Act-On Software is a global leader in growth marketing, offering solutions that empower marketers to move beyond the lead and engage targets at every step of the customer lifecycle. In this interview, Act-On CEO Kate Johnson describes what makes a great customer experience, and foresees a bright future for the online marketing industry.
Please describe the story behind the company: What sparked the idea, and how has it evolved so far?
Act-On was originally founded in 2008 as a company focused on automating and optimizing the lead generation process. Our goal was to help marketers intelligently leverage data to inform strategies and adapt to every individual customer. That’s still the essence of what we do, even though our technology is much more sophisticated now.
We focus on helping marketers of all skill levels execute growth marketing strategies that will grow their bottom lines and deepen customer relationships. Lead-gen is still important but it’s only one piece of a successful, modern customer engagement strategy.
Below are some screenshots of the Act-On dashboard:
What are the fundamental components of a good customer journey?
A good customer journey demonstrates to customers that we value them and want to educate them, not just sell to them. Customers want to partner with brands they can trust and love, and that only happens if you nurture customers at every touchpoint, not just when you first ‘meet’ them.
First you need to get to know your audience segments and their unique concerns and pain points. You can do this by speaking with existing customers, mining online reviews for your platform or even competitors, and working with your sales team to find out what they’re hearing from prospects. Once you determine what’s important to your target audience, that’s when you develop your strategy. What would it take to earn their business? What resources can we provide to show how our solutions can solve their problems?
Paying attention to customer behavior through this process is the key to determining how to convert customers at their highest point of engagement. Take a look at your data and let it inform your strategy.
You can’t just ignore customers once you’ve earned their business, though. You need to nurture them at every touchpoint. Our customer Red Lion Hotels uses our platform to do this exceptionally well. Not only does Red Lion Hotels automate sending warm, helpful welcome emails, but it also uses our automation suite to generate interest in its customer loyalty program and celebrate individual milestones, like customer birthdays, with automated rewards. These are all great examples of continuing to engage customers successfully to extend the life cycle.
What are some common marketing automation mistakes, and how can they be avoided?
Oftentimes, we see the misconception that automation lends itself to less personal customer experiences, because we’re removing a layer of ‘human’ touch. However, the truth couldn’t be more opposite. Marketers who strategically leverage automation can create much richer, more personalized experiences responsive to specific contacts and what they find most helpful. Take our adaptive sending capabilities at Act-On, for example. This allows us to time emails to hit inboxes when individuals are most likely to open them. This drives more fulfilling customer experiences and adds value to businesses.
Additionally, automation can be abused if marketers use it to churn information out to customers or prospects instead of using it to learn how audiences most want to be engaged. Customers don’t tolerate spam, and they’re quick to turn away from companies they feel are bombarding them with irrelevant information. Automation tools, used strategically, can clue marketers in on exactly what resources prospects are most interested in, like specific ebooks or webinars, and place resources in front of people at the point of highest engagement.
How has COVID-19 changed the way customers are using your service?
The pandemic has forced marketers to take a long, hard look at their marketing stacks and trim budgets while they figure out how to navigate unpredictable circumstances. Luckily, marketing automation provides outsize value by helping companies keep growing their businesses even while working with limited budgets and staffing resources. Additionally, we have seen the usage of our platform increase as customers have to rely more heavily on digital communication in a time when there aren’t any in-person meetings.
Predicting customer behavior is also difficult in this climate because behaviors are changing so frequently. We’ve been receiving positive feedback from our Act-On customers who are using our platform to track engagement and adapt strategies quickly so they can stay on top of growth.
Lastly, marketers are also shying away from bulky contracts that require them to pay for large lists or data sets they won’t fully leverage. We’ve stayed ahead of the curve on this by offering active contact pricing so marketers spend on what moves the needle, not inactive databases.
Which trends or technologies do you find to be particularly interesting these days?
Companies had to shift online rapidly once COVID-19 hit, and it forced many who were lagging in their digital marketing strategies to become experts overnight. Even as brick-and-mortar stores and in-person events slowly return to normal as the pandemic continues, the increased emphasis on digital strategies is sure to stick.
The increased amount of time customers and prospects are spending online has also driven the need to prioritize multi-channel platforms. Target contacts are no longer engaging with one website or environment in a silo. They could be visiting 10 or more different platforms in a day, or even within an hour, to try and make a purchasing decision. Companies that don’t integrate behavioral data from across all these sources to create holistic audience profiles will be behind the curve as more customer engagement moves online.
This is one reason we partnered with Zapier in June to power enhanced integration within our own marketing automation suite. Act-On integrates with hundreds of other platforms, including LinkedIn, Zoom, and EventBrite, to help marketers better-inform their strategies and engage contacts where it counts.
What are your future plans for Act-On?
We are always self-evaluating how we can be a stronger partner to marketers who want to grow their businesses and move beyond simple lead generation strategies. That takes many forms. In the next few months, we plan to continue enhancing our integration capabilities so marketers can better engage their audiences no matter where they are active.
And, especially as marketers focus more on digital, we’re investing in data compliance. Handling customer data is a huge responsibility we take seriously, and data privacy is top-of-mind for many of our customers and prospects. We’re proud to lead our industry in compliance, and just recently expanded our cloud infrastructure to Canada so our customers and end-users there can more easily create secure experiences in line with local regulations.
The marketing industry moves quickly, and we’re committed to helping marketers stay ahead and grow their businesses at every part of the customer lifecycle.