I often get asked to explain what marketing automation is. I can still recall the great excitement I felt when I first discovered marketing automation, having immediately grasped its enormous potential for myself and for my clients. Unfortunately, that initial rush of enthusiasm turned to tongue-tied frustration the very first time that I tried to explain to somebody what marketing automation actually is and what it does. Looking back, I know that I became frustrated because I tried to explain the whole thing – much too quickly – without first putting some basic foundations in place.
I’m hoping that this article will provide some cut-through for the many people whom I know are confused by marketing automation, but who also might benefit the most by utilising it.
Salesforce describes marketing automation as “…technology that manages marketing processes and multifunctional campaigns, across multiple channels, automatically.”That’s actually quite a concise and informative definition – if you happen to be fully across all of the possibilities (including the technologies) that might drive “…multifunctional campaigns, across multiple channels”. Absent that knowledge and that very clear description provided by Salesforce becomes little more than meaningless geek-speak. That’s a shame.
After a lot of years of working with marketing automation platforms and the many tools that integrate with them, I now think of marketing automation as anything that you implement which reduces or eradicates the necessity for human intervention in a marketing process. A simple example of this would be implementing an automated email that goes to a visitor when they submit an inquiry form via your website. If prior to that, initial responses were manually handled by a person, you’ve just automated a single process. Automate enough of those single processes in an organised and coordinated manner and you have marketing automation at work.
I’m going to provide you with a glimpse of the big picture before I swoop down to let you look at some of the moving parts in marketing automation and explain how they all work together. In an ideal world, your marketing automation stack and/or platform will do a number of things very well. Without going into any substantive detail about how it all bolts together or does all of those things, I’ll bullet point the basics.
· You’ll need a landing page builder and/or integration with your landing pages
· You’ll need a form builder that integrates with your landing pages
· You’ll need a basic CRM to capture, classify, segment and manage your leads
· You’ll need a way to automate email for inquiries submitted via your landing pages
· You’ll need a way to track unidentified visitation to your landing pages and/or website
· You’ll need a way to track identified users of your landing pages and/or website
· You’ll need a system to “point score” identified users of your landing pages and /or website
There is a whole lot more stuff that a marketing automation stack or platform might be able to do for you, but for now, I’m going to stick with the more basic functions.
You’ll hear the words “stack” and “platform” bandied around quite a lot with marketing automation. Fortunately, this one isn’t complicated.
A stack is just a bunch of standalone tools that play nicely together in order to automate your selected processes. For example, you might have a Joomla! website, use Unbounce to manage your landing pages and forms, Mailchimp to manage your automated email responses and Zoho to manage your leads. What you have here is a stack.
Platforms tend to offer a variety of fully integrated tools. A single platform may offer a CRM, landing page builder, form builder, email campaign builder, tracking integration with your website, etc. Platforms can offer some clear advantages over using a stack – not the least of which is virtually assured compatibility between the various tools you’ll be using.
There are literally tens of thousands (probably hundreds of thousands) of both free and commercially available tools that you can use within a stack. I’m not even going to begin to go there with that. Suffice to say that unless you have some intermediate to advanced geek skills, a stack might not be the way to go for you. In almost all case you’ll probably be a whole lot better off using a platform. Most of this article will focus on platforms.
NB: Be aware that even the best platforms will need additional tools to complete your stack. An example of this would be your website, which in most cases will be built and managed on a completely separate platform, like WordPress or Wix and be located on an entirely different server to your marketing automation tools. All good quality marketing automation platforms can be easily integrated with your website and other commonly used marketing tools, generally by using off-the-shelf API’s.
Marketing automation platforms provide users with a variety of tools that help them automate single processes (like the automated email I already mentioned) – plus a whole lot more. It’s the “whole lot more” part where people tend to get bogged-down and outright confused. You may have heard of or even tried one or more marketing automation platforms in the past like Hubspot, ActiveCampaign, Drip or Mautic (my personal favourite). There really are a ton of choices out there. We’ll now take a brief look at some of the moving parts within a marketing automation platform.
Virtually all marketing automation platforms provide a CRM (Customer Relations Management) system of sorts. Some are extremely basic, whilst several of the bigger platforms (such as Salesforce) provide an enterprise-level CRM as part of their offering. Many marketing automation CRM’s offer easy integration (usually via an API) that will allow you to push information captured via your marketing automation platform directly to the CRM that you are already using in your business.
The truth is that many (or most) smaller businesses don’t have a CRM of any description and those that do often have little idea about how to maximise its potential. I’m firmly committed to taking a minimalist approach with marketing (and most things in life) and your marketing CRM is no different. Even if you have an existing CRM you may find there is a strong business case for utilising separate CRM’s for your marketing and the rest of your business – but more on that subject another time! For now, here is an overview of what I see as the basic things you’ll need in a CRM, for marketing automation purposes.
Contact information fields is a no-brainer. What you’ll need there will depend upon your individual needs. First name, Last name, Email and Telephone would generally be the bare minimum. You may require more information such as delivery or postal addresses, business names, etc. Most decent platforms will also provide for the simple creation of custom fields. Generally, the email address will be the key record that identifies individuals.
Once you get into the swing of using a marketing automation platform your appetite for more information is likely to grow. I’d recommend using a platform with some degree of social media integration, where possible. At the very least you’ll want some fields for social network URL’s like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. If you’re dealing in a B2B environment you’ll want fields for websites and maybe items like business registration numbers, etc. Again, the ability to create custom fields is gold.
You’ll want to be able to categorise the people and/or companies in your CRM. Categories (often called segments) are how you group your list members at the top level. For example, if you deal with accountants and lawyers, you might want to create a category or segment for each of those groups. Maybe you’d like to sort by gender, or revenue source. Categories can do that. Some systems will also allow you to create tags. Tags might be something like Lead, Customer, Former Customer, Do Not Contact, etc. Using Categories (or Segments) together with tags allows you to sort your data in multiple, highly useful ways.
You may need to upload or download your data for a wide variety of reasons. Some CRM’s do not make this easy – possibly to try and keep you “locked-in” to using the product. Make sure that data upload and download can be performed quickly and easily – preferably in a .csv format (meaning that Microsoft Excel or a simple .txt file can read it).
All marketing automation platforms will offer a form builder. In fact, they’d be fairly useless without one. Form builders provide the mechanism to capture inquiries and push them to your CRM. They do this by “mapping” form fields to the matching fields in your CRM. For example, if your form has four fields, First Name, Last Name, Email and Phone that information will be pushed to the matching fields in your CRM – and they’ll have the tools to make mapping super easy. Many of the better-developed marketing automation platforms will also offer API’s that allow you to map your CRM fields to several of the most popular website form builders like Contact Form 7 or Gravity Forms.
Landing pages are like regular website pages, but with a primary focus on capturing leads, rather than just delivering information. Good landing pages will contain a clear call to action – usually a request to complete the form – which is why you’ll need a form builder. Good landing page builders will generally offer a variety of landing page templates, drag and drop functionality and WYSIWYG editing capability. One of the beauties of using a platform is the ease with which you can add platform generated forms in the sure knowledge that they’ll be compatible with your landing page. Again, many platforms will offer a high degree of compatibility with commercial page builders like Unbounce or LeadPages, as well as integrations for commercial Themes like Thrive Leads and Divi.
This is where marketing automation starts to get exciting. Have you ever entered your contact details on a website and started to get regular emails about whatever it was that you inquired about? Chances are that the website was using marketing automation. An email campaign builder allows you to create an email campaign based upon the interactions of your email recipients. For example, an email goes to a newly captured lead. The recipient opens the email – which your platform is tracking – which triggers another email to be sent to them 24 hours later. Another person enters their details on the same landing page but does not open your email – which triggers a second email to go to them after 3 days. This is decision and action based marketing at work.
Most email campaign builders will offer good looking email templates which can be customised via a WYSIWYG editor. They’ll also offer drag and drop functionality that will make building your email campaigns relatively simple – although it’ll probably take you a while to get your head around exactly how it all works and master the necessary skills.
The possibilities with email campaign builders are endless and go way beyond warming up new prospects. Using your CRM and email campaign builder in tandem, you’ll be able to generate and send emails to your customers, create customer onboarding sequences, create and manage newsletters – and do a whole lot of other things. The value of a tool like this goes way beyond what you initially see.
How would you like to know who’s visited your website, what pages they’ve been to, how long they stayed and how often they’ve returned? Marketing automation platforms can help you to discover all of that and more. All well-developed marketing automation platforms will offer simple integrations for websites built on the most popular CMS platforms like WordPress, Joomla! and Drupal – meaning you’ll be able to track visitation to your pages. Without getting too technical, tracking is achieved by using cookies, which you might want to Google if you don’t know much about them.
Again, without getting too technical, anonymous visitors (i.e. people not yet registered in your system) are identified by their IP address. Their visitation to your website is tracked anonymously, but when your system identifies them (i.e. when they submit a form via one of your landing pages) their earlier visitation to your website will be attributed to them. In other words, you’ll be able to see a complete history of the pages they visited from their logged IP address in the days or weeks leading up to when they finally gave up their contact information to you!
Now we’re moving into really exciting territory, once again. Once your marketing automation platform has identified a visitor, you’ll be able to go into super stalker (and marketer) mode – and you can automate a heap of that. I’ll cover both of these topics in more detail, but you’ll be able to automatically switch visitors to new campaigns based upon their behaviour on your website, as well as “point score” their state of preparedness to become a customer. More often than not that information is displayed in an easy to understand, graphic form via your marketing automation interface.
Point scoring is one of the most awesome features of marketing automation. It’s also one of the more difficult things to get right, but that’s certainly a topic for another day. Right now, you just need to know what point scoring is.
Imagine a prospect opens your first automated email after they submit a form on your landing page – and you give them one point for doing that. They then click a link from that email and visit a blog post that’s all about what they’ve expressed interest in – so you give them another point for that. They then click onto a related blog post – so you give them another point. They then download a white paper about your product – so you give them another two points. That is point scoring and it can provide you with a lot of valuable information, especially if you have an elongated sales cycle.
The general idea behind point scoring is to put some objectivity into determining the right moment to reach out to a prospect, which is usually when they are warm enough to buy. Marketing automation can track many more behaviours than what I’ve mentioned here, which you can also point score, but you’ll get the point (pardon the pun). Point scoring is all about knowing when the right moment is to reach out to a new prospect and marketing automation can make you look like a pro at this.
Although I don’t consider this to be an essential feature of marketing automation, it can be killer for some businesses. Campaign switching allows you to automatically switch known visitors to your website from one kind of campaign to another.
Let’s say that you sell refrigerators and a visitor initially indicated interest in a small bar fridge and gave up their contact details to you. They are getting regular emails from you (and maybe seeing remarketing campaigns) about bar fridges. Suddenly, their main refrigerator breaks down and they are now spending all of their time on your website looking at two-door fridge-freezers. Set up correctly, your marketing automation platform can detect that shift in interest and will automatically switch them to your fridge-freezer campaign.
Campaign switching is an advanced feature of marketing automation and it’ll take a bit of practice to know how to use it – but it’s clearly got potential for many types of businesses.
By now, you should have a clearer picture of the various components (or tools) that make up a marketing automation stack or platform and have some idea of what they do. In isolation, each one of these tools can be extremely powerful and will make an incredible difference to your marketing. Make these tools talk to each other and work together towards a set of desired outcomes and the whole is far greater than the sum of the individual parts. Marketing automation isn’t one technology. It’s a variety of technologies working in unison.
I know from experience that most people who start using marketing automation give up and walk away. In most cases, that’s because they are trying to do far too much at once. Marketing automation isn’t easy to master. You’ll need a variety of skills to get it working for you and you’ll need to invest quite a bit of time in understanding and mastering the various tools. I’ve talked about those skills in depth, in a variety of other articles. Don’t try to do it all at once or you’ll get frustrated and you’ll walk away too! Master the tools one at a time, use them in the real world, then move on to the next.
For those with the tenacity to stick with it or the resources to pay an expert to help them, marketing automation can be a major game-changer. If you’re using marketing automation now, or plan to in the near future comment below and tell me about your experiences.
I know. It’s confusing. I’m telling you to invest less in marketing when everyone around you is telling you that you should invest more. As one of those self-interested marketing types, why would I tell you to invest less in marketing when you investing more is how I make my rather questionable living? Doesn’t that go against everything that us narcissistic marketing types are supposed to say to unsuspecting business owners? Um, yep. But I guess that’s what happens when you throw an accountant into the deep end and they’re forced to learn a thing or two about marketing – but that’s a story for another day.
Over the past 10 years marketing has changed more than it has in the 50 years prior to that. Every day sees the introduction of some new strategy, tactic, system, algorithm, platform, method or metric that’s supposed to help business people become better marketers. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. Most business owners just get MORE confused as they try to go up the digital learning curve. The more they learn the less they feel that they know. I know exactly how that feels.
I’ve been “doing digital” for more than 15 years now and have personally mastered (and excelled) at a wide variety of digital tactics. I can build pretty awesome websites. I can write decent copy. I’ve truly slammed it at SEO. I’ve built and managed profitable Google Ads campaigns. I can retarget successfully across multiple platforms. I’ve mastered cold email. I’m ranked amongst the world’s top 10 influencers for the Mautic marketing automation platform. I have a social media footprint running into the tens of thousands. I have anything up to 40 staff doing all this stuff for me and my clients – and yet…
I sometimes feel that I know less now than I ever did! That’s the fast-paced nature of digital.
In essence, minimalist marketing is marketing that’s guided by strategy, rather than the anarchy of standalone or disjointed tactics. You might wonder what I mean by that, so let me illustrate by explaining how many businesses arrive in that dark, unprofitable place.
John and Sarah start a business. They “know” that they need a website and get their neighbours cousin (a uni student studying graphic design) to build them one, really, really cheap. It has great pictures of John and Sarah on the website and their Mum’s are super proud of both of them. John and Sarahs’ friends all express their admiration for their new website, as well as the really snazzy purple, green and orange logo designed by Sarah. That thing really pops!
As the months and years roll by, John and Sarah find that they need more marketing collateral. Initially, Sarah designs some brochures using MS Word, but eventually, they hire a local graphic designer to “fix things up a bit”. The new brochures look great but don’t quite match the website or their business cards, as Sarah has changed their logo “just a bit” quite a few times now. In fact, the orange has gone and it’s now a bright shade of yellow. And it has some blue stripes. Ah well, it’ll all be OK…
Meanwhile, one of Johns’ golf buddies tells him that he knows someone in his industry who’s killing it with Facebook ads. John knows that their 22-year-old receptionist, Emilee, uses Facebook every day and is a regular Wizz on the computer. He instructs Emilee to create a Facebook page for the business and run some Facebook ads. How hard can that possibly be, right? He gets Emilee to write some blog post too, because – ya know – everyone needs blog posts and Emilee has plenty of free time to do that – in spite of her “solid C student” prowess at English.
Next, Sarah gets a random phone call from a phone number in India. David Smith (really?) is an SEO guru who can get their website ranking at the top of Google search results with his “Miracle 999 SEO Booster Bundle”. Sarah tells John all about the thousands of new customers from around the globe who could soon be visiting their locally focused website and buying from them. They jump right in for some of that amazing SEO.
Then Sarah meets somebody at the kids’ school who knows this awesome Google Ads guy – and you can guess the rest. Before long, John and Sarah are on the road to a digital marketing disaster. Sun Tzu said it best, long before the internet was ever even thought of: “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” John and Sarah are now hearing the noise before defeat. Loud. And. Clear.
John and Sarah could have avoided the situation I’ve outlined by having a clear strategy and a solid tactical plan for their marketing. Instead, they decided to chase every bright shiny object that offered even a glimmer of hope for their marketing. They knew no better. I’ve done it myself. Repeatedly. You’ve probably done it too. These days, I think I spend as much (or more) time reminding clients to STOP chasing bright shiny objects as I do persuading them to stick to their strategy and just implement their existing plans. Staying focused and disciplined is hard. It also sits at the core of minimalist marketing, right along with Strategy.
Write this across your forehead: Strategy comes first.
Don’t even think about tactics (what marketing you’ll actually do) until you get this sorted or you’re headed for certain disaster. I’ll give you my iron-clad guarantee on that.
To be a successful minimalist marketer you’ll need to focus on the quality of your marketing, rather than the quantity. If you’re going to have a website, make damned sure that it’s a high-quality website – good design, customer-facing, selling a clear value proposition and encouraging visitors to engage with you. If you’re going to write blog posts and distribute them via social media, make them informative and worth the time that readers might invest. If you decide to engage in SEO make sure your focus is on the kind of keyword sets where you can easily add value for visitors to your pages.
The days when you could just push out worthless content on the internet and still manage to have it discovered by search engines are long over. You are now competing with the (literally) millions of pages published each month on the internet for the attention of search engines and the eyeballs of prospects and customers. You’d better make damned sure that your content is worthwhile or you won’t attract either.
There are almost endless options when it comes to marketing tactics and you don’t have the time, money or skills to engage in all of them. I mentioned strategy as the first principle of minimalist marketing. The individual tactics you choose (like SEO, or PPC, or blogging) need to feed your strategy and those tactics will hopefully feed off one and other. For example, you might write a high-quality, keyword-rich blog post which you use to attract organic traffic to your website (SEO). You might also post that same blog to your social media pages, drive paid traffic to it (Google Ads, maybe), or use it in a newsletter to customers. One high-quality marketing piece can be used over and over and/or be repurposed. Again, quality is the key ingredient.
The biggest challenge with the essentials might be deselecting certain things that you are doing now in order to become more focused on the most essential tactics that feed your strategy. Making those choices can be more difficult than it looks, but they are essential if you want to become a minimalist marketer. Choose the things that are the best fit and the most likely to work. Drop the non-essential completely.
Minimalist marketing relies more upon systems and less upon people. Don’t get me wrong, people still have an extremely important role to play, especially in any service-based business, but even the people need to work within your system for minimalist marketing to be effective. You’ll find too that most of your people will love working within clearly defined systems because the part they have to play within that system should be quite clear to them. People generally love predictability and routine. You’ll be appreciated more than you know.
Software plays a major part in minimalist marketing too, reducing or eliminating the variables (or outright mistakes) associated with normal human behaviour, as well as eliminating the need for people to perform repetitive and often mundane tasks. Like the Terminator, a marketing automation platform just keeps pursuing its programmed objectives. It never sleeps. It doesn’t experience bad days when it doesn’t feel like emailing prospects. It doesn’t go on holidays or need any sick leave. Marketing automation might just become your new best friend.
For example, when a lead comes in via your website, could it automatically be pushed to your CRM? Could a series of emails and/or text messages be initiated that are designed to “warm-up” your newly acquired prospect? Can the right people in your organisation be notified automatically when your new lead engages in certain behaviours on your website? The answer to all of that is yes, thanks to the wonders of marketing automation.
Developing systems takes time and effort. The exciting thing is that you do it just once, then allow the processes you’ve developed and the tools you’ve employed to drive it. The long-term benefits of robust systems are profound. It’s not marketing specific, but I can highly recommend Michael Gerbers’ excellent book about developing systems, The E-Myth. Frankly, it’s the best book on business that I’ve ever read. Period. Just get it.
An ideal system will be end-to-end and outcome-focused. It will be sequential, leading each new prospect along a pre-defined journey to becoming your customer – all with as little human intervention as possible. Put another way, minimalist marketing requires you to think backwards from the desired result (i.e. the sale) and plan each of the steps that your prospect will take from the point of first contact through to when you finally take their money and beyond.
Taking this ultra-organised approach allows you to do some things that more randomised, standalone tactics just don’t lend themselves to. Here are what I see as the two greatest benefits.
1. Visibility Over the Journey
Have you ever wondered where a prospect is at in the sales process? Are they warmed up enough that they’re ready to buy your product or service yet? Is now the right time to reach out to them and offer more information, or should you wait a little while longer? Systems (notably marketing automation) provide you with a high degree of visibility over where your prospect is at in their sales journey, right down to letting you know what pages they’ve visited on your website, when and how often, etc. If you want to go to the trouble, you can even develop a point scoring system that puts objectivity into when the right time is to reach out and speak to a prospect. You need marketing automation in your life.
2. Identify & Resolve Weakness in Your System
One of the main benefits of being organised and having a system is that it permits you to measure the effectiveness of each step in your process and make changes, as required. For example, if you have a nine-step marketing process and you are losing a heap of prospects at step six, maybe you have a problem right there, which you can now address by taking (and measuring) an alternative approach. A less organised process wouldn’t permit you to even identify the problem, let alone experiment with possible solutions. A problem correctly identified is half the problem solved. The right systems and tools make the correct identification of problems 1,000 times easier!
What does every marketer want from their marketing? A solid return on investment.
I often meet people who are obsessed with measuring fairly meaningless metrics. Where their website ranks on Google for a certain keyword set. How many likes a particular post on Facebook gets. How many followers they have on their Instagram page. All of that stuff is interesting and you certainly should know about it. The problem is that none of it tells you anything much about your return on investment from marketing spend.
Minimalist marketers focus less on meaningless metrics and keep their eyes firmly on the ball of ROI. One of the keys to all effective marketing (minimalist or otherwise) is to measure your return on investment from particular marketing activities. How much do you make as a result of SEO, PPC, social media posting, or sending gifts to customers? You’ll be able to measure all or most of this stuff – and you should. Over time, you’ll know with a high degree of certainty what works best, leaving you free to spend more on your most effective marketing and drop less profitable marketing altogether. It might even leave you with some budget to experiment with some of those bright shiny objects!
It took me a long time to accept that less really could add up to more, that quality beats quantity and that NOT trying new things all the time could lead to a far more effective and profitable marketing program. Since I embraced minimalist marketing as a personal mantra, my business has never been quite the same. It takes a LOT of effort to get yourself organised as a minimalist marketer, but in my personal experience, it’s been 100% worth the time and effort required. Give it a go. Comment below to let me know how minimalist marketing is working out for you.
A small business is not a little big business. I know for certain that most small business owners who have investigated CRM and marketing automation tools feel completely overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by the options. Overwhelmed by the costs. Overwhelmed by just trying to understand these complex systems and how they can make them work for their business. Here’s the truth that most providers don’t want to tell you: CRM and marketing automation tools are not for everyone.
Most people tend to think of a CRM as a piece of software that they use to manage customers in one way or another. I think that Salesforce defines it much better than that (yes – I stole this straight from their website):
CRM or Customer Relationship Management is a strategy for managing an organisation’s relationships and interactions with customers and potential customers. A CRM system helps companies stay connected to customers, streamline processes, and improve profitability.
Damn! That is so good and right on the money – for large organisations. Most small businesses lack the internal skills to utilise a CRM to its full potential and can’t afford to hire external help. Reality is that unless a small business owner has the time and motivation to go up the learning curve themselves, any CRM is little more than a digital decoration for them. They can’t and won’t use it in a way that exploits its true potential.
Many marketing automation systems go hand-in-hand with a CRM. I give full credit for the following definition to myself!
Marketing automation is software that is designed to automate repetitive marketing tasks. At its best, it removes human emotion and error from the marketing process and takes prospects on a pre-defined journey towards becoming customers.
There are a ton of companies out that there that build and host marketing automation platforms. By necessity, all marketing automation platforms are quite complex. Some are easier to understand and use than others. In spite of what the various vendors of these platforms will tell you, none of them is easy to master. Even experienced geeks move quickly to overwhelm when confronted with one of these babies for the first time. There is a reason for that. It’s genuinely overwhelming.
Like with CRM’s, most small businesses lack the internal skills to deal with marketing automation platforms and cannot afford the kind of help that specialises in taming these unwieldy beasts.
When I said that some platforms are easier to use than others, I meant to say that by investing some time and effort many small business owners can (and do) learn to use Hubspot, ActiveCampaign, Mautic or one of the many other applications available. Unfortunately, learning where to click and where to drag and drop something is a long way from being enough. Users need enough knowledge of marketing – plus a heap of other geeky skills – just to make it effective for them. Here’s a list of some of the basic skills you’ll need to know in order to be successful as a DIY user of one of these kinds of platforms.
Webmastering: Virtually all platforms require some degree of integration with your website. Anything more than something simple and you’ll need a webmaster or programmer to take care of it for you.
Database Management: CRM’s are databases. Aside from just importing data, you’ll need to work on custom field creation, segmentation, tagging and any other number of issues.
Form Design: Marketing automation platforms are designed to capture leads and push them into your CRM at the same time triggering a marketing process. Forms are at the heart of that process – so you better know how to design and integrate them with your web pages.
Landing Page Design: Most marketing automation platforms allow you to create landing pages. These are special pages designed to capture leads or get visitors to pursue a pre-determined course of action. Building them is part art and part science. You better know how to do it.
Copywriting: Do you know how to write persuasive copy? Between building landing pages and writing emails for automation sequences, you’d better develop a good grasp of this skill. Otherwise, you’re probably wasting your money even using a platform like this.
Graphic Design: Appearance means a lot. Good layout and design contributes positively toward the overall user experience on your pages and can mean the difference between capturing a lead, or the visitor leaving your page with you empty-handed. 99% of people need outside assistance with this.
Campaign Creation: Campaigns are the core of marketing automation platforms. This is the nitty-gritty stuff like deciding when a prospect receives a particular email, or when you switch them from one kind of campaign to another. It’s an expert speciality all of its own.
Automation Sequencing: Should a prospect get an email right away when they make an inquiry and what should it say. If they open it, how long before you should send another email? What if they don’t open your email – how long should you wait before emailing them again – or should a text message go out instead? Welcome to automation sequencing.
Point Scoring: Point scoring allows you to track and score a prospect’s journey, allowing you to know the ideal time to reach out to the prospect as they warm up to the idea of dealing with you. That’s right – another skill you’ll need to learn!
By now, you should be getting the idea that using a CRM and marketing automation platform is no picnic. It’s easy to see why most small businesses that start using this technology soon quit in sheer frustration.
We’ve stepped through some of the negatives. Now it’s time to step through the positives and look at use cases for CRM and marketing automation tools, for small businesses. Here are the basic criteria that I personally like to apply.
Does your business have a high value, extended sales cycle?
Many businesses sell high-value products and services and have sales cycles extending from weeks to years. Luxury cars, cosmetic dentistry and fertility clinics are some examples of businesses that often meet these criteria.
Does your typical customer have a high lifetime value to you?
Orthodontists, chiropractors and accountants are good examples of businesses that extract high lifetime value from typical clients. Think about if your business falls into this category?
Does your business have a lot of “other” products or service to sell to customers?
Maybe you have many products and service that you can sell to existing customers. If this is you, then marketing automation can very likely become a highly profitable part of your business.
Does your business have the internal skill-base to use this technology properly?
Maybe you have full-time marketing staff on the payroll. Maybe you know a lot about CRM’s due to prior work experience. Maybe a lot of things! Being able to take care of even a few things can mean big savings when running a marketing automation platform.
Does your business have the money to invest in exploiting this technology?
Do you have $10,000 to throw at this immediately and at least $2,000 (probably more) each month to keep it moving correctly? If you don’t, there is a better than good chance that marketing automation is not right for you.
There are many businesses out there that advise on and sell CRM and marketing automation, so help is reasonably easy to find. Good help is another thing entirely. My advice would be to work with a business that uses marketing automation themselves and practices what they preach. That’s the only way they’ll have the kind of insights required to know what a customer really experiences. I can assure you that marketing automation is both infuriating and rewarding. I know that because I’m one of those people who practices what I preach. Happy marketing!
I know that many people follow my posts on Mautic. According to Influencer World, I am currently ranked 16th in the world as a Mautic influencer. Everyone who knows me personally is aware of my tremendous enthusiasm for Mautic and also knows that I’ve been a supporter and evangelist of this powerful platform since its early days. The big question I’m sure you’re now contemplating is, why am I saying that Mautic is not suitable for use by most businesses?
First up, let me make it clear that this post is not in any way a rant against Mautic and/or its terrific community of developers. It’s the simple truth, told from the perspective of someone who has to deal with the day-to-day frustrations of business owners we are currently supporting using Mautic. It’s also my own, direct experience of using the Mautic platform for close to two years now.
Virtually every new release of Mautic is plagued with bugs. Sometimes, these are very serious bugs. We long ago set up a Mautic test environment on our server, which includes Mautic integrated installations of Joomla! and WordPress. On the test sites we’ve replicated themes, templates, modules, extensions, plugins, pages, custom code, mail configurations, Cron jobs, etc. all of which we have in use, elsewhere. Each time a new version of Mautic is released we install it on the test site first, then proceed with testing. Every time we do this there are problems and often a lot of them. Frequently, these problems cannot be resolved by a novice. They need a programmer.
Following on from buggy updates is the cost of managing Mautic. Our development team has spent hundreds of hours identifying and resolving update related issues. Developers cost time and money. That’s time and money that most businesses simply don’t have. The truth is that this “free” platform can end up costing any business very real money to host and manage. We’ve lived in the hope for a long time that the Mautic community would get this particular aspect of Mautic, under control. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened, up to now. Fingers crossed for the future!
Mautic has a very sharp learning curve. Whilst there are some excellent resources out there for users to tap into, few business owners are prepared to invest the time and effort required to really put Mautic to work for them. That is as much an issue of people not wanting to take the time to learn Mautic, as it’s an issue with the difficulty of mastering Mautic. Once again, this is an observation of how Mautic tends to be utilised by real businesses. The truth is that most business owners will never become proficient at using Mautic. It’s just too difficult for them to fully grasp.
Mautic set out to create a marketing automation platform for everyman. It’s an admirable objective and something that I thought was a great idea. I am no longer convinced of that. The reason why is that using Mautic proficiently and profitably requires something more than knowing which buttons to click and where to drag and drop. Using Mautic effectively requires a broad range of skills including basic competency in graphic design, some knowledge of HTML coding, decent copywriting ability and a variety of other general digital marketing skills. The reality is that most business owners lack some or all of these skills and are often reluctant to hire somebody who does have them. You might learn where and how to click every single button on Mautic – but still get nothing from it without these skills.
Mautic is not a miracle worker. The platform offers much and delivers in spades on most of those promises. The simple truth is that unless business owners are prepared to invest the necessary time and money into making the platform work for them, Mautic will simply become a source of near-endless frustration and cost, for them. Realistically, Mautic is a professional level digital marketing tool. Most small businesses cannot absorb the costs associated with putting this exciting platform to work for them. Even larger businesses that might be able to afford properly implementing and managing Mautic, baulk at the real costs of putting it to work for them. Expectations need to be realistic, when using Mautic.
For more than a year my company has implemented and managed Mautic as part of its core service offering to businesses. For all of the reasons outlined in this post, from the end of this month, we will not be offering Mautic as part of any core service packages from now on. Mautic is not an everyman product.
We will still be providing services for businesses which have a clear need for Mautic. We’ll also implement and manage Mautic for businesses with both realistic expectations of just what Mautic can deliver for them and pockets deep enough to drive that. We will, of course, continue to support existing customers who are using Mautic, already.
In summary, my opinion is that Mautic is an automation tool best left to the professionals. If your business is considering using Mautic, you might like to think about the foregoing facts before walking down the Mautic superhighway. Mautic offers either Heaven or Hell, without much in between. You have been warned!
Initially, I was super-impressed with the vast capability of the Zoho system, and we moved quickly with trialling a variety of Zoho tools and applications. Within a few months, it became apparent that the breath-taking complexity of the system meant that we could not convince team members to use tools efficiently, and we dropped it – but that is not what this post is about…
During our Zoho experience, we decided to try them out as a lead capture and auto-responder system for a new client – something similar to MailChimp. The client organized a paid subscription, last August. Due to the difficulty of using the Zoho system, the account was never used, and the client neglected to cancel it. About two weeks ago, Zoho emailed my client and asked them to update their credit card details. The client asked us to assist with cancelling the account.
Initially, I assigned this task to a junior staff member. It seemed simple enough – cancel a Zoho subscription. Nothing could have been further from the truth. I ended up personally wasting over two hours, running around in circles to try and figure out how to cancel the subscription and terminate the account. It turns out I wasn’t the only one having trouble. Zoho’s forums are FULL of pissed off people, who also can’t figure out how to do this. The answers provided by Zoho support on their forums are misleading at best, and downright deceitful at worst.
I eventually emailed support. Three times. I also made two (completely pointless) phone calls. In my final email to Zoho, I threatened legal action if they didn’t respond. That seemed to do the trick. Here is their response:
My sincere apologies for the delayed response.
We see that there is a Zoho Campaigns account under ‘[clients email]’. Since a paid service is active, you cannot close the organisation online.
To update card information or to downgrade the Campaigns account, you need to log in as Super admin ‘[clients email]’.
Kindly follow the below steps to change your credit card details online,
We are updating our user interface so that you will have all advantages as the other Zoho Products.
For downloading the invoices:
As of now, we do not have a Link where you can download the Invoices relating to the Zoho Campaigns service. But If you would like to get all the invoices, I will provide you all the invoice copies in a separate e-mail.
Before closing the account, you will have to downgrade the account to a free plan.
Please follow the steps to downgrade your Zoho Campaigns subscription details,
Once your account is downgraded, Please send us an e-mail, so that we shall delete the account form our end.
We are extremely sorry for the inconvenience caused and will certainly look forward in assisting you regarding this.
Thanks & Regards,
[nameless support idiot]
Zoho payments | Zoho Corp
As ridiculous and convoluted as their procedure for payment deactivation and account closure is, they do in fact have one. You just can’t find it online – and that appears to be a very deliberate omission on their part. Others and myself are wasting hundreds of hours attempting to find this information, which they make as difficult as possible to obtain.
My advice to anyone considering dealing with Zoho is – well – don’t. I hate to say it, but it’s clear that this organization sets out to make the task of closing an account as difficult as possible. As if that isn’t bad enough, they clearly withhold that information from their website, and their support team only responds to serious threats of legal action. That’s not a great deal however you look at it.
In a later blog, I’ll detail my experience of using Zoho. It’s something that seemed great at first blush, but which failed to live up to expectation.
Yesterday, I switched my primary website over to the https:// (secure) protocol. This article is not about how to purchase and install an SSL certificate – it’s about what to do with your installation of Mautic when it ceases to work (and it will cease to work properly) after you’ve installed that certificate.
WARNING: You’re going to need a few geek skills to pull this off. If you don’t have a reasonable understanding of how to edit templates and are not confident inside your cPanel – do not, repeat DO NOT fuck with this – get a geek to assist you. Your hosting provider is not going to be enough to help you to pull this off.
This post is aimed at intermediate to advanced Mautic users.
First up, we edited the htaccess file and did the normal redirections that you’d do for a website that has a newly installed SSL certificate, setting up the site to always resolve to the https:// protocol. After we’d done that, we noticed that all of the embedded Mautic forms what we had on our (Joomla!) website had completely disappeared from the pages where they were installed. Clearly, something was wrong.
You’ll also notice that the word SECURE and the padlock which sits beside it on https:// enabled websites may not appear on some pages. Instead, you’ll see a circular icon. If you click this it will alert you that problems exist with the page and it may not be secure. Usually, that will relate to something that has inadvertently been hardcoded on the page, such as an image file. In the case of Mautic, look first at your embedded forms as the source of the problem. I’ll cover how to diagnose and fix this later.
First up, you’ll need to clear your Mautic cache. Mautic does a terrible job of this and you’ll find it easier to simply delete the cache folder, which you’ll find located in the app folder of your installation of Mautic. Don’t worry about deleting the folder. Mautic will generate a new one.
Next, login into your instance of Mautic. Click on the gear icon (top right of admin panel) and navigate to Configuration. In the system settings, you’ll see your website URL. It will be the old http:// URL – not the new https:// URL that you have with you newly installed SSL certificate. Edit the website URL to include the https:// protocol and click save.
When you click save Mautic will resolve to the User/Authentication Settings tab and will display and error warning in red. You need to add the same Email, First name and Last name as you already have entered in your user settings. Click save.
Chances are you are using a plugin to monitor website visitation if you are using a popular CMS like WordPress or Joomla!. You will need to edit the plugin so that it recognises the new https:// protocol. Navigate to the plugin within your CMS and edit the URL, as required. Click save.
This next step only applies if you have custom themes installed. Even then it may not apply if relative URL’s have been consistently used in creating those themes. Especially if your custom themes are older, there is a big chance that they may contain hardcoded URL’s. Older versions of Mautic (back in the 1’s) sometimes rejected relative URL’s when creating templates. A quick look at the public pages of your template should tell you if anything requires attention.
Go to your cPanel (or use ftp) and navigate to your installation of Mautic, then navigate to the theme that you wish to edit. You’ll then need to go through html / html.twig files and edit any hardcoded URL’s to reflect the new https:// protocol. Notably, pages and forms appear to be affected. I went through everything – and even cleaned up some messy code!
After I’d done all of that, everything seemed to work fine – except for one thing…
Earlier I mentioned the problem of pages still being insecure. It only affected pages with embedded Mautic forms on them. The solution is simple. Mautic forms all provide a for a return URL (the URL visitors are directed to upon submission of a form). Navigate to each form and edit the Redirect/URL Message field to include the https:// protocol. That immediately cleared up my issue, with some pages displaying as insecure.
This was my first run through on this. I fully expect to uncover more issues in the next day or two. I’ll update this post as I identify and resolve those problems.
This post is for people experiencing difficulty with building larger campaigns (more than 100 decisions/actions) with Mautic.
By default, it appears that Mautic (as at version 2.2.2) imposes a limitation of 100 decisions/actions when building campaigns. You will be able to save more than 100 decisions and actions, but will notice that Mautic strips the green or red links joining those decisions and actions. That means that your campaign will break down at the point of those breaks. Here is what it looks like:
This assumes that you already understand the basics of Mautic campaign building, such as the need for Segments and Channels (such as emails). This is a workaround is for email sequences and does not cover the finer points of contacts, forms, point scoring, etc. Here is what I did.
First up, I created multiple Contact Segments, which are really for the same group of Contacts. In my case, I had a Contact Segment which was capturing leads from a Mautic form. I created a second Contact Segments and simply renamed the first, just to tie them together:
Lead Segment 1
Lead Segment 2
Lead Segment 1 continued to capture leads from my Mautic from. I’ll cover what I did with Lead Segment 2 later.
I created two Campaigns and named them, again to tie them together for my own review purposes.
Lead Segment Campaign 1
Lead Segment Campaign 2
In Lead Segment Campaign 1 I set up a campaign with around 80 decisions/actions (mindful of the 100 decisions/actions limit imposed by Mautic).
My final action in the campaign was to:
Add Contact to Lead Segment Campaign 2
Remove contact from Lead Segment Campaign 1
Create Campaign 2, effectively as a continuation of Campaign 1.
To pull this off you’ll need to think the campaign through from start to finish. The first campaign that I did this with was a simple auto-responder sequence. There were a total of eight emails in the campaign with the decision of Open Email set to trigger the next email in the sequence after one day. The decision not to open an email triggered the next email in the sequences after 3 days.
How I worked around this was by setting up Change Campaign to trigger immediately the Contact opened an email, if within one day – and otherwise within two days. I then set up Campaign 2 to trigger after one day – meaning that the one day for opens / three days for non-opens rhythm of Campaign 1 was maintained.
Mautic has more bugs than a tackle and bait shop. This is not perfect and I don’t think for one moment that it will work well for every situation. If you think it through you will find it’s a fairly good workaround for a lot of situations when creating large Mautic Campaigns. Good luck with it!
Let me start this post by saying that I love Mautic. I hate Mautic too. For those who don’t know, Mautic is an open source marketing automation tool. I really believe that in the long term Mautic will revolutionise digital marketing. I believe it so much that my company has staked its future on Mautic in many ways – but that’s another story.
Not much goes smoothly with Mautic. Multiply that by 10,000 if you are running Mautic on your own server, rather than using their hosted solution. I know how to install Mautic. Hell, I even made a video on about it that has proven to be popular on YouTube. That doesn’t mean that everything went smoothly from day one. I have personally put HUNDREDS of hours into coming up the learning curve on Mautic. Much of that has just been ironing out the bugs. You’ll need a thick skin to work with this baby.
Every time I turn around Mautic appears to have developed another server configuration issue. I’d estimate that about 97% of all problems I’ve ever encountered with Mautic are server configuration related. When Mautic fucks up (as it will) go looking for server permissions problems first.
You’ll need the help of your hosting support unless you are very server savvy yourself. The team at Liquid Web have been outstanding with us. I’d conservatively estimate that they have poured maybe 100 hours plus into support chats and tickets with regard to Mautic. It took several months (literally) to get things just right. In case you’re wondering, the Liquid Web claim of “Heroic Support” is the real deal. They rock!
Mautic provides basic server requirements on their website. Those basic requirements are tested by Mautic upon installation and it will throw an error message if your server fails to meet them. That is FAR from what is required to get Mautic running correctly. Unfortunately, there is no comprehensive guide to Mautic server configuration. It’s trial and error. I’ve tried to raise some interest in the Mautic Github Community to create a comprehensive server configuration guide but none of the devs seems interested. I’m sure that thousands of people walk away from Mautic each week out of the sheer frustration of being unable to get their server configuration right.
Mautic utilises Froala Editor. Froala Editor is an abomination. There. I said it! I totally get that the Mautic dev team wants to make Mautic user-friendly for Mums and Dads without technical skills. That is a worthy objective. Unfortunately, Froala frustrates the shit out of people who do possess technical and creative skills. This horrid tool cannot be easily disabled in Mautic and strips code when users attempt to save using the code editor. Truly horrible behaviour.
I’ve been vocal within the Mautic community to get rid of Froala Editor. Thanks to one of the dev team explaining the realities of how many interdependencies there are with Froala, I completely get why ditching this tool is so difficult. It is due for deletion in a future edition of Mautic, so watch this space for updates.
These seem to be difficult at best – and just don’t work at worst. I’m completely lost with what’s supposed to work and what isn’t. What I do know is that when this stuff is finally sorted out, Mautic will become an indispensable tool in monitoring the social activity of your leads – all from within the Mautic CRM.
Mautic boasts a variety of email integrations. Some work better than others. Some don’t work at all. Part of that is related to the SMTP service providers, like SparkPost. Part of that is Mautic. Again, this is a feature that improves with each update. Same deal with the horribly buggy Campaign Builder.
I haven’t written this post to be critical of Mautic. I love the product. I love open source. This post is a warning. As much as Mautic likes to position itself as something that anyone can use – that’s bullshit. That may change as the product evolves. Right now, you’re going to need some geek skills just to make Mautic work. You’re going to need intermediate to advanced geeks skills to make it work well, or you’re going to need somebody who has those skills helping you.
Mautic promises a lot. It delivers on most of those promises – if you have the technical skills to take advantage of it. If you don’t you’ll end up confused and frustrated. Right now, Mautic is a tool for web marketing professionals. If you accept that and get the help you need, you might also find that it can completely change the way that you do your marketing.
Keep up the awesome work team Mautic!