Episode 3: The State of Marketing Automation with Kelly O'Connell

Episode 3: The State of Marketing Automation with Kelly O'Connell

Our Head of Customer Success, Kelly O'Connell, joins us to discuss the state of the industry.


In this episode, Kelly and Chris discuss common perceptions of marketing automation, as well as some of the latest industry trends. Do small and midsize businesses find marketing automation valuable? What advice should business owners adhere to if they want to use marketing automation software?
As the head of our customer success team, Kelly is on the front lines helping users get the most of our platform. Tune in for an exclusive, in-the-trenches take on marketing automation.
Chris Davis: Welcome to the ActiveCampaign podcast. I am your host Chris Davis, and today I’m excited to announce I have company. Kelly O’Connell, head of customer success here at ActiveCampaign. Kelly, how are you doing?
Kelly O’Connell: I’m great. How are you?
Chris Davis: I’m excited. We’re three episodes in already.
Kelly O’Connell: It’s crazy.
Chris Davis: Before we get started, Kelly, tell us a little bit about what you do here.
Kelly O’Connell: I [00:00:30] run the customer success team at ActiveCampaign. We work with tons and tons of users on helping them learn the platform, but, more importantly, learn how to use the platform the best way. We learn about their business, what their processes look like, what they’re currently doing, and then we help figure out new things that they can be doing, how to optimize things, what to analyze, and then what does that mean for them in the future.
Chris Davis: What’s [00:01:00] really interesting that I found about it is that it’s very proactive. You’re not waiting for an issue to occur. You’re actually reaching out … This is for anybody with a small business plan and above, right?
Kelly O’Connell: This is for anyone with an enterprise plan right now, and then we do work with quite a few small business plans. Small business plans get one one-on-one per calendar month, and those are with the customer success team.
Chris Davis: There it is.
Kelly O’Connell: [00:01:30] We try really hard to see what our customers are currently doing, and, even if they’re not talking to us, we really care about what they’re doing and if they’re doing it the right way. We try and keep them in the loop as much as possible.
Chris Davis: Absolutely. Which makes perfect sense because today’s episode is all about the state of marketing automation, so of course I could think of no better qualified interviewee than someone who’s [00:02:00] on the front line and engaging daily with our customers.
Kelly O’Connell: I’m honored.
Chris Davis: We’re glad to have you, Kelly. Selfishly, I’m glad to have you because the first couple podcasts have just been me.
Kelly O’Connell: I’m sure they’ve been delightful.
Chris Davis: Now we’ve got some variety. Let’s jump right into it. In your expert opinion, Kelly, what is the fate of marketing automation and, I guess I could be a little more descriptive, [00:02:30] the state of marketing automation for small and mid-sized businesses? What are you seeing out there?
Kelly O’Connell: From my experience, and I’ve been working with small to medium sized businesses for a couple years, but people are really starting to see the value out of it and to get value out of it if they’re using it the right way. Some companies may adopt marketing automation and maybe haven’t though things through all the way, [00:03:00] and so they don’t get as much value out of it.
There is an upfront investment you have to make, but those companies that have thought things through and really know how they want to help automate their operations and their marketing, they’re finding a ton of value out of it. They’re really starting to adopt it a lot more. I’ve seen companies, they’ve started small and now they’re starting to grow their automation, they’re starting to make them smarter and [00:03:30] starting to touch different aspects of automation, so the scoring and really diving into [crosstalk 00:03:37] and things like that.
Chris Davis: That’s exciting because it’s like technology, but it’s a different form of technology. As people are adapting to it … People are shopping online now more. You go years back and it was all, “Don’t put your credit card information out there.” Now you’re seeing the same thing with automation [00:04:00] is that before, “Don’t send that to everybody. It’ll seem canned and robotic.”
Kelly O’Connell: I think that’s because we come from the history of email marketing being batch and blast, and so you have to completely remove that from your way of thought and understand that, while we are automating processes, it’s making it more one to one. It’s taking away that I’m just going to send this irrelevant email [00:04:30] to everybody. You’re actually helping form better relationships by using automation.
Chris Davis: I think the best terminology, I forget where I heard it from, was hope marketing. You do something and you just cross your fingers and just hope that it worked. That’s huge because I know personalizing the customer journey was a [00:05:00] huge question. If I automate, can I still … People need to feel the personal, human touch from me. I can’t automate yet. Now we’re seeing that shift as, of course, people start, as you alluded to, using it more accurately in their business.
Kelly O’Connell: I think that’s a big point is that we at ActiveCampaign, we don’t promote automating everything. You don’t want to automate every single touchpoint, [00:05:30] but you want to make sure that you’re giving yourself enough time to form relationships and to be personal with the people that it’s worth your time to do so. Marketing automation helps you figure out this is someone that I should be reaching out to personally and I can let automation handle this other piece of the conversation.
Chris Davis: Whenever you do have to implement the human touch, you get the most bang for your [00:06:00] time, right?
Kelly O’Connell: Exactly.
Chris Davis: Absolutely. I agree. It’s one of the reasons why we exist as a platform. We know it’s valuable. Internally, we’re all champions and advocates of the space itself, but what would you say are some of the top challenges you’re seeing, businesses that say, “I get it. I need to embrace marketing automation. Let’s do it?” What are some of the initial challenges you’re seeing?
Kelly O’Connell: [00:06:30] I think the biggest one is having that plan. You can’t build something out, especially something that’s going to touch every piece of the customer lifecycle, without knowing what that lifecycle looks like. Understanding what is the lifecycle, understanding what your processes are that live on top of that lifecycle, and then understanding what the goal is.
Chris Davis: The goal. There’s that [00:07:00] word.
Kelly O’Connell: You can talk about your lifecycle left and right and you can talk about what you do left and right and you can automate all of that, but if you don’t understand what you’re trying to accomplish…
Chris Davis: To what end.
Kelly O’Connell: Then you don’t know what’s working and what’s not. I think that’s one of the biggest things, and that can take up some time at the beginning and it seems like you’re just running around in circles, having these conversations. You need to get marketing and sales and operations all on the same page [crosstalk 00:07:30] [00:07:30] all that.
Chris Davis: You’re right. It’s paying homage to Stephen Covey. Beginning with the end in mind, understand your goal, and understand all the stages required for a lead to reach that goal, as well as the processes in each stage required.
Kelly O’Connell: I think that’s something that … When we’re talking about people starting to use automation a lot more, [00:08:00] a ton of people are using automation for their marketing, but not as many people are starting yet to think about how to automate their processes, their operations. That’s a huge opportunity. Map out the lifecycle, but also map out what you do in each of those stages.
Chris Davis: Don’t be so external-heavy that you neglect the internal power of automation as well. [00:08:30] I agree. It’s one of those things that I … A lot of times when I talk to people it’s like sports; nobody really wants to watch anybody practice. You really don’t want to watch them eat. You don’t want to watch any of that. You just want to see them score. You want the highlights. In automation, the highlights are growing your list, making money, open rates and click-throughs, but the practice is [00:09:00] exactly what you’re saying: taking the upfront time to invest in planning everything out.
Kelly O’Connell: Exactly. I think that poses its own problem. I’ve seen some businesses face the challenge where they do all of that, they map it out, and then they want to build all of that today. I think one of the challenges is think about what is the minimum viable product, what can we do [00:09:30] right now that we’re doing day in, day out that we can automate, and then scale from there. One of my customers, I stole it from him, he likes to say, “Progress over perfection.” Get something running, turn it on, have it working, and then say, “Now what am I spending all of my time doing?,” and then build on that.
Chris Davis: Saying that, I’m going to go off the script here. I just thought of something. [00:10:00] While we’re talking about the state of marketing automation, where we’ve come from and where we’re at today, I remember … My roots come from another platform, Infusionsoft, and in that platform, when I was getting certified, it was all about building big, fancy, complex automation in one canvas. We’ve got all of these lines and stuff starts look like a spider web, you take a screenshot, share it online and people are like, “Can [00:10:30] I hire you?!” I’m realizing that we are, slowly, the intelligent marketers are migrating away from that and they’re becoming more modular with how they’re building out. Are you seeing the same trend?
Kelly O’Connell: Yeah. I call it chunkifying. Especially for teams that have multiple people working in the platform or for teams that iterate on what they’re building, [00:11:00] having a huge automation that has lines going everywhere, if you can’t log in and tell exactly what that thing is doing, you’re wasting your time because you’re going to have to go figure out what is this doing and where is it going. It’s really dependent on your preferences, but I’ve seen people much more successful with saying, “This is one process that I’m going to automate, this is the other one may be [00:11:30] related,” maybe they touch each other, maybe they’re running at the same time, but you’re modular, you’re chunking it out so that when you go to test or when you say, “This piece isn’t working,” you actually know what that piece is and you can go fix it.
Chris Davis: You can fix it. In the first podcast episode I talk about marketing automation and I liken it to an automobile. The various parts in your entire system now becomes … The automobile. [00:12:00] Automating the customer journey with the customer in the passenger seat and you as the visionary and driver. The motor is the automation, the fuel is your strategy, things of that nature. When your car breaks down or your business breaks, so the process broke, you can take it to the shop. Because it’s built a collection of independent parts working in concert with each other for a specific goal, he can look and say, “You just need a muffler. Take that part [00:12:30] out. No need to replace the whole thing, the whole car…”
Kelly O’Connell: He knows where that is. That’s the thing. Lots of people love to say, “I spent 40 hours building this crazy automation. Look at it,” and then they turn it on and something doesn’t work and I have to say, “Now we have to go find what doesn’t work and you spent 40 hours!” Start small, make sure it works, and build on [00:13:00] top of it.
Chris Davis: Maybe we already answered this question. Maybe we did. I don’t know. Is this the best advice you would give to someone wanting to get started?
Kelly O’Connell: Yeah. Definitely. I like to say do the minimum viable product. What are you spending 80% of your time on? I have companies that are like, “They fill out this contact us form and then I send them an email with a link to schedule,” and it’s like, [00:13:30] “Let’s just automate that. However many minutes a day, let’s just do that.” The big thing is, turn it on and watch it work and then see what you can do from there. A lot of people don’t want to turn it on until everything is perfect, but you’re not going to learn what breaks or what you can tweak until something’s running through it.
Chris Davis: At this point it’s even beyond marketing automation. It’s just business. You’re going to do something…
Kelly O’Connell: [00:14:00] Fail fast.
Chris Davis: It’s not going to work. You’re going to print business cards off and you’re going to misspell a word or you’re going to have your website and people are going to click a link and it goes absolutely nowhere. It’s no difference. There’s no pressure to be perfect when you’re executing and implementing marketing automation. Yet, I think maybe because it’s still new and, people, they just want to get it right because they’re not [00:14:30] comfortable with it yet, that maybe that’s the dynamic that’s playing [crosstalk 00:14:36].
Kelly O’Connell: I think that’s why I suggest start small, turn it on because you’re going to gain confidence. You’re going to see that it’s working and that’s going to help you know what you want to build on. The other thing is, mapping out everything is huge, and I would recommend mapping out if they do what you want them [00:15:00] to do and mapping out if they do. Remembering not everyone is going to get your email and open it and click and get the next one. What do you want to do if someone doesn’t do the desired action and think about both of those aspects?
Chris Davis: That’s good. I tell people all the time I’m a pessimist when I’m building it out, but I’m a optimist when they’re going through. I’m looking at the worst case; you didn’t open this, you took no action at all. What is that path? Then, of [00:15:30] course, I’m hoping, of course, that is not the path you take. Absolutely. Kelly, this has been great. This is the last question here. You have a lot of account, you see a lot of accounts. We do internally, I witnessed it with my own eyes, we do a really good job of going … It’s not uncommon for me to hear somebody saying, “I’ve got five more minutes,” and then 10 minutes lapse [00:16:00] and they’re still helping that customer. In that, is there a common trend, a common denominator that you’re seeing that is the biggest indicator of success, of somebody who will be successful with our platform?
Kelly O’Connell: Yeah. I think it’s using the platform. As silly as that sounds, log in and use the platform. It’s not something that … It’s not riding a [00:16:30] bicycle. You can’t come back eight months later and everything’s the same and you’re going to remember it. Use the platform. I think one of the biggest ones that we find is knowing what you want to measure. We can help a lot on the team as long as we know what you’re trying to achieve, or at least a vague idea and we can funnel in from there.
What are you looking to increase or decrease or change [00:17:00] or tweak or build completely from scratch? Knowing what you want to measure and then planning, like we talked about, and then being adaptable. If something doesn’t work, being able to modify it. Along with that is just testing, just having a mindset of testing and optimization. Setting something up and tearing [00:17:30] it on is great, but … I’m a big disbeliever in the set it and forget it mentality.
Chris Davis: Let’s get rid of it.
Kelly O’Connell: I like to say set it, analyze it, and then optimize it. Set it, turn it on, but know to look back at the metrics and what’s being accomplished and then figure out how to optimize it.
Chris Davis: When you were saying that, I [00:18:00] thought of an acronym: PDA. Plan, Do, Adapt. That’s essentially plan it out, then actually do it. Get in the application … We met about the migration process. The biggest thing is getting the data in the platform so we can start doing something with it, so we can see not only is it easy, but it’s very [00:18:30] powerful. I can’t stress that enough to just do because, until you do, you’ve got all these questions in your head. It’s so easy nowadays to jump on a Facebook forum or jump on some community thread and try to get help from other people instead of just doing it.
Kelly O’Connell: I think having that plan and that willingness [00:19:00] to do … Leverage the team. We want to work with people who want to be in the platform because that’s fun for us. I think that’s the big thing. I love it, PDA, Plan, Do, Adapt. Those are the big ones, and those are the accounts that we see growing, that we see coming back again with, “Now there’s this new piece of business [00:19:30] that I’m getting,” or, “I’m getting all of this new type of business and I want to automate that.” Use the platform.
Chris Davis: Great. This was great, Kelly. I feel like I have a better understanding of the state of marketing automation just by talking to you. When you’re talking, I’m thinking. I think we are successfully moving from the set it and forget it mindset to…
Kelly O’Connell: I hope so.
Chris Davis: Focusing on planning it on, [00:20:00] like actually taking the time and inputting the P before the D and not just jumping in and then think you can close your eyes and magic happens and your bank account’s fat. That’s great. Kelly, I appreciate it so much. Any parting words for our listeners? Word of wisdom? Nuggets? Gems?
Kelly O’Connell: I’m just going to part with my progress [00:20:30] over perfection. Just turn something on, see if it works. If it doesn’t, nothing’s broken. Just fix it.
Chris Davis: That is so powerful. Thank so much. Everybody listening, this is just episode number three. There’s going to be much more with Kelly and there’s going to be much more with other people within the organization in their field of expertise, so make sure you go and subscribe. iTunes, [00:21:00] Stitcher. We’re everywhere. If you need an official URL to visit, activecampaign.com/podcast. If any of this was just a little bit helpful to you and your business, we’d really appreciate five stars, please. Comment. Let us know. Give us some feedback. This is the ActiveCampaign podcast from marketing automators for [00:21:30] marketing automators. Until next time, what is it? Progress over perfection.

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