Chris Kiersch is the CEO of myBusinessIntegrated. Chris is a serial entrepreneur and Internet marketing specialist with over 23 years of technology, marketing, and sales experience. He has started, sold, and partnered with digital agencies aimed at integrating sales and marketing platforms for a variety of businesses. Chris and Leo Merle, Act-On’s Program Manager, had a conversation about Chris’ success with marketing automation. This transcript has been edited for brevity.
Listen to the podcast:
LEO: Chris, I’d like to get started with a question I think is at the top of everyone’s list. Tell me why you decided to implement marketing automation, and what specific issues needed to be addressed.
CHRIS: In 2008, I started myBusinessIntegrated as an integrated communications company. Over the next couple years, we actually tried integrating several… I’ll call them “lower cost” solutions for creating custom email platforms, forms, CRMs. And for us, it was very difficult to get support for each individual product. We’d do something in one platform and it would break in another.
Back in around 2011, I had a client from a jet charter company. It was a really complicated implementation, and I knew that we couldn’t be successful trying to cobble together those solutions. I spent some time assessing the different options out there; it was still relatively early in the market. I felt that Act-On would be the most flexible, affordable, and scalable solution. And what was the real deciding factor for us was the support component. I think if you have the right support – and what I mean by that is that when you call, somebody picks up the phone when you need them – that’s really a differentiator, especially when it comes to integrating some of these complicated and powerful platforms.
LEO: I agree. Customer support is really the “day-to-day” connection you have and that perspective can really be overlooked when considering a solution. That’s definitely one of the important items, but what were some of the other criteria you used to evaluation systems?
Marketing automation before sales automation
CHRIS: Well, there’s the fact that it needed to be able to function on its own. Certainly integration with salesforce.com was critical for us. But in many cases we felt that we first needed to implement the marketing automation platform and then move into the CRM integration. So the solution had to be able to stand on its own as well as providing immediate access to support. You know, I actually called all the potential players we were looking at and acted as though I was a customer in order to see what the response time was like, what their attitude was like.
For me, being humble is probably the most important characteristic in a person. There’s nothing better than working around smart people who are humble, and there’s nothing worse than working around smart people who are arrogant. So that access to support, and the attitude behind it, was important. Affordability was important, too. I didn’t feel we needed to have the most expensive solution, and I knew we didn’t need the least expensive, but we wanted something that would allow me to get in and grow – that was scalable. And the company needed to be profitable, or at least showing trends towards profitability.
LEO: Completely agree. CRM integration is really important as well as scalability. Knowing what issues need to be solved today is one thing, but having a solution in place that grows with you should be just as important. Shifting gears a little bit, what were your most critical or most stubborn marketing challenges prior to implementing?
CHRIS: Making sure the customers understood their data. There was a lot of data cleansing that had to be done. In many cases, people just don’t look at their data. They don’t know how messed up it is, and we really underestimated the amount of time that’s involved in dealing with that. We had to take it on the chin and go in there and do it ourselves. The thing about data, especially disparate data, is you have to keep tabs on it.
Some people only react when something is wrong, so for us, our job was to help people understand the data and what to do about it. Like what’s the value of that asset, or how can we put a value to a new contact form being submitted, or a new email sign-up, and really thinking about an ROI model that we could build a dashboard to. That way we could validate how they spent every dollar, and make sure they got fifteen dollars back for it. In many cases, people don’t understand how to pull that together. And I thought we did, but you know when you’re pulling a bunch of different tools together, it’s time-consuming, and sometimes it can be hard to validate. So, I’d say the biggest challenge was clearly communicating that and then failing forward and learning as we went forward.
LEO: Failing forward…I really like that term, especially in the context of working with your customers to help them uncover and understand their data. It’s noble to see someone “take it on the chin” as you mentioned, and really do it yourself. After implementing, did marketing automation address those challenges?
CHRIS: I think marketing automation provided us with some containers where we could manage the challenges. Initially, it’s a little bit overwhelming because these tools have a lot of features, and anybody who has worked with this level of software knows they probably only used 10% or 15% of what the solution actually does. But with marketing automation, we made these big maps of what we were going to do. We got together and narrowed it down to some simple stuff and decided to become very efficient with a couple of these modules and get a campaign out. Because I’ve had a number of implementations where we’d have the platform in place for a couple of months and the campaign still hasn’t gone out.
LEO: Well, I’m glad to hear that the implementation met your expectation. And I like the approach you take of huddling up to get everyone in-sync, identifying what is good and what might be in the way. Which is really a nice segue to my next question about adoption and what has changed at myBusinessintegrated.
CHRIS: We have implemented processes in our own organization that are implemented for companies who are big and small. And 80% of what we do is pretty much the same for everyone, even though everyone thinks their situation is different. Sure, 20% of it is a different kind of message or a different kind of list, but really, the processes of engagement and nurturing are pretty similar. So in our case, we use Salesforce as our CRM, we have all of our opportunities in there now and we implement workflows and scale these implementations.
So for example, we take an automated program that we did for one client’s customers – it sent out a birthday notification. Now I have something that I can reuse and tweak a little bit and it allows us to go faster. I’ve heard people say, “You’ve got to walk before you run.” Well actually, in real life it’s easier to run first. You just need to know when to take a breath. And now it’s just about looking at how we can take what we’ve learned and scale it. We have a huddle every day at 7:30 a.m. and we meet for 15 minutes to talk about where we are, what happened today, personally and professionally, what do you have in your way, and how you’re doing on your number one thing. Each quarter, everyone has a number one thing that they have to focus on. And weekly, we get together for two and a half hours and we go over our projects and make sure that we’re all in sync. I think that check-up is critical, because this stuff changes so quickly, it’s easy to get distracted, there are lots of shiny objects in the marketing automation world.
LEO: Such a great point you raised about creating processes and then being able to apply them to other companies both large and small. As you mentioned, it seems true that 80% of what we do is pretty much that same for everyone. So, you don’t have to rebuild for everyone, you can just focus on that unique 20% to get your work done. Can you attribute ROI to the system? If so, what results have you experienced?
CHRIS: We’ve probably doubled the number of marketing automation clients that we’ve brought on board, our sales cycles have been reduced down to two to four weeks now. Most of our business comes from referrals, and I believe that’s because we decided to be the best at integrated communications, which involves marketing automation and search and many other things, but specifically we’re known as the marketing automation team. I don’t think we have any big secrets – it’s all about continually learning and being willing to share successes. And certainly, our success depends on expensive experiences. I won’t call them failures… just call them expensive experiences, because I think that’s what gets people talking about you. All we are really doing is trying to help people buy things and hopefully being a good steward of their business, because they are trusting us with some massive change.
LEO: Chris, great perspective on sales and that whole concept of helping people buy things rather than selling them things. And your sales cycle time cut in half is awesome. You’ve covered some great content and I’d like for you to provide any advice to other marketing professionals evaluating marketing automation.
CHRIS: When you’re evaluating automation platforms – or really any software solution – you’re trying to harmonize. It’s cacophony of things you try to put together, and you’re trying to create a symphony of solutions. So the best thing to do is to call their support staff, and call in as different people as possible to see who is going to be there when you need them. Find somebody that’s willing to chart hell with a water pistol for you, or with you, because you are going to be there and you’re going to be making commitments and you are going to be fighting for the company, trying to get them to invest in your vision. And of course, you’d better make sure that you love what you do, that you’re having fun, and that you have people that can count on when you need them.
LEO: Thank you Chris, for joining us in today’s Act-On conversation.
Want to learn more about marketing automation and what it can do for you? Check out The Business Case for Marketing Automation.