Interview with Jason VandeBoom, Founder and CEO, ActiveCampaign

Interview with Jason VandeBoom, Founder & CEO at ActiveCampaign
Jason VandeBoom, Founder & CEO, ActiveCampaign

“As marketers prepare for this ever evolving landscape where the customer’s experience comes first, it’s critical they understand the entire customer lifecycle and think about how to best communicate with a customer.”

Tell us about your role at ActiveCampaign and how you got here. What prompted you to launch a marketing automation company?

I’m the founder and CEO of ActiveCampaign. I started consulting when I was a teenager, building websites and backend processes, so I’ve always been interested in creating solutions to help businesses grow. While I was still in college, I found that I was building and implementing some of the same tasks over and over again in some of the consulting work. That’s when I realized I could package up the workflows and provide them in an easy-to-use software that enabled small businesses to implement many of these processes. At the same time, I knew I didn’t want to automate everything as there are many customer interactions that are better served with direct human communication. Determining the right balance of human touch and automation was something I’ve spent a lot of time building into the platform. The fundamental (yet powerful) idea remains the true today as we continue to help tens of thousands SMBs grow.

What is the core technology driving ActiveCampaign?

ActiveCampaign is a SaaS solution built in the cloud and is really focused on our automation. At our core, ActiveCampaign is focused on providing our users an easy-to-use platform where they can create personalized and optimized experiences for their customers. That means automation will be a core part of our technology, across all of our features. Take for example the ability to build pipelines in our Deals CRM, with automation, as a contact increases it’s lead score, it can automatically move to a new stage of the pipeline. But with everything we build, there needs to be a balance between automation and human interaction. So with this principle, the automation will alert a rep when it’s time to jump in with a contact. This way, you are optimizing your customer’s experience with humans, not controlling it with automation.

How do the marketing analytics and email automation ecosystems differ from when you first started the company?

When I first started, the industry was focused on email marketing—the concept of marketing automation wasn’t something companies knew. It’s something I focused my efforts in building ActiveCampaign as I saw an opportunity to take email marketing to the next level. With automation, our customers create series of emails and journeys that gave each of their customers a personalized experience. Today, there’s a host of companies in the martech landscape with everything from data to email marketing and automation. It’s great to see how the automation experience that we pioneered at ActiveCampaign has become such a key part of marketing teams, both big and small, and ActiveCampaign will continue to make sure that small- and medium-sized businesses have access to the best tools.

Given the changing dynamic of marketing analytics and customer insights, where do you see ActiveCampaign fitting into a CMO’s tech stack?

We see ourselves as the glue or the “orchestration” layer of all of the various tools that a CMO may need to utilize. For many businesses, there’s no one-size fits all solution, and that’s especially true for small businesses. The problem with all-in-one solutions is they’re not advanced when it comes to specific capabilities. As a result, customers either only use a small percentage of the platform or end up needing to add on other solutions to make it work for their needs. ActiveCampaign is built to integrate with other solutions so that we can focus on the things we do well and affordable for the SMB customers we serve.

Tell us about your B2B customer engagement model? How do you focus on behavioral targeting and intelligence-driven marketing and sales processes at ActiveCampaign?

Behavioral and intelligence driven marketing is central to our DNA at ActiveCampaign; it’s what we encourage our customers to do and believe that intelligent marketing is how all marketing should be done. One example at ActiveCampaign is our trial on-boarding. Using automation, we intelligently trigger different messaging and sales team processes to our new trials based on their engagement with our site, attributes about their company, and activity/inactivity within their trial. This nudges people based on where they are at in the process, keeps them on track in the trial which makes them more successful in their adoption of the tool, and helps us increase conversion rates.

How do you see sales and marketing technologies unifying or evolving together to deliver higher ROI to CMOs? How should marketers prepare themselves to survive and grow in this dynamic landscape?

It goes beyond just sales and marketing teams unifying/evolving together. An organization is only successful because of its customers. That means all of the departments that impact and effect a customer’s experience across the entire lifecycle needs to come closer together. Marketers are responsible for more than just bringing in new customers. What about expanding those who are currently engaged? Or creating advocates who can help promote the platform and help sell to new customers? As marketers prepare for this ever evolving landscape where the customer’s experience comes first, it’s critical they understand the entire customer lifecycle and think about how to best communicate with a customer – whether that be time, method of communication, or the actual message being delivered.

What are your thoughts on the growing opportunities in the marketplace for consumer intelligence and insights companies?

The more data available, the more opportunities there are for SMBs to be able to customize and personalize their communications to their customers. What’s important is to make sure the data they are uncovering is good data. It’s easy to get caught up in the hype of data and AI but it’s important to make sure the data means something to inform decisions.

Which startups/established companies in martech industry are you keenly following?

While I’m aware of others in the space and know what they are up to, we don’t look to them for what to build next. We work closely with our customers to understand their needs and pain points to continue to add value to them. It’s how we’ve been able to be successful to date and something that will continue to guide us as we grow.

Which sales and marketing automation tools do you use at ActiveCampaign?

Our sales team uses our Deals CRM to manage their pipelines and our marketing team uses our automation for many of our welcome emails and on-boarding for new customers.

What are your predictions on the most influential disruptions in B2B CRM?

This goes back to how all customer-facing teams need to come closer together. The CRM is no longer just for a sales or marketing team. It should play a part in the entire customer journey.

How do you prepare for post-GDPR disruptions?

GDPR recently created quite a bit of confusion and uncertainty for many marketers leading up to the May 25 deadline. While there are more rules and regulations to follow, there are many ways it actually helps marketers. First and foremost, there are some specific guidelines and processes that will set the good marketers apart from the bad ones. GDPR can also help improve your marketing: Since GDPR requires you only market to those who have opted-in to your marketing, you end up with a cleaner list of contacts who are open to what you are sending; which will hopefully lead to more engaged contacts.

There will continue to be more changes so it’s important to stay at the forefront of these regulations. By remaining true to marketing in a way that benefits your contacts and delivering experiences your contacts want and expect, you will be ahead of most.

Could you tell us about an outstanding digital campaign/ Customer Success story at ActiveCampaign? 

One of our customers is Scott’s Cheap Flights. Scott built his business completely on emails. Every time an airline lowers its price or makes a mistake, Scott would send an email out to his email list. And as people started saving money, they would talk about how they got the cheap flight and Scott’s lists grew. Today, he has over one million subscribers and he can continue to thrive using automations. Building and segmenting lists based on geography means that customers in LA don’t get emails for cheap flights from NYC. It also means that he can charge a premium to those who don’t want advertisements, all through segmenting each subscriber.

Since adopting ActiveCampaign, Scott’s Cheap Flights has grown it’s subscriber list by 1000% and continues to have engaged subscribers, with a click-thru rate at 40%.

In terms of our target customer, we focus on small- and medium-sized businesses. While others in our space say they focus on SMBs, they’ve used them to get to enterprise businesses. Our solution and pricing is set so that SMBs can achieve value out of the ActiveCampaign platform, similar to Scott’s Cheap Flights. And success is all relative for our customers. It depends on their goals: is it to grow their lists? Is it to better engage their contacts? Grow revenue? There are many factors that our customers deem as success and it’s about bringing value to those customers to achieve their goals.

How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a business leader?

Data is top of mind for all business leaders and marketers alike. As a business leader, it’s important to not fall for the hype and you are gaining insights that actually mean something.

How do you inspire your people to work with technology?

I help our team understand and attribute how our work directly impacts our customers, the value it provides for them, and the difference we make in helping them grow their businesses.

One word that best describes how you work.

Persistent

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?

I am a pretty simple person. My MacBook and Gmail are the most critical.

What’s your smartest work related shortcut or productivity hack?

I use a multi-leveled approach to prioritization and task management. Daily tasks are planned out in Inbox and I prioritize beyond a day within Wunderlist. The tools don’t matter as much as the prioritization thought process and breaking down tasks into manageable items.

What are you currently reading? 

While I typically read (or listen) to several books a week, I spend more time consuming information from blogs, competitive news & insights, market data, etc.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Don’t be fearful of success. I have had many times where self doubt about what could happen, what would matter next, etc. that are all driven by the idea of something actually working. That prevents and delays the actual action that may or may not work. By removing that barrier of thought and not being “afraid” of success, one can both do more with less stress.

Something you do better than others – the secret of your success?

Find the right balance of automation and human touch. It’s not about automating everything, it’s about automating the right tasks so that humans can connect with customers to optimize their experience.

Tag the one person in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read:

Tobi Lütke

Thank you, Jason! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.

Jason VandeBoom is the Founder and CEO of ActiveCampaign, a marketing platform that helps you make the most of every touchpoint and continuously improve your customer experience, through the right blend of human interaction and automation. Jason founded the company in 2003 with the principle belief that all businesses need, and deserve, effective solutions to connect with customers. He is passionate about helping ActiveCampaign users realize that sophisticated marketing solutions are within reach and for helping them to become more efficient.

ActiveCampaign

ActiveCampaign helps growing businesses meaningfully connect and engage with their customers. With our SaaS platform, we help businesses go beyond marketing automation to optimize their customers’ experiences.

The MTS Martech Interview Series is a fun Q&A style chat which we really enjoy doing with martech leaders. With inspiration from Lifehacker’s How I work interviews, the MarTech Series Interviews follows a two part format On Marketing Technology, and This Is How I Work. The format was chosen because when we decided to start an interview series with the biggest and brightest minds in martech – we wanted to get insight into two areas … one – their ideas on marketing tech and two – insights into the philosophy and methods that make these leaders tick.

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