TAM 009: Jason VandeBoom – CEO of ActiveCampaign
In episode 9 we talk with ActiveCampaign CEO, Jason VandeBoom. Jason and I chat about the culture and direction of ActiveCampaign.
We also dig into some of the undiscovered gems in the platform and talk about killer new features that are on the way.
- The history of ActiveCampaign
- Common mistakes when getting started
- Underutilized features
- New features under development
- Where ActiveCampaign is headed
Links Mentioned In The Show
Barry: And what common mistakes do you see people, customers make when they first start using your platform?
Jason: Most of it is just not thinking through things. You know?
Announcer: Welcome to the Active Marketer podcast, where we talk about how to design, scale, and automate your business to the next level using sales and marketing automation. You can find out all the tips, tactics, and techniques you need to get more customers and sell more stuff over at theactivemarketer.com. Now here's your host, Barry Moore.
Barry: Hello and welcome back listener, it is your host Barry here for episode nine of the Active Marketer podcast. We've got a great interview today. We've been talking a lot about active campaign in the last few episodes and I certainly think it's a great tool, and I know many of you out there are using it. So I thought we might have a chat with Jason VandeBoom, the CEO of Active Campaign, and get his take on the company and where he's going and what features we can see in that platform in the future.
But before we get to that, some news and events. I'll have an upcoming webinar with John McIntyre, the auto responder guy from the McMethod.com. We'll be doing a joint webinar coming up in the next couple of weeks, so don't miss out on that, it's gonna be how you can create an automated selling machine for your business. If you want an alert on what exact date that's gonna be, head over to theactivemarketer.com, join up to our mailing list and we will send you out an alert once we've locked in a date for that webinar. It's going to be really great.
And onto the shameless social proof segment of the show, where we read out your iTunes review, we've got one in the US store this week. Five stars from Matt McWilliams. He says, “Well done Barry. Wow, the Active Marketer podcast is flat out awesome. Good production quality, easy to listen to, very impressed, keep bringing it.” Well thanks, Matt, really appreciate that, and we love to get your reviews on iTunes so if you just head over there, leave us a review on iTunes we'll read it out on one of the future shows.
I just need to make a little apology beforehand. The sound quality on this interview is not the best and we did try to work with a sound engineer to get rid of the little bit of hissing that you hear and there. We weren't really successful with getting rid of that noise unfortunately, but I wanted to put this interview out there because I think it's a great chat with Jason, and I think you'll get a lot out of it anyway. So I apologise for the audio quality in this one, the sound is not too annoying but I do apologise for the little hiss in the background.
So this week, as I said, we're talking to Jason, the CEO of Active Campaign. I think it's a really great tool and a really great company on a number of different levels. One is just their attitude toward internet marketing, and they really have a solid corporate identity on who they want to be and where they want to take their business. So it was really interesting to talk to Jason, so let's get into this week's episode with Jason, CEO of Active Campaign.
Really exciting show today, I would love to welcome to the show Jason VandeBoom from Active Campaign. He's the CEO of Active Campaign over there and, since we all love a tool here at theactivemarketer.com, I thought it would be a treat to get him on and talk about the company a little bit and their direction for the tool going forward. So, welcome Jason.
Jason: Thanks, thanks for having me.
Barry: One of the things I found interesting about Active Campaign is that you guys seem to kind of have a different corporate culture to some of the other tools out there, like Infusionsoft, Entreport, etc. I wanted to have a chat about you first about some of that, and I guess I kind of got that idea originally from a post you guys did about a year ago, which was about how you turn away millions of dollars of revenue every year. So I thought, I was hoping you could tell us a little bit about what the corporate culture is at Active Campaign, and why you guys decided that that was the way for you.
Jason: Sure, I think what you see a little bit of is we don't have a pure sales focus here. So it's not all about just bringing on more and more clients and bringing on more and more revenue. Obviously we like clients, we love revenue, but we really want to build something that we can stand behind and we can believe that actually makes the whole ecosystem a little bit better. Traditionally, when you look at marketing, and things like that, a lot of people will use words like bulk or just blast out an email or something like that, and we don't want any part of that side of things. We're more about intelligence driven emails. So you're sending fewer things whether it's email or text or anything, but it's just more behavioural based, so you send fewer but you get better results from this.
Barry: Yeah, fair enough. In that bit about turning away millions of dollars of revenue, is that you guys taking moral high ground, that you don't want to be associated with spammers, or is it self-preservation to predict your delivery rate, or a bit of both?
Jason: It's definitely both. It's obviously we don't really want to [be part 00:04:56] with spam at all, because we hate it ourselves.
Jason: It comes down to deliverability as well. Just the type of user, I guess, that you're kind of positioning yourself towards, as well. So someone that's just looking to blast out a bunch of emails to someone that they don't really know is gonna be a different type of user to work with, because their goals are not aligned with the goals of someone that has a little bit more thought behind their marketing.
Barry: Well that brings up an interesting question for me that I haven't really thought about. What is the typical customer avatar for you guys?
Jason: It's pretty wide range, so we kind of fit the small to medium size business. We have a lot of internet based companies, whether it's SAS Products or just e-commerce type of sites, all the way down to mom and pop type coffee shops, realtors, things like that.
Barry: Cool. I know you guys have been in business for a while, but for those listeners who don't necessarily know the Active Campaign story, can you just give us a quick history of Active Campaign?
Jason: Sure, we've been around quite a while for what we do. So we started in 2003, but when we started, we started as a traditional software company, and our focus was private labelling and letting people resell. So for quite a while we were used by a lot of people, they just didn't know about us. A number of years back we started making a transition to more of a SAS platform, and by doing so we still have our reselling things like that, but our brand is definitely out there a little bit more. This allows us to focus on building things that we otherwise couldn't have with traditional software, because we controlled entire infrastructure, things like that. So make an investment in a future that could cost a couple hundred thousand dollars a year is no big deal for us, but to try to put that onto each individual licencee of a product, it would just be impractical.
Barry: Yeah, yeah right, okay. So, where do you guys want to take Active Campaign from here?
Jason: So just within the last year or so, some people that have watched us have seen us get a little more into automation. We definitely have a lot more to do with that, and we see sales and our release of our built in CRM as being a big thing we can grow in. Right now it's just kind of our first take at what we wanted as a CRM. We're working on update for that as well. So between the sales automation and tying that in with all the different marketing channels, there's a lot we can do.
Barry: Yeah, I love your product because it's so deep, it's like everyday you almost find something new in there that you can start using in a different way. I especially like the CRM [duo pipeline 00:07:50] you guys came out with, I guess, maybe six months or so now. Very cool, very useful and I've already found dozens of ways to use it. So, is that going to be a more central focus of the tool going forward, is it going to spread its tentacles more throughout the tool?
Jason: Yeah absolutely. So you're gonna still have these three main columns of things going on. So you have your messaging aspect, and then you the automation of the sales. Right now the sales is fairly [tightend 00:08:17], but we could do a lot more with it. We just want to integrate everything, when it comes to a contact. Right now on the platform you can look at a contact, or you can look at a deal, but you it kind of has a separation feel to it. We're working on some updates to make this all … It's already an integrated solution but we want to make it even a smoother process.
Barry: Very cool. In your API integration, I know you've got [inaudible 00:08:48] some other tools, but do you have more integrations planned by an API level?
Jason: Yeah, we think of that as a good marketing strategy for ourselves, and it's worked well to get into audiences that weren't aware of us in the past. So we're constantly looking for new people to integrate with, and we just constantly have people coming up to us wanted to integrate with us.
Barry: Oh, good, cool.
Jason: So we assist with them. We're constantly rolling out. I think we're over 150 different types of apps we integrate with and we're looking to do more in depth integrations with other CRMs even. So like if you don't want to use our CRM, you'd be able to just connect up with another CRM and just use us for the automation aspect of [things 00:09:38].
Barry: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I know a few people who are doing that. It's nice that you don't get locked in, but obviously you guys want to make your own product, make it as tightly integrated as possible, so that's pretty cool.
All right, so I think most of the listeners to this podcast will be probably just starting out with automation, so they've either just started or they're maybe a few months into their automation journeys. So for those people who haven't started, and they know they want to, where is a good place for them to start?
Jason: Well, if you're doing it in a self-serve type of thing-
Jason: You probably just want to get started with … Like if you have responders already, just try to get that into an automation workflow, just so you can start getting comfortable with the concept. And then you can start thinking about how can you expand off of that, and think about areas of your business that you can define some processes for. Either following up with people, or nurturing things, whether it's before the sale, after the sale, and just any area where you could kind of make a blend of both automation and human touch to things. We find that's probably the most effective usage of automations.
Sometimes people think about automations as over-automating things, or just trying to have these stale messages sent out all the time, but we find it's best if you build them so it has these touch points where a human would get involved.
Barry: Yeah, that's a good point. I see people overlooking that portion of the product, in that, yeah, you can automate overlooking but that means you can automate everything. So, you can set up alerts to your internal staff members to follow up with somebody, or send an alert to sales team to follow up with a nice thank you card in the post, or all kinds of stuff. So, it's not just the external emails going out that can get automated, but you're right, it's all those internal processes as well, so nobody slips through the cracks and every customer is getting the best experience they can. That's something I see a lot of people overlook when they're starting out. They think it's all just emails out, but it certainly isn't.
Jason: Yeah, you should always be thinking about more things besides just email.
Barry: What common mistakes do you see people, customers, make when they first start using your platform?
Jason: Most of it is just not thinking through things, you know? You can't really blame them for that, because you just have to think about it in different ways. Because you get so used to your day to day, so the first thing you're initially going to want to do is try to automate things to save yourself time, which is good. But you definitely have to think about things that you're not doing already, or just different strategies you can use to reach out to people proactively.
We enjoy working with people. We do demos and one on ones, things like that, and it's nice to get someone's perspective, whether it's us or someone that has worked with our product or any automation software, just kind of give you a different take on things, outside of your bubble of your own day to day business.
Barry: Yeah, I think there's two camps people fall into when they start using it. They open up the tool and they look at everything it can do and they get, what I call, possibility overwhelmed, “There's so many things I could do,” and they end up doing nothing.
Barry: Or they don't see any of the possibilities and they just keep doing the same thing that they always did with a simpler tool, like AWeber or MailChimp, and they end up with 20 different lists and they're just blasting out a monthly newsletter and that's it. You're like, “Oh my God, you're not even starting the engine to this product. There's so much more you could do.”
I think, yeah, a little education goes a long way in really understand what the tool can do, but how you can drive it to help your business, rather than just doing the same old thing that you used to do with your other [inaudible 00:13:29].
Jason: Sure, and the other thing I would say we see from time to time, is people go in, they'll actually put some thought in, they'll put together some good things, they'll get it all set up and they'll just forget about it. It's something you should probably keep tweaking and optimising, just like you would with anything you're spending money on.
Barry: Yeah sure.
Jason: Normally, people wouldn't just set their AdWords and leave it go for like a year, because-
Barry: That would be very dangerous and very expensive.
Jason: Yeah, but people wouldn't do that because they have their direct cost association. With something like this, you don't have that necessarily but the same thing is there, because you're possibly losing far more than what would you would have lost with AdWords. You just don't know about it, because you haven't really given it the time, so that's a costly thing in it, I think I've seen.
Barry: Yeah, okay, very cool. Following onto that thing, there's so much in the platform that you can do and so many possibilities, have you ever seen customers do something that you were surprised with? You're like, “Jeez, I didn't even think of that. That's pretty clever.”
Jason: Yeah, it's a lot of interesting integrations, I guess, and different usages. Whether it's integrating things that we never would have thought of integrating with, or people taking the product and they'll come to us with a support question or something and we'll look at it and it's not really our product anymore, “What did you do to it?” Because we allow people to change it to a certain extent, so they can actually do some pretty drastic things. It can get interesting, where you look at it and it doesn't even look like what you've been working in.
I guess the other thing, what kind of has caught us off guard a little bit, we're well aware of people using complex automations, and lots of automations, but we found some fairly small companies using massive amounts of automation, like 100 automations with tonnes of logic in, and stuff like that. We expected it from certain markets but not from someone with just like one user-
Barry: Coffee shop.
Jason: Yeah, it's like taking optimization and going all the way. It's good, it just makes us think about things a little bit differently, because we want to make it easier for them to actually manage all that, because even when we look at it, it can be a little overwhelming. I guess it's mostly things that make us rethink about how we should set things up going forward. Constantly push the boundaries of things, I guess I would say. In a good way.
Barry: Yeah, yeah, cool. I've talked to some fairly active internet marketers who are doing six, seven, figure businesses, that use a tool. I seem to find the guys that are using it the most, and the most successfully financially, seem to be the ones that have the simplest automations. They don't have to be crazy and complex and five levels deep, and this one fires that one and this one fires that one. They're just really well thought out and really simple, and they just work.
Jason: Yeah, I think especially how any form of automated communication, just how it's crafted and how you personalise it, goes a long way. Also, just, like you were saying, kind of a shorter workflows. Like, we'll do certain things, whether someone does something or doesn't do something within our service, but there's just these small hooks and triggers we have for things. So you don't end up with this huge workflow that you've designed … There's cases where it is needed, but to try and keep it to quality crafted things, instead of just going overboard with [a single one 00:17:25] is typically a better route, I think.
Barry: Yeah, for sure. Other cool features that you guys have built in that you've just gone, “Why is nobody using this?” That nobody has seem to have discovered and nobody seems to use. What are the cool features that most people overlook in the platform?
Jason: Sure. So nobody really gives conditional content any value. We've had it forever, we've had that for a tonne of time, and some people use it but it's not used to where could be, in my opinion. Because people use personalization, but that's pretty basic and it's not really that amazing. Doing like, hey first name, or something like that, nobody really believes that, typically. It can be nice, it can help, but using blocks of content that's conditional, we've seen a lot success with but we haven't seen as many people actually utilise it.
When we first launched site and event tracking, which allows you to check everything you're contacts are doing on your side, or custom apps, things like that, there was this delay of it actually taking off. We thought it was going to, and now it's taken off pretty wildly, but we had this period of people weren't really using it. That was partly a marketing education error on our side maybe, of getting people to be a little more aware of how things work, and then we brought in some more options with automations using that data, and I think that's probably helped as well. That's a very powerful component of being able to trigger things based on behaviour and whatnot.
Barry: Yeah, that site and event tracking is crazy cool, I love it.
Jason: Yeah, but then that's why initially when we launched it, it was just like, “Okay, so it's a slow response to it.” But that's taken off quite a bit now.
Barry: Just to loop back to the other thing, for those listeners who don't know what conditional content thing is, can you just quickly explain that?
Jason: Sure, it's similar to personalization, where you put first name in an email, but you would put something like, if interested in product category, show this content. Otherwise, if interested in this, show this block of content. So you can have images, you can have whole paragraphs, you can have different columns in your email of different content based on any of their data that you have. That data could be, contact data, things that they've visited, anything.
Barry: Yeah, exactly. You can actually use those two together, so if someone's been … if you're using your event and site tracking and someone's been on a page, say you're a fitness person or a personal trainer or something, someones been on your nutrition page half a dozen times in the last month. So when you send out your monthly newsletter, that person can receive the lead story in that newsletter, might be something about nutrition because they've expressed an interest in it in the past, whereas somebody else might be about exercise and fitness, or something like that.
Barry: Very cool. What's your favourite feature in the platform?
Jason: I like data quite a bit. I like all of the tracking and then the segmenting [of those 00:20:35] things. Segmenting, people will just typically think of that as a like narrowing down a funnel or sending to a … But you kind of use them to just explore things as well. The data, and the segmenting of the data, is just making that large amounts of data actionable, so that's kind of what interests me.
Barry: Very cool. Just to finish up on the platform a little bit, what kind of new and revised features might be coming out in the future that you can talk about?
Jason: Sure. We've been working for quite a while on a new email designer. What we have isn't really up to our standards anymore. It's quite a bit better in terms of drag and drop interface, multi user editing, things like that. We're going to be rolling that out soon with a bunch of new email templates. That will be very nice.
We're working on an update to the automation and workflow builder. It'll be more drag and drop, in a sense, we're really smoothing out the whole process. Everyone comes to us for it because it's easy to use, but as we have used it and as we've been improving our overall user interface and user experience, we've just found a lot of things we could change with it to even make it smoother, so that's going on as well. While we're doing that we're going to be adding some new and interesting options for your workflows and how you can build automations.
Another thing we're kind of interested in and starting on is more behaviour based triggers. Right now you can do that for automations, we want to bring that whole logic and bring all this outside of email and outside of our app, so that you can have behavioural based triggers, and things like that, in different channels. Maybe on your site, maybe in an app, things like that. That's going to be an interesting one because that's going to be a little out of our norm.
Barry: How would that be handled on the site? So just by the tracking it's already there, and you can tell that that person's been to your site before so …
Jason: Yeah, we can build off of what we've done with site and event tracking. It'll be built off of that, but with some other options on top. Yeah, basically the idea of personalising and conditional type of things with trigger and things and stuff like that, we're going to bring to different channels.
Barry: Wow, that sounds pretty cool. Anything else you would like to talk about? What kind of … Just from a company point of view, I've noticed this year you're, I don't know if it's just me, but you seem to be getting your brand out there a bit more this year. Is that a fair thing to say?
Jason: Yeah, we've definitely got the brand out there more. We're seeing a lot more movement from other people in our space. We're definitely becoming more comfortable with being in the space that we've positioned ourselves in, coming from more of a traditional ESP market into more of an automation focused market, so we're seeing a lot of movement from that.
From the movement and from our brand getting out there, we're having to scale up everything, [inaudible 00:24:08] sales, support, and try and bring on more development to keep things moving along at a good pace.
Barry: Well I think you guys are doing a fantastic job. I love the product and everybody I talk to is just amazed at how much functionality in there and how accessible it is for the smaller business or the solo entrepreneur who's just starting out. Well done for how far you've come with Active Campaign, and I really, really, look forward to seeing what you do with it next.
Jason: All right thank you, thanks for everything.
Barry: Well there you go, the future of Active Campaign. I think it's a great tool, and they keep building out and they keep putting new features in there, and they're really, really, really, responsive to how their users are using the tool. If you head over to their feedback site, I've put in a couple of suggestions for new features or how things should work, and they've already started planning and implementing those. Really great company to work with, and I do appreciate Jason stopping by for this interview. You can find all the show notes and all the links we mentioned over at the activemarketer.com/CEO.
On the next few upcoming episodes of the Active Marketer Podcast, we're going to be mixing it up a little bit. I got a lot of great feedback from last weeks technical 20 podcast, where it's a short, sharp, implementable tip that you can put into your business in less than 20 minutes, so we'll be doing a few more of those.
I'd love to hear what topics you'd like covered, so send me an email at Barry@theactivemarketer.com, and we'll work in your suggestions. Or you can head over to any of the show notes for any of the episodes, leave me a comment down below and we'll work in your suggestions into future episodes.
See you next week everybody.
Announcer: Thanks for listening to the Active Marketer Podcast. You can find the show notes and all the latest marketing automation news over at theactivemarketer.com.