we had chatted you had mentioned that it’s hard for a lot of marketers to think beyond even a first email in the automated campaign. I was wondering why is that and how might you recommend get past that sort of challenge?
Chris: It’s tough. Here’s where I’m going to come down with empathy. This is not sympathy, this is empathy. I’ve been here. I’ve felt this. I know what this feels like. Nathan, when you think about it, simple things become complex when understanding isn’t in close proximity. It doesn’t matter how simple or complex it is, if I don’t have the understanding, it’s all complex. Why say that is because most businesses struggle with marketing, understanding marketing, and then a lot of businesses even more struggle with technology.
When it comes to something as simple as sending that first email, getting that first email out, what would that look like? What does marketing look like even beyond that? It’s not necessarily that they don’t know business, but because technology has introduced a barrier and they may not be short up in marketing, it’s affirming that they’re a lot more confused and lost than they really are. If there’s somebody listening and you felt you’re just like. “Oh, it’s just so hard, this stuff.” It’s because you’ve got these two forces against you.
The most important thing that we can do, Nathan, in this is to make sure that we keep things in its simple form. I don’t even think of emails as emails. That’s the first thing, actually, Nathan. The first thing is think of it as a message, “I need to send a message to someone.” When I was in highschool, how do we send messages? We wrote notes, fold them up, and then you pass it onto the person next to you and say, “Hey, give that to so and so.” It’s no different, Nathan, it’s no different. It’s just the means in which the message travels which is called a channel.
Now, I can say, “I need to write a message to all of the people who have filled out this interest form for my event. Because what I really want them to know is when the event starts in a couple before, I want to make sure that they have a checklist of things to bring because I want them to be prepared.” I essentially just outline a two-step email—follow-up, right? When they register for the event, I want to give them the information for the event, and then two days before the event, I want to send out a communication to help them better prepare for the event. Those are two emails but I thought of it as messaging, as message that I wanted to send. What that did was it helped me break the barrier of technology and really be confident in knowing that I know what to do.
Nathan: Since we’re talking just beyond even emails, something that I’m kind of wondering is what else might you be able to segment? Maybe on your website or even beyond thinking about automating things beyond just emails. How does marketing automation work beyond email?
Chris: We’re getting to the good stuff here, Nathan. When I think of email, I think of outbound efforts that the customer sees and experiences. That’s important because email marketing is all outbound efforts that are visible to the customer and experienced by the customer. When we get into marketing automation, we have that box checked but then, there’s something that the customer can experience but they can’t see, and that’s what I phrase as administrative automation. This us using automation to handle the processes internal to your business. Nobody sees them but the people on your team but guess what, your customers, your lead, your contacts, they experience them. What they experience is a more personalized journey.
We have one of our consultants is in the healthcare industry, and depending on your needs, based on your age, they will sell you a particular package. When you fill out a form and you’re selecting that radio button on what age you are, just collecting the preliminary data, guess what’s happening on the backend, Nathan? It’s being qualified by automation. Automation is saying “Hey, did they fill out this radio button? If so, contact so and so to reach out to him. If they fill out this option on the radio button, contact another person and reach out to them.”
The people that those inquiries are routed to internally are more prepared to speak to you specifically where you are. Now, you didn’t see that, you didn’t see that the automation was essentially acting as a facilitator of who gets what. But what you experiences was someone calling on the phone who knew exactly what you needed.
Nathan: If you fill out a form like that, an entire website could change dynamically based on your experience. I was just wondering if you could chime in on some of your input on that.
Chris: You’re really showing the visionary in you. Like when I stated earlier, the goal of marketing automation is to scale personalization. In that word, personalization, is the word personalize is I can’t get personal with somebody that I don’t know, like, and trust. That’s the whole process of getting personal—it’s marketing 101. But when I go to scale that personalization, it has to go beyond just email. There are people potentially engaging on your website more than they are with your emails. To be able to extend that personalization to the website, oh my goodness.
Listen, it did not use to be like this, Nathan, right? Dude, I remember when people were terrified of ordering off eBay. They thought that the second you put your credit card information online, somebody stealing that. They’re going to rob you. I remember those days. When PayPal came around, that was the first level of security. It was like, “Don’t buy on eBay unless you’re using PayPal.”
Now, we have seen a trend to where people would prefer to buy online before going in the store. People’s guards are down. They’re more willing to adapt or buy in to doing business online. But guess what, even though their guards are down and maybe a subconscious that their guards are down, what remains true, and what remains valuable is everybody still wants to be treated like a person; a human being. Personalize your talk with me. Don’t say, “Hey guy.” say, “Hi, Chris.” Don’t say, “Hey, you bought something yesterday.” Tell me exactly what I bought. That level of personalization is what’s going to set companies apart when it comes to the website.
When we think about, “Where is marketing automation going?” Absolutely, the scaling personalization is going to be the cornerstone of it. Now what we’re going to see is more platforms are allowing that personalization outbound. Whether it’s on social media or on your website, you’ll start seeing personal message to you whether it be in an image or in text or what not, that process of standing out from the crowd and feeling like an individual is going to be to our benefit as marketers.
Nathan: Even for marketers who’ve been in the industry for a while, marketing automation is used to an extent in lots of people think about it as email but it goes well beyond that. Chris, that kind of leads me into my last question for you. This stuff is pretty visionary—that’s what you were saying earlier—I’m wondering how you have seen a marketing team typically support this? How do they structure their team to support this sort of action? How do they collaborate on this sorts of campaigns? How do you see that all shaking out?
Chris: One of the things I’ve seen a lot of people try to do and fail—it hurts my heart everytime I see it—is this idea of outsourcing marketing. You just can’t. You can’t outsource marketing. This is nothing against agencies out there, but depending on how you’re growing your business and your marketing needs, there is a great chance that you’re going to need someone internal to your business that is involved in the day-to-day to really unleash your marketing.
When we think about how are those teams structured, you got to start with someone who is going to be able to handle the execution of your marketing. You’re going to need that and oftentimes, the person executing the marketing is not the person overseeing all of your marketing. You could have something as simple as like a director of marketing and then have a marketing automation specialist under them that handles all of that, and you may have a few marketing automation specialists.
Some other key team members you’d have is a copywriter. Don’t lean on your marketing automation specialist to also write the content of the emails that they’re setting up to go out. That’s better done by a copywriter who’s whole focus is messaging correctly to your audience. On top of that, you need a graphic designer and web developer. That’s just to make sure your web presence is together and that web developer and marketing specials, they’re going to have to talk intimately because that web developer is going to be the one responsible for putting the form on the website, making sure that the site tracking is activated, so that when they visit a particular pages on the site, you can track that back into ActiveCampaign and see that information.
Lastly, I would throw in there—we’ve got the web developer, the graphic designer, the copywriter, the marketing specialist—someone to oversee, we’ll say like a VP of marketing or a director of marketing that’s looking over all of it, engaging with other departments, and then the cherry on top would be the project manager. Listen, with all of these technical minds, it’s so easy for their heads to go down, and scope to creep, and deadlines to be missed, so the project manager alleviates the CEO from having to worry about if everything is on track. That project manager is what brings it all together and make sure that what we’re doing is timely and efficient.
Nathan: I think that’s great advice, Chris, and a great place to end this episode too. I just want to say thank you so much for being on the show today. This was awesome to learn and to be able to pick your brain on marketing automation.
Chris: Great. Thanks, Nathan for having me man. It was a blast.
Nathan is the head of marketing at CoSchedule. With the help of an awesome team, he’s helped CoSchedule attract more than 65 million marketers, convert 10 million email subscribers, and support 300,000 software users. Nathan has 15 years of proven corporate and startup marketing experience and continues to venture off the beaten path.When he’s not marketing, you’ll catch Nathan canoeing in the Boundary Waters or training for his next ultra marathon. Connect with Nathan on LinkedIn.