Marketing automation picks up where traditional online marketing tools leave you wanting more. Traditional email marketing service providers like Aweber and GetResponse segment your subscribers into static lists, but wouldn’t it be better if you could dynamically create a new “list” of just your most responsive readers and thank them in your email?
Let’s imagine a smaller sized company, maybe less than 10-20 people, who’s looking for a marketing solution to engage new leads as well as improve communication with existing customers. Larger companies will likely have to pick a solution that integrates with their existing CRM (like SalesForce), so I’m assuming a prospective marketing automation customer that’s free to choose whatever works best for their needs.
Hating on The Big Players
The problem with the largest marketing automation suites are that they are not only expensive but also quite complex. You really have to commit many hours just to learn these systems, and once you’ve got lots of time and money invested in them, it can be a disincentive to switch away even if you get the sinking feeling it doesn’t meet your needs. Here are the top marketing automation software suites according to BuiltWith:
1. Hubspot (36%)
2. Infusionsoft (24%)
3. Marketo (11%)
These all have a minimum few hundred dollars / month ongoing service fees and have received their share of criticism from around the web. Outside of Hubspot, I would never use packages like these, so most of the following are quotes from other users:
Marketo – “Their support and documentation are quite terrible. Expensive and understaffed. It’s big and powerful, but not always intuitive. The other drawback is that their basic package is kind of limited for certain functions, and they sort of expect you to do a lot of buy-ups.” (Reddit)
Hubspot – I’ve briefly used Hubspot and like that they’re a good company with an emphasis on educating their users, but the product sometimes hampers what you want to accomplish business- wise. You have to buy in with their way of doing things which many prospective customers won’t necessarily appreciate. There’s also issues of data lock-in, and it’s expensive at a minimum $800/month for 1000 contacts. Hubspot heavily focuses on the content publishing / lead acquisition top-end of the funnel and it somewhat falls short when it comes to customer retention automation strategies. But they do “eat their own dog food” – their marketing strategies they teach are what they used themselves to get where they are today. Remember: you’re not just demoing the platform, you’re demoing the vendor and many people fall in love with Hubspot.
Act-on – “I recently started working with a medium sized company and they are using Act On for marketing automation. I hate the interface and there seems to be a general dissatisfaction with it.” (Reddit)
Pardot – “I used Pardot in the past and it was super clunky and complicated. Requires back-end configuration with data.com to get exact reports. Owned by SalesForce and so it’s probably going to be the first option for marketing automation integration for those already using SalesForce.” (Reddit) Plans start at $1K/month.
Ontraport – “Used Ontraport (aka Officeautopilot) for quite some time and it has been so buggy…not just difficult to use but detrimental to my business.” (Reddit) Probably one of the more “affordable” marketing automation suites among the big players withe plans starting at $300/month.
Infusionsoft – “If a client insists on using Infusionsoft I won’t work with them. They are so mickey mouse and really only seem to be used by the internet marketing types.” (Reddit)
One thing I personally don’t like is when there are huge jumps between the free and cheapest paid tier. I’ve seen the first non-free tier as high as $499, which would be a rude awakening if you ever go over your free plan limits. Here’s Helpshift’s (an in-app help desk provider) pricing:
Intercom for Customer Retention
Intercom.io offers a nice customer messaging system whereby your messenger box is always a click away in your website or app. You can also cue up different criteria for when you want to message your customers allowing you to pinpoint your communications for maximum effectiveness. You can start a conversation in chat, follow-up with email and have the entire conversation show up in the “chat” once the user returns to your site (they call chat “Real Time Messaging”). Whether you adopt Intercom or not depends on whether you’ll be able to provide real-time
chat messaging consistently to your customers. Case in point: Intercom.io uses their own product on their website (always a good sign), but my questions took an average of 3 hours to answer, which really negated the customer interaction aspect of the system. This form of instant gratification messaging shines best not on a desktop browser but on mobile, where Intercom’s push notifications really add to the immediacy of the interaction. You will also need a developer to integrate Intercom.io into your site’s action structure. And although WordPress users have a plugin in the repo, you will still need to customize the code (like in this discussion of how to place Intercom code to fire only on certain membership pages).
One more observation about Intercom’s hero image on the home page:
The image conveys streamlined simplicity and a departure from complexity. But when you’re interested in signing up, you’re hit with 5 different package options which require their own knowledgebase articles to explain. The signup process doesn’t exactly following through on their main selling point.
Leveraging Web Analytics
Your visitor interactions with your website/app are a trove of actionable data, so why not use that data as starting points for your marketing automation? The two most popular web analytics packages that integrate well with a host of other services include Mixpanel and Woopra.
In Mixpanel you can segment your users using various criteria then message them via email or in-app notifications (if you have an app):
It’s also nice that they have A/B split testing for the email messages you send out, meaning you can compare open rates of different emailing strategies.
What Mixpanel is probably best known for is their funnel analysis analytics: given that a user did this, what percentage of those users will complete the next step? An ecommerce example would be what % of female visitors from Pinterest are putting shoes in their shopping cart?
Mixpanel is an ideal analytics suite for their retention analytics and notifications (which essentially is the e-mail part of marketing automation. Mixpanel.com/people looks a lot like Intercom.io. Best of all you can use their fully featured analytics for up to 200K data points/month just by posting their badge on your site.
Using Mixpanel with WordPress
Mixpanel’s event based model is an easier integration for apps, but integrating it into WordPress can also be done.
• Segment.com has a very robust analytics plugin in the WordPress repo that works well with Mixpanel. (Segment’s free plan tier includes Mixpanel integration, FYI). This plugin doesn’t work, nor does this but the code snippets on that page might be helpful. You can also use a service like Popcornmetrics to integrate Mixpanel, Intercom.io and/or Segment into your site without a coder. Popcornmetric’s plans start at $9 a month.
• Preventing Mixpanel from tracking you. You don’t want your visits adding noise to your Mixpanel data, so either opt-out here across all browsers you use or add the following to your /etc/hosts file: api.mixpanel.com localhost.
• More Mixpanel implementation documentation is also available, and instructional videos are available on their site as well as on YouTube.
Mixpanel and Intercom.io Can Coexist
Mixpanel isn’t the holy grail that its feature set make it seem: it’s messaging features are very basic and while its web analytics package is built from events, its people analytics (and its related notifications) are built on your customers’ traits. That means you’ll be able to send messages to your list-based segments without being able to pull in the events data from the analytics side. The co-founder of Segment.com had this to say about using Mixpanel and Intercom together:
Woopra leverages your existing services to interact with the data being generated by your site. Notice the various favicons for the different services in the following screenshot:
So instead of having Mixpanel sending emails directly to your filtered customers, Woopra would track user interactions on your site and fire off a webhook that would trigger Mandrill to send emails to your clients.
Woopra also enables cohort analysis on your visitor actions much like Mixpanel so you can see where your customers are dropping out of the sales funnel:
This interaction becomes clearer in the following short video detailing action triggers you can set for your website or app:
Although you can use their API to integrate any external services (or use Zapier to stitch things together), it’s much easier to use Woopra’s pre-built AppConnect integrations which work for 30+ services among various categories:
• Help desk.
• Live chat.
• Email automation.
Other Software in Brief
• http://helpcrunch.com/ – great feature set, inexpensive free tier but unfortunately (at least for my focus) devoted to app developers.
• http://konotor.com/ advertises itself as “Mobile first Intercom.io.” It’s also aimed directly at app developers.
• Customer.io (email automation). I like how they summarize their service on their own site, advocating for it to be used alongside analytics packages like Mixpanel:
Can I replace KISSmetrics or Mixpanel with Customer.io?
No, probably not. We don’t focus on reporting. We use the same data as KISSmetrics and Mixpanel but rather than showing you cohort reports and funnels, we use it to help you send email and communicate better with people.
Can Mixpanel’s email features replace Customer.io?
No, probably not. Many of our Customers have tried Mixpanel’s email functionality and have found it to be lacking. They like our product better. We show you opens, clicks, and conversions from your email back to action on the site. You don’t have to instrument the email yourself. We let you send newsletters, transactional email and behavioral email in one place.
Learn more about the differences between Customer.io and Mixpanel Engage here. Customer.io offers 200 profiles and 400 monthly emails on its free plan before having to upgrade to their next tier $50/month plan.
• Klaviyo.com combines an analytics package with their email marketing automation suite. In that way it’s like Mixpanel / KISSmetrics joined together with Customer.io. It does quite a few things without requiring integrations (which are still available). For example, you build your forms right inside of Klaviyo which is much more straightforward than integrating with another form provider. Each contact in Klaviyo has custom properties associated with him/her that are kind of like tags and which can be used to craft personalized email messages. Given that Klaviyo has a very similar gradually inclining price structure based on the number of contacts, it makes an ideal solution for those looking to get up and running without a developer.
• If you’ve read to the end of the article and are still confused and maybe a bit overwhelmed, I’d recommend trying out http://www.activecampaign.com/. They’re maybe not as developer friendly as the other options, but it’s easier to get up and running and is truly an all-in-one marketing platform with:
Analytics (which can be used for A/B testing and list segmentation).
Customer relationship manager (CRM).
A visual editor for marketing automation logic:
With prices starting at $9/month, Activecampaign.com is a great choice for people graduating from Aweber and are just getting started with marketing automation.