Episode 6: Building Better Automations with Meg Curth

A seasoned Success manager shares tips designed to help improve how you build automations.


Meg Curth, a customer success manager at ActiveCampaign, knows automations inside and out. That’s why we called on her for the seventh episode of The ActiveCampaign Podcast. Meg discusses the best approaches to automation building, how to measure the success of your automations, and common struggles that her clients encounter. Listen today to be on your way to building the best automations for your business.
Chris Davis: Welcome to the ActiveCampaign podcast. I am your host, Chris Davis, Director of Education here at ActiveCampaign. Today, we’re going over how to build better automations. If you’re anything like me, I’m never satisfied with my automations. I’m always scrutinizing them, optimizing them, tweaking them, I’m always trying to figure out if I can get them to perform better or just ensure [00:00:30] that they’re performing their absolute best for my business.
This is what today’s episode is all about. I’m accompanied by our own Meg Curth and we’re going to talk about the factors that come into play when you’re building better automations. Enjoy the episode. Meg, welcome to the ActiveCampaign podcast. So glad to have you on. Can’t wait to talk about building better automations, but [00:01:00] before I get too far ahead of myself, let’s do a quick intro. Meg, what is your official title here at ActiveCampaign?
Meg Curth: My official title is a Customer Success Manager here at ActiveCampaign.
Chris Davis: Okay. That entails what in your day-to-day?
Meg Curth: My day-to-day as I work one-on-one with accounts. I make sure that they’re onboarded onto the platform correctly as well as they’re familiar with how to use all the features that need [00:01:30] to happen for their long-term strategy. I also can coach customers on best practices and when to do something, when not to do something. Then on the site, conduct random one-on-one trainings that small business and [inaudible 00:01:45] get to pay for or purchase on their own time.
Chris Davis: Sounds like a lot. Wait a minute, this means you must have had some prior experience similar maybe? Where were you [00:02:00] at before ActiveCampaign?
Meg Curth: Yeah. Before I came to ActiveCampaign, I did a lot of technology sales.
Chris Davis: Ah, there it is.
Meg Curth: There it is. Yes. I found myself really liking to help clients versus sourcing new business. I was like, “All right, let’s try …” I also have the background in marketing, so I actually made the transition to a digital marketing agency for a little bit. I found out I like technology a lot and I like marketing. I thought ActiveCampaign [00:02:30] married both of them perfectly.
Chris Davis: Yep. There it is. I think that’s important because you need people who are passionate about both, right?
Meg Curth: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Chris Davis: Both the technology and the marketing to really be successful, especially when you’re touching the customer as frequently as you do.
Meg Curth: Yeah, absolutely.
Chris Davis: You’ve been here for …
Meg Curth: 10 months.
Chris Davis: Oh, man. As of the date of this recording, 10 months. Probably be a year or more when more people [00:03:00] start listening. Let’s jump right in it. Meg, this is a topic that is, it’s dear to my heart. I love automation of course, but I feel like the more experienced you get, the more, I don’t want to say … The more particular you get about doing things a particular way, right? Or doing things a certain way.
One of the big questions [00:03:30] I’ve seen continually asked throughout the communities of marketing automation is whether it’s via somebody posting a picture of an automation or just talking about it, there’s this battle, this ongoing battle whether you build out these big, extravagant, do everything automations or if you piecemeal it and be really modular.
I figured why not get [00:04:00] Meg Curth, one of the most seasoned support managers here, or success managers here, and just pick your brain at what you’ve seen. You’ve seen multiple accounts, varying business types, and all types of needs. In your professional experience, what is the best way to build out automations?
Meg Curth: I am a big fan of piecemeal. I [00:04:30] love smaller automations and I’ll tell you why smaller automations that link to one another. When you have these big, extravagant automations, not only is it hard to remember what this process even starts, you can be deep down into the automation and not even remember what kind of messages they’ve had. It can lose sight of that personal touch or what your end accomplish is the more overcomplicated you make it.
Also if things go wrong, [00:05:00] which happens, it just does, it’s part of life, you don’t know where it happened wrong, like if it was all the way in the beginning and you had this crazy, just layer by layer by layer complex automation that has all these go-to’s and they’re jumping. You don’t really know where exactly it went wrong. If you have a small automation and you can see, “Okay, I want within this automation …” maybe it’s a welcome series that leads into a product, like nurturing sequence.
If you have a really straightforward [00:05:30] few emails, you’re tracking whatever you need to track whether that be interest, engagement, whatever that first part is, you can be able to understand, “Okay, they got these emails and maybe the email didn’t send out. They’re stuck in this queue for X amount of days. Why? Let’s find out” versus they’re all the way down this if/else statement and these goals and things aren’t working.
Chris Davis: Yes. You know what? You bring up a good point. When [00:06:00] we’re talking about systems, building systems, I always view them as independent parts working in tandem with on another to achieve a common goal. As the architect, which business owners and marketers, they assume that the second you sign up and say “I want to do marketing automation”, it’s very hard to build out that full system from scratch without having those gauges where you can just check in and see, “Okay, [00:06:30] is this part working? Is this part working?”
I envision an automobile. I gave an analogy of an automobile in our first podcast. When your car messes up, if it was just one fully integrated system, you would have to replace your entire car if it was something as simple as a flat tire. Since they’re all, a tire’s a system it itself, rubber that encompasses air and keeps it pressurized, you can then just have checkpoints throughout the system [00:07:00] to see, “Okay, how is this performing?” Specific to ActiveCampaign, goals are one of the strongest features, strongest actions you can use. When you have these big automations, goal implementation becomes extremely difficult.
Meg Curth: Very difficult. Very. Exactly, so I’m a big fan of that analogy. I use a house for mine, like, “All right, this is ActiveCampaign. Your data structure’s [00:07:30] the foundation and then there’s all these different things.” I think automation’s very much like the structure of, I don’t know, the walls or the building. Each one has their own separate function.
Chris Davis: I see. Each room, right?
Meg Curth: Right. Each room. If you have everything stuffed in one and something goes wrong, then your house falls down.
Chris Davis: Absolutely. Let’s dig a little deeper into your approach. When it comes to funnels, funnels [00:08:00] is a funny word, but when it comes to building out marketing campaigns or funnels, what is your approach to that? Is it a top down approach? Do you like to start with the details and work your way up? How do you like to approach that?
Meg Curth: What I always tell my customers is, “Get back to the basics.” Think about your persona journeys. Just think about it. You don’t have to go crazy, [00:08:30] you don’t need to have all these different things going on. Let’s face it, when you look up marketing automations, there’s so many bells and whistles and so many different content. I think it gets overwhelming [inaudible 00:08:40] starting out. You don’t know where to start.
I always just say, “Let’s just dial it down. What do you want your customer to essentially do? What’s your brand story?” Once you just think about these different personas, everything falls into place. You get your messaging already done. You can figure out what information you need to gather [00:09:00] in order to have them go down that journey. You don’t lose sight of your customer and you’re not offering these things that don’t mean anything for your customers unless you get that information.
Chris Davis: Yeah, so essentially, is it safe to say the first part in really building better automations doesn’t even start in the automation?
Meg Curth: Exactly. As I was thinking about this podcast, I’m like, yeah, there’s a lot of things in the background. It’s not even the automation [00:09:30] itself, it’s actually just the strategy behind it. What is it? You got to define a lot of things before you start building it so that way when you’re building it, it all just is easier. You got to do your homework before you just jump right in.
Chris Davis: Listeners, that was a nugget. Meg Curth said it’s not about the automation, it’s about the strategy behind it.
Meg Curth: Yes.
Chris Davis: We’re going to make that into a tweet-able. That is, if anything, I can say if I were to champion anything, [00:10:00] it would be that.
Meg Curth: Yes.
Chris Davis: Because it’s an input. I’ve always thought about automation as systems with inputs and outputs and building a system in a way that you can predict, accurately predict the output. That’s all reliant on the input. One of those inputs is your strategy. Without a strategy, it will just be running, doing things. The worst thing that I’ve seen could happen to people is [00:10:30] getting results by doing the wrong thing. It is the worst.
Anyway, the strategy prevents you from doing that. It doesn’t do it for you, but it positions you to build better automations, right? All right. I think we have that down. Let’s start with your plan, your strategy, understand the format of your automations using your house analogy, rooms, build it modular, right?
Meg Curth: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Chris Davis: Let’s continue [00:11:00] and say, what makes automation successful? Now that you know how to build them, what makes one crappy and one worth really saying, “Look, this automation is rocking. I want to share it with the world.”
Meg Curth: Right. This might sound like a really arbitrary answer, but it is. I think it’s true. You need to define yourself what a successful automation is. That goes back to your strategy. If you’re making an automation where [00:11:30] “I want to drive more sales for this one product”, right? You need to figure out where this automation fits and how many automations you need. Then from there, figure out, “Okay, well, here’s my bottom line, but what automations led to that?”
Another thing too is I have noticed where people are like, “We don’t have much sales yet because we’re still top of the funnel.” Okay, top of the funnel’s great. What are you looking to do? Educate your customers? Are you looking to engage your customers? Maybe you [00:12:00] want people to just … you [inaudible 00:12:01] want brand awareness. You’re a new company. You want to just grow in the area. That’s all done through, “Okay, I have this automation.” Maybe it’s refer-a-friend or something like that or promotion.
Chris Davis: I like that.
Meg Curth: Those can all be successful. I think in my eyes, if I’m new and I want my brand awareness to be spread and I have a refer-a-friend promotion? If I have at least three or four people referring me, that’s success for me at least, depending on your audience size.
Chris Davis: Oh, man. [00:12:30] You’re giving away all the goodness. I love the fact that you took a step back and said, “What does success mean for you?” That is so important in a day and age where everybody is promoting their success. They want you to adopt their success as yours. You see somebody online. They say, “I just made $10,000 sending three emails. Let me show you how to do it.” Right?
Meg Curth: “Oh, okay.”
Chris Davis: Maybe that doesn’t work for your business. Maybe that’s not successful. Like you said, maybe increasing [00:13:00] the awareness of your brand is what success looks like for you at that stage of business. I think what makes our platform so great is the fact that we’re not so one directional with our … Essentially, if you can think it-
Meg Curth: You can build it.
Chris Davis: If you can imagine and conceptualize, “Hmm, what is success?”, you can build it. You can build it in automation. Yes. I love the fact of identifying success first [00:13:30] and then going in the automation. Now that we know what success looks like for us, what are some of the technical things down to some of the actions?
Do you tend to see any trends with successful automations like “Pretty much every successful automation I’ve seen has a goal” or “There’s not a whole lot of if/else” or “There’s very specific actions” [00:14:00] or maybe there’s a very linear approach instead of this … Is there any trends that you’ve seen?
Meg Curth: Yeah. I definitely think that you would definitely need a goal or some sort of way to track this conversion whether that be a refer-a-friend or they bought something or they signed up for your webinar. You can put all of this information in our goal feature at the end of your automation and you can track those conversions. That way you’re measuring it. You’re not just saying, “Oh, yay. [00:14:30] I did this automation. I had 30 people go in”, but you have no idea who actually converted.
That’s my first thing. I always like in an ideal world a linear approach like, “Okay, [inaudible 00:14:41] point A til point D and here’s the main steps to get there.” Now in a perfect world … That’s not straightforward. It’s not as straightforward as that. There’s different journeys, there’s different ways to build an automation. I just have seen that more straightforward [00:15:00] and more linear approaches make more sense.
Chris Davis: That’s it. Yeah. I think essentially what you’re saying is the more simple you can build your automations, the more probable you will be for success.
Meg Curth: Right. Keep it simple.
Chris Davis: Yes. Keep it simple. I’ll interject. What I’ve found in my journey, I’m always revisiting my automations trying to make them better, smaller, bigger, bigger [00:15:30] as far as results, just more functional, right? One of the things that I realized is I made this adjustment that sometimes … Well, it’s always about performance and ease of understanding, but sometimes I need to use a if/else or I could use a goal only because it reads a little easier for me.
Depending on the user, if seeing an if/else shows you even if you’re using a go-to action and [00:16:00] you’re like, “Well, you could have just used a goal there”, sometimes it’s not always about functionality. If you can maintain the same functionality and performance, but you can lay it out in a way that makes sense to you or your team where they can open up the automation and see “Oh, they’re going down this path” …
There’s a lot of cases where you could have two people very savvy in marketing automation and ActiveCampaign and not have the same level of [00:16:30] expertise on everything. For me, I can pull up pretty much any automation and understand what’s going on, but some people, the goal throws them off. No matter how much we educate, teach, show examples, it’s still an idea that you pretty much have to master through time. Sometimes it’s not ideal to have that there. Inherently, it doesn’t say what’s going on.
Meg Curth: Right.
Chris Davis: Right?
Meg Curth: So true. What I’m a big fan of, and I have actually [00:17:00] started doing this a lot, is having an if/else and then having a goal and a yes path. You have your if/else breaking it up into two different paths, so you don’t have a goal like, you know. You can still envision it like these are two different things. For a great example is a nurturing sequence for, I don’t know, a product follow-up.
I keep using the same thing, but it’s just going off of my head. You can have an if/else saying, “Have they purchased this product or have they done this thing?” If no, then there’s your nurturing path. If at any point they’re in that nurturing path and then on the yes side, there’s the goal. You’ll [00:17:30] always know if they purchased, yes, there’s that goal.
Chris Davis: That is a great idea. Meg, I must admit I have not used if/else and goals on the yes path like that, but that is very much visual. You’re marrying the easy visual representation as well with the goal. You’re essentially looking at this automation saying any time they meet yes, we’re now going to bring them over here.
Meg Curth: Yeah.
Chris Davis: [00:18:00] Wow. See, Meg? That is why you’re here. In that vein, we get excited and we get it, right? A lot of our users do, too. We have an amazing amount of very intelligent business owners and users. We’re a little different in that aspect, but what are some hurdles that you see people … and when I say hurdles, like the most common hurdles across all the accounts in your experience that you see people [00:18:30] get stuck on when they’re building automations?
Meg Curth: Yeah, absolutely. When they’re building the automation, I think the biggest thing that they get stuck on is I still think goals kind of trips people up. I think it is the idea behind it. Another thing that I just figure is that they just, they look at it and they get overwhelmed too because it’s a blank canvas. You open up the plus sign, all of a sudden, there’s all these different things.
It’s great that we have all these different features, but [00:19:00] again, if we don’t have the strategy, if we don’t think about things, you start going like, “Oh, well, we’re just going to have them do these crazy things because I can and because it’s just cool.” Then it doesn’t work because there’s no straightforward. I don’t think it’s actually building the automation, but the feature itself. I think it’s literally the plan and the strategy.
Chris Davis: Yeah. I agree. I would say, if I answer my own questions here, I would say that I’ve also seen [00:19:30] people try to do too much. It’s just like, “Should I use a if/else and this?” It’s like, listen, we give you all of these features and actions just so it’s kind of like the buffet. Take what you will to make the meal that pleases you. By no means, don’t feel like you have to use everything. Of course in automation, there’s so many ways.
Meg Curth: So many ways.
Chris Davis: To do one thing. I think they get overwhelmed. [00:20:00] Our brain logically just wants to be right. It’s like, “What’s the right way?” It’s like, you know what? There really is no “right way”. It’s the best way for your business.
Meg Curth: Oh, yes. I get that question all the time. Right. All the time. “Well, is this the right way? Is this the best way?” Okay, let’s go back here. There’s tons of ways we can do it. I can tell you this is one band-aid way that I think is great, that I think is amazing. If it is not scalable for your business or how you’re using ActiveCampaign, then that’s not [00:20:30] the right way.
Chris Davis: And if it doesn’t make sense to you. Meg, I have to tell a story here. There was one time where a user was asking somebody, I can’t remember where, but I pretty much hijacked the entire thread and was like, “Hey, let’s jump on a call and I’ll show you how to do this.” I mapped out this automation in their account and everything. It was beautiful. To this day, I call it one of the most beautiful automations. It only had three or four actions. A short powerful … I’m like, “Yes.”
The problem was [00:21:00] I held the understanding to it. They did not. What happened is they never used it. They just built an automation they understood, so then it becomes what was the hurdle there? It would have worked. Their understanding also plays a part. If there are particular things that they just don’t grasp even though it’s better for them to, let’s say, use a goal and an instance instead of if/else, if they haven’t quite wrapped their mind around the goal, use the if/else. [00:21:30] There’s no shame, right?
Meg Curth: My opening line for my onboarding clients and I always say this, “I’ll tell you my best ways and I will tell you where I think it’d make sense, however, this is your system. You’re using it day in and day out. I’m just the coach.” If it doesn’t make sense for you and it doesn’t … you can’t wrap your head around it? It’s too complicated? That’s not a bad thing. There’s tons of things around like, “I don’t know what this means.” Do it the way that makes sense for you. At the end of the day, it’s your business.
Chris Davis: [00:22:00] Yes. Meg, listen, I can literally talk to you all day about this. The more we talk about it, the more excited I get. I think this was really good laying the foundation of helping people understand building better automations really begins with being very clear on your goals and objectives, right?
Meg Curth: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Chris Davis: Being intentional with measuring them. When we bring in measurement, [00:22:30] that really is what gives credence to building modular so that you can more easily measure the performance. What are we measuring? We’re measuring what success is to you, right?
Meg Curth: Yes.
Chris Davis: When we’re building, it’s all about what makes sense to you in a way that is easy to follow, you can revisit. I think a successful automation is one that you can build right [00:23:00] now and revisit in two months and pick up right where you left off. Be like, “Oh, yeah. I know what this one does” instead of having to study it like, “What was I doing here again?” Those are things that I really challenge a lot of our users to do like build it in a way. If there’s no way to build it that simple, use our notes. Use the notes feature on every action to help jog your memory.
Meg Curth: Exactly. I agree.
Chris Davis: Yes. All right, great. Meg, wow, [00:23:30] thank you so much for joining me on the podcast. Our users, our listeners are going to love this one.
Meg Curth: Yes.
Chris Davis: What I like to do in ending … You’ve already given us a lot of nuggets, but any parting words that you would like to give them in their marketing automation journey?
Meg Curth: I think I’ve hit everything that I really wanted to hit. The biggest thing, and I think Kelly might hate me for saying this, but don’t boil the [00:24:00] ocean. Just don’t try to do too many things at once. Keep it simple, keep it straightforward. Sometimes making things simple is the hardest part.
Chris Davis: That’s it.
Meg Curth: If you can vision it, that’s what the customer success team is here to build it for you. Well, not build it for you, but to coach you on how to build it. We’re always here. We’re a great resource. The team’s awesome, if I do say so myself.
Chris Davis: Yes. Well, great. Thank you so much. Everybody, keep it simple. [00:24:30] This is becoming a theme on the podcast. If I can say one thing to add to what you said, it’s nothing worse than talking to somebody that took three paragraphs to say what they could have in one or two sentences. That’s how I view automations. It takes experience and expertise in knowing what you’re trying to do and knowing the platform, but yeah, keep it simple. [00:25:00] It will bode well for you now and forever within the platform. Thanks so much, Meg. Hopefully we’ll have you back on.
Meg Curth: Absolutely. I’d love it.
Chris Davis: All right.
Meg Curth: Thank you.
Chris Davis: If you enjoyed today’s episode ‘Building Better Automations’ in ActiveCampaign, it gets better, but it only gets better if you’re subscribed. Make sure you subscribe so that you can receive every new episode of this podcast the moment it’s released. We’re in iTunes, [00:25:30] Google Play, Stitcher, so you’ll be able to subscribe in your most popular apps using your mobile device or your desktop.
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