What is marketing automation … and how can you use it to grow both your profitability and customer satisfaction?
In this episode Chris and Tony reveal:
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Tony Clark: This is The Mainframe.
Hello, and welcome to The Mainframe. In this episode, we’re going to be talking about automation and doing more with less. How you doing this fine Sunday, Chris?
Chris Garrett: I m doing great. I’m ready to go. I do wish I could automate more.
I’m looking at my desk, and it s terrible. Do they do Roombas for desks?
Tony Clark: Yeah, that would be great. Automatic cleaning up of everything. As soon as we get to that point in automation, think about on WALL-E, where we’re just riding around in the little chairs all the time and never have to do anything.
Chris Garrett: Yeah, but I’d be tinkering with it. I’d be opening the panels and seeing if we could make it go faster. I was just thinking what’s that character from Peanuts where he’s got flies around him all the time? I think I’d have a robot following me, tidying up after me the whole time.
Tony Clark: Yeah, you’re Pigpen. You can cosplay as Pigpen.
Chris Garrett: Exactly.
Tony Clark: Automation is really a big broad subject. We’re going to do an intro in this episode. Then we’ll go into more detail in future episodes.
Automation encompasses a lot of different things. You have the basic stuff. You have marketing automation. You have adaptive content. You have all these different things.
Chris Garrett: Automation’s kind of got a bad name in the industry right now. We even have speakers who have gone on stage and made a big deal about how you should not automate. As a programmer, I feel a bit defensive about the whole thing. Really, automation is essential if you want to grow an actual business rather than just have a product.
If you want to grow a business and if you want that business to scale, you’re going to have to introduce some automation. It’s a fact of life. One of the reasons we need to talk about this now is we’ve had all these episodes. We’re on episode 15. People keep saying, “That sounds great, Chris, and, Tony, thank you very much, but how are we supposed to do all of this?”
Tony Clark: You do it by automating. There’s been this backlash against automation mainly because there was this huge uptick of marketing automation over the past couple of years. It’s been around a while, but it’s been the big buzz word. I think that people were using it wrong. It’s just like a lot of things. Things get a bad rap when they’re used incorrectly or they’re used in lieu of a better, bigger strategy rather than making it part of a strategy.
One of the things you’re seeing right now in our industry and in other industries is that, though automation can help, it can’t do everything. It needs to be part of a broader strategy that helps move the customer or prospect along in a way that makes them feel like they’re being catered to and taken care of, not as a robotic thing that just ticks off boxes.
Chris Garrett: Yeah. The main challenge people have with it is a similar thing where they don’t like outsourcing. It’s, “I want to work with you. I want to work with Tony as my consultant. Then suddenly, I’ve got this robot that’s doing all the interaction, or I’ve got this person that doesn’t know me, doesn’t know the service, doesn’t know the experience I’ve had.” It’s that detachment.
Chris Garrett: Actually, if you do it right, automation can actually increase the customer experience to a higher level and, at the same time, can free up your time to be more authentic, interactive, caring, and personal.
Tony Clark: Exactly. Think about this. Let’s talk about a very basic example is using auto responders as an onboarding process. I’ll give you an example. I recently signed up, and I know you did too, with Roll20, which is a tool online, an application that allows you to play Dungeons & Dragons tabletop style, but with people that are remote.
I really found that their onboarding, although it was very basic and simple, did a great job of carrying me through the process, through some videos, and then through emails making sure that I knew everything, and, along the way, made sure that I understood that, even though I was signed up for the free version, there is a way to support them and get some additional things, which I’m actually going to do now thanks to those emails that explained to me in further detail the benefits of that. I thought that was a very good example of a simple automated process to get me more engaged as a new user.
Chris Garrett: Roll20’s a really good example. If you go into it cold, it’s overwhelming. It just seems there’s masses of things that you could do. You don t know where to start. Without those emails, you’re dumped in the middle of this thing, and you’re lost. The customer experience would be worse without the automation.
In a way, that automation makes you more loyal, think more favorably towards their company and their service, and more likely to use it and more likely to recommend it. Automation is not necessarily evil. It’s not Terminator 2.
Tony Clark: Yeah. You use the automation to expand your services. It’s an extension of you, your product, and your service. The example we just used, that’s what they did. I felt like I was reading some emails from people within the company, the developers. It made me feel like they were educating me about everything I did. Each time I did something, it educated me about what to do next.
That is an example of automation where the engagement is part of the process. It’s automated, but really what it’s doing is providing an extension of that team so that it really feels like a one-on-one type of interaction even though it was completely automated.
Chris Garrett: Yeah, exactly. Another version of automation that people might not be thinking about is do you need a virtual assistant, or do you need a tool? At some point, there are things that you should not be doing, some things that you hate doing, and some things that you really dislike doing. Any time during the day you do something that takes a couple of minutes, that doesn’t just take those couple of minutes out of your day, it also forms a distraction and an open loop in your head that is a bigger opportunity cost than the time on the clock.
These things add up, but also there’s been research done that says, if you’re getting into the flow — say you’re writing an article or an outline for your next podcast — it takes 15 minutes to get into the flow. Any time you’re distracted, or interrupted, or you’re thinking about something else, that clock resets.
If you’re doing things like housekeeping on your projects, if you’re doing admin, think about the things that you could automate. Free up your brain, not just your time. You could be more efficient. It’s not just a marketing thing. It’s not just onboarding. It’s bigger than that. Think about your whole business. You should be working ‘on’ your business, as well as ‘in’ it.
Tony Clark: Yeah, and that’s what we mean when we talk about automation as a broader strategy. There’s things that can be automated within the business and the organization, which you need to do. We’ve done that as we scale. One of the things that I’ve done as part of my operations job is make sure that things that could be automated are automated so that we’re not having to do things manually over and over again.
In technology, we see this a lot. That’s a good thing. Anything that you can write a script for that will handle things for you is a way to avoid having to do it manually over and over again. As Chris was saying, we have two different views of automation — automation to the customer, or the prospect, and then automation within your operation that helps you get rid of some of the busy work and the manual stuff that takes away from your quality billing time, or your quality building time, your quality marketing time. Those are the two different ways you need to think about automation.
Chris Garrett: Yeah, and neither are evil. The evil automation, the things that get people annoyed is an auto-direct message on Twitter when you follow them. That’s not really automating anything that they necessarily should be doing. It’s a robotic thing. It’s the tip of the iceberg. It’s maybe what you think about when you think of automation, but it’s not what you should be thinking about in our opinion.
The first thing we need to really get across here is what can you do to free yourself up? What can you do to make a better experience? That’s the starting point with automation. The next thing to think about automation is what can you be doing to reduce that overwhelm and cut through all the noise? That’s what Tony was just saying with the Roll20 example. Let’s get into that.
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Tony Clark: The way to go about doing that is focusing on giving them what they need, when they need it. We talk about this a lot — the right message at the right time. That’s the basis of this adaptive content strategy we talk about. It encompasses all these different things.
Chris Garrett: Yeah, exactly. Adaptive content is saying, you have this to teach. You have this information that your prospect or your customer needs. How can you package it, deliver it, and focus it so that they’re not distracted? They know exactly what they need to. The message gets across, and they’re not annoyed. One of the biggest things that marketing automation can do is send the right message to the right person.
We look at a lot of this content as being one size fits all. It rarely is. It’s easy to start off that way. Once you start drilling down, you’ll find that people are in different places in their journey or are interested in different topics. The more you harp on about things that they’re not interested in, or are interested in right now, the more you turn people off.
Tony Clark: Exactly. The idea is I, as a customer or a prospect, want the information that I need at this particular point in my journey with you. If I m not getting that particular information, then it’s not helping me at all make a decision to either purchase or to continue on to the next step.
The whole concept of right message at the right time is allowing your system, the automation process, to trigger certain messages or certain things at the right time, so that customer is nurtured and moved along farther. It’s not an annoyance if it’s done correctly. It’s actually a helpful thing. The customer actually enjoys it or feels like, “I’m actually being helped through this process.” That’s the whole idea. It’s helping the customer make a decision.
Chris Garrett: Yeah, and people often think, “Well, I’m sending too many emails. People are going to switch off. People are going to unsubscribe.” If their emails are not just necessary, but they’re anticipated, then you’re actually building in something that people will value.
We talk about email quantity and inboxes filling up. It’s like junk mail. If you have four coupons, one of them is from your favorite pizza place, you’re going to be delighted. It’s not junk mail if you want it. It’s the same with email. In your inbox, there are things that you are looking forward to, things that you want to hear, and there are things that are spam, and junk, and a distraction, and an annoyance.
It’s in the eye of the beholder. A lot of it comes down to timing. A lot of it comes down to content. If you can get the timing and the content just right, they’re not just going to open it. They’re going to be happy to open it.
Tony Clark: That’s right. Really, this is about personalization. You now delivered a very personal experience for the person. They’re no longer feeling like they’re being bulk emailed. They’re now being nurtured and educated about what it is you want. Or, even better, once they’re a customer, you now use this opportunity to say — Amazon’s really good at telling you — “You’ve purchased this, you may want this.”
A lot of the T-shirt companies that I buy tons of T-shirts from really do that well. ThinkGeek does a great job of sending me an email with, “Here are some more items related to Doctor Who because you just purchased something from Doctor Who,” or, “You’ve purchased multiple things Star Wars-related, here’s a Star Wars item.”
That kind of thing almost always triggers me to go to the website and at least look at the item. It’s moved me along in the process. A lot of the times, because there’s sometimes a discount associated with it, I end up making another purchase. This is an opportunity to not only engage new customers, but a way to expand upon the relationship with existing customers.
Chris Garrett: Exactly. I actually miss that from some of my favorite companies. I’ve mentioned SparkFun and Adafruit in previous episodes. I wish they knew that because I bought Raspberry Pi that they could suggest different projects, and ideas, and products to me.
I would spend more money with them if they said, “Hey, this is a cool thing you could do, and it’s just about ready for you. You’ve just done this, so you’re ready for this.” — because it’s a progression. It’s like going from 101 to 202. You’re ready for it. You’re excited about it, and you want to do more. Instead, they send generic product-faced updates to everybody with the same content. That’s an opportunity to not just make more money, but delight the customer.
We’ve talked about suggestions. We’ve talked about onboarding. What we’re doing is we’re saying, “Anybody at this stage is ready for these messages.” When you really get into this, it becomes a choose-your-own adventure. Tony mentioned Dungeons & Dragons earlier. That really empowers the prospect or the customer. It’s their actions, their decisions that start driving it.
Tony Clark: Yeah, and we tend, as businesses, to focus on that small percentage that we know is going to buy. But there’s this whole other group of people who are maybe on the fence or, with just the right type of education, would be willing to move on to the next step in your funnel.
You need to focus on how to get those different messages to those people. That’s what the choose-your-own adventure is. One person is on the journey to learn this, and then down the road, they may buy. That’s something we’ve talked about with StudioPress in early episodes.
We know that we need to educate people that are coming in cold so that they know why StudioPress and Genesis is the best choice for them. They end up buying on their fourth or fifth visit. Then you have the people that are just coming back and return customers buying more and more. The idea is to make...