Do I Really Need Marketing Automation?

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Marketing Automation is of particular value when pursuing a higher volume lead generation or demand generation model.

In a recent Quora post, we answered a question about the value of marketing automation. If you generate – or seek to generate – a high volume of leads (100+s) from the web from self-directed buyers, then yes, you will value having a Marketing Automation platform.

Consider Marketing Automation as part of a broader “technology stack” – there is the “Martech Stack” and the “SalesTech Stack” – we look at these together as the “RevTech Stack”

Their are a number of leading players in marketing automation – Marketo, HubSpot, Eloqua, Pardot, SharpSpring, Act-On, Infusionsoft, Mautic and others.

Prices range from a few 100 per month to many $1,000s – a lot is based on volumes (size of lists etc), but there are also a wide range of feature sets.

It is difficult to recommend any one system. We use SharpSpring, Pardot, HubSpot and Marketo. All of these are solid systems. Consider the integration and platform ecosystem (e.g. Pardot is part of the Salesforce Cloud).

An objective assessment can help you decide. Consider the features outlined below (and there are others and these change a lot):

  • Channel customer lifecycle support?
    • From lead generation, ‐ nurturing, onboarding, to up-sell/cross-sell…
    • Manage locations, advertisements, blog, chat, email, forums, inbound calls, social media, newsletters, sales, seminars, sem/ppc, software download, telemarketing, tradeshows, paid, listings, etc.
  • Advanced segmentation for targeting?
    • Segment around prospects, customers, partners, analysts and influencers.
    • Create and refine lists from the customer database, design campaign elements, and test offers.
    • Segmentation on external data source, or custom data object
  • Support campaign workflow?
    • Campaign content management / asset library to manage marketing and sales assets — such as marketing content, collateral, copy, templates, video, images, and logos.
    • Collaborative development, version control, localization, approvals, and providing controlled access.
    • Sandbox testing environment
    • Cross-browser testing of emails and landing pages. Test emails in various browsers and clients.
  • Manage eMail campaigns?
    • Email authoring tools and features.
    • Ability to personalize and customize emails based on contact profile or other variable data
    • Custom multi-city/multi-session events, standalone events or webinars
    • Social sharing features and integration in emails and forms.
  • Manage landing pages?
    • Ability to build and deploy landing pages and form integrations to capture responses.
    • Connect downloads to forms, autoresponders.
    • Standardize fields and options for original lead source and most recent campaign.
  • Track campaign performance?
    • Pass information (usually hidden fields like campaign code or lead source) through a URL onto a web form on a landing page to capture referring sources.
    • Ability to track and manage online and offline advertising campaigns?
    • Measuring cost per lead and cost per acquisition. CPA / CPL
    • Attribute leads/inquiries to different campaigns where applicable.
    • Ability to abstract the channel from the campaign, allowing marketers to create multichannel campaigns while providing an integrated view of buyer behavior.
  • Conversion Rate Optimization?
    • Understanding of conversion effectiveness to measure revenue impact.
    • Ability to establish revenue goals, plan interim lead-stage goals to meet revenue targets, segment and track leads throughout the entire lead pipeline and sales process, and measure campaign effectiveness and impact on revenue.
    • A/B Testing tools for multi-variant testing. This should be included in planning/ process.
  • Progressive Profiling?
    • Ability to manage progressive profiling to complete a rich picture of customer and prospect information.
  • Query string parameters and query string structures to capture visitor profile sources?
    • Fuel Marketing Channel reports as well as can be mapped to contact records in the MA solution and then included in CRM integration mapping to track all of the way through.
    • Query string parameters for Partner Links, Press Releases, Paid Listing Links, Media Downloads, etc.
  • Map most recent search query field?
    • Most Recent Search Engine visitor profiles fields to the contact record. Include these fields in CRM integration mapping to track all the way through to closed deal.
    • Manage leads effectively?
    • Manage the lead between marketing and sales. (Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL), Sales Accepted Lead (SAL), Sales Qualified Lead (SQL)).
  • Lead scoring?
    • to rank leads (e.g. using points, grades, or the terms “hot,” “warm,” and “cold”). Lead scores according to explicit data such as demographic and BANT or FACT criteria”
  • Real-time Web visitor notifications?
    • Capture Web site activities of visitors. Use IP address to identify the company of Web site visitors. Use browser profile or cookie for tracking. View a lead lifecycle / history with lead scoring
    • For named accounts as well as accounts in pipeline
  • CRM Integration?
    • Built-in sales and service features (If not integrating to CRM)
  • Master Data Management
    • Depth and flexibility of rules based smart lists / dynamic lists
    • Auto import data from various platforms
    • Upload leads from external sources. Two-way sync? What is the master source of data?
    • Company and contact data integrated with existing customer data sources to build highly targeted lists and gain actionable insights on people and companies.
    • Contact, account, opportunity, purchase history & activity based segmentation.
    • Data-cleansing, de-duplication and normalization. consistency of the data for de-duplication and data standardization.
  • Tracking/auditing user rights and authority changes?
    • Maintain and audit log. MA State/Fed Compliance Methodology. SW certification with Fed/State. Email deletion.
  • Marketing Resource Planning (MRP)?
    • Enable marketing planning, financial management, and vendor/agency management.
  • SEO Optimization tools?
    • help evaluate SEO impact of website pages and evaluate competitive capabilities


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Financial Advisor SMART BOOK™

We recently published the 2018 Edition of the Financial Advisor SMART BOOK™. This resource is a comprehensive guide to help independent financial advisors build an ‘independent difference,’ that is, a strategy-led, systematic growth program with 9 proven strategies. The goal is to help advisors:

  • Increase Volume: Generate More Visits & Inquiries
  • Increase Client Value: Get Better Qualified Inquiries
  • Increase Velocity: Increase Conversion Rates
  • Increase AUM and Revenue: Optimize Engagement for AUM growth and Revenue Impact.

[Strategy 4 of 9] Craft a Distinctive Brand Identity, Positioning and Messaging 

‘Brand matters’ and many advisors look and sound the same. It is essential to set yourself apart with an authentic and differentiated brand identity. A brand becomes a brand only in the hearts and minds of your client. At its core is building trusting relationships.  Here are some systematic building blocks to craft a distinctive brand identity.

  1. Assess where you are today. Reveal your business and brand dynamics by interviewing colleagues and clients.
  2. Define your firm’s essence, purpose and authenticity and how you differ from competitive firms
  3. Create your brand persona including your brand voice, DNA, positioning and actions
  4. Define your brand strategy including name and personality and visual essence.
  5. Audit your communications, what is said, what channels, with what resources and collateral.
  6. Plan the logistics of executing an integrated brand strategy
  7. Build the brand with visual communications assets, relevant content and messaging.

Some Tips to Get You Started:

  • Put the client needs above everything else and make it impossible to separate what you say from what you do.  
  • Stand for something. The brand is more than a logo or name or tag line, it’s how your firm comes to life in today’s multi-channel world through content, experiences and personalized touches.

You can explore the first three growth strategies:

1Align Your Team on Vision and Smart Goals 

2Build Persona Messaging for Ideal Clients Profiles 

3Define a Go-To-Market Model That Works for Your Firm 

…or explore all 9 strategies for growth by downloading the 2018 Financial Advisor SMART BOOK™  below.

Financial Advisor Smart Book


Three Tools to Make Your Discounts Count

Board Room
Board Room


We were meeting in our wood-paneled boardroom. I was part of a broker team hosting business planning sessions between a major Northeastern supermarket and a few dozen of our CPG manufacturer clients.

During one session, a large beverage manufacturer suddenly announced that they were going to drastically cut the depth and breadth of their discounts. To put it mildly, this announcement went over like a bomb. There may have been some screaming and cursing.

It seems this manufacturer had a bad year, and so management wanted to cut back on discounting in order to boost margins.

Unfortunately, they had missed some important points.

They were focusing entirely on their internal financials. They did not consider the supermarket’s goals, one of which was growing their share of the manufacturers’ discount spending, also known as trade spending. There might have been an opportunity to work together on mutual goals. And most seriously, they did not consider the consumers’ perspective.

For most of my clients, discounting is used to improve volume, and plans rarely change from year to year. It is a brute-force tool.

Compared to those clients, this beverage supplier had the right idea. But though it’s tempting to use price cuts to improve volume, it can leave money behind if the market is willing to pay higher prices. This supplier simply wanted to reduce their discounting — a worthy enough goal, perhaps, but without the right tools to present their case. And with the right support, they might have been prevented an important customer from screaming at them.

When I work with clients in similar situations, I use a range of specialized tools to help them understand their consumers’ willingness to pay for their products. Here are the three tools I use most often:

1. Price waterfall: assesses the current situation and whether there is any leakage. What margins are earned at various points in the value chain, and how much of a role does discounting play?

Price Waterfall Chart Example

When I conducted this analysis for one manufacturer, it was shockingly clear their internal margins were almost non-existent after accounting for all of their trade expenses.  Trade spending was crowding out nearly all opportunity to earn a profit.

In other versions of this chart, additional expenses like allowances for spoils, cash payment terms, and others can be included to provide a more comprehensive view.  

The price waterfall chart served as a useful internal communication tool to visually demonstrate where margin might be leaking.

2. Van Westendorp: assesses consumers’ willingness-to-pay. What is the range of acceptable prices? What are the minimum and maximum acceptable prices?

One of my clients typically discounted from $2.99 to $2.19 or $2.29. Many of their retailers demanded a minimum 20 to 25 percent discount, which is why those price points were selected. But we found that consumers were just as willing to pay $2.49 on sale, and one field experiment actually showed higher volumes at $2.49 than $2.29. The retailer made an exception to allow a lower discount on promotion, and everyone earned more dollar margin and we demonstrated that volume could actually grow.

Van Westendorp Research Output Example

In other words, I helped my client develop a comprehensive selling story that made for an appealing scenario that resulted in a reasonable request to their trading partners.

3. Conjoint: evaluates various product attributes: How much do consumers value different product attributes, and how does that translate into the price they are willing to pay?

By using this complex research technique, we can learn how consumers assign value to various attributes. This chart is a small snapshot of the output available from conjoint research. Ultimately, this research can result in a model that allows you to mix-and-match product attributes to create complete product concepts, balanced by different price levels, that allows you to see the impact on consumer preference and willingness-to-pay.

Conjoint Research Output Example

One of my clients used this technique to redesign their entire product line, resulting in a new lineup of product sizes, product contents, and — of course — evidence-based price levels that could be defended in a meeting with their retail buyers.

* * *

At the end of the day, discounting is just one tool in your pricing toolbox. There are plenty of others you can add to the collection.

It’s easy, even tempting, to rely on discounting, as it can have an immediate impact on volume. But there’s the danger of leaving money on the table and training your consumers to buy at lower prices. No one ever wins when prices spiral to the bottom. Instead, you need to equip yourself with accurate, compelling, consumer-driven information to ensure you earn the price you deserve. Let me know how I can help you get that price.

New Research: How Consumer Attitudes Have Changed Toward the Amazon-ified Whole Foods

Amazon Devices at Whole Foods

Amazon Devices at Whole FoodsSource:

On June 15, 2017, my phone showed a news alert that Amazon had agreed to buy Whole Foods. I was not anticipating this and it inspired my imagination, as it did for millions of others who took to social media to talk about it.

No one knew what Amazon would do with its largest entrance yet into bricks and mortar retailing. The deal closed in August and Whole Foods received a flurry of attention that focused on an announcement that the chain would cut prices on some top sellers like avocados, almond butter, and rotisserie chicken.

My industry colleagues and I frequently talk about the reinvention of Whole Foods. It left me wondering what the average consumer thinks about the new Whole Foods.  

So, Revenue Architects conducted a survey in February 2018 to assess changing consumer perceptions toward Whole Foods.

Most notably, most consumers surveyed (54 percent) don’t ever shop at Whole Foods. Many consumers avoid Whole Foods because of a perception that its prices are very high or because they are seeking a broader, more conventional selection of goods. In addition, Whole Foods has only about 470 stores, far from covering the entire United States. By comparison, Walmart has over 4,700 stores and Kroger’s retail brands have nearly 2,800 stores.   

Whole Foods: Shoppers vs. Non Shoppers

When we focus just on those who do shop at Whole Foods, most of them (52 percent) won’t be changing their shopping behavior because of the Amazon purchase.

Likelihood to Shop at Whole Foods

A notable portion of the survey respondents say they are less likely or much less likely to shop at Whole Foods now, and it will be important to track whether and in what way the spending of those shoppers is migrating. Some have hypothesized that dedicated organic shoppers might be wary that Amazon will stray from Whole Foods’ product standards, a departure that seems possible after a report that Amazon’s management is interested in adding popular, high-volume, conventional products like Coca-Cola to its shelves.

An almost equal portion of shoppers, though, say they are more likely or much more likely to shop at Whole Foods now, possibly inspired by the innovation and lower prices that Amazon might bring to the chain.

What is abundantly clear, though, is that Amazon has invested considerable sums into dominating online retail, and that they are actively seeking ways to bring innovation to traditional bricks and mortar retail.  

Importantly for manufacturers who sell to and aspire to sell to Whole Foods and Amazon: Have you created a plan to address these coming changes?  

Chatbots – Can A Robot Be Your Best MarTech Friend?

Chatbot image

Chatbot image


Chatbots aren’t just for Facebook, Amazon and Apple. Smart brands are adding artificial intelligence and natural language processing technology to their marketing mix for a very good reason. When done well, a chatbot delivers tangible value for the brand, and moreover, an excellent buyer engagement experience for customer. An actual win-win!

Chatbot benefits for brands:

It’s time to face it….capture forms are dead. They still provide a useful utility to brands looking to attract and retain customers but forms have their limitations. Namely, customers have developed an aversion to providing an email address to acquire information. Faced with the trade-off of growing brand awareness or supporting the sales funnel, more and more brands are deciding to ungate their content in order to reach prospective customers at the top of the funnel.

Why Chatbots for brands:

  1. Accelerate Leads – Elevates important prospect communication out of the inbox and into real-time conversation allowing Marketing to respond a lead respond within minutes.
  2. Qualify Leads – Chatbot identifies status “do you own one of our products already?“, customer history “what’s your email address? I can look up your account,” and interests, “are you interested in hearing more about our fixed income solutions?“. Giving customers the power to ‘choose their own adventure’ is empowering and makes for a better user experience.
  3. Customer Insights – machine learning is applied to analyze what types of questions customers ask, and how they ask them leading to insights on how to drive new, future business.

Chatbot benefits for customers:

Customers want to be served and, at times, are willing to provide contact information if there is a perceived fair exchange of value (the prospective customer provides and email address and in exchange receive something of value, typically information). However, customers have come to loathe the multitude of emails that clog their inbox. (Just look at how consumer email service providers like Gmail have implemented features to help users filter and unsubscribe from brand emails). Chatbots aim to serve customers in a familiar manner (text messaging) without necessarily providing an email address to gain entry. What was once a gate now becomes a friendly chat where the user is in control of the conversation.

Why Chatbots for customers:

  1. Equitable Exchange – good option for site visitors that are averse to forms; not every inquiry should necessitate surrendering an email address
  2. Better User Experience – solves UI/CX experiences with other channels namely phone interactive voice response and difficult to navigate web sites
  3. Fast – Customers get answers in real-time

Six chatbot considerations:

As you plan your chatbot buyer engagement strategy, be sure you’ve thought through these channel specific issues:

  1. Goal planning – What is the best opportunity to engage your buyers and serve your customers via chatbot? What is the best use case to pilot a chatbot solution? What are appropriate KPIs?
  2. Narrative planning – What is the best tone of voice for your audience? Do you have skilled story tellers to craft the narrations?
  3. Account Based Marketing (ABM) – How can you connect your chatbot with your ABM strategy?  Can you create targeted messages for top accounts and route chat request to the correct ABM team?
  4. Routing – What are best practices you should follow? Are your chats routed to the person best available to support the buyer or customer? In some cases that means sending chats to your best salesperson and not defaulting to junior staff.
  5. Integration – What are your front-end channels?  Are you just using your website? Are you activating social channels or SMS? Can you connect your chatbot with CRM to give your chatbot account information and make customer conversations more relevant?
  6. Regulatory impacts – Does your chatbot plan cover GDPR? Do you have record keeping requirements you need to adhere to?

Chatbots are an effective strategy for modern buyer engagement and should be part of your marketing and sales strategy. As with any technology-enabled strategy, begin with an architecture and plan before deploying your solution.


Title image “The FREE HUGS robot” (CC BY 2.0) by  Ben Husmann 

Financial Advisor SMART BOOK™ (3 OF 9): Define a Go-to-Market Model that Works For Your Firm

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2018 FA Smart Book

2018 FA Smart Book


Financial Advisor SMART BOOK™

We recently published the 2018 Edition of the Financial Advisor SMART BOOK™.  This resource is a comprehensive guide to help independent financial advisors build an ‘independent difference,’ that is, a strategy-led, systematic growth program with 9 proven strategies. The goal is to help advisors:

  • Increase Volume: Generate More Visits & Inquiries
  • Increase Client Value: Get Better Qualified Inquiries
  • Increase Velocity: Increase Conversion Rates
  • Increase AUM and Revenue: Optimize Engagement for AUM growth and Revenue Impact.

[Strategy 3 of 9] Define a Go-to-Market Model that Works For Your Firm.

A solid Go-to-Market Model will shorten marketing time and minimize costs. A GTM strategy can also play a major role in business growth.

Read more

How listening to customers can inform your prices (and more)


Alex Lee, longtime president of OXO, the maker of well-designed cooking tools and housewares, told the story of how they created their iconic liquid measuring cup.

No one had ever seriously complained about measuring cups.  Some people thought that glass ones are too heavy and that they tend to break, but that was really it.  OXO started to study how consumers use measuring cups and noticed one striking commonality that was more impactful. It’s something you’ve probably done yourself at some point.

Photo source:

Do you see it?  Using a traditional liquid measuring cup, you need to lean over to read the measurement.  It’s annoying, But we thought it was normal.  Well, we did think it was normal until OXO designed a better way: a measuring cup you can read from the top, with no leaning over required.

Photo source:

This new measuring cup sold two million units (!) in the first year.

This is a powerful idea: studying how consumers behave can transform your business.  I apply this maxim to pricing research, a topic that has been popular with a number of my clients.

When thinking about how to suggest a retail price, many brands, both big and small, start with their cost.  Then they add on the profit they want to earn, account for expected distributor and retail margins, and get to a suggested retail price.  Or someone suggests a key price in their category and they go with that.

But it’s critical to take the consumer’s point of view into account and understand her willingness-to-pay.

There are three approaches I rely on:

  1. Engage with your retailer’s buying team
  2. Observe what’s happening in the market
  3. Use surveys to ask consumers about price directly

1. Engage with your retailer’s buying team

The team at your retailer customers might have some research or other experience in understanding their shoppers’ willingness-to-pay.  Ask them.  When you have a review meeting or some other opportunity to talk, ask what they are hearing.  Keep in mind, though, that many buyers are biased toward always lowering prices, even if it means that they lose penny profit.

One client of mine faced significant cost pressure, but the client’s largest customer simply would not accept a price increase.  We probed to understand her resistance, and she showed evidence that products in her portfolio suffered large declines in velocity when they were priced above $1.99.  We suggested a smaller pack size that could hit the magic $1.99 price point and make money for my client. She accepted the proposal, and this arrangement worked for everyone.

2. Observe what’s happening in the market

Competitive benchmarking: Where are your competitors priced, and where do you fit on the continuum?  Are you priced comparably to competitors whose products realistically compare to yours?  Are there any magic prices that are working well or toxic prices that are failing miserably?

Natural elasticity: if your product sells at different prices at different retailers during different weeks, or at a discount during a price reduction, measure the effects. Equivalize sales across retailers by measuring units sold per store per week (or per million dollars of store ACV), and see if one price works much better than another.  For a frozen food item, I once found that promoting it at $2.49 produced better unit movement than at $2.29.  It was a no-brainer to make the change.  You can obtain this data directly from your retailer customers or from syndicated data sources like SPINS, IRI, and Nielsen.

3. Use surveys to ask consumers directly about price

There is a wide range of tools available to affordably survey consumers about their willingness to pay for your items and other topics.  I have found Google Surveys to be very affordable for certain use cases, as low as 10 cents per response for a single-question survey.

From easiest to hardest, some pricing survey techniques include:

  • Gabor Granger: Identify the highest acceptable price by asking about purchase intent at multiple price points.
  • Van Westendorp: Identify bounds of acceptable price ranges by asking what prices would be too cheap, cheap, expensive, and too expensive.
  • Conjoint: Identify utilities of product attributes, including price, by having respondents choose from among multiple product/price combinations.

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Ultimately, the most important thing is to get inside your consumers’ heads.  Any technique you use to get there will involve a wide range of trade-offs, but it’s important to start somewhere.  And the evidence you learn to support your objectives will go a long way toward building trust with your retail buyers, sales team, and beyond.

(You can see a video of Alex Lee’s presentation that inspired me on the Gel Conference’s Vimeo channel.)


Contact Scott if you’d like help thinking about your products’ prices — and how your customers perceive them.

A version of this post originally appeared in Specialty Food Resource’s Food Entrepreneur Magazine.


SharpSpring Social Now Available

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SharpSpring users now have access to a new social media and calendar features.

  • Content Calendar: A bird’s-eye view of your social posts, email sends, and blog articles.
  • Social Posting: Post directly to Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn without leaving SharpSpring.
  • Social Listening: Monitor social media activity with customized listening feeds.
  • New Trigger/Filter: Create automations based on when leads interact with your social media accounts.

SharpSpring has updated Lead Scoring and the Life of the Lead to now include social interactions. SharpSpring will be releasing to all clients in a few days.

Ready to learn more? Contact us for a guided walkthrough of these new features.