Startup Secrets: Building a Startup Marketing Automation Program from Scratch

Melanie Chapman is on the marketing team at Jellyvision, an employee benefits communications technology company.

Below is a transcript of her presentation from the November 11, 2016 Here's How Startup Marketing Conference, where she shared her experience building a marketing automation program.

Hi, my name is Melanie Chapman, and I work for Jellyvision. We are a technology company that takes confusing and perhaps boring topics, and makes them easier to understand. And we've actually been around for about 25 years, and gone through several different iterations, but in 2009, we launched a product called Alex.

Alex helps employees at companies make better decisions about the benefits offered to them. So instead of being presented with a 26-page document with all these confusing health care industry pieces of jargon, and a grid with PPO, and HDHP at the top, and you're kind of just furrowed and angry, Alex is a piece of software. It'll ask you questions about yourself and your family. It will explain the more complicated topics, and it'll actually make a recommendation for you so you can find the benefits that are the best fit for you and your family.

This started out really as just a pilot for one company, and then from there to a handful of companies. And now, in 2016, we work with 800 companies, about 88 of the Fortune 500, and that affects millions of dollars worth of premiums, and helps millions of employees make better decisions about their benefits.

And I tell you that growth story, 'cause it relates to why I decided to start a marketing automation program, so I'll let you read maybe the melodramatic version of the situation, but maybe the more accurate story is that to support that growth path, it became pretty apparent that we needed a bigger investment in sales and marketing to help us reach more companies out there who could benefit from Alex.

So starting in 2015, we brought on a CMO, and we decided that marketing... We had always had marketing. We were at trade shows, we did sales support, we did some direct mail. But it was a little fly by the seat of your pants. In 2015 for the first time, marketing signed up for a revenue number, and we were gonna dramatically increase our spend as well. That's very exciting. In deciding to do that, we kinda discovered we were missing a lot of the pieces that you need to do that, and to be able to track that spend throughout the funnel.

Here's how I launched our marketing automation program:

Some very basic things, like if people fill out a form, do we know where they came from? Do we know exactly what content they downloaded? How are we going to get all these leads over to sales in the best way possible? So that's where I kind of came in. I do the marketing automation program, and just so I know, how many of you are not familiar with the term marking automation or maybe are a little familiar but wouldn't wanna answer a question about it on a test?

Okay, so I would describe it just as using software to take on tasks that would otherwise be very manual or repetitive. As an example, if you have a really small team, if the lead comes in through a Contact Us form, it may be easy just to route that to the one salesperson at your company, and your job is done. You have transferred the lead over to sales. At this point in our life cycle, we're supporting a sales team of dozens of people, and they have territories based on geography or based on company size. I guess you could do that manually, but you would pull all your hair out. We needed a way to do that with software, and same thing for responding with emails to all these new people, determining scoring to figure out which are the best fit leads and who's ready to talk to us now.

1.  I assessed the situation

This really ties into the first step. So the first part of starting to use this software, and use it in a way that's effective for you, is assessing the situation. In our case, it was like we needed a lot of everything. Like I said, there was not a clear process for routing those leads when they came in through any of our marketing channels over to sales. We needed a trackable way when people filled out forms to know where they came from. We needed a way to nurture those leads through the funnel. We had an email newsletter luckily, with a couple thousand people who were subscribed, but we didn't have a real nurture program to make the best use out of the content that we did have. And the other thing that we were kind of missing, we had the software. We used Marketo for this, but we had had it since 2008, and no one really knew how to use it.

2.  I tackled the essentials

So, training became a very evident thing that we were gonna need to tackle. And that was really the second step. After kind of doing some triage, and figuring like, "Okay, we're gonna start spending January 1st, and all these leads are gonna be coming in. How do we process them?" For us, the most important things were, we need a way to send those leads though the system, that's clear for marketing and for sales. We need those forms and landing pages so people can actually get their eBooks and this different kind of content we're promoting that seems really important. And we needed a lead scoring system, so instead of just saying, "Hey sales, here's a bunch of leads, like a thousand, do what you want with them." A way to tell them which are the ones that seem like they're the best fit for our products, who's ready to talk now versus who needs a little nurturing, so that's what I got started with.

3.  I got comfortable with sub-perfection

And then, from there, the next important thing was being comfortable with it not being perfect. Before Jellyvision, I worked at a design agency, so I like things to be aesthetically pleasing and highly functional, and we definitely tried to hit the highly functional, but when you're creating all these things from scratch like landing page templates, and email templates, we needed them to get done. I really like the saying, "Done is better than perfect." And that's something I had to get comfortable with and embrace, so maybe our landing pages at the beginning weren't the most beautiful things to look at, but they weren't turning people off. Our conversion rates were good, and that's something that you can work on later, making them as beautiful as possible, and reflecting every brand standard for your company.

And the same thing for lead scoring, I worked with some key members on our sales team to figure out, "Okay, if you were evaluating a lead, what are the most important criteria?" For us, company size is very important, and I kinda built that into the software to reflect what they were saying. It was by no means perfect, but it was a good starting point so they could cut through some of the volume and see the most important leads first.

4.  I involved stakeholders

And related to that, involving stakeholders was a hugely important thing for us. Like I said, we had had the software since 2008 but maybe weren't using it in the most effective way possible, so there was a lot of resistance from sales and some instances, we were sending out emails on their behalf. We do a lot of webinars and we send follow-up emails as a best practice, and we're sending those out on behalf of our sales teams. A lot of them were very uncomfortable with the idea that their name would be on a message that they did not hand craft themselves.

To get around that, we communicated everything and perhaps over communicated. So every time we were sending out one of these emails, we would share the copy with them first and we would give them time to give feedback. We would tell them when it was going out, we would remind them the day of, and again the day after, we would share the results. So 'this email had a 40% click to open rate', 'this message is good, this is something else you can share', and that really seemed to make them a lot more comfortable with trusting the machine to do what they had been doing individually before, and the same thing with the lead scoring and the lead routing. Always communicating, communicating, communicating, so everyone's on the same page. And then if something does go wrong, because when you're starting out with this, you will do something stupid, then there's more trust there to get around that.

One of our sillier things was that for a webinar, we had a link to the recording and the guide that I read said it would take an hour for the recording to be ready, and so I figured I had some time to update the links in the email and the guide was not accurate. Everything was updated in five minutes, so the email went out and the link to the recording was not live yet. I think in a pre-communication world, that would've sent a horde of angry people to my desk. Instead, people were very understanding about the situation. We sent a follow-up email. Which, if you ever have to do something like that, you put correction in the subject line, you get crazy open rates, 'cause people wanna see what dumb thing that you just did. So, it all worked out for the best.

5.  I built on our base

Again, for us, the most important things were the very basics, like we need a way for people to download content, we need a way to route these leads through our CRM. Then after that, it was the things that maybe weren't as urgent but are definitely key ingredients in a successful marketing program. The big one here was our email nurture program, so when all these leads come in, instead of just sending them to sales once, and then going to get lunch. Building a email program that will send out some of our valuable content, Arcadance is once a week, to help move people further down the funnel. We also send out case studies. Again, it's a way of taking what before would be manual, so like as an individual sales person, I might send out these e-books by myself. This is a way of taking that off their plate, and making it very repeatable for these thousands of leads who are coming in.

6.  I iterated, iterated, iterated

And then from there, we just iterated, iterated, iterated. We test everything that we do, every landing page, every email, a lot of that's built right into the software, which is nice and easy. But even today, so this was, we started this in the first quarter of 2015, moving into 2017, we're redoing our entire inbound process because what made sense and worked for us in 2015, no longer makes sense for the scale we're gonna be at in 2017. So, being comfortable with trying things out and having a few of those little embarrassing train wrecks and always listening to people at your company and figuring out what works the best.

7.  I learned when to say no

And then finally, after this is kinda taking off, people are gonna think you're really cool, and they're gonna, instead of being resistant to sending these emails out, they're gonna be excited about the opportunity for the machine to take work off their plate. And that's when you really have to learn to say no, like I built some very detailed, sales email, drip email campaigns that then everyone was very excited about and then one person would use. I can see how many emails are sent out, and one person actually went through and used this.

Another example is, I will get asked a lot if we can change our forms, particularly adding fields to forms, I will fight you if you wanna add fields to my forms. That negatively impacts conversion rates, so I guess that's less about just saying no, but why are we trying to get this information, how can we solve this in a different way?

Part of the answer for us here was actually a piece of technology that will automatically append data when you're submitting the forms, so instead of six fields, it will pull in company size and it'll pull in what it can tell about geography so we were able to shrink our fields in half and conversion rate boosted at the same time.

The results of this program, marketing automation doesn't create leads but it definitely supports all the things that are bringing them in and nurturing them through the pipe line. In 2014, we had about 373 marketing source leads. The question mark's there because things were in such an... Really, that's not super accurate.My analytics manager actually didn't wanna give me those numbers because she said it was embarrassing how vague they were. In 2015, we dramatically increased that to about 16,000 marketing source leads and this year in 2016, to date, we're about 26,000.

So, investing some time on the front end, using software and other tools to take what used to be manual off your plate, can allow you to dramatically scale what you were doing before while preserving a lot of the personality and brand of your company.