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WordPress Marketing and Using Marketing Automation Effectively

Expert interview series: Erik Wolf

Erik Wolf is a small business online marketing consultant, an author, and founder of ORBTR, the first true marketing automation platform built for WordPress.

ORBTR is a WordPress Plugin for full marketing automation solutions.

What was lacking from the WordPress Plugin scene, when you first started ORBTR, that you hoped to correct? How has that changed, since ORBTR first started?

At my marketing agency, my team and I were always big believers in inbound marketing, and we were really early to that club, especially among firms that worked primarily with small and midsize businesses. We were doing it for years, even before ORBTR was a consideration. But as we worked with companies on building traffic and impacting lead generation, they would reach a point where they wanted to do more, and that’s where they would get stuck. At that point, between 2009 and 2013, there were really just two types of marketing automation systems: what we call a “platform system” and a “simple system”. The platform system is a tool like Hubspot or Marketo, a big all-in-one platform that requires a large commitment in terms of time and money and where it’s really hard to “dip your toe in the water,” so to speak. A simple- or single-use system is something like MailChimp or Hootsuite. It can facilitate basic workflows and automation but only in one specific area of your digital marketing.

When we started development on ORBTR, about five years ago, all of the solutions that were available for WordPress were really in the simple/single-use category. If you wanted to do any real automation, you needed a lot of tools as well as a decent amount of custom dev work because there weren’t a lot of solutions out there that could help you tie all those things together in an effective way. The platform solutions were equally unappealing, not only because of the commitment but also because they meant parting with tools like Mailchimp and Gravity Forms (that our customers liked) and because no one had a decent integration with WordPress.

So the big thing that we were trying to do was create a third type of marketing automation system, an “integrated system,” where you have tools like ORBTR that will help serve as the glue for your automation infrastructure and help the other simple solutions you use and love share information more effectively.

I think the biggest change that’s happened since we started developing ORBTR is that in 2012, or even 2013, we were still justifying to a lot of people why their business should run on WordPress in the first place. We don’t have to do that anymore. When Automattic (the company behind WordPress) bought WooCommerce in 2015, it was one of the first signals that they had truly embraced WordPress as a business platform as well, an idea that I believe based on conversations I’ve had with folks in and close to the organization, might not have been very popular or well-accepted internally. There are a lot more business tools for WordPress than there used to be, there’s a lot more conversation about WordPress in businesses of all sizes, and we see this evolution as being really positive for firms like ours.

Why did you decide to start developing for WordPress, rather than tools for websites or email productivity or other common marketing solutions?

My team has been developing in WordPress for nearly a decade now. We love WordPress, and we believed early on that truly, this was the platform that was going to end up defining the direction of small business digital marketing. So our clients were already using it, and we knew that 99 percent of the people we worked with in the foreseeable future would end up using it, too. So when our clients started asking us to build them tools, building them into WordPress was just natural for us. In fact, the idea of doing something outside of WordPress almost seemed sort of silly—our clients already knew how to use WordPress so we didn’t want to have to get into the business of trying to teach them something else, and if we didn’t integrate seamlessly with WordPress we wouldn’t be able to tie into the site’s content the way we wanted. Doing something that wasn’t WordPress-based was never really a serious consideration for us.

ORBTR comes up as part of the WordPress Dashboard.

What are some of the benefits of having these additional insights, along with the standard analytics, like site hits, traffic referrals, etc.?

The core of our platform is really that lead tracking that greets you when you log into WordPress, it tells you if anyone is using your site now, how many have used it today, and then allowing you to dive in and see who those people are. People ask me all the time about the difference between lead tracking and analytics, and I usually explain it in a single image, which can never be unseen. But the main idea is that analytics, which is a great tool and an absolutely essential tool, is only showing you half of the data. It’s great at showing you the big summaries. But if you’ve heard the expression that someone “can’t see the forest for the trees,” analytics has sort of the opposite shortcoming. It’s great at showing you the forest but doesn’t give you actionable data on the individual trees. With lead tracking, we show you the trees so you can directly monitor the behavior of individuals, who may be interested in buying from you, and then you can combine that with the analytics forest to get a much sharper picture of what’s happening on your site.

ORBTR shows who is currently visiting a site, breaking them down into ‘anonymous’ and ‘lead’ categories.

What are some of the advantages of segmenting the audience like this? How can this help tailor content for people in different parts of their buyer’s journey?

The ORBTR definition of a “lead” is essentially someone who has filled out a Gravity Form, checked out in WooCommerce, signed up as a member of your site, commented on your blog, or clicked through from an email campaign. So by definition, leads are people who are engaged with your product, service, or content. So we allow you to take any given piece of content on your site and figure out how many of its viewers are engaged in the sales process. And by analyzing lead behavior, you can easily figure out if there are commonalities between leads: do certain pages produce more good leads than bad, are certain pages more likely to misqualify leads?

The other thing that our software does—which is helpful in helping pull people through the sales funnel—is that we allow you to segment your visitors based on behavior and then tailor the site content to that specific behavior. So if you have a call to action inviting someone to join your email newsletter, once they do that we allow you to dynamically replace that with another offer or hide it all together so you’re not wasting valuable real estate trying to sell someone something they already have.

Also, what are some of the benefits of having real-time analytics, as far as generating real, actionable leads? What are some of the risks of not reaching someone when they’re currently on your site?

A lot of companies, especially companies that have long sales cycles—many business-to-business companies have to deal with this issue—never know when those great leads are looking at their company. You’ve got a sales process that lasts three months, six months, maybe a year. But, if that lead comes to your website and you can identify that behavior, you can take action instead of waiting for that person to call you. You’ll also know everything that lead looks at when they browse your site, which will help you guide the discussion and get to the solution they are looking for faster. So there’s a lot of opportunity to shorten that sales cycle or at least get proactive with it in a meaningful way. We’ve had a lot of folks email us or call me and say something like, “You’re not going to believe this, but last week we had a lead come back to our site, I’d been chasing her for a year, and I got the email saying that she was back on the site. So I called her up and finally got over the last hurdle to close the deal.” We talk to people all the time who are doing five or six-figure deals with their clients, so anything that helps them get closer to a sale is critical.

ORBTR’s real-time analytics uses an innovative feature called ‘Orbits’, showing a user’s whole reading history.

What are some ways deep insights like these can help create a more useful, actionable marketing strategy based on individual customers?

Having access to someone’s full history on your site is really valuable. First, it helps you get a clearer picture of what someone needs before you talk with them. What were they looking at RIGHT before they contacted you? What blog posts did they read? How many times did they come by and window shop before they reached out? All that information can give you a leg up as a salesperson. The other really valuable piece of that information—and one of the first ways we used it with our clients—was to help get their marketing and sales folks on the same page.

In my career, I’ve found that a lot of sales and marketing organizations butt heads. Sales slams their fist on the table and says: “Marketing needs to get me some leads!” And then marketing waves their stack of spreadsheets in the air and says: “Look at all these leads, I give you leads all the time.” And then sales says: “But they aren’t GOOD leads.” And marketing says: “Maybe they would be if you could close any of them.” And it goes on and on like that.

So we would sit down with our clients, and we’d go through all the marketing-generated leads one-by-one as a team. Who were they? How did they find us? How did we convert them? What does their browsing history tell us? Were they well-qualified? Did we close them? Why not?

When you can start to truly understand which of your failures are sales-related and which are marketing-related you can take action and create an environment of constant improvement.

Internet Marketer Seth Godin has rather famously said: “Personalization wasn’t supposed to be a cleverly veiled way to chase prospects around the web, showing them the same spammy ad for the same lame stuff as everyone else sees. No, it is a chance to differentiate at a human scale, to use behavior as the most important clue about what people want and more important, what they need.” Given the prevalence of unwanted advertising and marketing, and how quickly people shut down to it—how is personalization likely to become even more prevalent, in the coming years?

The ability for businesses of all sizes to more easily personalize content on the web is really going to be something people talk about more and more in the next couple of years. But it’s going to be a blessing and a curse like most tools in our marketing arsenal. Personalization creates incredible opportunities for businesses, but it also presents incredible opportunities to be abused.

People abuse their marketing privileges all the time. How many times has someone I met added me to their email list based on the fact that I shook their hand once and a conference? How many times have I accepted a LinkedIn invitation and gotten a form letter sales pitch a minute later? There’s a marketing guy here locally, who friended me on Facebook after we met once on the phone. For more than a year since, he’s spammed me with invitations to like his clients’ Facebook pages and attend events that I have no interest in. He’s spam-vited me to funeral homes, interior design lectures, and even a women’s empowerment workshop. I’m probably not the right audience for that message. But if you take a guy like that and you give him access to advanced personalization tools the results are going to be sort of like what would happen if I let my 9-year-old son borrow my car.

It’s interesting that you started this topic by mentioning Seth Godin because his book Permission Marketing is essentially what drove me to study online marketing. When I walk into a diner, I’m giving them permission to try to sell me stuff. But it’s not a blanket permission. They are welcome to try to sell me coffee or an omelet, for example, but if they sat me at my table and tried to sell me a car or life insurance, I’m going to have a bad experience. Similarly, if I sit down and order coffee, they are welcome to check back in with me and see if I want any food. But if I order coffee and they bring me coffee and an omelet because “well, you wanted coffee so I figured you must want this too,” same thing—I’m going to have a bad experience. If I’m sitting in a restaurant, I’m supposed to be able to decide when I want to order food, what food I want to order, and if I want food at all.

When I accept a LinkedIn invitation, I’m giving someone permission to contact me. It does not imply that I’m interested in your service, much less a blatantly copied and pasted sales pitch. When I give you my business card, I’m giving you permission to get in touch, not to add me to your email list. And when I visit your website, even though I have an expectation that you are collecting data about me, I need to trust that you’re not going to abuse the level of permission I give you at every stage in the sales process.

The ability to personalize marketing messages and sales pitches to an individual in an automated fashion has the potential to turn a lot of run-of-the-mill businesses into rock stars, but they need to use a light touch. That lesson will not come easily for a lot of folks.

ORBTR seamlessly integrates with MailChimp.

First off, what are some advantages of easily integrating marketing automation with email marketing campaigns and why? Secondly, what are some other popular programs that ORBTR works well with?

Email marketing is crucial to any online marketing strategy. Studies show that ROI on email marketing is about $43 per dollar spent, which is far higher than anything you would expect from Facebook, Search Engine Optimization, or just about anything else you might invest in. I can’t expect my website to do all the marketing work on its own, and I need to be constantly reaching out to people, inviting them to come back and giving them good reasons to do that. Marketing automation allows you to let the website and the email marketing feed off of each other: email has given people reasons to come back to my site and tells me who my messages are resonating most strongly with. In the meantime, ORBTR is tracking the behavior of those leads after the email lands them on my site, giving me more intelligence on what they are interested in and allowing me to better focus my email content to serve them better. You can create a really terrific feedback loop.

ORBTR integrates with WordPress and crucial WordPress tools and functions like Gravity Forms, WooCommerce, blog comments, and member/user registrations, and we also integrate with an incredible platform called Zapier which allows us to tie very easily into popular solutions like Salesforce, Capsule CRM, Insightly, Google Spreadsheets, Evernote, SMS marketing applications, email marketing applications, productivity applications, and more. There are, I believe, more than 750 applications now that integrate with Zapier.

One common challenge facing digital marketers is the siloing of duties and activities, resulting in disappoint ROIs and a lot of blaming.

What are some ways to get an entire enterprise onboard, using marketing automation software and strategies?

The organizations that we work with are typically small and many don’t even have true marketing departments — that function is usually handled by an executive or owner and combined with an outside agency or consultant and sometimes also a lower level employee. So getting buy-in across the enterprise isn’t a common issue for the firms we work with, but siloing is actually a huge problem. In big companies, you tend to have specialized folks in specialized roles in a lot of cases, and their ability to solve problems or affect change is limited to their small sphere. That causes the type of communication issues you mentioned. But in small and midsize businesses, we’re dealing with small groups of people who are often wearing a lot of different hats, who are generally not marketers “by trade”, and who have a very finite number of hours to devote to marketing.

So you take this small business owner or executive and you tell them: “If you want to succeed online, you really can—you just need to work on your Search Engine Optimization, maintain a blog, develop a YouTube strategy, keep your website up to date, get proactive on LinkedIn and Facebook, and don’t forget the email marketing because I just told you how incredibly good the ROI is.” That’s a ridiculous to-do list to dump on that person and where the silo effect comes in is that oftentimes business owners have a hard time seeing that as an ecosystem rather than a collection of individual tasks. So if I work in the email marketing silo, the opportunity cost is that I’m not working on the social media silo. If I’m working on my blog, I’m sacrificing one of the other silos.

A really good strategy, combined with a realistic monthly calendar, a WordPress website and tools like ORBTR, Zapier, Gravity Forms, and MailChimp can solve that problem though and help them consistently execute on a holistic plan rather than on individual tactics, and without spending more time than they have.

Marketing automation is obviously important in today’s hectic world, with never enough hours in the day to get everything done, but there is a certain point when humans need to take over, to seal the deal.

At what point should a sales or marketing professional take over talking to a potential lead? What are some risks of automating EVERYTHING, instead of incorporating a human touch?

Marketing automation isn’t designed to remove humans from the process, it’s designed to help ensure that humans use their time more wisely. As a business owner, I only have so many hours in any given day to manage my sales and marketing efforts, and ditto for the folks who work for me. Some tasks, like narrowing website content based on interest or routing people from one email list to another are better handled by machines. Creating an email blast based on recent blog content or an events calendar should be as easy as pushing a button. When I look at my CRM, I should be able to get a clear picture of where I’m at with a lead without performing any advanced forensics.

We recently helped a client set up a CRM integration which automatically adds both the browsing behavior that ORBTR tracks and the call tracking information from CallRail to the customer’s CRM record in close to real time. When someone is added to a specific behavior segment (we call them Orbits), it adds a tag. They are using automation tools to gather better and more complete intelligence on a customer, which is going to give them an advantage when they follow-up. The Orbits will also trigger dynamic content on the site, and potentially a number of other things like initiating an automated email drip campaign to keep the customer interested in my product and create opportunities for them to ask me questions.

So what we’re really trying to accomplish here is making the humans better at sales and marketing and giving them tools that will help them optimize their efforts and improve the return on those efforts.

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