Today I had my colleague and new partner Mark Colgan on to discuss options and best practices for creating scalable marketing automation systems. Mark has spent 10 years building Tech Stacks for companies globally, so he’s a great co-host for this episode.
Mark and I are going to [hopefully] provide you with a better understanding of some of the day-to-day issues that our clients and their teams face around automation, as well suggestions of how these can be overcome.
Here’s the full recording (see below for the solution):
Acquiring the Necessary Skills for Today’s Climate
The number of SaaS products has doubled since 2016 creating more needs for integrations and obviously more complexity choosing the best tools for your needs. This also means professionals in marketing automation have to work with a much steeper learning curve – especially when it comes to choosing how to connect their stack.
New options around API integrators will be mentioned lower in this article.
If we stay on this trajectory, the number of new SaaS on the market will double again soon. There has never been a bigger need for what we’re about to discuss.
Democratization and “Citizen Integrators”
The good news is that marketing automation platforms have become more democratized and flexible. Infusionsoft was one of the first to democratize best practices from other apps and showcase how to incorporate them into a holistic tech stack. And Zapier paved the way for ‘citizen integrators’ to be able to create the stack of their dreams using only the best tools for each job. Finally, as APIs become more robust and documentation is easier to follow, product/engineering teams will have an easier time creating two-way syncs between their tools.
The cost of actually setting up these systems is also going down – both in terms of requirements around ‘specialists’ as well as the actual fees the platform charges (monthly fees are trending down and setup assistance is free in most cases).
Yet, the difficulty still lies in making sure your team is starting with the strategy and an understanding of where the data will be generated (marketing channels + partnerships + sales) before building the system.
The biggest takeaway here is to work with g here is the democratization of your stack which is easier today than it was in the past.
Choosing the Right Data Platform
Accurate data is the lifeblood in which your company will thrive. Choosing a data platform and analytics system that not only tracks what you have now but also moves with you if you were to select a new product, is incredibly important.
While you can feasibly swap out your chat tools, ESP, even your CRM, you do not want to change your event tracking software built into your app, change cleansing/enrichment automation systems, or move between cloud storage providers.
* Look at Simondata.com or Clevertab.com for all-in-one event tracking, analytics and messaging.
Regarding mapping data between apps, or between your app and other apps you use, there are now amazing saas companies to leverage for all your connection needs. Some can be both the flow builder for your automations between apps, as well as the connection between your tool and all others.
* Check out Hull.io, Integry.io and Blendr.io to sync up your data layers.
Blendr and Integry can provide white label integrations (unbranded and native to your apps UI/UX) between your app and the hundreds of tools your customers need to integrate with.
Automation for Two-Sided Marketplaces
If you run a marketplace, you need to set up your CRM, tracking and messaging systems to handle multiple customer types.
A two-sided marketplace can be complex to automate. You have marketing and sales operations focused on either customer type, funnels for either, and messaging for either. This requires careful strategy and some experience to execute correctly.
* Check out kahuna.com for marketplace event tracking and messaging automation.
Should You Use Chat or Not?
Speaking to B2B saas and marketplace teams who believe they ‘need’ chat at their current stage to increase conversions or assist customers, I am here to tell you that’s not always the case.
There are a number of situations where adding chat to your site is not a good idea. In these scenarios, chat can actually decrease conversions:
- You add it to the wrong pages with the wrong level of intrusiveness and copy so it pulls prospects out of the funnel you did optimize for conversions. This cause more chats to happen, but fewer conversions overall.
- You do not have the personnel to reply fast enough (<30 seconds) to new chats which will frustrate your prospects.
- Chat is not integrated (two-way sync) with your CRM and email automation systems so you confuse return visitors who are already in your CRM.
Sometimes, the best first step with chat is to use whatever is integrated with your CRM to trigger chat to display messages/links/content which helps push prospects through your funnel. All you may ‘need’ to do is show them a message, and not actually chat. In this case, free/cheap chat options like the ones that come with your all-in-one marketing automation software (i.e Hubspot, Agilecrm), although awful, will suffice.
* Also look into user.com for a complete automation system starting with chat, and getchipbot.com as an FAQ-bot automation tool.
SalesForce offers a standard 12-month subscription, and you really need to make sure that you’ve made the right decision before signing up and committing to those terms because costs can quickly get out of control. Hubspot has a startup plan that’s free, and sounds amazing, but understand once you spend 6 months to a year customizing Hubspot, and their retail pricing kicks in, you will not be able to drop it easily and be forced to pay their $200+/mo per user pricing (which can be a huge pill to swallow if you’re not funded or profitable yet).
* user.com has startup pricing at $49/mo they do not advertise – just chat with them on the home page and say I sent you 🙂
This is where consultants and agencies come in handy – they typically have close relationships with the platforms and can get you any available breaks on pricing or better contract terms.
Another thing to be careful of is pricing models based on contact. If they do charge per contact, they will capture and store everyone as a contact, and do things like auto-sync with your email to bring in all of your gmail/outlook contacts right off the bat. It’s very hard to avoid this pricing model in marketing automation, so make sure you do the math correctly, sync only what you need, and clean your data. If you have a marketplace or are B2C, be extra cognizant of total contacts you will have at scale. This is how Intercom gets so costly so quickly.
We mentioned that the industry is rapidly expanding so seek software advice from those who are platform agnostic and have done a number of builds very recently.
Sign-Blindness in Automation
Customers are having to hit the ‘X’ more often than ever. They see so many chat popups and desktop notifications during their day they become numb to it. Understand this when you are creating your automated touchpoints / messages.
‘Less is more’ is a great adage to use here. I recently interviewed the VP of Marketing at Lessonly who told me they don’t send customers/prospects emails unless they ask. They rarely email anyone in their system.
While this may be extreme, it’s better to hit prospects (especially) with valuable content less often than to bombard them with multiple types of messages and notifications that only force them to unsubscribe or block. Instead of thinking what the best message to trigger, serve them a unique experience and spend more time considering pull marketing efforts to draw their attention back to your funnel or dashboard without having to beg.
Strategy First, Then Stack Choice / Development
After you have worked your ass off getting your product done and have been leaning on a free Hubspot or SFIQ account to manage early adopter, it’s time to seriously consider the stack you will scale with. The wrong approach (I’ve seen most often) is to bolt on tools as you grow and begin to require that tool creating a suboptimal and fragile marketing stack.
If you keep adding tools based on the pain point of that week / month / year, you’re going to be left with a bloated system and possibly poor customer experience.
Instead, before you ramp up resources around faster expansion (launching a new market, hiring your first salespeople, ad spend, PR…), take another look at your marketing and sales system infrastructure:
- Start with the analysis of where sales, marketing, and partnership operations are going to push data through your stack.
- Create user journeys, ICP analysis, content calendars… based on the level of operations you predict.
- Then, do a thorough scrum of your current hub tool(s) (like your CRM or automation saas) at scale – when you have the contacts and admins you will have 3 years from now.
- Determine the best way to integrate your stack using a third party so your engineers can continue focusing on the product on not API integrations. Look at connection platforms like Blendr.io
- DON’T shop for tools individually. Shop for a holistic system. Check out some marketing stacks from top companies.
- Also, look at where the communication sits under marketing, under sales, and under customer success. Create the proper setup sending addresses.
- Finally, consider reporting and future data infrastructure with enrichment, mapping, and blending. Ask your analytics tools options if they have any restrictions around data.
You need a system to support your strategy. So if you do nothing else, just make sure you don’t start by shopping for tools.
Hiring a Contractor to Build Your Marketing Automation
Contractors offer fantastic flexibility and affordability when you need help with a certain section of the thing that you’re trying to achieve. Although more difficult to find someone capable, I have also employed contractors to manage an entire aspect of the strategy and be responsible for their own sub-contractors.
The downsides of using contractors are:
- They often don’t have the team behind them to support your needs.
- They’re not available to support you with the same ongoing basis that they were working with you previously.
- Contractors usually do not have the 30,000-foot view of the overall strategy of your business.
- They do not have a lot at stake, which means they can vanish or lose focus without concern for their brand.
So, during the strategy and setup phases, do not look to individual contractors.
Instead, wait until your system is structured, your strategy is done, then share the strategy and designate contractors to fill the gaps in completing the system – i.e. connecting APIs, copywriting messaging, designing templates/landing pages… This ensures your small team (we’re still talking to early-stage startups) is focused on the larger aspects of the strategy and not what mundane tasks.
Hiring an Agency
Agencies can take on more responsibility than contractors in building and managing your marketing automation system.
There are a number of agencies specializing in upstream automation tools like Marketo, Salesforce, Eloqua… Which is a pro and a con. If you are one of the many startups needing an agile system that’s scalable and affordable, you will be hard-pressed to find an agency experienced in these tools.
The downsides of using agencies:
Agencies will typically provide either (a) marketing services or (b) technical build services. It’s rare to find one which can offer both, let alone well. And if they do offer both, those I know of are not software agnostic – they will push you towards the system they support.
They are fairly one-sided in aggregate. They focus on upstream toolsets and marketing stack. So your Marquette owes your Salesforce sometimes HubSpot, Eloqua, Etc. They will focus on those tools that are built for Enterprise because that’s where the money is. So it’s very tough for a start-up to get involved in an agency.
Typically they are domain experts with a deep understanding of a few tools/stacks. And, most will focus on enterprise software – Salesforce, Marketo, Eloqua… because these are very difficult for teams to build-out themselves.
So, for the audience we’re talking to in this article (startups who have not yet begun to scale), our suggestion is to hire an agency if/when you have created your strategy and nailed-down your stack, AND there is an agency you can afford specializing in the stack you’ve chosen.
Hiring or Using Internal Resources Exclusively
At the time of writing this, there were 1100+ jobs on LinkedIn alone for “Marketing Automation Specialist”. These are companies looking to hire a full-time employee whose sole task is to build and manage the marketing automation system.
This role will become more and more important as companies rely heavily on automation.
The downside to hiring a specialist is of course if/when you change tools and that person has been exclusive to your former tools so they are instantly obsolete.
Alternatively, companies will peel off a lot of development or product team bandwidth, marketing team bandwidth, and the CEO will sometimes be a big part of these builds to ‘save money’.
The downside to using your current team is two-fold;
- Your current team should be focused on product and growth. Not on reading docs, building custom API connectors, creating robust user journeys and messaging sequences…
- It will end up costing you more in aggregate. Your current team will not be the best at all aspects of the build. And in this reality, the time they take either learning to do the best job or failing and in turn costing the company revenue, will be more expensive then if you hired out.
I have partnered with a colleague (Mark Colgan) who is an expert in the tools I am least familiar with to deliver the following program for companies with a sales model in need of marketing technology and growth strategy.
From our combined experience we have developed a 9-point roadmap that is consistent across each tier. This roadmap ensures that we are aligned with the delivery of this program and that our focus is on the key revenue-generating activities throughout.
The main goal is to put participants in a position where they can start to scale by focusing on building infrastructure (stack, dashboards, copy, training…), putting processes into place, and training the teams to operate these before we’re done
- Identify and create a new channel / funnel / system for user acquisition
- and increase ROI from your current channels.
- Optimize your sales processes and outbound campaigns to increase sales and reduce the time it takes to close opportunities
- Identify the correct partnership strategy to enable revenue growth through partner channels.
- affiliate, distribution, affinity
For each tier the process looks like:
- Company overview (processes, team, activity to date)
- Setup – PM/Portal, marketing@ email etc…
- ICP / Buyer Persona
- Competitive landscape
- User journey map/flow
- Channel selection
- Client to purchase
- Playbook setup
- SPF records
- CRM customization backlog
- Audiences in ad accounts
- Data scrapes / enrichment
- Best practices
- Support (Zapier, Leadsbridge, Blendr)
- Testing platform choice
- Structured AB and Splits
- Budgeting for tests
- Post-positive tests
- Client sets pacing
- Templates and docs organized into a folder
- Final Q/A and full-system review
Planning stages include:
- Persona / ICP diligence
- User journey mapping
- Acquisition / Demand Generation channels
- Scalable Technology stack (AARRR)
- Resource planning
Build stages are:
- Foundations of the stack
- Test & QA
- BAU Activity
- Growth experiments / Campaigns (inbound)
- Sales Enablement (outbound)
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