When Marketing Automation Isn’t Enough [PODCAST]

Sometimes your marketing automation platform needs a helping hand. Image by Chris Isherwood via Flickr.

Hey podcast listeners: we’re slowing down the frequency of our podcast episodes over the summer. We’ll be releasing podcasts once every other week for the next two months. See you in two weeks!

Marketing automation helps you create hyper-targeted campaigns, but it can also have unforeseen benefits. In this episode of the Call to Action podcast, Marketing Automation Specialist Yash Chaurasia shares how Unbounce’s search for a marketing automation platform has lead to better communication and more collaboration across departments.

Still, marketing automation software isn’t the magic bullet that some make it out to be. Hana Abaza, VP of Marketing at Uberflip, explains why a fool with a tool is still a fool – and why those who just “set it and forget it” are likely limiting the success of their campaigns.

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In this episode: Stephanie Saretsky, Unbounce’s Multimedia Content Producer, chats with Yash Chaurasia, Unbounce’s Marketing Automation Specialist. Then, Dan Levy, Unbounce’s Content Strategist, interviews Hana Abaza, VP of Marketing at Uberflip.

Stephanie: Over the past couple months we noticed a problem. As our marketing team grew and the amount of campaigns we ran increased, so did the number of emails that we were sending out to leads. We tried to figure out how to write and schedule these emails to make them as delightful and unobtrusive as possible, but our email subscribers were starting to notice, and not all of them were super happy about it. So we needed a solution. Enter Yash, our first marketing automation specialist. We realized that it was time to add automation to our marketing stack so that we could continue to provide valuable content to our leads without flooding their inbox, but we couldn’t just use any automation platform. As Yash pointed out, as a SaaS company, we needed a platform that would be able to integrate with the Unbounce app as well.

Yash: Before we make a decision on any platform and sign a contract, we would really like to test it from the marketing, product, engineering and business intelligence aspect of things. In regular scenarios, usually you make a decision on the platform based on the type of marketing you do, and then you link it up with your CRM system and your web properties. But in our situation, we’re heavily invested into linking marketing automation to the Unbounce page builder application so that we can get all that data.

Stephanie: Usually when you talk about marketing automation, you think about, well, marketing. But the beauty of our search for automation software lies in the fact that Yash had to get multiple departments involved, so it’s almost serving as a new way to unify the company.

Yash: It takes a village to make marketing automation successful. We were able to make a decision on what platform we want to use. That was always Marketing’s call. The challenge which we’re facing, and we’re addressing it at the moment, is because BI and CS and Engineering is playing an active role in the decision. Each of these departments have different terminologies, have different ways of classifying data. So being able to create a cohesive view. And marketing automation just happens to be there at the right moment so that moving forward down the road, we don’t have multiple definitions or multiple interpretations of the same data.

Stephanie: I’m Stephanie Saretsky, and this is Call to Action, Unbounce’s podcast about creating better marketing experiences. We can’t wait to see the impact marketing automation software has on our campaigns, but we’re also being careful to manage our expectations because marketing automation software isn’t a magic bullet, and no one knows this better than Hana Abaza.

Hana: So my name is Hana Abaza, and I’m the VP Marketing at Uberflip.

Stephanie: Unbounce’s Dan Levy spoke with Hana about the limits of marketing automation and how to tell when you need to use a more niche tool. But on the bright side, Hana disclosed how to get the most out of your MA software, which she wrote about in a post for the Unbounce blog: “A Fool with a Tool is a Still a Fool: Why Marketing Automation Isn’t Enough.”

Dan: I feel like marketing automation is one of those things that’s like sex in high school. Everybody’s talking about it, but no one’s actually doing it… or at least doing it in a way that anyone’s satisfied with. Does that ring true to you at all?

Hana: I love that analogy. That’s actually, I think, exactly on point. The thing with marketing automation is that it really has kinda been one of those buzzwords in the last little while, and a lot of people are jumping onboard without really putting the three things you really need in place before you even consider a marketing automation tool – or any kind of technology that you’re looking at bringing into your business.

First, it’s all about the people, then it’s about the process, and then lastly it’s about the tool that you use. So what a lot of people do is they’re like, “Oh, these great marketing automation tools are gonna be the silver bullet. They’re gonna help turn me into an amazing marketer and get great results.” But if you don’t already have the right people to execute and the right processes in place, then implementing a tool on top of that is just gonna be completely unsatisfactory, as you had put it. So yeah, I definitely think that rings true.

Dan: Cool, glad it’s not just us then. In your piece you cite the software engineer Grady Booch, who famously said that, “A fool with a tool is still a fool.” Why did that quote spring to mind when you were writing about marketing automation?

Hana: Part of the reason we’re really entrenched in this marketing automation space is because Uberflip actually integrates with a lot of marketing automation tools.

Dan: Yeah.

Hana: So virtually all of our customers use some sort of marketing automation, and we have seen the gamut when it comes to different implementations, different use cases, different ways teams are using these tools. And what it really comes down to is if you’re automating bad marketing, it’s still bad marketing, right? So that kind of reminded me of that quote because if you give a fool a tool, he’s still a fool, so it’s sort of a similar parallel when I’m kind of looking at it.

I read a stat actually recently that says 85 percent of people aren’t actually satisfied with their marketing automation implementation, and they feel as though they’re not using it to its fullest. I believe that stat came from a company called SiriusDecisions. That really comes down to people rushing the implementation and not really maximizing their internal marketing processes and even just their marketing in general and jumping to the tool right away thinking that that’s gonna fix things.

Dan: Yeah, I like what you have to say about if you’re automating bad marketing, it’s still bad marketing – and in a way it’s even worse because now it’s running on autopilot.

Hana: Exactly, exactly.

Dan: When did the limitations of marketing automation really become apparent to you as a marketer?

Hana: A lot of it came in talking to our customers. So while we use marketing automation in-house at Uberflip, we started to feel some pain points when it came to certain things that we wanted to do, and then we started talking to our customers, and we saw that they were actually experiencing very similar things. The tricky part with a lot of marketing automation platforms these days, and a lot of them are very different, right. So what HubSpot does is a little bit different than what Marketo does than Eloqua and all of these other tools, but they do start to just add more and more features.

They say that they’ll do everything for you from nurturing leads, managing leads, SEO optimization, creating landing pages, creating blog posts, creating content, all of that stuff, right? But it kinda gets to a point where the broader the feature set, the more diluted each feature within that set becomes, right? Because they can only go so deep if they’re offering this big, broad toolset. So you get to a point where okay, I wanna do this specific thing, but it doesn’t really work in my marketing automation tool. When it comes down to it, marketing automation at its core is really good at managing and nurturing leads and communicating with your leads, and that’s the core of what it is. Then anything above and beyond that are those sort of extra tools and features that they’ve added that sometimes do the job but a lot of times sort of fall short.

Dan: I think that the expression, what is it, a jack of all trades is a master of none.

Hana: Yeah, exactly, exactly.

Dan: Yeah, and I guess it’s telling, like you said, that so many of your customers at Uberflip and our customers at Unbounce are using our marketing automation software and that these platforms have so many integrations with other tools because it’s yeah, it’s not enough, as you say.

Hana: Absolutely.

Dan: So in your post you talk about how you butted up against some of the limitations of your marketing automation platform when it came to building landing pages at Uberflip. Can you tell me about that experience?

Hana: Yeah, it’s actually really funny that you bring this up because the day before you guys actually published that post that I wrote, I experienced that exact frustration. I knew that that post was gonna be published, and I was like, “Yes, this is super timely.” So just to kinda give people a little bit of context, we’re in the process of launching a webinar series, and ironically it’s about marketing automation hacks. With our series we’re doing a HubSpot edition, a Marketo edition, and one for sort of each edition of the different marketing automation tools. One of the hacks that we’re actually presenting in one of the presentations has to do with how to hack a landing page. So we had to do the landing page in that marketing automation tool because we have to show off the hack, if you know what I mean, as much as we would’ve preferred to do it in something like Unbounce.

Dan: Right.

Hana: The landing page was set up. Somebody on my team had done it, and it wasn’t quite working, so I ended up having to jump into it last minute and tweak some things on the landing page. The item editor wasn’t working, so then I had to jump into the source code, and then I had to fiddle with that, and then it was starting to look the way that I wanted it to. It was just a terrible experience, especially when I’m used to using something like Unbounce for a lot of our landing pages where it actually works and does what I need it to do.

So I know sort of in our experience being able to really go a little bit deeper and customizing those landing pages does a lot. We’re using HubSpot in-house, and I would say HubSpot’s probably one of the better landing page editors in comparison to some of the other tools. Again, I get to play with a lot of these tools, so it’s kinda nice to do that, but I mean for a lot of them you can’t get it to look and feel the way you want it to. You can’t split traffic the way you want it to. A lot of times it’s not even an option to make the landing page responsive.

Dan: Right.

Hana: Which is just silly these days, but at the end of the day, it’s all about speed of execution, right, so I want a tool that my team can actually jump into with a landing page, and it’s ready to go within a couple of hours that afternoon, the next day, whatever.

Dan: So maybe that’s the hack. Use Unbounce or another landing page tool.

Hana: Right.

Dan: And not your marketing automation platform.

Hana: If I could get away with saying that that’s the hack, then yeah, maybe I will.

Dan: Right, so another feature that most marketing automation platforms have is lead scoring. First off, I don’t wanna get too technical here, but can you break down what lead scoring is and how it’s supposed to work?

Hana: Yeah, for sure. So most marketing automation tools give you the ability to score your contacts and your leads that come into your database. Typically the way you do this is you will actually set almost like a formula based on certain parameters and behaviors and properties. So for example, Dan, if you visit the Uberflip website, you fill out a form, you’re gonna be a contact. I’m gonna know certain things about you, so if I know that you are maybe you’re the Director of Content, you use marketing automation, and you have all of these properties that I know about you, I can assign values to those properties. If they fit our ideal customer, it’ll bump your score up a little bit. Then other factors that come into play would be you engaging with our website, for example. Let’s say that I have a parameter in my lead scoring formula that says if somebody’s looked at more than three blog posts, then give them ten more points towards their score.

So what happens is you start to score people based on whether or not they’re a good fit for your company, and depending on how your company’s structured, if you’ve got, for example, a marketing and sales team, you might have a rule set up where if somebody hits a score over, say 50, then their information will be sent to your sales team, and that’s a good time for your sales team to reach out. Another scenario is if somebody hits a score of over 50, maybe it’s time to actually send an email campaign to start to warm them up towards trying your product. So that’s basically how lead scoring works in most marketing automation tools.

Dan: So your score builds over time as you interact with the company.

Hana: Exactly, exactly. It’s also one of those things where it’s almost very much actually trial and error.

Dan: Right.

Hana: So at the end of the day, the score is only as good as the assumptions that we make and we put into it, right. So I think that these are all indicators of whether or not somebody’s gonna purchase a product or sign up for our service, and I might have some data that backs it up, but at the end of the day, it’s really best guess. It’s a constant iterative process where you’re always refining that formula based on signup rates that are based on feedback from your sales team. So if your sales team really likes the leads that you’re sending, you’re probably doing something right. If they wanna punch you in the face, you’re probably not doing something right.

Dan: Right, and although the process is automated, those assumptions of course are very much human.

Hana: Exactly.

Dan: You say that marketing automation might not be the most sophisticated tool for lead scoring. Why’s that?

Hana: Well, it really goes back to the idea of it being sort of that best guess and also having a very limited dataset to play with because you can only include properties and data that you’re collecting about your contact in that lead score, right, and you only have so much of that stuff. You can only include certain behavioral characteristics or behavioral indicators based on them interacting on your own website or your own blog or interacting with your own content, but the reality is there are all sorts of external signals that actually might indicate whether or not that person might be a really good lead for you or a really good lead for your sales team. I’m not gonna name names, but I actually know there’s a lot of marketing automation platforms that actually use other predictive analytics platforms to supplement their own lead scoring.

Dan: Right.

Hana: They do that for their own sales teams, so it just kinda shows you that you kinda can get a lot more sophisticated, but you might not need to, right? So if you have a very simple buying process, then maybe you don’t need that added layer of sophistication, but you are gonna hit limits with marketing automation if you really need to get a little bit more targeted and a little bit more niche.

Dan: Right. You include a case study in your post where a marketing technology company called Demandbase was able to identify high-value leads and achieve a 75 percent increase in the close rate by using a particular predictive analytics tool. Can you talk about that a little bit?

Hana: Yeah, absolutely. So the way a lot of these predictive analytics tools work, and there’s a lot of them you can check out. I think in this case Demandbase used a tool called Lattice Engines. There’s another one called Infer, and there are many that are kinda popping up. It’s kind of a hot space right now, but the way that they work is they’ll take your historical data from usually Salesforce and potentially your marketing automation platform as well. They’ll analyze that data, they’ll figure out sort of who the ideal segment of customers is for you, and then they’ll actually layer on data that they get externally. What I mean by that is they’ll find different characteristics that are common to all of the people that are most likely to become your customers. So for example, a characteristic like maybe all people that are likely to become Unbounce customers are also very likely to use Google Apps.

Dan: Right.

Hana: Or another seemingly unrelated, random characteristic that there’s no way on our end as marketers that we have insight into, right?

Dan: Well, does anybody not use Google Apps?

Hana: Well, yeah, in our world it’s true.

Dan: Yeah.

Hana: But you do have those people that use Outlook still, unfortunately.

Dan: True, very true.

Hana: So Demandbase was able to identify a whole bunch of characteristics like that, and by being able to identify what those characteristics were, they were able to go into their database and say, “Oh, okay, here’s a segment of our leads that are actually really likely to convert. Those are the ones that our sales team is gonna focus on.” Then you can see how that just skyrockets everything, right? It’s better marketing-sales alignment, their sales team is much more focused on the right leads as opposed to having to sift through a whole bunch of leads and haphazardly landing on the right one, so really kind of giving the company as a whole a little bit more insight into who their actual buyer is.

Dan: Cool. Okay, so let’s talk about content marketing, which is a little bit more in my wheelhouse than this other stuff. So, I’ve been excited to get to that, and I know it’s also fundamental to what you guys do at Uberflip.

Hana: Yeah.

Dan: So you write in your post that creating great content isn’t enough. You need to create a great marketing experience. What do you mean by that?

Hana: So taking a step back and just kind of relating content to the marketing automation piece, content fuels marketing automation, right?

Dan: Right.

Hana: You really don’t have a good marketing automation strategy if you don’t have content to send people. So a big part of marketing automation is nurturing those leads, and a big part of that is doing that through really good content. Now for a while we were all talking about we have to create all this content. It’s so incredibly important, and it works really well. So for a while everybody’s mantra was published all the time.

Dan: Right.

Hana: And then we started talking about the fact that okay, we can’t just publish all the time. It has to be, as Ann Handley would say, ridiculously good content. So okay, now we know we need good content. I think everybody knows that. I don’t think anybody’s gonna say, “No, you can get away with crappy content.” But the reality is that’s not enough to actually accomplish business objectives, to actually generate leads. You need a good content experience, and just like you would spend time optimizing a landing page, you also need to test and optimize your content experience whether that’s your blog or a resource center on your website or your content library or content hub, whatever you call it, it’s gotta be optimized to meet your goals.

What a lot of companies do is 1) they don’t even think about it, and 2) they set these lofty goals for content marketing like lead generation or building subscribers, but then they don’t actually put a mechanism within that content experience to generate those leads. There’s no button to subscribe, there’s no nested form, or there is, and it’s just a really terrible user experience like a lot of the landing pages that we see out there. So I think in order to turn content into an actual growth engine as opposed to sort of a cost center or this intangible “we think it’s working, but we’re not sure” kind of thing, you really have to pay attention to the actual experience. I think, Dan, you guys do that really well at Unbounce. Not only do you create great content, but you’ve got a really clean user experience, and you’re asking people for their email addresses, and you’re actually looking to drive growth through that content. So it’s good, nice work.

Dan: Well, thank you.

Hana: You’re welcome.

Dan: You’re totally right, though, that just a few years ago, everybody was talking about just publish, publish, publish. Keep your editorial calendar, and then it became about quality over quantity, and only now are people really asking the question, “How do you make sure that your content continues to drive business goals?”

Hana: Yeah, absolutely. There was an interesting stat that Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs published in their last content report was that only 21 percent of content marketers were able to measure the success of their content.

Dan: Wow.

Hana: And 21 percent is really, really brutal in my opinion.

Dan: Yeah.

Hana: I think a lot of that comes down to also a lot of content marketers don’t clearly understand what their objectives are, so how can you measure something if you don’t even know what the end goal is?

Dan: Yeah, absolutely. So yeah, I feel like there’s often a disconnect. We were talking about the whole content experience, but the content creation process is still a big part of it. That might involve a CMS like WordPress and a variety of Google Apps, like we said. There’s a bit of a disconnect between that and the content strategy and the optimization side of things, so is this something like a single tool like marketing automation can help with?

Hana: I actually think it’s hard to kind of pin all of that down on a single tool, but I think what you need to think about is an integrated system. You really have to make sure you’ve got a system that’s working together, so for example, the way we do it is we lay out our content strategy, our editorial calendar. We use Uberflip to actually manage our content and push to our content hub, which is powered by Uberflip, and then that integrates with our marketing automation tool. So all of the data of how people are consuming content on Uberflip is actually pushed to our marketing automation tool.

So now my team has full visibility into how people are consuming the content, and that’s also used when we’re actually scoring leads. Then we’re also passing any contact information, so part of that optimization piece is are you gating content to collect leads? Are you able to include sort of nested forms to collect subscribers? Are you actually building an audience? Because it’s a huge, huge part of it, but as you’re building that audience, you also need to nurture that audience. So when you capture that contact information, it’s gotta sync directly to whatever marketing automation tool you’re using, and you’ve gotta almost be able to trigger that nurture right away, to a degree.

Dan: Yeah, I love the idea of thinking of it as a system as opposed to just a variety of tools kinda just meshed together.

Hana: Yeah, absolutely. It’s all gotta work together, and as marketers we’re being asked as often as developers are now in terms of what our technology stack is, which I find is super interesting and super telling, but I think some thought has to definitely be put into how it all works together.

Dan: Totally. One of the things that makes me a bit wary about marketing automation, and I think a lot of other people, is its name. It sounds so Orwellian to me. How can marketers take advantage of the efficiencies and the opportunities of marketing automation and all these tools that we’ve talked about without losing their humanity?

Hana: Yeah, I think that’s a really great point. There’s definitely the danger of sort of over-automating.

Dan: Yeah.

Hana: There’s also this mentality with some marketers, especially the ones that aren’t as versed in how to really leverage marketing automation, is that it’s really the set-it-and-forget-it type thing. It’s really the opposite of that, right. So while some stuff is automated, the reality is you’re automating it to get more feedback so you can optimize it and adjust it and make it better next time, right. So if you’re automating an email campaign, yeah, it’s saving you the time of manually going in and doing that, but the reality is you’re gonna be able to see the results of that campaign. You’re gonna be able to iterate and optimize a little bit quicker, and that’s really what it’s all about. So, that set-it-and-forget-it mentality is a little bit dangerous when it comes to marketing automation despite the name.

I think the biggest advantage that marketing automation gives you is, provided you’re collecting the right information around your audience, is the ability to actually segment your audience. And that’s something that most marketers don’t do enough of because by segmenting your audience properly, you can actually start to send them the right stuff at the right time. Like the stuff that they care about and what they’re interested in as opposed to this send-everything-to-everybody mentality.

Dan: Yeah.

Hana: Segmentation is the biggest thing, and when we take a look at what we’re doing at Uberflip, our open rates are really high for the most part. Our landing page conversion rates are really high for the most part, and it’s not because we’re way better marketers than everybody else, as much as I love my team and they’re awesome marketers, it’s because we segment our audience correctly, and we send the right stuff to the right people. So yeah, open rates are gonna be high because it’s the right person that’s getting that message, you know?

Dan: Yeah, totally. I feel like we have a language problem in marketing because words even like segmentation and targeting sound, again, so robotic, but they really mean what you just said, it’s sending the right thing to the right people who actually want it and get use out of it.

Hana: Absolutely, and totally, segment seems so technical and official, but it’s just splitting people up into groups and sending the stuff to the group that that group wants. That’s all it is.

Dan: Yeah, that’s all it is. We should just start saying that.

Hana: Sounds good. I don’t know if it has quite the same ring, though. It doesn’t make me seem as smart, too, as segment.

Dan: Right, exactly. Yeah, but it makes you seem so much nicer.

Hana: It’s true, it’s true.

Dan: Okay, so we’re actually just starting to wade into the waters of marketing automation here at Unbounce, believe it or not, because of, I think, all the things that we’ve talked about. We’ve been really careful about it. So what would your advice be to marketing teams like us? Help us manage our expectations a little bit here, please.

Hana: Yeah, absolutely. So I think I really have three sorts of pieces of advice, if you wanna call it that way. So first, be patient. I think it takes an average of about six months to get a marketing automation platform fully implemented, which feels like a lot, especially because I know you guys are a lot like us. You like to move fast, and you like to execute.

Dan: Right.

Hana: So take the time to make sure it’s implemented properly. That would be one. The other one is it’s really just taking your marketing and making it more efficient and finding efficiencies in terms of giving you guys more time to do other stuff. So it starts with good marketing, which you guys already do, so that’s something that I think you guys are already ahead of the game at.

Dan: Sweet.

Hana: I think at the end of the day, it comes back to the first thing I mentioned is that it’s people, process, tools in that order, right, because I spoke to you, and I spoke to Gia, your VP Marketing. I know you guys hired somebody for this.

Dan: Yeah.

Hana: That’s awesome, so you have the right people in place. I know you’re already doing a lot of the stuff that you need to be doing. You’re already nurturing people, you’re already sending email campaigns, you’re already doing a lot of that stuff, so you have some sort of process in place. So now you’re kind of upgrading your tool to enhance that process, so it’s really just those three things and keeping those three things in mind: people, process, tools.

Dan: Awesome. Well, thanks for advising us on becoming fools with tools.

Hana: No problem, I feel confident that you guys are gonna be up and running and automating away in no time.

Dan: Yeah, and thanks so much for taking the time to chat today. This was super helpful and informative.

Hana: No problem, thanks for having me.

Stephanie: That was Hana Abaza, VP of Marketing at Uberflip. You can find her blog post in this episode’s show notes at unbounce.com/podcast. Now that we’re entering the world of marketing automation, we’re curious to hear what you use. If you have a sec, tell us your experience with MA at podcast@unbounce.com, and let us know what you think of the podcast in the process. We’ll be sure to get back to you. That’s your call to action. Thanks for listening.

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About Stephanie Saretsky
Stephanie Saretsky is a former multimedia producer at Unbounce. Producing projects like the Call to Action podcast and The Landing Page Sessions by day and a radio DJ by night, she is a lover of all things multimedia. Find her on Twitter: @msbeansie
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