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TrendSpotting Episode 8: Marketing Automation for Relationship-Based Marketers

Episode Overview

Join us for Modern Marketing Month as we work to understand the relationship between marketing automation, machine learning, and data science, specifically focusing on the personal relationship that companies can build using marketing automation.

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Episode Transcript

Ben:                 Welcome to Modern Marketing Month on the TrendSpotting Podcast by Searchmetrics. In this podcast, we dive deep into ways innovative marketers use experience and data to identify the macro-trends that influence where you should be investing your marketing budget. This podcast is brought to you by Searchmetrics. At our core, the Searchmetrics team is a collection of SEOs, content marketers and data scientists who help sophisticated organizations leverage search data to improve their organic traffic volume, maximize the visibility of their content, and gain insight into their business, competition, and industry’s performance.

Ben:                 This week, we are going to continue our investigation into some of the overlapping new trends in marketing like artificial intelligence, machine learning, marketing automation and data science, and joining us today is Jeff Shearer, who is an independent marketing operations and automation consultant based in Seattle, Washington. Prior to branching out on his own, Jeff held in-house marketing roles at a variety of tech-centric companies including Nintex and Expedia, and we’re excited to welcome Jeff to the TrendSpotting Podcast to help us understand the relationship between marketing automation, machine learning, and data science, specifically focusing on the personal relationship that companies can build using marketing automation. Here’s our interview with Jeff Shearer. Jeff, welcome to the TrendSpotting Podcast.

Jeff:                  Thanks so much, happy to be here.

Ben:                 It’s great to have you, and from what I understand you’re now a frequent speaker in the podcast sphere. I’m glad we were able to get on your radar. I remember back a month ago when we were recording your first ever podcast appearance on my show, the Martech Podcast.

Jeff:                  Yeah, you know, when it rains it pours. I feel like I’ve been on as many podcasts as weeks, so.

Ben:                 Well, it’s great to have you here on the show, and why don’t we start off by you telling the executive marketing audience that’s listening to this podcast a little bit about yourself and your experience?

Jeff:                  Sure, yeah. So my background is in marketing operations and technology. I had started my career working in digital marketing, SEO, SEM, bit of social media, and then kind of moved over into more the marketing automation and email marketing side of the house, and really my specialty is around building scalable Martech stacks, finding novel ways to connect these systems to build great customer experiences, and making sure that data is well-formatted and easy for analysis later on down the stream. So you know, it’s really about turning technology from this kind of complicated bundle of wires in the corner into something that really works for marketing teams, and helps drives insights, and really helps make marketing operations more the brains behind the marketing team.

Ben:                 You know, the other thing that I think is interesting about your experience is that you’ve bounced around a little bit in terms of the scope of types of businesses that you’ve worked at. You were at Nintex, which is a SaaS platform from what I understand-

Jeff:                  Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ben:                 And then also the Expedia Group, which is focused on travel.

Jeff:                  Yeah, absolutely. All my functions, the main between all of them, have been … They’ve all been mostly business-to-business. At Expedia, I worked on their corporate travel division, so not on proper, but on Egencia, which is their corporate travel team, which does have a SaaS component, but it’s more about travel management. Nintex is much more of your typical SaaS sort of play, and past companies have well have been like that. So I’d say B2B has been kind of the glue that’s held it all together, but definitely a bunch of different industries that I’ve gotten to play in.

Ben:                 So, talk to me a little bit about how you think about marketing automation, and how it’s related to some of the other popular buzzwords, terms, functions in marketing that the executive marketer is hearing about frequently? And just to be specific, I’m talking about artificial intelligence, data science, machine learning. What is marketing automation, and how do those other functions relate to it?

Jeff:                  Yeah, that’s a great question. I feel like Martech in general is like the king of buzzwords, and so there’s always some new hot term of the month, and AI, machine learning, account-based marketing, these are all terms that are quite popular these days. When I think of marketing automation … It’s funny, because marketing automation is one of those terms where it sounds like, “Oh wow, marketing is just being completely handled automatically,” but in reality there’s a lot of manual work that goes into making marketing appear automated, and things are still kind of early on, I would say, and I think when you look at machine learning and you look at AI, that’s where a lot of the promise of marketing automation starts to pay off, or at least in … In practice, I think we’re still a little ways off from that.

Jeff:                  When I think about marketing automation as it exists today, a lot of it is very centered around email marketing, around connecting acquisition channels, digital marketing channels, organic, website, that sort of thing, into your CRM, your Salesforces, your Dynamics sort of interfaces, and then nurturing leads, so kind of that middle of the funnel piece. Marketing automation ends up also being the area where a lot of the data about what’s happening with your leads, your prospects, your customers and what they’re doing, and what they’re interacting with, and how they’re profiled, and having that then feed into your analysis systems, your data warehouses, your data lakes, that sort of thing.

Jeff:                  So marketing automation tends to kind of be seen almost as like a marketing operating system, where a lot of that hub of information is taking place, and then you start to see these different tools that are kind of plugging into it, whether it’s an AI tool, or it’s an account-based marketing tool, or it’s your data analysis system. So I sort of view marketing automation as kind of playing in the middle, and marketing operations being the group that kind of orchestrates between that system and all of the other pieces of technology and systems that make a modern marketing team function.

Ben:                 It’s interesting that your definition of marketing automation is a little bit different than the conversation that I had with Scott McLin from Sojern which was the last episode that we published, and Scott works in more of a service provider for consumer-facing brands in the travel space, and his definition of marketing automation was more focused on, you know, adjusting the variables based on signals that the consumers are providing so you can optimize things that were mostly centered around performance marketing channel, doing bid automation, dynamically changing your creative, even mixing in some of the different channels that you can reach out to someone, but really it was a way to optimize your PPC efforts, and it sounds like your approach, in the B2B space, is more about kind of a transactional relationship using data to understand what is happening during a customer’s journey, and then feeding that either through your CRM and allowing other tools to then send out messaging. Am I putting words in your mouth, or is that a fair assumption?

Jeff:                  Yeah, you know, I think that’s … Marketing automation ends up being a broad category that can mean a lot of things, but when I think about it in terms of my experience and where I work, it tends to be more about analyzing what is happening with the folks that I already know in my system, and then finding ways to then connect that activity into systems that care about it, whether it’s other tools to serve up advertisements like a re-targeting sort of function, or even a direct mail automation system, right? That’s actually pretty popular and starting to become more popular in the B2B space, but it could also be servicing information to sales teams, right?

Jeff:                  As a B2B-focused user, a lot of my interaction as a marketer is with direct sales teams, right? And so when you think about all of this intelligence you’re collecting about what people are doing on your websites, your properties, off-site, through your emails, all those sorts of things, a lot of that can be used to then service relevant information to a salesperson to make sure their follow-up and their actions are well-tuned with what marketing’s doing, and what the lead is showing that they’re interested in. So, you know, part of marketing automation is certainly getting data to talk to other systems, to fire other things automatically, but part of it’s also automatically getting data to the people that can action it as humans, right? And so I think there is certainly a human component to what we’re doing, which is maybe different than just automated bid management.

Ben:                 Yeah, there’s an interesting component there, a little bit as you mention is CRM, customer relationship management, where your marketing automation tool, whether it be a lead-scoring mechanism or whether it’s an event-driven process where someone comes onto your website and visits a specific page or comes back a certain number of times, you can then take that data or that trigger and decide what to do with it. Hand that person over to sales, send them a piece of direct mail, invite them to a webinar, send them an email. What are some of the other channels that you’re using, or you’ve seen used as marketing levers, using marketing automation services?

Jeff:                  Yeah, you know, marketing automation tends to get oftentimes lumped in with email marketing, which is certainly the bread and butter of tools like Marketo or Eloqua or Salesforce Marketing Cloud, but obviously there’s a lot of other things that can be done these days with a known lead database. Direct mail is a great example of kind of an old school channel that’s starting to become quite popular again, because it tends to cut through the noise, right?

Jeff:                  If you receive a package on your desk with … I think it was Marketo that used to do this fortune cookie campaign where they would send you a box of fortune cookies with all these kind of marketing-focused fortunes in them, and the idea was you get it on your desk, you’d find it a very kind of novel, fun idea, and then you would share it with your team to help kind of spread that message and say, “Who sent these again?” “Oh, I think it was this company called Marketo,” right?

Jeff:                  And that was years ago, right? But you’re seeing folks … That’s becoming very ubiquitous. If you’re a martech buyer at all, you’re very familiar with this sort of experience, or if you’re really any executive in the marketing space, you’ve probably gotten packages like these. But you can also see that marketing automation systems start playing into digital advertising channels as well, right? We tend to think of PPC and paid search as an acquisition channel, but it can also be a nurturing channel, right?

Jeff:                  So if you imagine you have someone in your database, you already know quite a bit about them, they’ve already identified themselves to you, you could then use the information you have to then target them with advertisement to get them more engaged with you as they go along. So think of it as someone who maybe has trialed your product, but then kind of fell off the map, using ads to then come back and say, “Hey, let’s get you re-engaged.”

Jeff:                  And it’s not just as simple as saying, “Well, they visited the trial page,” but actually saying, “Well, they did this, this, and this within the product, because we know through our connection with our marketing automation system,” and then saying “Okay, let’s target them differently. Let’s serve different ads, let’s try them on different networks. Let’s try a different frequency,” whatever that might be, so very common to be doing something like that as well. Obviously you have all the other bells and whistles you could be using, whether it’s your other marketing channels like a webinar, or maybe it’s engaging them with a live chat tool as well, right?

Jeff:                  Say for example someone is known to your database and you know that they’re a customer or past customer. When they hit your website, you might want to hit them with a different kind of default live chat message welcome than the average user, so taking that intelligence to modify your customer experience for folks that are already known to your database is really the name of the game, and if you’re not doing that, it’s kind of expected that you should be, right? If you’re not doing that, the bar’s been raised, and so you end up looking a little silly if you’re not using that intelligence well.

Ben:                 Yeah, I think one of the most sophisticated triggers that I’ve seen being used is actually not an outbound marketing channel, but it’s actually changing the copy, calls to action, and workflow of your website based on what you know about a customer’s previous experience with your site and services. To me, that’s kind of the ultimate way where you’re changing the copy and positioning of your underlying website to make sure that it resonates with somebody that’s new to your site, providing a different experience to someone who might be a customer. That, to me, is an amazing feat.

Jeff:                  Absolutely. Yeah, I think dynamic content, whether it’s through the ads that you’re serving, the emails you’re sending, or even the content on your website, and viewing not website content as this static experience that, “Well, this is just what the page is going to be,” and starting to say, “You did what? We can subvert that a little bit and actually start to really get specific based on past actions.” You look at consumer brands like Amazon that are so great at that kind of, “You might also be interested in” product recommendations.

Jeff:                  You can really start to see that trend spilling over into B2B when you think about content recommendations, or just tailoring the content on a page that’s maybe a very vertically-focused page. If we know someone’s a customer, we might serve up a completely different set of customer evidence stories than if someone’s a prospect, or in a completely different industry, so I think dynamic content is absolutely a big piece of this.

Ben:                 So talk to me about some of your go-to tools when you’re thinking about building a marketing automation stack?

Jeff:                  Yeah, you know, I think … It’s funny, I was asked this question on another podcast recently, and I think before you even get into the technology selection piece, you really need to be thinking about the goals of the organization and really what the marketing strategy is going to be to reach those folks, because a lot of that will dictate what you need to be doing.

Jeff:                  There’s this article that came out recently from SiriusDecisions, which is one of the big research organizations, especially in B2B marketing, but also product and sales as well, and they call it “Categoritis,” which is this idea of marketers deciding they need to buy this pre-defined marketing stack based off of what their peers have been doing, or their colleagues have been saying, or what the industry has been telling them, and so they know, “Okay, I’m going to need a marketing automation system, and I’m going to need a chat tool, and I’m going to need this, this, and this,” and then ending up with this stack where yeah, you’ve got a lot of nice bells and whistles, but a lot of that stuff isn’t necessarily things you need, or you ended up not buying the one thing you did need.

Jeff:                  And so I think … It seems elementary, and it seems like, “Well, everyone says this,” but you really need to think about, “What is it we’re trying to do as an organization?” You don’t need a direct mail automation tool if your audience is not the kind of audience that responds to that, or if you don’t have that direct address information, right? It would be wasteful for you to think about that, so first things first, always take a look at what the goal of the organization is, who you’re targeting, and where that audience is engaging, because that will answer a lot about the types of tactics and thus the types of technology you need to use to reach those folks.

Ben:                 That’s great advice. Now tell me, what are the good tools?

Jeff:                  Well, you know, I think more often than not, especially in the B2B space, you’ll find … I mentioned marketing automation platforms being oftentimes kind of the operating system of a marketing team, and I think that is very true in most cases. You know, using tools like a Marketo, for instance, as kind of your marketing automation hub is really handy because of course a tool like that will then plug into all the other systems you need to have a really vibrant ecosystem of other solutions that will hook into them, either through a native connection or through custom integration, right? More often than not, it’s a native connection which is handy for speed to implementation. But you know, starting with a marketing automation platform is totally a great place to look, and then saying, “Okay, well what is our CRM and how is that tied into it?”

Jeff:                  The areas I see investment happening next tend to depend a little bit on audience, but these could be channel specific. These could be your webinar platforms that you’re investing in, these could be direct mail that I mentioned earlier, it could be integrations with advertising partners, right? So for example if you’re in the B2B space, you’re doing a lot of advertising on LinkedIn, Marketo has native integrations with LinkedIn so that you could be passing leads straight over, you can be serving ads to those networks more easily. So those might be areas you might start looking at.

Jeff:                  When I think about what is hot from a trend perspective, chats, live chat in particular being probably one of the most talked about areas, especially in B2B marketing, and so you look at vendors like Drift, for instance, that are designed to engage and capture activity on your website and turning them into qualified leads. And Drift’s hold pitch is that you almost don’t need to be using forms on your website anymore, instead engage on a chat interface that people are going to prefer to interact with, and Drift also has this kind of AI assistant that they’re using to engage folks without necessarily tying up sales resources.

Jeff:                  So, if you imagine you’re a big global international organization, but you have sales resources that are offline parts of the day, you can start to use this chat bot to start to drive some of those communications before you hand them off to a qualified salesperson. You can also do novel things, like “Hey, we know this person’s a customer, let’s skip the chat bot entirely and route them to their dedicated account manager,” right? So I think chat is becoming a very, very hot area because it’s so visible, and it’s such a support-focused … You know, it spans just marketing. There’s a support element, there’s a sales element, so it ends up being a really easy pick for a lot of organizations, but again you have to evaluate whether your audience is the kind of audience that’s actually going to engage with that sort of thing, too. So I think chat is certainly a talked about area.

Ben:                 That’s interesting. We’ve talked a lot this month about the overlap between AI and marketing automation, machine learning and a bunch of different terms, and I think that’s a good example of how artificial intelligence, using chat bots integrated into marketing automation, right? And that’s also machine learning integrated too, where you’re figuring out what your responses should be in your chat bot, and you’re using artificial intelligence to have conversations with your customers, so you don’t have to tie up your sales resources, but you’re serving that experience based on your marketing automation tool.

Ben:                 One other thing that I wanted to ask you is, what’s the overlap between marketing automation and data science? How much are you crunching numbers to figure out where to automate your marketing? I’m just interested in how data plays into this.

Jeff:                  Yeah, absolutely. As a marketing operations professional, I guess I would say, I would kind of say that there’s two sides of what I do. One is the marketing automation, the marketing technology side of things, and the other half is the analysis, and making sure that you’re making good decisions with the tools that you have. As a leader of a marketing operations team, for instance, the types of people that are on my team are your marketing technology automation specialists, but then analysts, data analysts, right?

Jeff:                  So, I’d say data science and just data analysis in general are areas that a marketing automation team is either going to be tangentially related to or directly doing, right? Because you don’t just build a lead-scoring system out of thin air, you do it based off of your historical data, based off of what you’re seeing in your customer base, right? And so you always need to be tempering any sort of technology investment or automation investment with, “How is this actually performing? How is this actually moving the needle?”

Jeff:                  Because you can find that your … And I think this trend has been happening, where increasing chunks of the marketing budget are being allocated towards technology, but that technology still has to pay off. That technology still has to drive a return, whether directly or indirectly, and so making sure that, for instance, we were talking about live chat earlier, that a chat solution is actually driving qualified activity for you and moving leads through faster, or better, or whatever it might be, some sort of measurable way to be able to go back and say, “You know what? This channel is working for us, and we need to be investing even more. We need to be doubling down.” You only get that through analysis, and so data is increasingly becoming one of the most valuable outputs of a marketing technology team.

Ben:                 That’s one of my biggest take-aways from the Modern Marketing Month that we’ve been talking about, is you know, there is a shift from marketers putting most of their budget into ad spend, right? Into a high impression level on people that they think are targeted, and with marketing automation, data science, machine learning, you know, all of these terms that are sort of inter-related, marketing automation, if I haven’t said that one yet.

Ben:                 To me, the transition here is reaching less people at the top of the funnel but having a better understanding of how to get them through, so you’re able to be more laser-focused on people that are likely to be your customers. You don’t have to cast such a wide net. That’s the purpose of this modern trend in marketing, is you don’t need a $5,000,000 ad budget every quarter. You still need to be able to attract a large enough audience, but you’re able to filter through that and get people through your funnels that much faster and with that much more efficiency if you’re able to automate the process and use your data more effectively to understand who is likely to convert, and figure out where you should be allocating your attention.

Jeff:                  Yeah. It’s like this idea of advertising to those who already know and like you, you know? You can obviously go and spend millions trying to reach audiences that have never heard of you, and over time and with enough money I’m sure you’ll get there, but a lot of people tend to overlook the audiences that are already likely to buy from them, and starting to really study what makes them convert, and how do we find more people like them, right? That’s where a lot of the performance data that you’re getting out of, certainly, your acquisition channels, but also your marketing automation systems, can help guide you to making those decisions.

Ben:                 Yeah. Any last words of advice for the marketers who are more traditional marketing strategy folks, or they might be the brand marketers, how should they think about building a marketing automation team? Where do they start to get educated? What are the tools, the resources, and processes they should follow?

Jeff:                  Well, you know, as someone who’s much more on the technology side, I find … You know, brand marketing for example is my weakness, and obviously hire for the weaknesses, right? While marketing technology may be seen as kind of the hot discussed topic right now that everyone’s trying to hire for and there’s no talent for, that is changing over time and you’re starting to see more resources getting out there, either from the vendors themselves like Marketo, or through even education programs, boot camps, universities, that sort of thing.

Jeff:                  So there’s certainly ways to get educated on these things, but nothing really beats working on these things practically, and I’d say hiring specialists who already know this space can help get you up to speed faster, and especially looking for the folks that can build technology stacks that all sorts of marketers can use, not just the technical ones.

Jeff:                  I think that’s one of the biggest challenges of a marketing technologist, is making sure that the solutions you’re building are not something that require a software engineer to run. Maybe you have engineering resources behind the scenes, but you want all these other marketers, especially the creative marketers who bring so much to the table and so much humanity to the table, to then combine that with the technology piece. So make sure that the solutions you’re building don’t automate away and AI away the humanity of your marketing. I think that still will ultimately win, and finding that balance is I think what separates the real high performers from the rest.

Ben:                 Great. Well I appreciate the advice, the insight, and the understanding of marketing automation, and that wraps up this episode of the TrendSpotting Podcast. Thanks again to Jeff Shearer for joining us, if you’d like to learn more about Jeff you can click the link in our show notes to his bio, or you can visit his website which is

Ben:                 If you’re interested in spotting more marketing trends, or if you’d like to learn more about Searchmetrics, the creator of the TrendSpotting Podcast, click the link in our show notes to see our content archive, or you can go to the Searchmetrics website, which is If you have any questions, or if you’d like to be a guest on the TrendSpotting Podcast, feel free to fill out the “Contact us” form on, and if you enjoyed this podcast, you’re feeling generous, we’d love for you to leave your feedback in the Apple iTunes Store.

Ben:                 And of course if you liked this podcast and you want a regular stream of data-driven marketing insights in your podcast feed, hit the “Subscribe” button in your podcast app and we’ll be back in your feed next week. Okay, that’s it for today, but until next time remember, it’s a data-driven world out there, and the team at Searchmetrics is here to point you in the right direction.