Marketing Automation :: The Musings of Tony Gavin, Esq.

Category Archives for Marketing Automation

CRM & Marketing Automation Platforms for Small Business

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.

What is a CRM?

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.

What is Marketing Automation?

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.

Lack of Marketing Skills – The Primary Barrier to Entry

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.

Use Cases for Small Business

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.

Where to Get Help

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!

5 Reasons Why Mautic is Not Suitable for Most Businesses

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?

This is NOT an anti-Mautic Rant

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.

Here are the 5 key reasons why business owners should think twice before using Mautic:

1. Buggy Updates

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.

2. Cost of Management

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!

3. Sharp Learning Curve

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.

4. Lack of Marketing Skills

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.

5. Unrealistic Expectations

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.

Mautic as a Core Service Offering

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.

Leave Mautic to the Professionals

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!

Zoho CRM | How to Cancel Your Subscription & Close Your Account

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:

Hello Tony,

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,

  • Login to Zoho Campaigns account as Super Admin.
  • Click on the Upgrade link (at the right top of the page)/ Settings module –> Subscription.
  • In Subscription page, you will find Change Credit Card Details below Current Plan Details.
  • Click on the link to change the credit card details.
  • Enter the required details and click Save button to confirm.

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,

  • Login to Zoho Campaigns account as Super Admin.
  • Click on the Upgrade link (at the right top of the page)/ Settings module –> Subscription.
  • In Subscription page, you will find Cancel Your Subscription below Current Plan Details.
  • Click on that link to cancel the subscription.
  • Click Cancel Subscription button to confirm.

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.

Mautic | How to Switch to the https:// Protocol (SSL Certificate)

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.

The Symptoms…

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.

Edit Mautic Configuration

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.

Edit Website Plugins

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.

Edit Custom Themes

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…

Edit Forms

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.

Warning

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.

Large Mautic Campaigns – Workaround for 100 Decisions/Actions Limit

This post is for people experiencing difficulty with building larger campaigns (more than 100 decisions/actions) with Mautic.

The problem with Mautic Decisions & Actions

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:

The Workaround for Mautic Decisions & Actions

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.

1. Create Multiple Contact Segments

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.

2. Create Multiple Campaigns

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

3. Create Campaign 1

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:

Change Campaign
Add Contact to Lead Segment Campaign 2
Remove contact from Lead Segment Campaign 1

4. Create Campaign 2

Create Campaign 2, effectively as a continuation of Campaign 1.

Helpful Hints

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!

Mautic – More Full of Bugs Than a Bait & Tackle Shop

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.

Get out the bug zapper!

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.

Server configuration issues unlimited

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 server requirements – a dark mystery…

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.

Froala Editor: The editor from Hell!

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.

Social integrations

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.

Email Hell

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.

Some Mautic Love

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!