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Marketing Automation Interview: Rick Carlson, CEO of SharpSpring

Marketing Automation Interview: Rick Carlson, CEO of SharpSpring

Recently, we had the opportunity to chat with Rick Carlson, founder and president of SharpSpring, a marketing automation development company whose aim is to put marketing automation within reach of small and medium size businesses. (SharpSpring is one of the platforms used by Biznet.) Rick has 15 years of executive management experience in the technology and internet sectors. We sought his insights on the marketing automation industry, along with advice for companies considering marketing automation. 

Rick Carlson, CEO, SharpSpring

Rick Carlson, CEO, SharpSpring

Q: Marketing automation has been around for a little while. But it’s suddenly red hot. Some are calling 2014 the Year of Marketing Automation. Why all the attention?

“Marketing automation has roots in the constant need by companies for higher conversions from their website and digital marketing efforts. The growth in marketing automation these past few years stems from the need for companies to be continually more efficient and to have higher-converting marketing activities.  In a nutshell, that’s what marketing automation enables you to do: be more efficient.”

Q: You talk about marketing automation producing higher conversions more efficiently. How does it do this?

“Marketing automation does this by enabling near one-on-one email communication, for the first time ever, with every prospect that enters a company’s pipeline. That’s really the magic of marketing automation. It’s personalization through automation.  That sounds like an oxymoron, but it’s not. 

“Every business owner would like to have a personal conversation with a lead. But that’s simply not possible with limited resources. Automation allows you to see what people are interested in via tracking. Then, you can take action via workflows and rules that essentially deliver exactly the right message. When used properly, marketing automation delivers exactly the right message at exactly the right time to the prospect. From the prospect’s perspective, it really does approximate a one-on-one conversation.”

Q: What are some of the challenges companies face adopting marketing automation? Is it resources? Know-how? Is budget an issue?

“If a company cites budget as a reason for not adopting marketing automation, it’s because there is a misunderstanding  of the impact marketing automation has. The reason I say that, is: marketing automation, hands down, provides an exponential return on investment.  In just about every case where it’s implemented correctly, marketing automation has positively improved a company’s ROI. In that sense, budget should not be an issue.”

Q: What are the biggest challenges companies face implementing marketing automation?

“Marketing automation is very different from what people think it is. When they first hear the term ‘marketing automation,’ they think it’s a time-saving tool. Or something to eliminate repetitive tasks. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. In fact, marketing automation might be slightly more demanding, time-wise, than traditional marketing. 

“Typically, what we find is that there’s a bit of a learning curve. Too many companies, even today, are concerned with creating that monthly newsletter. They aren’t used to the iterative approach of marketing automation. Marketing automation allows companies to communicate only with the people who need to be communicated with at a particular that time, in a much more personalized, non-generic way. It’s a different approach than sending a monthly newsletter blast.”

Q: Does marketing automation represent a paradigm shift in how companies engage with prospects and customers?

“Absolutely. People are not used to tools that enable behavioral-based communication.  Before marketing automation, behavioral communication was limited to companies like Amazon, where they could see what you’re interested in and communicate with you about other products that might be interesting. Those types of tools, however, were limited to billion dollar companies. We are now putting these tools in the hands of marketers at the small business level.”

Q: You call SharpSpring a “second generation” marketing automation solution. What does that mean?

“The first generation of marketing automation solutions were designed by computer scientists and programmers. They were expensive and difficult to use, they were designed by programmers, and they weren’t intuitive.”

“When we started SharpSpring, we wanted to bring marketing automation capabilities that enterprises were using down to small and medium sized businesses. If we were going to do that, we knew we needed to provide a low-cost solution, be easy to use, and be flexible. We think we’ve succeeded. Hands-down we have the best interface. We feel like ours is perhaps the first marketing automation solution actually designed by designers, as well as programmers.

“We are also extremely flexible. First-generation marketing automation platforms required to you move over to their content management system or use only their forms or use only specific CRMs (customer relationship management systems). SharpSpring works with any CMS, with all the major forms providers, along with the major CRMs, as well as providing our own.”

Q: What advice do you have for companies looking to  implement marketing automation?

“Start small. Marketing automation is a suite of tools. Each of the tools can be used a little or a lot, together or independently. When you look at them in aggregate, it can be intimidating. But you can invest in a suite of tools and master each of them one at a time and slowly build workflows. It’s an iterative process, even for those marketers who are savvy; they are constantly looking at a customer list and figuring out different ways to segment them and understanding their behaviors.”

“The first thing we recommended for B2B customers is hook up their visitor ID functionality and start immediately identifying leads that a business would otherwise not know about. That, alone, will enable them to generate many more leads from the current website and marketing efforts that are taking place. That’s a very simple process. Then they see the tracking that’s possible. The next step from there is turning all that tracking and behavior-based information into actionable workflows and automation tasks.

Q: Who is marketing automation best suited for? Is there a particular sized company or industry?

“There are very few companies for whom marketing automation would not provide an exceptional return on investment. It is a suite of tools that appeal to a range of businesses. For example, the visitor ID functionality, because it tracks by company, is beneficial for B2B businesses. For B2C, the scenario is different. Customer segmentation is front and center on the B2C side. With marketing automation, you can segment customers into thousands of groups. Marketing automation appeals to all company types, whether they are high or low involvement, whether they use a sales team or a shopping cart.”

Q: When companies adopt online or digital solutions, they are often forced to to reassess and improve their traditional businesses processes. Do you find that marketing automation does this?

“Without a doubt, marketing automation forces you to segment your customers, forces you to understand where they are coming from and which ones are converting, and really shines a bright light on your entire process. You quickly gain a greater understanding of your customers, your marketing, the effectiveness of the marketing. Over time. using the built-in analytics, you can eliminate the things that aren’t working and double-down on the things that are.”

Biznet provides insights, advice and consultation services across all phases of marketing automation. We help companies assess their current status and build a roadmap that ensures success. If you’d like to know more, give us a call at 248.560.9000 or contact us.