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Marketing automation with Michelle Huff CMO from Act-On

Agnieszka Gibbon (Social Media Portal (SMP)) - 27 March 2017

Chief marketing officer Michelle Huff at Act-On tells us more about account based marketing and marketing automation

Act-On logo 150x150Social Media Portal (SMP) What is your name and what do you do there for Act-On?

Michelle Huff (MH). Michelle Huff and I am the Chief Marketing Officer of Act-On. I’m responsible for marketing across the entire customer lifecycle: from building the company’s brand, driving demand generation and expanding the customer relationship and increasing customer adoption.

SMP: Briefly, tell us about Act-On

MH: Act-On is a marketing automation provider delivering innovation that empowers marketers to track, score, connect and learn from their marketing programs. This enabling businesses to effectively build brand awareness, acquire new customers and expand their customer relationships from a single platform. We’re making marketing automation more adaptive using machine learning to empower marketers to build Adaptive Journeys™, which are fluid engagement paths that respond to the behaviours and preferences of the individual buyers for more personalized customer experiences.

Photograph of Michelle Huff, CMO at Act-OnSMP: When was it founded how many people work there and how is it funded?

MH: Act-On was founded in 2008 and has over 300 employees. The company is privately-owned, VC backed and has over 4,000 customers using its platform to power their brand, demand and customer expansion marketing initiatives.

SMP: Who are your target audience and why?

Mid-market B2B CMOs, head of marketing, director of demand generation, marketing programs and revenue-driven marketers. We address the needs of marketers both pre and post sales, helping them create and execute campaigns, and report on marketing performance across new customer acquisition and install base renewal/upsell.

SMP: Why should agencies and brands should be tuned into marketing automation?

Marketing automation refers to a software platform that automates manual tasks and multi-step processes such as email and social media campaigns, allowing marketing departments to get more done with less effort. And when tied to a CRM system, marketers can finally see the full impact of their marketing efforts from the first brand interaction to driving revenue. Many of our customers have found this to be an incredibly useful tool in aligning Marketing with Sales. According to data from Adestra, marketers say that the biggest benefits of automation are saving time (74%), increased customer engagement (68%), more timely communications (58%) and increased opportunities including upselling (58%).

SMP: What were you doing before you joined Act-On and how did you snag your current job (and where did you move on from)?

MH: Before I joined Act-On, I worked in marketing and product management roles within the CRM and enterprise content management space for 17 years at companies including Oracle and Salesforce. Most recently, I was the General Manager for at Salesforce.

SMP: Briefly, what does your job entail and what does a typical day look like?

MH: I started at Act-On, as the CMO back in September 2016. My goal is to drive our go-to-market strategy, build brand awareness, generate pipeline and grow revenue with sales, and establish a customer marketing strategy to grow adoption and customer lifetime value. I’m not sure if I have a “typical day” - it’s usually filled with back to back meetings -- talking to customers, prospects, press, analysts, thought leaders in the space, others across the company and my team. And then, many late nights working on presentations, reviewing programs and content and thinking about clearing away roadblocks so my team can run faster.

Act-On website image

SMP: What are the challenges that you’ve encountered and how are you overcoming them in what you have been doing so far at Act-On?

I think many of the challenges I’ve encountered so far, are what many companies see when they grow fast. We’ve made some changes in how we go to market, and we’re at a point where we need to scale the business and establish greater brand recognition in the market. I focused first on a set of challenges related to organizational structure and budget allocations. Next, I’ve been focused on our go-to-market strategy, brand recognition and fixing several data challenges in our CRM.

SMP: What are the high moments of what you have been doing so far?

MH: I’ve been at Act-On for six months now. My team is spread out globally, and one of the great moments so far has been getting together as a team and working collaboratively on our plan for the year. Another great moment was jumping in feet first into running our four day company kickoff event at the end of January. And then launching Adaptive Journeys in March. It’s been a whirlwind, but an amazing experience so far.

SMP: What do you see as your biggest challenges and opportunities for your sector and the competition that you have?

If we are looking at challenges globally it will be around education, specifically around validating the importance of the technology both pre and post sales, and the broader use for the technology beyond acquisition of net new leads. As far as opportunities, the marketing automation industry is still less than 30% penetrated -- especially within the mid-market where Act-On plays, which presents greenfield opportunities for growth.

SMP: What is the most challenging part of building upon your brand presence in digital environments (including social media)?

With the proliferation of marketing channels, it can be a challenge to identify the best, most effective channels to dedicate time and resources to. In addition, it can be labor intensive to manage the brand's reputation across all of the third-party review sites and social channels as well as field and engage responses and inquiries that come inbound from those.

SMP: What’s your view on account based marketing (ABM) and how should agencies and brands approach it?

MH: Account-based marketing adds a great deal of value to marketers who are targeting specific companies and the multiple influencers within the account, or like companies based on industry or size. However, this strategy can be complex to orchestrate across multiple channels, which is why marketing automation is so useful. Act-On’s ABM automation reduces the complexity associated with ABM by making it simple to target, engage, track and report on performance across channels while providing sales with the intelligence they need to further the conversation.

SMP: We’re hearing a lot about AI, machine learning and predictive intelligence in marketing – but what influence it is having (or will have)?

AI and machine learning will transform the marketing industry we know today. By using predictive intelligence businesses will be able to create customer journeys that adapt and respond to the unique behaviors/profiles of an individual. The tools in a Marketers’ arsenal will act as their “co-pilots” or recommendation engines to ensure the best message goes out to the recipient at the most optimal time and through their preferred communication channel.

SMP: What are your top five predictions for marketing automation for the next 12 to 18-months and why?

MH replies with:
  • The use of marketing automation has just scratched the surface, being used today predominantly as an acquisition tool for net new leads/accounts. The responsibility of marketing automation will become more pervasive throughout the customer experience and help brands better connect with buyers, supporting the many stages of engagement, from awareness and acquisition through retention and loyalty.
  • Marketing automation will claim a bigger seat at the table -- becoming the de facto engagement database of record for many businesses.  
  • Marketing automation will become smarter through use of machine learning and will act as a recommendation engine for marketers, helping them to build Adaptive Journeys for customers.
  • Marketing automation will become the command center for account based marketing (ABM) strategies.
  • Through marketing automation, marketers will better coordinate communications across multiple channels - with social channels in particular becoming more commonplace

SMP: What are your top overall five marketing automation tips and why?

MH replies with:
  • Build, don’t buy: Build your target lists organically; your campaigns are only as good as your list, so don’t buy lists that could negatively affect your sender reputation.
  • Start small, scale up: Take a peel the onion approach to marketing automation. If you are just getting  started with the technology, think about getting started with a couple nurture programs to address the needs of your buyers at top, middle and bottom of the funnel. As you start seeing results, then look to refine, optimize and/or add new campaigns, new personas and new automated programs.
  • Content is Queen: Strong, relevant, and valuable content is needed to fuel your MA engine. Use content to nurture your buyers through their buying journey, ensuring that you are addressing the broader needs of your buyers with the right content topics for their stage in the process.  
  • Market in and out of the inbox: Look for a MA system that can connect to all of your marketing applications and content management system so that you can orchestrate multi-channel nurture programs not just via email but also social, web and retargeting.
  • Sales and marketing alignment: Collaborate with sales to identify and define lead stages, conversion criteria and hand-off SLAs. Without clear communication and mutually agreed upon definitions, companies can find it hard to have an effective marketing to sales and sales to marketing handoff, which can result in missed opportunities for the business. 

SMP: Is there anything else we should know, or is there anything that you’d like to share?

MH: We believe the future of marketing is adaptive and we are excited to see how machine learning will redefine how we, as marketers, use marketing automation to adapt to the behaviors and preferences of each individual buyer.

SMP: Best way to contact you and Act-On?

: For more information on Act-On head over to our website. Alternatively, you can follow me on Twitter @michelle_huff.

Now some questions for fun

SMP: What’s the last good thing that you did for someone?

MH: One charity that I’ve enjoyed working with is Teachers in the United States post projects that they are working on and you can sponsor specific classrooms to help them buy new books, technology, PE equipment and more.

SMP: What did you have for breakfast / lunch?

MH: I fly quite a bit in my role, this morning it was a latte and a granola bar on the plane. I went the healthy route with a salad for lunch in the afternoon.

SMP: If you weren’t working at Act-On what would you be doing?

MH: I really enjoy working in the high-tech / software space. If I wasn’t working, I’d probably spend a lot more time with my little ones right now before they start school.

SMP: When / where did you go on your last holiday and why?

MH: Over Christmas we spent time in St. Paul, MN with my in-laws. We always rotate between Christmas and Thanksgiving between Seattle and St. Paul. However, after many years of doing this - my daughter equates Minnesota with the cold. I’ll have to take her there in the summer one day!

SMP: What’s the first thing you do when you get into the office of a morning?

MH: Depends on where I’m at that day. When I work from my home office, I make a cup of tea and head straight to phone calls. If I’m visiting different offices, I usually make the rounds and say hello to people on my team or in sales as I head to my desk.

SMP: If you had a superpower what would it be and why?

MH: I would love the ability to pause time. Whether it be like Quicksilver in X-men where I could move so fast, it looks like time is standing still for everyone else. Or, like in Galaxy Quest where with the Omega 13, you can rewind time by 13 seconds - just “enough time to undo one mistake.” I could definitely see either one coming in handy sometimes!

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