Marketing automation is the only way to accelerate the growth of your business and get it to the next level, says Robin Alex, president of the Dallas-based agency Innovate Fast. But simply installing automation software and systems to drive new leads isn’t enough, says Robin, and won’t have any impact unless you take an extra step.
We talk about how to effectively integrate marketing automation into a business, how to use it to close more sales, the top platforms available today (especially for small businesses), and more.
Tune in to find out…
- How automated marketing solutions fit into overall marketing strategy – and when to implement it
- The ways people are still key to the success of a marketing automation system
- Strategies for converting automated leads – this sometimes is a hands-on process
- The biggest challenge facing anybody using marketing automation systems – and how to overcome it
- And more
Mentioned in This Episode: www.innovatefast.com
Steffen Horst: Welcome to the Performance Delivered, insider secrets for digital marketing success podcast where we talk with marketing and agency executives and learn how they build successful businesses and their personal brand. I’m your host, Steffen Horst.
Today we’re going to talk about using automation systems for your digital marketing activities. Here to speak with me about the topic is Robin Alex, who is the president at Innovate Fast, an award-winning full service marketing agency based in Dallas, Texas. Robin and his team help businesses grow quickly using result-driven marketing, true strategic sales funnels, targeted advertising, effective copywriting, powerful videos and jaw-dropping creatives. Robin, great to have you on the show.
Robin Alex: Thank you for having me on.
From Gaming to Marketing to IT Consulting
Steffen Horst: How did you get started in marketing and what led you to deployment to this point in your career?
Robin Alex: Yeah, you know, it’s a fumble story. You know, I actually started my first business when I was 16 years old. I’m 34 now, so it’s quite a while back. So basically what I was doing back then, online gaming, PC gaming was getting very popular, but it was still kind of the nerdy thing to do. So not a lot of people really understood it unless if you were in that scene, and I was able to start hosting game servers for people. They just started asking if I can host it for different teams and things like that. And so we were able to grow it fairly large with servers all around the world. And through that process, I started getting into marketing and I didn’t really look at it as a science. It was just more of a means to an end.
But those were definitely my first foray into the marketing scene. After I sold it when I was 18, getting into 19, I got into IT consulting and started helping businesses more on the IT side. So getting into the early, early naughts, late 2000, we really focused on helping businesses grow through their IT side.
And at that time there were businesses who were basically moving into this digital landscape. They were spending a lot of money in IT, as well as spending a lot of money in marketing. Now we had a good client base on the IT side and a lot of our customers were getting these budgets for $100,000 plus for a website build or doing something along the way of building out a database or something. And they would always reach out to us to help vet it and understand what was going on.
And I was always scratching my head because there was no tangible result behind what people were charging for. And so through that process people would end up asking, “Hey, do you think that you can take on these projects?” And you know, of course me being the techie, nerdy guy would always jump on those projects and try to take it on myself. And what I learned starting to take on those projects is that once you deliver, you’re done with the project. And really, I was trying to figure out ways to build up that recurring model. And the only way that I was able to successfully do it was figuring out how can I get as close as I can to the revenue line and really focusing in on the sales aspect of marketing and not just the activity based marketing. And that’s really how we evolved into Innovate Fast, which is our agency today and that’s really our primary focus now.
Automated Marketing Solutions: Bridging The Sales Gap
Steffen Horst: Great. That’s a great story. When did you start spending more time at looking into marketing automation systems? Was there a particular moment that pushed you in that direction?
Robin Alex: Yeah, really it came down to we, it came down to helping a customer be able to do the things that they hate doing and ultimately the end all, be all story was we were getting into sales funnels and building out ways of paid traffic, driving potential clients and generating leads to our clients, our businesses that we manage and help. But in reality, what needed to happen was that they needed to find a way to, for the business to call these leads, to call these potential customers and they just felt uncomfortable in doing it. They’re really good … Whether if they’re in the medical field, they’re really good at being a doctor or a nurse practitioner or something like that, but they’re not really good at sales. That’s not what they are known for. Nor did they cultivate a staff to be able to handle it.
And so we were on a mission to say, well how can we do this on their behalf or at least bridge that gap? Because we know that for them to stay on with us as a client, we needed to find a way to be able to bridge that gap as fast as possible. And so through that process is when we got into using platforms like Zapier, creating webhooks and just trying different ways to be able to connect into other platforms we can, which can automate texting or automate emails, automate phone calls, and even talk on behalf of the clients and stuff like that. And recording and finding accountability. That was really our first foray into trying to figure out this automation and it was just trying to find a problem in this big industry.
Helping Small Businesses Via Marketing Agencies
Steffen Horst: Before we jumped on a call, you mentioned that you have released a marketing automation platform. How is your platform different to the platforms that are already out there?
Robin Alex: Yeah, one of the things that I’ve personally encountered is that most small businesses, one, they usually reach out to a third-party company to help solve a problem. And usually the problem is automation and ultimately sales and marketing. We originally tried to focus our software, our automation tools directly to small businesses, but they couldn’t figure out how to implement it for themselves. So we actually pivoted and started offering it to marketing agencies because marketing agencies actually understand the value of automation as well as the angles and the positioning of how to do their messaging and things like that. So that it is a palpable message that’s given out to a lead. And so now we’re serving marketing agencies who now deliver to their small businesses now.
Steffen Horst: Okay. So now we’ll just assume that the features your platform provides are similar to those of other automation platforms out there.
Robin Alex: Yeah. So really the core of the software focuses on speed to lead. And so what that means is many marketing agencies, whether you’re building websites, you’re doing SEO, you’re running pay-per-click campaigns or whatever, the goal is to generate leads. But really for a customer, it doesn’t matter unless if they pick up the phone and contact the lead or text message the lead. So what our platform does is instantly we capture that lead using our forms or using platforms like Zapier or something like that. We’ll capture it and then it gives the ability to automate a phone call. So we can actually call the front desk of that business. They pick up the phone and they say, hey, you have a new lead from Facebook, press one and we will connect to you. They can press one and it will try to reach out to that lead.
And then if the lead answers, great, we can now record that call and use that as a way of quality assurance, right? Because now we’ve gotten a connection, but are they talking about the right things? Are they pitching things correctly? So now you can start coaching and helping there. If that lead doesn’t answer, we can then do a ringless voicemail to the lead and we can just start sending text messages on behalf of the client. It’s all automated and we even send emails. And so we’re solving two different problems. One is the speed to lead component, but then for a marketing agency, if they were able to solve this, they needed to have five, 10 different software applications that they needed to kind of jimmy-rig together to make it work. And so we consolidate it all into one platform and make sure that it’s easy for them to manage so that they can deliver it to more of their clients, more businesses, and deliver it more efficiently as well.
Steffen Horst: That really sounds like a great solution for smaller businesses because as you said, they usually don’t have the people that can follow the process. If there’s someone that’s usually a front desk person that has to do the job. So it sounds like your software will really help small businesses to get better results and responses from the leads.
Robin Alex: Exactly. Most businesses don’t want to do sales and marketing, right? I mean if you were to open up a brick and mortar location, the fact that you’re opening up a brick and mortar location, the fact that you’re opening that is kind of the reason of, I unlock my doors and there should be a line waiting outside to come in. And I think that a lot of people have that hope and expectation but in reality that doesn’t happen.
So you have to do some marketing and I think with every business owner, every entrepreneur, you start out with the lowest hanging fruit, right? Like you start saying, “Okay, well I’m just going to create some flyers. I’m going to call the newspaper.” And you just kind of work your way up. And up to a certain point you realize that nothing is working because you’re doing it yourself. Plus you’re trying to run the operations, trying to figure out how to make payroll, how to deal with, you know, insurance and all these different things is when you start reaching out to a third party, another marketing agency or a consultant, and that’s the biggest thing that we’re trying to solve along the way.
Marketing Automation Frees You Up To Do What You Do
Steffen Horst: You know, for the listeners that are not so familiar with marketing automation, software and marketing automation in general, could you frame what marketing automation actually is?
Robin Alex: Yeah, so most agencies, or even small businesses, they typically use different platforms. So if you have a WordPress website, you have Facebook, you have Google, you have all these different traffic sources. Even having a billboard on the street, you have these assets out there to the public. Now what you want to be able to do is collect the people that are interested and have it come to you. Now, that in itself requires some sort of automation, right? If someone calls a phone number, you need to be able to track who’s calling that number and who’s answering the line at the other end of it. And that’s just kind of at a basic level. That’s what automation does is to be able to automate that whole process. Whether it’s based on times of the day, the person who should be getting it and you know, making it round-robin or whatever.
When you get into the digital side and you have a website, you have Facebook, well those platforms are putting your ads out there. But if someone clicks, you want to be able to not only capture their information, you want to be able to email it to someone on their team so that they can reach out and contact these individuals. Maybe you want it to automatically text message the person saying, “Hey, we saw that you’re interested. We’ll have someone on our team reach out to you,” all the way to doing all of those steps, right, where you’re actually connecting people. All being hands-off so that you can focus on the sales and delivery while being hands off on the automation and the marketing side of things.
Steffen Horst: So are there areas of a company’s marketing activity that will benefit more from using automation software?
Robin Alex: You know, I think it doesn’t matter if you’re a solo-preneur all the way to Fortune One company, automation should be imperative and something that you should be looking at in your business. If you are not getting into that, you’re going to be left behind and it’s going to be hard for you to keep up because anytime that you try growing your business, you can’t because you’re manually doing all these steps. And so you need to figure out a way to systemize it, right? For anyone to scale their business, you have to figure out how to do the least amount of work by delivering the most amount of work. That’s where automation really comes into play.
How Businesses Can Get Their Feet Wet With Automation
Steffen Horst: Interesting, and then how does it fit into a marketing strategy and automation solution? Obviously, you know today’s automated system that can help you with email marketing, capture contact information. As you mentioned earlier, a software solution like Zapier, you can have a system do certain things when a prospect or a customer does something, but how does it fit overall into the marketing strategy?
Robin Alex: Yeah, I think it’s starting out from the very, very beginning of a marketing strategy and saying what is the end results? Right, and not just kind of the large, we want to make more money or have more customers. It’s what is the end result, which might be purchasing a product or creating an appointment, booking on someone’s calendar, breaking it down to that minute level of what that end results is, then working our way back to figuring out how to make it happen using technology is going to be the fastest way to figure out how to make automation work in a strategy.
Steffen Horst: I would assume that before companies start implementing automation software or a process, they need to sit down and think about what parts do they want to automate and how does the team that is going to be part of this process interact with the process. What do they have to do? What steps do you suggest the company needs to do before they say “I want to use HubSpot or Marketo or your system.” Are there specific steps for companies to go through?
Robin Alex: Yeah, I think it’s starting down in, you know, I’m a big fan of using whiteboards and figuring out from every step of the way what should be happening, what is that action, who is accountable for that action to happen and what is the next step. It’s kind of like playing basketball. If you’re running up the court and you’re passing the ball to the next person. One, they have to be able to catch it, then they have to figure out where they are on the court. They might have to dribble a little bit and then pass the ball again or decide if they’re shooting.
If you kind of take that analogy as you’re building out a strategy and trying to figure out where do you do automation or if you should or not, if you kind of map out every single step along the way and figure it out, what should every person be doing at each one of those steps and who should be held accountable? That’s the first step from there because once you automate it, the person should still be accountable for it. It’s just some of those processes are now done automatically.
Steffen Horst: As I mentioned earlier, there are a number of systems out there that companies can use and you can easily spend from a few hundred dollars a month to several thousand dollars a month depending on the system, depending on the features. What do you think a system should have for a company that’s just getting started with automation systems?
Solve One Problem At A Time
Robin Alex: Yeah, I think you need to figure out what are the areas that you’re lacking, whether it’s a CRM, whether it’s speed to lead, whether it’s tracking prospects and leads. I think solving one problem at a time, instead of trying to find a system that can do everything, is going to be a better process. You know, all of them are great. You know, you have HubSpot, Keap, you know, which used to be Infusionsoft. You know, there’s tons of these platforms out there and they all do millions of different features, but focus on solving one problem. And then once you figure out what that problem is and how to solve it, then assess it against the software provider to see who can solve it the best and most efficiently. Once you figure out that, that’s when you start future pacing and figure out, well, once we solve this, what is our next problem? And if you can kind of figure out like what those one, one and a half steps are ahead of time, that’s how you can start figuring out which software provider’s going to give you the best solution there.
Steffen Horst: So can you talk a little bit about what processes or what activities in the company and automation software can help with, you mentioned the lead generation part. So when a marketing activity generates a lead, for example, your software is able to directly connect with the front desk and have them communicate with that lead by calling or sending text messages, et cetera. But you know, that’s obviously just one area of marketing automation. Can you talk a little bit about what other areas marketing automation can help?
Robin Alex: Yeah, I think most businesses look at, you know, there’s inbound lead generation where the focus is, “Okay, we have a lead. We need to convert them into a prospect, engaging conversation with them. Once we have an engaging conversation with them, can we schedule an appointment with them? Can we get them on it on a phone call? Can we get them to a webinar” or something like that. Even getting someone to that webinar or meeting or whatever, you need to have a calendar and you need to have meeting reminders and just automated messages. You can manually do all these things, but it gets very time consuming. You’re trying to scale it and do it at volume. So getting appointment reminders in place, making sure that after you have that meeting, it is sending out emails to follow up with the person to make sure that they’re getting their contracts in place or paperwork or just information.
Ultimately trying to get people to close. When you dive deeper into that, it’s just understanding what the user journey is, right? Like your lead journey, what are the 50 steps that they’ve seen? Where did they come from and where are they going? Are they hitting all the touchpoints along the way so that when they are ready to buy, they become your best customer, your referenceable customer, because they’ve hit every single aspect in their journey? So that they’re educated and they’re well-informed on how the process will work when you close them as a client and how the delivery is going to be. So you know, they’re just so warmed up that it’s going to be easy for you to close and deliver on because they already know the whole process and system.
Steffen Horst: From my experience, obviously there are systems out there that are very complex. You know, if you’d take a Marketo, HubSpot, you will not only have, you know the entire lead part in there, you can do email outreach, you have landing page builders in there. I could probably go on with the features that some of these systems have. Is that all required for a smaller business or would they be better off maybe to use Unbounce for certain parts, for the landing page part to use an email system for the outreach activity and then use the CRM system. A lighter CRM system known for capturing contact data and doing kind of lead follow-up information and reminders?
Robin Alex: Yeah, no, I really think that you should first focus on solving one problem at a time. A lot of these platforms can do different things, but if you just try to solve one problem at a time, it doesn’t matter if you go to a large platform or a small platform, just try to solve that one problem. So if you’re looking to build landing pages, get a landing page builder and build it out and try to solve the problem of building the landing page. Well, what’s the next step? You need to be able to capture. So now you need to find a form builder and understanding that, can your landing page builder have that built in or do you need use a third party platform?
I think you have to first dip your toes into solving the problems first and then figuring out a way, how can we streamline all this and then find a software that can capture 70 to 80 percent of all these different steps and consolidate it and help manage it because you’ve … It’s first figuring out how to build the machine. Then you should start figuring out how to optimize it. Yeah. I think a lot of times you run into a Keap or a HubSpot and you try to use all their features when in reality you don’t need to, so you overcomplicate your machine unnecessarily.
How Much Time Can You Save With Automated Lead Follow-Up?
Steffen Horst: Okay. I mean time is a big thing for small businesses, right? I mean they don’t have extra people sitting around to do the research just figuring out which software solution is best to be used for certain problem they have identified. So they might look at how much time is using automation software really going to save me in the mid and long-run? Are there any data points available that say, you know what, if you use marketing automation on average, you save X amount of time?
Robin Alex: Yeah, I mean I can give some examples because I don’t know if there’s any true data points because marketing automation, there’s a huge variable of what can be automated versus what people actually automate. Here’s an example. We have a client who’s an attorney. They generally receive about 30 leads per month and they were able to close about five to six of those leads a month as a law firm, as a law practice. And they said that an average deal takes about two and a half weeks to go from lead all the way to papers pending for the agreement to get started for that case.
Basically their lead process to closing a deal is a very long process and they couldn’t take on the capacity. When implementing automation along the way, they’re now closing 70 to 80 percent of those deals all in one month. So instead of closing, five to six, out of those 30 leads that came in, they’re closing 25, 26 of them a month all through automation because we streamlined all the manual labor across the way and they’re just focused more on the delivery.
Steffen Horst: You just gave a great example of automation done well. I assume you work with a lot of companies that come to you that might have tried it themselves. So selecting an automation system, trying to overcome a very time-consuming task or tasks. Can you talk a little bit about bad marketing automation and then maybe an example that that you came across where it really went in a wrong direction?
Robin Alex: Yeah. One example that we had was we had a client who after … Their whole goal was to take opportunities and leads and be able to push them to getting a contract signed, getting them involved and do 15 basically the client had to go through 15 meetings to meet everyone on the team. And through that process there’s like close to 80 touchpoints that happen in a span of a month for one particular client. So now they automated a lot of it from setting the appointments and everything up, but it was one, patching together about seven to eight different products. And if one of those systems went down, it shut down their whole process and essentially locked up their whole flow. Because if you’re talking about 80 touches, that’s a lot of time and resources that’s involved in having phone calls and you know, just different communication paths. And so coming in with automation on the back end, we were able to cut that down to less than 30 touch points and solving it with, I think we dropped it down to two platforms. And so now trying to figure out where the breaking points are is a lot easier versus when you have seven platforms along the way.
Steffen Horst: So if someone wants to go out and identify automation systems themselves without engaging in a professional like yourself, should they focus on individual features an automation system has or more on a business results?
Robin Alex: I think it’s a combination of both. Most business owners have colleagues or people in their industry, like I said, if you just focused on one specific problem, talking to your colleagues and everyone to figure it out how they solve it. And usually they’ve already done their research on tools that they recommend to solving that one problem, is usually a good start. And what I mean by that, like if you’re looking for something to help something as simple as booking on your calendar right? There’s tons of platforms out there. But if you’re in a very niche market, you can reach out to other colleagues to say, “Hey, what are you guys using for this product or service?” And a lot of times they’ve already done 60 to 70, 80% of the research. So now you’re already faster at figuring out what they should be looking for from a feature perspective and from a results perspective on what it can do to help their business.
Steffen Horst: Using automation usually means obviously you take the human aspect out of it, of the equation, it might eliminate a position. Once you have things set up, is a human being still required in that overall equation or you know, once you set the system up, can business just go about, forget it because it’s done. It’s working like a well-oiled machine?
Robin Alex: You know, I think the idea originally was, you know, can we remove humans by building automation. And I think to a certain extent that happens because the services provided by human was very, there wasn’t a lot of human decision making that was needed along the way. But what I do think is that that means is that us as humans, once we know that things are getting automated, there’s two levels to it, one is someone has to be able to manage that, that process, even though automation is handling it, who’s managing it to make sure that the accountability is there, to making sure that the processes and decisions that were made are still intact and working because businesses do evolve over time.
So I think it’s just moving up the ladder from there. And then on top of that, it’s who’s breaking down and analyzing these systems to make sure that it’s still optimized and efficient over the next couple of years. I think ultimately yes, it’s possible that humans can get replaced by automation, but I think that at the end of the day, automation, AI, robots and everything are still created by humans and have to be managed and optimized by humans to make sure that it’s still accurate and working and according to the business needs.
Steffen Horst: So what you just said kind of leads me to my next question. How often should processes be reviewed and adjusted to either changes in the way how a company does certain things or maybe there are new features available within the platform?
Robin Alex: Yeah. In my opinion it should happen more often than it, in reality, it actually happens, right? A lot of times its employees, teams come in to solve one problem and once they’ve solved the problem, they’ve moved on to the next. The aspect of going back and reviewing things, making sure that everything is working, it’s not something that a lot of businesses focus on and I think that’s something that you should get back on to. It’s kind of like with your home, how often do you have the maintenance programs to make sure that your AC company is coming in once a quarter to check your system? Very few people actually follow those maintenance plans, right? They just wait until a problem breaks and then it’s all hands on deck because everything is broken and then you realize either you’re going to put a Band-Aid on it or you just opened up a can of worms and there’s 15 other problems along the way that could have been solved a lot sooner.
Steffen Horst: Robin, so much is changing in digital marketing and obviously with automation software it’s the same as you mentioned earlier, you know the software that you built is able to, for example, automatically call one of your clients are the dashboards. We can tell them, you know what, there is a new lead. Do you want to be connected to them? Is there any software solution, any features currently in the market that if someone would adopt them, they would be ahead of the trend because people, I don’t know in a year or two years will use that feature, that software?
Robin Alex: Yeah. I believe that most automation platforms tried to get ahead of the curve by building applications or different aspects of their software to get ahead of it. The challenge that I think everyone runs into is, your existing customer base, and this kind of goes back to the previous question that we were talking about with maintenance programs. Once you go into a software, your goal is to just keep the machine working, don’t change it up too much. So when a platform does release new features and stuff, it’s great for people who are at the infancy level of building out their automation or their systems and stuff. So a lot of existing companies don’t take advantage of new features along the way. But I do think that software platforms are really trying to be innovative because they know that if they’re not innovative, they’re going to lose future customers because of this new platform that happens.
The other side of it is, you know, when we talk about new technology or things that people should be focusing on, I really believe that AI is a big factor. That, and machine learning is something that a software development companies are really trying to implement in their platforms. And I think agencies and small businesses really should be leveraging. There are small things that I think is huge. For example, Google has this AI component where they are testing from conversations, whether it’s connecting into text messages or something like that, looking for a yes or a no. And what I mean by that it’s like yes. Yeah. Cool. Okay. Just any variation of an intent type of saying yes versus an intent type of saying no, nah, negative, you know, just think of like natural conversation. Well, they’re learning all this sort of stuff. And so if you’re trying to automate conversation, can you leverage that and implement that into your system? Because most automation it’s a decision tree, yes or no. Right? And so if you can build a humanistic conversation into it, that’s going to get you a lot further because you want to build that humanistic one-to-one messaging and everything that you do. So leveraging back and take it to the next level.
Steffen Horst: Great. Robin, thank you so much for your time. It’s really interesting to talk to you about automation systems. If people want to get in touch with you and companies might have a need for someone to help them figure out how to automate parts of their process to overcome certain challenges. How can they get in touch with you?
Robin Alex: Yeah. Easiest way to get ahold of me. You can send me an email directly at RAlex, my first initial last name, @innovatefast.com. And you can check out our agency at innovatefast.com and we’re on Facebook and Instagram. We actually have a vlog and everything that we posted up pretty frequently of what we’re doing in our office, all the fun stuff that we do and also the busy stuff, crazy customers that we, that we deal with in a good way, you know, from a project scope perspective and then, and our software you can check it out at gohighlevel.com. It’s a platform that we focus on for marketing agencies to implement to their customers and really find success in all the marketing that they bring into their customers.
Steffen Horst: Great. Well, thanks everyone for listening. If you liked the Performance Delivered podcast, please subscribe to us or leave us a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast application. If you want to find out more about Symphonic Digital, you can visit us at symphonicdigital.com or follow us on Twitter @SymphonicHQ. Thanks again and see you next time.