Episode 34

Driving Traffic and Customer Experience Through Owned Channels

In this episode of Good Data Better Marketing podcast, Shay Howe, CMO at ActiveCampaign, discusses PLG and SLG handoffs, customer activation teams, and the importance of owned channels.


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Guest speaker: Shay Howe

Prior to ActiveCampaign, Shay was Vice President of Product at Belly and Yello, where he was responsible for product strategy and design. He has previously led product teams at multiple high-growth companies, including Groupon. He has held in-residence roles as an advisor with the Techstars, Lightbank, and Prota Venture portfolios. Shay’s passion for building teams extends outside of work. He also serves as a mentor with Techstars and LongJump Ventures.


Episode summary

In this episode of Good Data Better Marketing podcast, Shay Howe, CMO at ActiveCampaign, discusses PLG and SLG handoffs, customer activation teams, and the importance of owned channels.


Key takeaways

  • Owned channels like websites, email lists, and podcasts can often be overlooked in the customer experience journey. However, these channels are critical because they allow you to control your messaging, collect data without a third party, and nurture relationships with customers directly.

  • If you want to improve your customer experience, get out of the building and talk with your customers. Figure out what part of the process they have enjoyed or where their pain points are, and then find ways to evolve that through AI or automation.

  • Be careful not to over automate parts of your business that make you unique. Learn where human touch is relevant so your customers can form a relationship with you, and only automate areas that can take mundane tasks off your plate.


Speaker quotes

“We're doing a lot to help folks build relationships with their customers through those owned assets, put them in places where they can control more of that owned message, and then they can collect the data themselves, not rely on third parties to do that. You're also driving traffic back to your own owned assets. It becomes your own little flywheel, which is important.” – Shay Howe


Episode timestamps

‍*(02:57) - Shay’s career journey

*(07:59) - How Shay is enabling his team to build personalized experiences

*(12:56) - How PLG and SLG can complement each other 

*(21:35) - How ActiveCampaign is using AI

*(29:36) - The pitfalls of automation

*(37:28) - How Shay defines “good data”

‍*(39:19) - An example of another company doing it right with customer engagement (hint: it’s Chewy and ChartMogul)

*(40:54) - Shay’s recommendations for upleveling customer experience strategies


Connect with Shay on LinkedIn Connect with Kailey on LinkedIn


Kailey Raymond: There's many ways to improve your customer experience. From personalization to AI, we've heard it all, but one facet that's often overlooked is owning your channels. Marketers often rely on third party channels to grow their audiences from social networks and search engines to events, partners and more. However, this forces you to give up some control of your messaging, the solution, own channels like websites and email and subscription lists and yes, podcasts. This way you can control messaging, collect data yourself without a third party, and nurture close relationships with customers directly. In this episode, I sit down with CMO of ActiveCampaign Shay Howe to discuss PLG and SLG handoffs, customer activation teams, and the importance of owned channels.

Kailey Raymond: I am joined today by Shay Howe. He is the chief marketing officer at ActiveCampaign and he leads to a lot of different functions there, marketing, customer activation, partnership, platform strategy in the postmark teams. Prior to ActiveCampaign, he was the VP of product at Belly and Yellow, and he's led product teams at high growth companies like Groupon. He's also held in residence roles as an advisor at TechStars and at Lightbank, which is the VC, Chicago tech legend Shay, welcome to the show.

Shay Howe: Thank you for having me. I'm excited to be here.

Kailey Raymond: Excited to get to know you a little bit better. I just kinda mentioned a couple of the things that you're currently doing and have done previous in your career, and I've noticed that you've worked in between different roles, product marketing, would love to get a sense in your own words of your career journey.

Shay Howe: Yeah, kind of a really unique one, if you will. My background's in design, that's what I went to school for. And honestly, growing up as a kid, I was very kinesthetic. I learned by just like literally taking things apart, putting them back together. My parents would say I broke way too many things in the house, but I love that idea of design and kind of engineering combo. So at an early age that started just building out different types of websites and where to go to school for that. But in the sense of I wanted to use design in a way to solve problems. I wanted to look good, but I really wanted to like actually solve and address a need. And spent most of my career in hyper growth startups where you join at an early stage function and you get to do a little bit of all of those things. You're not only the designer, but it's helpful that you would be able to build that. And throughout my career, I've followed that progression to areas where I'm designing things and was like, dude, how easy is that to build? I don't know if I'm making the scope of this project much harder than it needs to be. Let me go actually learn how to build that after building are too many things that didn't really work or weren't viable.

Shay Howe: I was like, I should probably go deeper into the product side and do more just research and understanding is their viability to this. And going deeper into product, I also realize can also build demand. So went further into marketing and throughout all that you're an operator, right? Like you're just getting your hands in it and doing the job that needs to be done. So I would say my career is, it's been a winding path, if you will. And at the end of the day, I would just say more than anything, I like to build things, be it products, teams, businesses, and whatever function that's in can completely vary and I'm pretty happy doing that. So a little over the place.

Kailey Raymond: I love it though. I am sure it kind of gives you a deep empathy for your cross-functional peers and your customers. Frankly, you probably have a lot of research roots to you and making sure that you're building things with the user in mind, including customer experiences now.

Shay Howe: You take that design thinking or philosophy into a lot of different areas and I would say even leading marketing organization today, it's been a really good fit because we're doing things that are more product led, growth oriented, but quite frankly, we were doing those before product led growth was a buzzer trend of the day, right? It was just kinda, hey, how we're oriented and the approach to it we've taken. So I think leans deeper into kind of having that design and product background. But, yes.

Kailey Raymond: I'm super excited to learn from you about PLG a little bit deeper into the show. Right now, I'm curious to learn, you know, you lead a lot of different function that seems all the way from very top of the funnel to customer activation and adoption. How would you describe your role as it relates to building the customer engagement journey for customers at ActiveCampaign?

Shay Howe: I have a couple different ways to look at it. One is, marketing as a whole, I believe plays a role in the entire customer journey. Like we're looking at the flywheel effect of this. So from that very first moment someone hears or becomes aware of us, we wanna be there and we'll do a lot of different things to try and prompt that. So word of mouth is our largest source of new business, but not by accident either, right? We're doing a lot of work to actually take some of our best customers and get them to go share more about us through referral programs or affiliate program. We'll do more to drive engagement from them and advocacy by leaving us reviews on G2 or other platforms, right? So we're prompting that and in the flywheel it's one of, hey, we wanna take those best customers and turn them into repeat customers. So how we think about ways to engage them into our community, how we do customer marketing with them. We're thinking continually about the ways we could expand their use cases, get them to go deeper into the platform. We're digging deeper into the expansion or attempted through all that. So going deep into it.

Shay Howe: And then on the customer activation side, I could talk about this a lot, so you're gonna have to keep me tight here. But the idea of you get someone in of the top of the funnel, it's not this process of, all right, we gotta lead, let's just kick it over to sales and see what happens. But it's about a true partnership between be it marketing, sales, product, the customer experience or service team, and ensuring that we're moving that person through the funnel as they wish, right?

Shay Howe: And in a way that they wanna talk to someone, let's get them to talk to someone. But let's make that conversation drift in that we're providing them value through it, they're getting the answers they need, we're helping them get activated in the product, we're taking them on the journey they want, not the journey we believe we want, or we're making them go through the hoops we have per se. So the entire team is oriented and motioned in that way, which is probably a little bit different than what some other organization probably do at our size or scale per se.

Kailey Raymond: That's really interesting. I wanna dig into that a little bit, which is, I can think of what you're bleeding into is like you're building personalized experiences the way that every single person wants to be interacted with channel of choice, message of choice. How have you built your team to enable that process?

Shay Howe: I'll tell you a story if you're up for it. And that is be it, rewinding time, two years ago I was looking for a live chat product for our website and that was one of, Hey, we just wanna be able to capture more attention, try and qualify some folks. So we knew we wanted to have a Chatbox so that we could change that chat based off different pages they were on. We knew we needed it to integrate into Zendesk and some of our customer service fools. So kinda had a list of things I wanted and I just went out and started creating trials of different products, right? To see, hey, can I go create a chat bot? Is it easy to use? Can I get be innovation setup? Inevitably, I'd always run into this side where, okay, I think this might work, I need to get some pricing.

Shay Howe: And one vendor specific guy was like, yeah, I think this is the one. This has been the easiest tool to use. It's got everything we need, but I need you to get pricing. And they're based in a different country. So the process to get pricing was to schedule a call and given my calendar and theirs and the small overlap of time, it'll wait a week and a half to have that call. And so I wait that week and a half, I get on that call and this individual starts asking me, what's my use case? What's my budget, what's my timeline? And I'm just in the back of my head, I'm like, I just have one question and all I wanna leave here today is with just a ballpark or pricing. I know that he probably need to give me a quote or something cut from there.

Shay Howe: I just needed to know the ballpark and I couldn't get that answer. And all the questions that were asked of me were also things I thought, if you just looked at what I was doing in the platform, you could probably answer these, right? Or you did a little bit of research, you might understand the size of our company and what our budget might be or how we might approach this. It was a little frustrating. And that person was like, Hey, I need to say with a different call, I need to get you over to this AE who will help you out. And I was like, that's gonna be another week and a half, or three weeks into this that I'm not gonna have pricing. And throughout that experience, it hit me. I was like, we might be doing the same thing to our customers at ActiveCampaign.

Shay Howe: They might come in and have a question in trial and we send them over to an SDR and then SDR asks them some questions to try and qualify them and then send them over to an AE to try and close them. And in some cases that works, right? If they very specifically have requested a demo or they are looking for certain, probably walk through solutions resulting of an integration or something, I'm like, that is not the customer experience I want. I don't think our customers want it either. So we just started experimenting and saying, well, what if we didn't route certain trials or leads into our sales org? And we gave them into another group. And that group was not a quote of caring group, but a group that was there solely to try and answer those questions and flexible on that.

Shay Howe: If you wanted to do live chat, let's do it. You wanna jump on Zoom and do it? Let's do it. You wanna call me fine, you wanna move this conversation to email, you wanna send each other Loom videos back and forth? We'll do it whatever you want. And notice that that team was able to drive more influence through conversion rates. That's a better customer experience. So we've built out what we call the customer activation team and today is a global team of about 50 people whose sole job is to do exactly that, right?

Shay Howe: Someone comes in inbound, top of funnel, creates a trial, is doing something and has a question, it goes to that team. And that could be through email, it could be through live chat. That's the team that feels that first request and will do whatever that customer wants. And if in that conversation they know or pick up that there's multiple stakeholders in this business we're gonna do to sell into, or there's some form of HIPAA compliance or a DPA here or some legal construct, then they'll get into the sales team's hands, right?

Shay Howe: And sales will do what they're best at and let, they'll walk them through that process and coach them. But we don't force people down that path if we don't need to. That has done wonders because a lot of those customers experiences then turn into great marketing. So people are beginning to share and say, this was smooth. This was easy. I was up and running ActiveCampaign quickly. And for us that's a win in that time to aha moment or value gets shortened through that cycle too. So yeah, I could go on and on, but that's the general gist of where we've gotten started, where we're sitting today.

Kailey Raymond: That's an incredible answer. I think that most people that are probably listening have had a very similar experience where buying today is different than it was 10 years ago. And certainly, if you go further back, it's completely different beast. You have all of the information that you need typically at your fingertips as a buyer right now with review sites, with videos, with very detailed product pages. It's fully in your hands for you to basically make the decision without ever having to speak to somebody.

Kailey Raymond: Especially if you have the ability to do some workspace sign up and have somebody poke around beforehand and get their hands in there. So I love this idea that you're talking about with PLG and SLG, and I'm wondering if there are any insights that you might be able to share in terms of where things handoff, which one should be PLG, which one should be SLG? I noticed you mentioned, oh, if there's a DPA or if there's something having to do with HIPAA, more complex, maybe enterprise a larger company. Do you have any insights to share around how those two different strategies really compliment each other and where handoffs go really smoothly?

Shay Howe: Yeah. I think one of the interesting things we have learned over time is, and we might be unique in this, so keep me honest if you think this is true or not as you've seen more of the market, but company size doesn't really matter. And for us at ActiveCampaign, right, we're a marketing automation platform and we will work for the sole entrepreneur all the way up through the enterprise. And it's more so based off your use case or how you're trying to use the platform or what you're trying to actually automate or bring in. So in the past we would route folks into sales largely based off what we saw on their contact volume 'cause that would be one of the key drivers of price. But you can take this, a entrepreneur who maybe is running an e-commerce shop and has 2 million contacts. That person's very high value for us, but they don't need any help, like they'll get set up, they'll get moving, they're fine on their own.

Shay Howe: You might also have a 200 person luxury real estate firm that's going to have 10,000 contacts in the system, but go deep in the CRM and do some things as they work to show or sell houses that honestly might not pay as much as the other person but needs a little bit more guidance, a little bit more support or help. So we've taken away just the construct of company size as a proxy, funnel revenue or employee base, etcetera, in terms of what goes to sales or not. It truly becomes their kind of use case and how they come into us. And we use those chat bots to start to ask those questions and filter through that. But inevitably there's an instinct when you're talking to them, right? Where if we are having this conversation and you mentioned, oh cool, yeah, I gotta check with my head of sales on that, or I wanna make sure like I wanna show our founder this. Those stakeholders get to the end and you send them a contract and it comes back. All right, so I didn't have the approval all along, right?

Shay Howe: Like we sent those things, it goes to sales if it is legal or requires a custom contract that's gonna go to sales to dig into and then help walk through. If there's deep integrations or we know that there's going to be more custom solutions that are gonna acquire like API based connections and that's one where if just like that's gonna take multiple conversations to actually have that sale where they want to get the solutions consulting team involved, that's gonna go into sales. So those are more so the triggers than company employee size revenue, like we look more at the use case than anything.

Kailey Raymond: That's really insightful. I love the idea of taking away company size as a proxy and thinking about it more as it relates to cohorts of people that have similar problems, that makes perfect sense.

Shay Howe: It does. But it felt very unnatural to do.

Kailey Raymond: Of course.

Shay Howe: Like it was one of those things, we've always done it this way and it's a proxy for value, but it's like I don't really spend more time with the person who pays us less than the person who pays us more. It's like we are because the person who pays us more doesn't always necessarily need it. Like you can't look at it the same way. So it took us some time to figure that out, honestly.

Kailey Raymond: No kidding. Because everybody's been doing it the same way forever and for always. So to be the one that's like, I dunno, I got an idea, let me test it. It can be scary, but I love that you're kind of breaking that barrier right now. Definitely PLG I've seen as something that's been certainly increasing in momentum over the past decade or so. Past five years certainly I think has probably gained even more. So that's a trend certainly as it relates to kind of customer engagement. I'm wondering you also help your customers drive great customer experiences and customer engagement, and their journeys. And so talking to an expert here, do you have any insights into some of the top trends that you're currently seeing as it relates to customer experience beyond PLG like we just spoke about?

Shay Howe: I think there's probably a lot we could get into here. Trend-wise, AI, very top of mind and a lot of areas we're going deeper into both and how we work, but also is what we're doing in the platform. I think personalization we could throw into that mix. I don't know, like if it's a trend so much as it's just becoming more well known as, hey, the more personalized you are, the better engagement you're gonna see the better conversion rates, etcetera. So we're definitely coaching folks deep on those sides. I would say maybe one of the areas that is a little less talked about, but I think very important and something like we're trying to figure out and how to take this more to our customers is the need and bounce between your own channels that you own as well as understanding where to go out and meet your customers where they are.

Shay Howe: There's a real like balance you need to find, if that makes sense. You wanna grow your business, you wanna grow your audience, right? So you gotta go find them in the communities, the social network, the search engines of the events, etcetera that they exist in. But there's some inherent, I don't wanna say dangers in that, like you lose a little bit of control. So if you're relying on an existing platform to drive your growth, be it Google, if they changed their search engine rankings or algorithms as they've done for core updates, at least this year, if not more, if SEO is your core driver, it could fall off pretty quickly. And the amount of people I've talked to who were driving a ton of new business through LinkedIn and the amount of oppressions they're getting there, LinkedIn updated their algorithm this year and it's completely followed all, like, it's completely dropped in certain areas.

Shay Howe: And even in those, you have no idea. If you got great SEO, it doesn't mean that your competitors aren't going to come in and bid on your own brand in terms and show up right next to you and or above you. Or if you go deep into Twitter that something wild might happen there and it re-brands and then a large portion of that audience tends to migrate out. There's some dangerous things to do there. So I think it's wise to go into those and build out your audience, but you have to do more to build out your own channels. So things like your own website, your own email list or subscription list where you can contact people through email or SMS, your own podcast would be a great example of an own asset, right? So we're doing a lot to help folks build relationships with their customers through those owned assets, put them in places where they can control more of that own message.

Shay Howe: And then they can collect the data themselves, not rely on third parties to do that so that it could impact their own language models they decide to create or play with. And at the end of the game too, you're also driving traffic back to your own owned assets. Like it becomes your own kind of little flywheel, which is important. So it is a balance of finding folks in their own communities, but bringing them back to your own channels too.

Kailey Raymond: I love that. That's a perspective that I haven't heard very frequently on the show. So I really appreciate that. And speaking about the podcast or a webinar series or kind of whatever you're owning yourselves. It's one of the really unique ways that you're speaking directly towards your community and you can be seen as a thought leader in that. Yes. And I think you're seeing this as another kind of trend within a trend, which is all of these B2B companies have been buying media companies for the past few years. They are trying to buy a community so they can speak directly to their users. So certainly something that I think people have kind of become keen on to and whether they're purchasing it or whether they're trying to build it organically themselves. I've definitely seen that trend increase.

Shay Howe: I hadn't even thought about the purchase of the media companies, but you're absolutely right. Like those two play hand in hand together. Yes.

Kailey Raymond: Totally. I'd be remiss to let you go away from this podcast without digging a little bit deeper into AI. You mentioned it, so I'm bringing it back. I think it's probably the thing that is on many executive's minds, especially heading into next year. The drama of OpenAI is temporarily over. [chuckle] We'll see what happens moving into next year. That was certainly an episode of Silicon Valley that I didn't want to miss. So that was very entertaining for a little bit.

Shay Howe: I look forward to the documentary.

Kailey Raymond: Yeah. Oh my gosh, the Netflix is going to be absolutely lit. The tech community is going to have the popcorn in hand ready. I'm wondering, how are you using AI at ActiveCampaign? And that can be both kind of like internally, how you're using it on your teams, how you're implementing it into the product. Tell me, how you do it?

Shay Howe: I can answer that both ways. For ourselves, like how we're using it. And I think we just passed like the one year anniversary of ChatGPT, right?

Kailey Raymond: Yeah.

Shay Howe: So we've certainly embraced that. So I'd say there's three ways internally we've kind of taken this in. I think two of them are very... I've seen a lot of people do this. So I don't know if we're unique or special about it. But one is content generation. But for us, that's not us saying, Hey, let's have it just take over writing all of our blogs and all of our content. We're using it in ways where it starts the process, gives us the ideas, and allows us to go take shape of those. And more often in ways that are not directly publicly facing. So it could be our chatbot scripts or a podcast script. It could be social media posts. It could be ad copy or just general copy. We're using it again in that assisted motion, but we still want to layer in our expertise, right? And it's just a way to help, I don't know, jumpstart the process.

Shay Howe: The second piece would just be more research. So honestly, it's been pretty good, like competitive or comparison research. Or to say, hey, give me a launch plan framework for this or help me find influencers who do this. Or I got to interview a candidate based off of direct response copywriting. Can I get five questions for that? Just like a brainstorm or having like that second marketer in the room, but it's a robot, which has been helpful. I'd say the third one has been a little more interesting, and that is using it to glean insights. So feeding it large data sets and then having it come back to us and show us the trends or being able to cross-reference large segments or key audiences, if you will. I could give you an example of something we've done or changed that I don't know that we would have been able to do without more AI-based capabilities. And that is around attribution.

Shay Howe: So back in the day, you would purchase ActiveCampaign and you'd get a question that said, how did you first discover ActiveCampaign? And you get these checkboxes or a dropdown that would say search engine or a friend or social channel, etcetera, in an event. And It was okay. That's a direction. That's a signal. And we could take that and look at that and compare it to the first or last touch attribution and try and get an idea of, okay, are good areas of customer acquisition sit in these sides, but somewhat limited by just the very nature of how we were capturing the data. And we just got rid of it. We said, hey, just give them an open text field and let that customer type literally whatever they want. And the risk there is well, how would you categorize it? How would you actually pull any data off of it? But that's the perfect thing for AI to do is to make unstructured data structured. So now when you sign up, we're going to ask you that question just getting a text field.

Shay Howe: You can type what you want. And we feed the data into AI. And then we just go to AI and ask it, hey, what are the top ways people find us? And they'll say, social. Cool. What social channels? And it will say, oh, it's Instagram or it's LinkedIn. And I'll say, interesting. Okay. Who on Twitter or on Instagram is that is? And it allows us to keep going a layer deeper and you get so much more value from that data because you're allowing it to come in at a far more granular level and not constraining it by some predisposition of how we wanted to see it. Right. We just feed all back to AI and we let the insights come out of it. So I'd say that'd be the third piece for us on that. Like just getting insights out of that data where historically we probably wouldn't have been able to or it would have taken a long time to figure out.

Kailey Raymond: You just had me really excited. That is brilliant. That is one of the... It's so simple. It's so simple, but it's like one of the smartest applications in real life that I've heard because it's really manual. People will skip that form. I can think about it, implementing it into sales processes too. Think about all the dispositions that you're asking your sales team to do on a daily basis, the time that it's taking. If they can just kind of like free-form write something and then AI can give you the categories as opposed to you coming up with the categories and them not being the right ones, you're going to gain so much more insight. I'm okay, well, Shay, I got to go. I got to go talk to the RevOps team right now about this idea. Brilliant. I love that.

Shay Howe: Yeah. I'll answer the question in a second way. And that is how we're doing the product there too. So I don't think we're not necessarily unique in this, but it's had us rethink how we think about some of our product too. And even before we had generative AI, we had predicted capabilities in our platform. So we even had a predicted content motion where you could write four different forms or five different forms of an email. And we'll help you predict which one's going to resonate best with individual people. So like at an individual level, not even at like a bulk list level, but in an automation down to the person. We've had win probability in there. So as people take actions or opening, clicking through and visiting your website, etcetera. We've told you what is the likelihood they'll actually convert to a customer. And then predictive sending, which I think is not necessarily revolutionary, but for us has been in an automation, not this idea of predictive sending is send it to this person at 8am in their time zone.

Shay Howe: But more or less, hey, let's send it to Shay because we know at this time of day is when he's generally in his email or in his inbox, or he's been on our website in the past, things like that. So we've been doing that for a while. We wanted to take that idea a little bit further with generative AI though. And we did very similar to what other folks are doing where you could use it to write content in your email. So if you were to design an email on ActiveCampaign, you can go in there and have it write that email for you. But we wanted to do it kind of similar to how ChatGPT has worked, where you can talk to it and you can change it. So not only can you have it generate the content, but then you can have it change it too. So you can say, okay, change the length of that, make it shorter. Or can you make that a little less formal? Or could you just simplify the message further, use bullet points? And you can chat to it and it will fundamentally change the structure and design of that email, which is really cool.

Shay Howe: The other thing we've done, which is really, really interesting, is just this idea of, and this is where I think the future of this is all going, quite honestly. This idea that, this goes back to customer activation, so this fits really well. But the idea that, I just have an idea of what I want to do and I just need you to do it. So let me describe that to AI and let it go build the automation for me. So for example, it could be one of, we run a lot of events, we call them study halls. I want to build an automation that essentially says, invite everyone who lives within a hundred mile radius of Columbus, Ohio to come to this event on this day, wait a day, email them again if they didn't open the email, wait a week, email everyone who didn't purchase a ticket, wait another week, invite those folks again. And then after the event, I want to email everyone who attended a thank you. Those who didn't attend, I want to send them a sorry we missed you email. And right now, you can really just go in and you just type that out, open text, and then we will build the automation for you. AI will structure all of that out, go write the emails, pull up the audiences, segments, etcetera.

Shay Howe: It's a beta version of it, but it worked incredibly well. Like as I test it and try and break it, I'm this is slick. Like this is, the future is here, quite frankly. So I'm excited to see where that goes. But I'd say a different way we're thinking about using AI in the product than I think most people do.

Kailey Raymond: That's so smart. I love the way that you're combining both the predictive and the generative capabilities together to build these really rich journeys for folks. You mentioned it's an obvious thing, but like AI is helping to automate a lot of the processes that humans would do. I'm wondering, can you over automate? What are the pitfalls to automation? What are some of those things that you would say Yeah, don't automate that portion of it, though.

Shay Howe: No, that's a really good question. Even as an automation company, we have said for the longest time, we put in a lot of our presentations and in our sales pitches, do not over-automate. There's this idea that if people perceive that this is an automated process or they're talking to or not working with someone, they want a real relationship with the business, it will backfire. So it's usually around the moments that are your sweet spot. They make your business very unique and very special. Don't try to automate that. Find the right places where human touch is incredibly relevant and has allowed you to shine. And use automation just to build more time for yourself to go do that. Take some of the mundane off your plate in different areas, but find the areas where you as a business have been able to truly capture folks in unique, special ways and get them excited and use the human touch element to go do that. But do not over automate everything you're doing into an affinity.

Kailey Raymond: Totally. And I'm really curious to see where this goes to because it's harder in some pockets and some channels than ever to reach your audiences. And some of the new laws that are going into place are actually touching the sales automation space. For the very first time, there's going to be some limits to the outreaches, the sales loss of the world kind of moving into next year. And being a rep is really, really hard right now. It's Four years ago, you would have gotten the same amount of phone calls for a quarter of the work than it would be today. And I'm wondering how much the mass, unpersonalized messaging kind of falls into that and making sure that that human touch really still does exist. It's going to be important. So finding those pockets of customer delight within that journey, automating where you can, but making sure that forever and for always, you're going to rely on humans to do what humans do best, which is to connect with each other.


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Kailey Raymond: I'm wondering, a lot of this is at least perceived to be quite hard to do, right? When you're building a customer journey, it's a daunting task to try to think about automating a lot of the different steps along the way. I'm wondering, from all of your experience in doing this and teaching others how to do it, what are some of the biggest challenges on the journey to building great customer engagement?

Shay Howe: It's a really good question. And so much of what you're saying, we see day in and day out. As people generally come to us and they have a way they want to implement automation for one thing. And then we try and open up the eyes or horizon of, there's a lot you can automate. There's a lot in your customer journey you can really start to layer in. And I think there's just a paralysis there at that moment of, oh my goodness, there's so much. Where do I begin? And even before you begin, one of the things that becomes important is also just your data structure. Like how do you use that to build the personalization and the right triggers or events to structure some of those automations? And for us, that's something we've thought a lot about. That has been one of the key pieces of ActiveCampaign in that we pride ourselves on being a platform that is what we always say is simple, not simplistic. We want it to be easy to use. We want it to be intuitive to adopt. But we're not going to make it easy to use by stripping out features or capabilities and only giving you kind of the skeleton of what you might want.

Shay Howe: So we've thought deeply about how do we structure apps integration so you can bring data in easily and all those events in easily. How do we put those into a unified data model so that irregardless if you take payment from Stripe or PayPal, it's still a payment to you and you don't have to worry about the nuances of that. So we've thought a lot about that. The things that get interesting is once you get that going, right? Some of the things folks generally do is they'll set it and forget it and not continually think about how things and technology, the data you have is changing. So you should probably be always in there iterating or evolving that. And I think one of the hard things then is too is how do you get it to scale? And that's been something that's been challenging for us, even at ActiveCampaign, in that we have 185,000 paying customers. And there's a moment where in the last two years where it's, hey, how do you really personalize deep levels there? And like our message is not resonating because we're trying to say something that applies to anyone and everyone. And that just is so bland that people are I don't get it.

Shay Howe: Like if I said to you oh, use automation so that you can connect and have meaningful relationship with your customers. You're like Okay, you said the same thing to me as like literally 5,000 other Vartek tools and products. I don't get it. But I'm like oh okay, cool. You're a B2B SaaS product. Let's talk about how you do your trial and retreat. Let's talk about how you do product adoption and how you want to get certain folks to take advantage of certain features. Let's talk about how you send invoices or receipts and how you could be putting more product metrics into those and drive more value from them. Let's get deeper into your own customer experience. And I'll give you the automation. I'll give you the content. I'll give you the messaging that supports that. And then you truly see yourself in that product or in that messaging and clicks. It becomes far more relevant. So I think that's the area where we've gone far deeper is just in that How you onboard a net, it can be completely changes based off what we can learn about you.

Shay Howe: So if your integrations is a key piece, so you come out as an e-commerce test where we're going to talk to you about, well, one, we're just going to try and look up your domain and see if you're using Shopify, WooCommerce, BigCommerce, etcetera. And then we're this is step one, click here to connect your store. Or if we can detect, oh, you use Stripe, we should connect to that, right? If you're in e-commerce, it's abandoned cart is the most easiest, straightforward one you need. B2B SaaS, it's trial and return, right? So we just automatically start to put those into your account and help you with those. So the entire experience changes based off of what we can learn about you using automation.

Kailey Raymond: It's so smart to have built-in, verticalized playbooks at your fingertips, ready for folks to use. You're exactly right. The one-size-fits-all message, if you're talking to somebody in healthcare or finance or tech, such different language. You can't hit them all with the same exact tone, 185,000 customers. Your product marketing team is working very hard because they have a lot of use cases and messages that they're building, I am sure. And the first thing that you called out was the data structure, which is really probably showing you what all these verticals are and these use cases are in the first place. So I'm wondering, do you have a definition around what good data is?

Shay Howe: This is not all data is created equal. That is for sure. For us, like the way I think about good data would be data that is accurate. It's timely. It's relevant. It's coming from a diversity of sources even right behind it. And This is simple and probably obvious, but good data is also data that we've clear definitions. So when you say churn and I say churn, we're saying the same thing. It's not when I say churn, I literally mean anyone who's churned. But you're saying not anyone who has been on an account longer than 30 days or who's spending greater than $5,000, right? Like we have good definitions. And then we have ease of access to it. That we can both get to that data, run our own reports. It is as self-service as possible. So yeah, it's accurate, timely, relevant, quality of sources, but clear definitions and ease of access has to be top of mind.

Kailey Raymond: Totally. And I love those of making sure that everybody has the same definition and everybody has access, self-serve to those resources to find the information that they need because that leads to organizational trust and collaboration. If you are looking in different places or if you have a different definition to your point around what something actually means, a portion of your funnel, that's not going to lead to anything good in an organization. That's going to be some data wars that nobody wants to play. So I love that. It really is the foundation of collaboration and insight within an organization as well as making sure that those foundations are there. We've talked a little bit about some of the ways that you're using data as well, which is verticalization, activation of making sure that you're getting your customers adopting your products. I'm going to turn it around and see if there's any people that you look to for some of the inspiration in terms of building great customer experiences and customer engagement. Anybody that's doing it right?

Shay Howe: I generally look towards consumer businesses. Honestly, there's a higher bar there that you have to meet. So they end up doing things really well. Most folks have probably heard some of the Chewy examples of Chewy being the pet supplies or food company where, unfortunately, but if someone's pet passes, generally they know that or recognize that will send you flowers or a card or make a donation in your honor. That's just incredible. I think of the B2B SaaS space. There's a lot of young companies that kind of un-cumbered and have more free will to test and explore things that I always like I like keeping an eye on them because I think there's like really interesting things they could be doing I don't know that I should put them in this bucket, but Chart-Mobile, I really appreciate and enjoy. They've done very well to build out a thought leadership program. I get their newsletter and I open it and I want to go through it. And more times than not, I'm clicking on multiple links in it because I'm very curious in what they're saying.

Shay Howe: And not only are they thought leaders, they've built out their own channel in doing that. So I think this is one of the things they've done which I've appreciated and several others like that.

Kailey Raymond: That's great. I love that you're tying it back to the channel ownership and to get a CMO of a company your size clicking on a bunch of links like that is some good marketing. So kudos to them. Last question. What steps or recommendations might you have if somebody was looking to uplevel their customer engagement strategies?

Shay Howe: It's getting out of the building and going talking to your customers and getting to the heart of What have they enjoyed? What have they found painful? And finding ways to go evolve that, be it through AI, automation, all the other odds and ends. There's literally no shortage of ways you could build and structure that out. I think getting to the voice of your customers is going to be one of the most important things you could do. And it's going to serve you in a way that is not only just from your customer experience, but I guarantee it's going to impact your product, your sales. Like done well, it will fundamentally change your business. Customer experience just being a piece of it, quite honestly. Again, that's a desire in me. I can't advocate for that or not. But so many times I'm telling folks that because it is simple yet optimally skipped. Or just we kind of think we know better than we do sometimes.

Kailey Raymond: 100% making sure that you are remembering who your customer is, who is, at the end of the day, paying your paycheck and everybody else's. They're the ones that are probably the bosses at the end of the day. So Shay, I very much appreciate your insights. Had a great conversation. Thank you so much for being here.

Shay Howe: Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it and enjoyed it. Thank you.

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