‘Permission’ to automate: How one digital agency benefits from single unified platform

Company rebuilds marketing plan from “reactive, non-planned” to accountable marketing strategy

As the owner of Sydney-based digital engagement agency, Permission, Rick Merten eats his own dogfood.

The agency recently adopted the Act-On marketing automation platform in a bid to get cohesion across its internal sales and marketing functions. Merten, who runs the agency, said it’s also pitching the platform to clients, tailoring the technology to suit their needs.

“We look at how we use our own technologies - specifically marketing and sales management technology in this case - to drive our own business to get insights so that we can then use it to drive our clients’ businesses,” Merten told CMO.

The cloud-based marketing automation solution is helping marketers manage and optimise all the stages of the customer experience; follow the money by attributing marketing spend to revenue; track each prospect’s activity from initial engagement and conversions to closed sales and repeat sales; and report on campaigns, from high level to detailed drilldown.

“We look very closely at our own funnel management, from top-of-funnel lead generation, demand generation, right through to conversion across all channels from our marketing and advertising spend, through events, through referral, to see what’s working for our own marketing,” he explained. “Then we apply the same methodologies and insights into the way we approach our marketing clients.”

Merten said the technology adoption has reshaped the agency’s entire marketing function, prompting the agency to rewrite its brand strategy and marketing plans.

“We rebuilt our whole marketing strategy from a reactive, non-planned one into a planned and accountable marketing strategy now as well as execution. It has completely changed everything we do. And it has changed the way we service clients as well,” he said.

“Our whole approach to managing our client relationships has driven through the marketing as well, and we now have a different strategy for upsell and cross-sell of current clients, versus conversion of new business.”

Detailing the implementation phase, Merten said the agency took a “pragmatic approach” in deploying the technology internally, starting with the planning and development phase, followed by site implementation and setup process. The crucial first step was the development of a data strategy.

“What data did we want? What data did we want for our prospects and customers are we’re driving them through the sales process? Where are we going to collect it? What were the sources? How are we going to augment it? And how do we deal with the different players (like marketing and finance) in terms of the sales process?” he asked. “What data are we capturing and where are we going to capture it? And how are we going to integrate that into the tool?”

Meeting challenges

Like any mid-sized business, there are a range of challenges. Merten said Permission looked to Act-On to help the company alleviate some of its pain points and help it align inbound and outbound marketing campaigns across the customer lifecycle.

“We are very much a mid-market agency, so the challenges we face are typically the same challenges that our clients face: Small marketing team, limited budgets, nimble in a very competitive market space,” he continued. “We look for ways we can create a competitive advantage, even if it’s a short term competitive advantage through brand positioning and obviously technology.”

Indeed, Permission went through “an introspective process” over the last few years and was forced to make some tough decisions.

“As a 17-year-old business, we’ve gone through plenty of ups and downs and growth and positioning. Four years ago, we went through quite a challenging period in the business: We needed to reassess how we were going to market, who we were talking to, the whole brand strategy of what we were, what we were trying to do, and who we were trying to work for.”

In undergoing change, the entire marketing function was put under the microscope - and things have come a long way in a short period of time.

“Marketing was very much ‘shoot from the hip’. Like plumbers who have the dripping tap, marketing agencies have poor marketing,” Merten said. “We were doing marketing, but it wasn’t aligned and wasn’t managed in a single platform. We would do an event, or we’d do an ad or we’d send an email, and each activity was disparate.”

Common platform

Certainly, in the age of disparate processes, Merten said the Act-On platform helps the agency streamline operations and deliver a sense of commonality across the business.

“It lets us build more accountability into our website, and more control in our own marketing, and gives us a platform that allows us to look at exactly where things are going out, track who’s getting what, and in what channel, by what means, and what the response rates were through the whole  process. So rather than having disparate reports in different areas, we have a single unified platform where all of our marketing is managed through.”

Merten said the platform is not only delivering enhanced customer experience, but boosting brand awareness, demand generation, retention and loyalty.

“We have a multi-faceted lead generation and conversion approach, ranging from advertising, adwords, active social publishing, content business, as well as events and email newsletters - and it is managed by different resources within the team.

“So it allowed us to have all of these different resources using a common platform with common creative and metrics around it, and track all of the way through, depending on what they were doing. It allowed all of the different resources to have a common language and log into one platform to manage the different marketing we are doing.”

Merten said the agency will continue to explore new uses and features of the Act-On technology, as well as fine tune its CRM strategy and adopt sales management technology.

“There’s still plenty in the platform that we’re not taking full advantage of. We still have plans to get better at the technology ourselves to leverage more out of that. We’re reviewing our CRM platform and looking at how it is integrated. . . And then we’re also looking at sales management technologies that can help make a sales process simpler.”

And while there’s lots of noise in the marketing automation arena, he said Australia is lagging behind other countries - particularly the US and European markets - in areas such as account-based marketing (ABM), which is a strategic approach to business marketing based on account awareness, and is an advanced feature of most automation platforms.

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