S2E17 – How to leverage Marketing Automation for your SaaS? With Shay Howe

Shay Howe and Joran Hofman speak about marketing automation

Why is Marketing Automation Important for your B2B SaaS?

Well, the automation of processes will be required if hypergrowth is to be achieved, encompassing marketing and client messaging. In this episode of the Grow Your B2B SaaS podcast hosted by Joran Hofman we dive deep into one of the most important SaaS topics of marketing automation and how it can be leveraged for your B2B SaaS. The goal, naturally, is to enable hypergrowth to be maintained without compromising the customer experience. Shay Howe, CMO at Active Campaign, is the guest for today’s episode. Active Campaign boasts a clientele exceeding 185,000 and annual revenue well surpassing 165 million, experiencing a year-on-year growth of 65% in 2021. Currently, they have accumulated more than 10,000 reviews on G2, a fact that is deemed highly impressive. Alongside his role at Active Campaign, Shay is also the co-founder of Lead Honestly, Chicago Camps and an advisory board member at G2. Without further ado, a warm welcome to the show, Shay

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What is Marketing Automation?

Marketing automation represents a strategic usage of any software to improve the efficiency of specific marketing tasks and workflows. Its primary objective is to liberate time for marketers, allowing them to concentrate on strategic initiatives while efficiently scaling their operations. A distinctive viewpoint of marketing automation lies in its role as a strategic asset, enhancing the delivery of a maximum customer experience.

Why and When SaaS Companies Should Care About Marketing Automation?

Why using marketing automation?

Injecting a personal touch into lead nurturing builds stronger customer bonds, boosts retention, and saves time for strategic growth. With automation, we can tailor interactions, deepen relationships, and focus on what truly matters: fostering loyalty and driving innovation.

When to use marketing automation?

Identify repetitive tasks ripe for automation to reclaim time for strategic activities. Leveraging automation enables SaaS teams to refocus efforts on core business strengths, fostering innovation, and propelling growth, especially when scalability hurdles arise.

Common Misconceptions and Pitfalls about Marketing Automation


  • Automation is difficult to use.
  • Automation is expensive.
  • Automation is only for larger businesses.
  • Automation is impersonal.


  • Over-automation leading to loss of business uniqueness
  • “Set it and forget it” mentality.

How to Implement Marketing Automation is your SaaS?

Visualizing the desired customer journey on a whiteboard while outlining touchpoints and interactions can help you set the foundation of your automation process. While doing so, think about factors such as data needs, sources, integrations, and organizational setup for seamless implementation. You can leverage Active Campaign’s unified data model, visual aids, and automation-building support to streamline processes and enhance customer engagement.

First Marketing Automation for SaaS Companies:

  • Start with the customer acquisition journey.
  • Hypothetical example: Free trial sign-up.
  • Nurturing sequence to guide users to the SaaS “aha” moment.
  • Personalize messaging based on user behavior within the platform.
  • Continuously iterate and refine the automation based on data and user actions.

Challenges Faced in Implementing Marketing Automation:

  • Active Campaign’s meta story: Growing using Active Campaign.
  • Challenge: Overwhelming number of automations leading to potential over-emailing.
  • Solution: Tools to assess customer journeys, visualize automation maps, and understand starts/stops in automations.

Key Strategies for Effective Marketing Automation:

Start by sketching out your game plan on a whiteboard, keeping things straightforward in the beginning. Then take the first steps with simple tasks and gradually ramp up the complexity as you get the hang of it and your business expands. When it comes to connecting with your audience, personalization is key. Use tools like segmentation and dynamic content to craft experiences that feel tailor-made for each individual. Move away from cookie-cutter messages and aim for that personal touch in every interaction.

Don’t be afraid to get creative and offer real value. Stand out in a crowded market by bringing something fresh to the table. Make sure your automated efforts actually benefit your audience in a meaningful way. At the end of the day, marketing automation isn’t limited to just emails. Make sure to explore other channels like social media, text messages, push notifications, and app integrations to engage with your audience wherever they are.

The Future of Marketing Automation for B2B SaaS

AI is reshaping marketing automation, influencing everything from predictive content to content generation. Future developments could see AI-driven automation creation based on natural language prompts. In content generation, AI determines effective messaging, considering tone, length, and timing. Shay shares his opinion on AI’s role in predictive content and its potential to simplify user experiences by interpreting natural language prompts for creating entire marketing automations.

Advice for SaaS Founders at Different Stages

  • Early Stage (Up to 10K MRR):
    • Focus on finding a niche and achieving product-market fit.
    • Prioritize understanding and catering to the target market’s needs.
    • Invest in brand building and provide exceptional customer service.
  • Growth Stage (Towards 10 Million ARR):
    • Shift focus to team building, culture development, and operational excellence.
    • Define and uphold values, hire the right people, and establish efficient processes.
    • Maintain a balance of processes that serve the business without becoming overly burdensome.

Encouragement for SaaS Entrepreneurs:

  • Acknowledge the difficulty of the entrepreneurial journey but recognize the value in making a difference.
  • Seek support from communities and fellow entrepreneurs.
  • Embrace the uniqueness of the journey and take pride in daring to pursue it.

What Shay Wishes he Knew 10 years ago?

  • Shay emphasizes the importance of self-awareness and the realization that one can contribute more to their problems than they realize.
  • Learning from others and understanding diverse perspectives can open up new opportunities.

Wrapping up on Marketing Automation

Such AI-powered innovations are definitely changing the game, assisting with simpler user experiences and more personalized interactions. For SaaS founders automation can help by staying connected, putting customers first, and embracing the ups and downs of entrepreneurship are key. Marketing automation, when used smartly, is like a superpower, helping businesses grow and work smarter. It starts with a basic plan that gets better over time as you tweak and personalize it. And when challenges pop up, having the right tools and a willingness to keep learning can make all the difference. Learning from Active Campaign’s experience as a top user shows that having good management and scaling tools is crucial for success in this ever-changing world.

Key Timecodes

  • (0:29) Show and guest intro
  • (1:31) Why you should listen to Shay Howe
  • (2:00) What is marketing automation? 
  • (4:10)  Why and when should SaaS companies care about leveraging marketing automation?
  • (7:08)  When should you not think about doing marketing automation?
  • (8:38) Common mistakes or misconceptions companies have while trying to implement Marketing Automation..
  • (12:20) Shay’s ideal marketing automation process
  • (14:36) Where and how to start automation
  • (17:59) The common challenges companies face while implementing marketing automation
  • (21:26 ) Strategies on how to get the most out of your marketing automation tools
  • (26:01) Future plans for marketing automation? 
  • (29:26) How to grow towards 10K MRR
  • (30:46) How to grow towards 10 million ARR
  • (32:14) Shay’s crucial advice to SaaS founders
  • (33:46) What Shay wishes he knew 10yrs ago 


[00:00:00.000] – Intro
Welcome to Growing a B2B SaaS. On this show, you’ll get actionable and usable advice. You’ll hear about all aspects of growing a business to a business software company: customer success, sales, funding, bootstrapping, exits, scaling, everything you need to know about growing a startup, and you’ll get it from someone who’s going through the same journey. Now your host, Joran Hofman.

[00:00:27.840] – Joran
Welcome back to another episode on the Grow Your B2B SaaS podcast where we discuss all topics on how to grow your B2B SaaS no matter in which stage you are in. If you want to achieve hypergrowth, you will need to automate processes. Marketing and client messaging will be included. That’s what we’re going to talk about today, how to leverage marketing automation for your B2B SaaS. With the goal, of course, of allowing you to maintain hypergrowth without sacrificing the customer experience. My guest today is Shay Howe, CMO at Active Campaign. Active Campaign has more than 185,000 clients and annual revenue of well beyond 165 million and a year-on-year growth of 65% in 2021. Currently they have more than 10,000 reviews on G2, which I think is really impressive. Next to his role, Shay is also the co-founder of Lead Honestly, Chicago Camps, a mentor at Techstars, partner at Prota Ventures, and an advisory board member at G2. Without further ado, welcome to this show, Shay.

[00:01:28.690] – Shay
Sure, thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here.

[00:01:31.000] – Joran
Nice. I am going to start with a really Dutch-blunt question. Why should people listen to you today, Shay?

[00:01:36.780] – Shay
Fair question. I am a bit of a journalist. I’ve done a lot in my career. The large part of that being in hypergrowth, B2B SaaS businesses, I’ve led design teams, engineering teams, product teams, marketing teams, operations teams, strategy teams. I hope I have a well-rounded perspective of what it looks like to be in a B2B marketing role and growing the business and hopefully have some good insights and tidbits to share. Nice.

[00:02:00.070] – Joran
We’re going to talk about marketing automation. I guess for people who don’t know anything about marketing automation, how would you explain it to somebody who’s unfamiliar with the topic?

[00:02:09.480] – Shay
I’ll give you two definitions. The first one would be really simple. Marketing automation is the use of software to automate marketing tasks and or workflows. The idea there is you’re building automation in your processes to free up your time to allow you to go focus on different things and do things that are perhaps more strategic in your business, enable you to scale in a way. That is probably the stock definition, the simplest version of it. What I like about marketing automation is the other side of it, though, that being the ability to use automation so that you can deliver the ideal, the absolute best customer experience for your customers. You can do that regardless if you have 10 of them or you have 10,000. This idea that you could take all of your different tools or the ways you run your business, that you can integrate them into a platform, organize the data across them so that you can begin to segment your audiences and really deliver out what would be personalized messages or experiences and do that across all those different channels. So a way that you can really bring superpowers into your business through automation.

[00:03:04.740] – Shay
It’s not as simple as saying, Hey, we’re just going to build some automation in here to automate what might be the repetitive task we have. But truly thinking about automation has a strategic advantage in your business to deliver that ideal customer experience.

[00:03:16.540] – Joran
Yeah, and I think you already mentioned it, customer experience. It’s not just purely gaining new clients, it’s definitely also segmenting the clients you already have and bringing them the message they need to get.

[00:03:27.020] – Shay
Yeah, a lot of people think about it in the sense of you signed up for a newsletter, you submitted a form. The version of automation is we’re going to send you a follow-up and say, Hey, thanks for subscribing. Here’s my top 10 articles and here’s ways to get in contact with us. Or the other form of it would be, We want to try and get you to take in an inaction. We’re going to email you, we’re going to wait a day, we’re going to email you again, and we’re going to wait a day, we’re going to email you again. When you take the action, we’ll stop this automation. Those are standard forms of automation. It’s a great entry point. It’s a lot where people get started, but it’s the tip of the iceberg. That is really where you are scratching where you could go. You can takesure how much further through different channels and different ways you can automate across objects and ways you can deliver more personalization. That is the start of where automation really begins.

[00:04:08.960] – Joran
Definitely makes sense. When we talk about marketing automation and one more basic question like why and when should SaaS companies care about leveraging marketing automation?

[00:04:18.390] – Shay
Let’s separate those two. We do why and then when. On the why side, we’re talking a little bit about that customer experience, but it is fundamentally used automation to be more. You can be more personal when you’re nurturing your leads and improving that customer engagement, you can build stronger relationship with them, fundamentally increase your chances of turning them into customers and keeping them around. Be more engaged. You can improve customer retention by keeping them coming back in different manners or staying close to actually what you’re delivering. You can be more efficient then. You can save that time, you can save the energy or resources to be more strategic and focus on different initiatives. The why of automation is around allowing you just to be more in your business and allow your business to be more. When to do that is probably a few different breaking points you have as you grow your business where automation can start to come in and play. One would just be the simple idea of when you find yourself repeating something over and over, you’re copying, pasting. Perfect example, we could probably automate this. We could actually bring in some tools and systems to solve this for us.

[00:05:17.190] – Shay
I think the other more nuanced area is where you’re unable to do what you want or fundamentally unable to do what makes you special, what you got started and why you built the business to begin with. If there are ways to bring automation in that allow to create a little bit of space and free time by which you can spend more time with your customers or in product development or whatever that secret sauce was that allowed you to get started or was the reason you got started, you should use automation to bring that back. The other side of it is if things are going so well that you’re starting to slow down because you fundamentally can’t scale, automation is the perfect place to bring in and say, Hey, we can use automation to really help grow and accelerate what we’re doing. Not only can we rebook the idea that the business is slowing down because we can’t keep up with it, we could actually accelerate this. We could step on the gas a little bit further by bringing automation into that. We can still be personal in how we do that. It’s not building automation for the sake of automation, but by using it again as a strategic advantage.

[00:06:13.060] – Joran
I think that’s something maybe where a lot of SaaS companies at the beginning try to automate as much as they can. But I think as you mentioned, you want to think about it when you’re copy-pasting a lot and maybe you can’t deal with it anymore. At that point, you actually want to start thinking about it.

[00:06:27.420] – Shay
We talk folks too. We’re a marketing automation platform, but you do not want to over-automate either. At the end of the day, relationships are a key piece of how businesses work. You buy things from people, you work with them, you can remove all layers of human touch, and that could be fundamentally flawed. You could lose the connectivity or that personalization, just the experience someone’s having and knowing that they’re doing it with you as an individual. Bring automation in to help to be supportive, to allow you to scale. But I don’t know that you could look at automation and say that it’s going to solve every single one of your problems and you can kick your feet up and stay away from the business. You should still fundamentally stay into it and layer in that human touch where it is very important for there’s an opportunity to do something that’s really special for your customers.

[00:07:07.450] – Joran
Definitely makes sense. When we talk about the other side, when should you not think about doing marketing automation?

[00:07:13.510] – Shay
It’s that when there’s a moment or experience that is really best served by a human or that human experience and that touch is very important. What those are in your business could be a plethora of different things, but there are areas where if you over automate that, people begin to feel that. They begin to think that I think there’s a robot behind this. I’m not sure there’s a person. Those become the key moments. Simple solutions this would be we could build automation in that every time someone bleets at us or mentions us on LinkedIn that we have an automated follow-up response and that goes in there. But every now and then it’s learning a little bit more about that person, typing out the response or doing something like sending them flowers that will catch their attention and then they’ll be like, Whoa, that was an experience that I don’t usually receive from a company. That was unique. That was special. I want to share that or talk more about that. There’s moments where I think you can over automate and that’s when you should look to maybe take a step back and look where you can do something a little more special.

[00:08:07.490] – Joran
Yeah, and in the end, you can still use automation to at least find those moments or to define moments and create a task for yourself, but to keep the personal aspect definitely in there.

[00:08:16.490] – Shay
Yeah, it’s such an important piece or a port to pull out in that we use a lot of automation just purely to notify us of opportunities when we could go do that. We used to create tasks for ourselves and checklist of things where someone should go look at this or or check in on this, or follow up with this customer more so than just sending them an automated message.

[00:08:34.490] – Joran
Yeah, you mentioned a little bit already, I think some pitfalls that SaaS companies encounter. What are the most common misconceptions maybe and pitfalls that SaaS companies have when implementing marketing automation?

[00:08:46.710] – Shay
Misconceptions, pitfalls, we look at those differently. There’s a few on the misconception side that I think holds people back from even getting started, if you will. One of those is the idea that automation is difficult to use, that I got a lot to do in my business and I could go figure this out. And generally speaking, everyone I’ve met who’ve run their own business, they’re incredibly talented, they’re very smart folks. But the idea that I don’t know that I want to invest the time to go figure this out, it’s just going to be faster for me to do it myself. That’s not true. There are visual editors, there are drag and drop interfaces, there are prebuilt templates and recipes that allow folks to get started. And even at the campaign, we pride ourselves of being incredibly intuitive and approachable. We want to have a platform that is powerful, allows you to build complex experiences, but we don’t want it to be a complex interface or a complex usage of that. You can get started relatively quickly in a relatively simple manner. The other misconception folks have though that is, okay, if I understand that I could go do this myself, it’s probably still very expensive.

[00:09:42.980] – Shay
It’s probably not affordable or approachable from that sense in my business. That’s just not the case either. Our pricing starts for what would be $29 a month. I spend more on coffee, perhaps. It’s very approachable in that sense. When you go down that route where you’re like, Oh, it’s very difficult to use and it’s going to be expensive, a lot of folks actually start to believe them that marketing automation is largely for larger businesses. That is a tool more zoned in at mid-market to enterprise. I don’t think that’s the case either. We see a lot of small businesses sign up, use active campaign, find success, and are fundamentally able to grow and scale their organization in ways that they wouldn’t have thought otherwise. Those would be some of the key misconceptions. I think maybe one of the other ones we’ve hit on a little bit is that marketing automation is impersonal. That it is the same message to every single person, and that folks will just feel as if they’re in a queue talking to a computer. When it’s done well, it’s the exact opposite. It’s that sense that we have all data about someone, we’re understanding where their interests are, their actions or behaviors are taking, and we’re customizing and personalizing the experience very true to them.

[00:10:42.730] – Shay
And automation is helping guide that. It is the opposite of impersonal. It feels so smooth that you’re really starting to wonder, wow, how do they know all this and are they leading in the right direction? I think the pitfalls to someone who’s, I’m using it or I’m getting into it. I’d say there’s two things we often see, and that is one where they over automate. They just go wild. Everything becomes an automation, a processy, and they remove what has made their business unique. They start to actually lose a little bit of the character, personality they have because the automation has taken over. The other side of that would be they’ve set it up, got it working, and then they walked away from it in a sense that set it and forget it. There’s so much opportunity to look at. What is working? What is not? Where are the drop offs in an automation? Or where is the more engagement or the actions you’re looking to see taken? There’s a body of work to just continually iterate, refine, improve, adjust. The capabilities of automation continually change and evolve. So even what you set up last year, you could just do through different channels or adjust this year.

[00:11:41.150] – Shay
So that idea of you just don’t want to set it up and walk away from it. There’s a layer of continued improvement you’re going to want to make.

[00:11:46.780] – Joran
Yeah, I think this makes a lot of sense. And I think these are indeed a lot of misconceptions and pitfalls people have, especially with Active Campaign and other tools on the market. It does not have to be expensive anymore. And I think indeed, with the visual editors, it’s super easy to set up. You just need to get your data in the system, and after that you should be able to create your first flows and go from there. I do think people are a bit scared sometimes as well to over-automate, or I guess that they don’t know when it’s being triggered at one point. That’s what you’re going to get in bigger organizations, but to start out with, that shouldn’t be the case. If you would implement marketing automation in an organization, what would be your process?

[00:12:24.700] – Shay
I love this question. This is something we talk a lot about adaptive campaign because there’s so many folks signing up and using automation. One of the things we credit ourselves on is a phrase we use in that we want to make the whiteboard real. What we mean by that is when you start automating, one of the things you should do is actually go to a whiteboard and start to map out what you want that customer experience to be. We want to do that because there’s a temptation to jump into the platform to start building it and just going to town. You miss a lot of opportunity and you start to be confined or constrained into what you think the tool is capable of or what you’re seeing as a possibility where you go to the whiteboard and you truly think about this is what that customer experience should be. We can build that. We can find ways to do that in an automation. Don’t constrain yourself or limit your thinking on the forefront. Go to the whiteboard, map it all out, and then let’s think about how to build it. We can do that one at a time.

[00:13:15.200] – Shay
We can start with one automation and slowly build that out. In doing that, you also have to think about all the different things you’re going to need to make that experience come true. It’s on a whiteboard, you can really start to think about what type of data would I need to have some conditional logic that would change the flow of that automation or would change the messaging? Then where does that data come from? What are the sources of it? How would I get that organized in a way that we can take action on it? How do we layer in or build out the integrations that allow that data to come into a place of organization? Putting that on a whiteboard allows you to actually think through all of that and get it organized before you just jump in and start to go down a path that you get too deep into or you do it the first time. But the moment you try and add that second automation, you have to work within the constraints and set the first one up, the data structure of it, et cetera. There’s a lot we’ll do ad-active campaign to help with that.

[00:13:58.100] – Shay
We have a unified data model. When you want to talk about a purchase or revenue, we have different ways to do that. You could have revenue coming from different integrations that will help you unify that. We’ll also build out some maps that let you see where all your automations are and which ones are starting other ones or staffing other ones. We’ll help give you ways to organize all those automations and bring those ideas to life. Then again, it’s not difficult to get started to do, but we always ask folks, start on the whiteboard. Really map out what you want that ideal customer experience to be, and then we’ll help you build.

[00:14:25.390] – Joran
That out. Yeah. When you drag that tool towards the SaaS company, so mapping out that customer experience is probably then going from website visit to sign up, from sign up to trial, from trial to premium. What would be your first automation you would set up? And maybe even taking active campaign in this case, an example. Where would you start if there’s nothing in place.

[00:14:44.320] – Shay
Right now? That’s a good question. You have nothing in place. Think about how do you get customers? What is the source of those customers and where they come to you? How do you engage with them from there? And how would you like to engage with them? What limitations are you facing in some of that engagement? I’m going to go to the whiteboard to draw that out. In a SaaS business, let’s hypothetically speaking here, let’s say there’s a free trial. Someone’s coming in, they’re ideally submitting a form, getting you an email address, perhaps telling you a little bit about themselves. Maybe it’s their website or their industry they’re in and they’re signing a product. I will be building out nurturing that is trying to engage them and guide them to the aha moment of that SaaS business. To put this in context of Active Campaign, the aha moment is actually building out your first automation. You sign up for the trial, we’ll send you an email welcoming you, hey, here’s where you can get some resources, some guides to get set up. But then we’ll wait a day and see, did you take any actions in the platform?

[00:15:33.450] – Shay
If you clicked on automations and you started one but you never activated it, we’ll send you an email that’s, Hey, glad you got started building out your automation. It doesn’t look like you got finished. How can we help? If what we know about your vertical, we might guide you in some ways of, Here’s a few recipes you might use to set up an automation. Here’s ways to get into our office hours, or here’s how to ways to reach out to our customer experience team. We give them one experience if they didn’t get that automation lie. If they did, totally different. They get an email that’s, Congratulations, Jordan, you did an awesome job building your first automation. That’s perfect. Let’s talk about how to send an email campaign or how to do something through a different channel. Or because you built this automation and you use this trigger and these actions, we know that related automations also look like this. Here might be the second automation you want to set up. We’re fundamentally changing the experience based off of the behaviors you’re seeing or what you’re doing and just guiding to what would be that aha moment and ultimately into how do we get you to be a paying customer in that conversion.

[00:16:23.550] – Shay
The SaaS side will be thinking a little bit about that and what are all those key moments throughout that we’d trip a layer and some messaging or automations around.

[00:16:30.320] – Joran
Exactly. I think this goes really well with the user onboardings podcast we did with Ildefon. As in define the moment indeed or the thing you want clients to do within maybe the first 15 minutes or 20 minutes when they log in or at least something they can do themselves within a short time frame. And if they do that, they’re more likely to become a paid client. So conversion rates go up. If you define that, then you can tailor the messaging regarding that, and then from there, take them forward basically.

[00:16:57.500] – Shay
Yeah. Don’t set it and forget it. There’s always ways to improve. Examples, as you know, just in SaaS over time. We’ll look at things of what was that customer’s origination source? Did they come through a referral website? And do we know what that website was? And maybe they were coming from G2 and doing some comparison shopping. Our messaging is going to be a little tighter around where active campaign is better than some of others in our market or industry. Or maybe they came through on a paid ad campaign and we know the keyword that they’re searching. They’re searching for pricing. We want to make sure we put pricing in some of that messaging. We’re always looking at what are the different data signals we have to change that experience to not only make it more personal and answer the questions they have, but also optimize around some of the conversion events we would love to see. Again, you could play with it in a lot of different ways or nuances. It’s getting started and finding ways to iterate, improve, and fundamentally just make it more personal from there.

[00:17:51.690] – Joran
I think, as you mentioned, start really basic and then from there, iterate and create more versions and make them more personalized from there. That’s a really good approach. Hopefully implemented some of your own marketing, automation campaigns. What are the most significant challenges you face? Then maybe also what your clients are facing when implementing it?

[00:18:09.340] – Shay
We have a bit of a meta story in that we’ve grown Active Campaign by using Active Campaign. It is our fundamental tool of record. It runs all of our automations, all of our email marketing. It’s our CRM for the sales team. We do everything in and around our own platform. A blessing in that sense that we can use it to grow, but also using it, we’re learning a lot about how to market it. Some of the challenges we have faced in that, we’ve been doing this a long time. If you go into our account, you are going to find hundreds of automation. A lot. To a point to where it could be challenging to actually understand or begin to see is the customer experience we’re providing? Because we have triggers that start automations off of all these different events. Some of those are behavioral based. Some of those are based off of maybe we’re adding a tag to that contact profile to start something. There’s been some situations where we have lost a little control where we’re like, Oh, my goodness, maybe we are over emailing this person in or we’ve over done automated experience in this way.

[00:19:01.180] – Shay
How do we actually get a grasp of understanding that? This is one of the blessings in that we’ve been able to build some tools to actually assess with that. This idea of you’re able to go into a contact record and see their entire journey. That is every automation they’ve been in, where they’re at in those or how far they got through those, any one-off emails that have been sent, any of the website pages they’re visiting, etc. We built some tools that allow us to see that. We’ve even taken that further down into building out some maps around our automations to say what automation is starting a different one, what automation might potentially be stopping one. Those can be very literal in that there’s an automation action that says when you get to this point, stop the automation on the other side of this or start this next automation and they could be inferred in that this automation might add a tag to a contact. But by adding that tag, it does start this other automation. We actually built on a feature we call the Automation Map that allows you to see all those automations and where there are the direct or indirect starts and stops at them, and how those all stack or cascade in one way or another, which has been very.

[00:20:04.260] – Joran
Beneficial for us. Yeah, and I can imagine you guys are your super user, especially with company growth so fast that you are going to overdo it. Everybody, of course, wants to use their own tool, know exactly how it works. So I think it’s also a bit of a challenge, like who manage what at one point and go and.

[00:20:20.560] – Shay
See that. Yeah, there’s no less than a dozen people in our account, even just building automations on a daily basis and then adjusting and tweaking those. That doesn’t include the hundreds of other people allowing me in to do things in the CRM or send in their email campaigns or build a landing page. There’s no shortage of people involved in it. So having some tools to actually manage and scale that has been critical.

[00:20:46.290] – Commercial Break
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[00:21:26.010] – Joran
I know there’s a lot of companies struggling to get the most out of their marketing-automation tools? What advice or strategies would you suggest?

[00:21:34.180] – Shay
A little bit of what we’ve covered in that idea of map it out, put it on the whiteboard, and then start small. Don’t overcook it or try and do too much too fast. So the idea of automate something relatively simple and then gradually expand, add to it, grow as you were learning more and where it suits you. In that, I would say there’s probably maybe four things I would keep top of mind. One is use a variety of channels. Don’t just think about automation being something that is email marketing. There are a lot of other channels you can layer into automation. You can do it through social media, you could do it through SMS, you could do it through push notifications. You can even build fundamentally automation into apps that don’t have them just solely by integrating them into your marketing automation platform. Use a variety of channels. Don’t think email is the one and be all throughout it. The second piece would be that detail of personalization. You really want to personalize that content so that it truly is reaching a moment of engagement. And that person is saying, That message was written for me.

[00:22:30.150] – Shay
It’s not just the stop, standard, blurb message. You can do that through segmentation. You can do that through tools like dynamic content. There’s no shortage of ways that you can start to actually layer and structure that out. You need to make sure you’re taking actually advantage of that and not just having what would be more of a workflow of an automation where everyone gets the same thing, but you’re actually digging into the layer of personalization. In doing that, I don’t think you have to be creative. There’s a lot of competition. There’s crowd America places for most folks. It’s important you’re doing something that is going to allow you to stand out, that is going to be differentiated in how you reach those folks. The message you send them or the automated experience they have feels like that of any other. You’re probably not capturing their attention or getting their eye on what you want. You really have to get a little more creative in what that looks like. The fourth piece I’ll say around that is be of value. When you’re in that creative sense, if you’re doing something that someone finds to be practical, applicable, it’s not overly promotional, or it’s not too high level of a thought or ask, but they can see it, understand what that is, and it’s of value to them or they’re learning or growing, that’s where you’re going to see the most action.

[00:23:34.410] – Shay
I think that can be easy to lose sight of in that there’s so much effort and work that goes into just building an automation or structuring and setting this up. You cannot lose sight of really what the goal is or the customer experience you’re out to create, right? Almost starting there and then finding how to get that into an automation, somewhat of a backwards approach, but it’s going to be the right way to do it. Yeah, use the brighted channels, personalize your content, be creative, and make sure you’re adding value. Do the four ways.

[00:23:57.950] – Joran
Yeah, and I do want to highlight as in personalized content is, as you mentioned, can be on segmentation. It could be on certain actions or certain things which are happening certain data points. It doesn’t have to be the content in the email. Well, it’s going to be the content in the email, but it’s also the triggering. When are you actually triggering an email? Then it could be pretty standard towards everybody, but it could be the moment, the aha moment, maybe a celebration moment, maybe even like the other opposite, a down moment, but be there and be of value, as you mentioned.

[00:24:26.100] – Shay
I can even give you a deeper example that might be interesting. A lot of people will think, Oh, we should use personalization tags or merge tags where rather than saying, Hi there, I could say, Hi, Jordan, and they think that is the layer of personalization. And it is. It certainly helps. It does bring a little human aspect to it. But there are things, for example, we have a feature we call predictive content where you can go into an email and you can write five different versions of it. Or you could have artificial intelligence write five different versions of an email. You might do one that is more formal in tone. You might do one that’s more passive or more casual in tone. You might do one that’s longer with much more detail, or you might do one that’s shorter and then links up to a website that has that detail. We’ll use a layer of artificial intelligence to begin to predict what type of messaging resonates best with that individual, and we’ll send it for you. Truly to a very granular level, you’re allowing the algorithm to actually think about and decide, Hey, Chai is busy, he gets a lot of emails.

[00:25:28.750] – Shay
He’s most likely to open, engage and click through on this when you send it to him at 7:00 AM. That’s when we’re going to send it. The message he needs is going to be the more passive or casual tone and very short. That’s the message we’re going to send him as well. The tools help you do that. Again, it’s not complicated. It’s actually easy to set up and get started with. There’s layers of personalization that when we say personalization, it could mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. It’s almost too vague. But the tools really do allow you to start to dial that in into the ways you want.

[00:25:59.550] – Joran
Yeah, this is really interesting. I wanted to ask you, how do you see the future of marketing automation? I think this is already a sneak peek as in using AI to predict which message resonates best with the receiver. Any other plans for marketing automation?

[00:26:12.890] – Shay
I’ll stay on the theme of AI then for a minute. We’ve been doing things in AI for years, honestly. Before the current wave of what would be the general AI, we’ve had things like predictive sending, predicted content, lead or contact scoring, or win probability have all been in the system. We’ve certainly done more around how we actually do some content generation through different messaging channels. I think where we’re headed and even what we’re experimenting with now is this idea that given a prompt in the app, just describe the automation you want. Where it could be, Hey, I want to send an email. Then if someone opens it, I want to send them a different email and say, This message, if they didn’t open it, I want to resend that email with a different subject line to try and get them to open it. After those two experiences, if no one clicks through, I want to send them a separate message or reach out to them via LinkedIn or something, you just type it out. You just describe what you want. And then fundamentally AI would just go build that automation for you and set it up and structure it with you.

[00:27:12.350] – Shay
I think you could even take that step further where you’re not even describing the automation, you’re describing the marketing motion you want. I could go into AI and type something into the sense of, I’d like to sell more tickets to this event. Then okay, cool, we’re going to build the automation for that. We’re going to write the email content for it. We’re already integrated to Eventbrite, so we know the event you’re talking about. We’re going to create a coupon code for you and we’re going to sell 20 tickets with the coupon code. Then we’re going to raise the price. I think AI will actually get to a point to where it can really recommend and start to guide you down all those different paths. Now, what I think we’re going to need in that, though, is still giving the marketer and team control. I don’t think anyone’s ready to just renew with this and say the robots can have it. Let the algorithms do this. They’re wrong something. We need to be able to actually guide it and say, Go build it. But let me go in, adjust it, edit it, change the messaging, move certain things around, remove things, ask for new things to be added.

[00:28:02.750] – Shay
You still have to have the control yourself to actually manage and scale that. But I think AI is going to be in a place to where we’ll largely be able to describe what we want and it will help build that out. The tools will actually get even easier to use as time goes on.

[00:28:16.490] – Joran
Yeah, and I think for you guys as well, your user onboarding is just going to decrease in time because if your goal is to have people set up an automation and they can just describe what they want, then it’s going to be perfect for your own MR growth as well. Nice, and I think as you mentioned, if you’re able to have AI build it, then create the messaging and even predict which message resonates best, I think it’s a really nice combination.

[00:28:39.640] – Shay
That is not in the so distant future. We already have some of the content generation capabilities there. We have content predictabilities there, which one is going to resonate and work. We even have the idea of you describe an automation and we can go build it. We’re testing that with the number of clients in production today. That is live and in many scenarios. I think that idea will only continue to grow, evolve, and get a little further in where you really start describing the type of marketing you want rather than the automation you want, and we’ll be able to help you.

[00:29:11.260] – Joran
There as well. I won’t ask you when this is live, but as you mentioned, some things are already live. People want to see it, go check it out. We’re coming to the final four questions. First of all, starting with advice for SaaS founders in certain stages. To begin with, what advice would you give a SaaS founder who is now just starting out and grow to 10K monthly recurring revenue?

[00:29:32.090] – Shay
Here, in the motion of growing to 10K in MRR, my hypothesis is your business, you’re still trying to find that niche. You probably don’t have that product-market fit quite aligned, but you have strong senses and you’re on the right path to do it. Stay focused there. Stay focused on that market. Who are you trying to reach? What are their needs? What are their pain points? Tailor your product, your service to them. Stay absolutely incredibly close to them. That’s going to be the path to actually being able to build and start to scale. In that, don’t forget the marketing side of it. It’s easy to skip, but thinking about your brand, building that out is going to be what really is just to help set you apart from what might be in the competitive marketplace. If you’re doing that in a way that is memorable, albeit authentic, and it becomes relevant to that audience, that’s going to support you for a while. In that same scenario, customer service is key. Staying close to that target market also means you’re providing them the best customer service because that word of mouth and referral could be one of your largest channels of growth and how you’re going to get more folks on board.

[00:30:30.320] – Shay
Stay close to them, not only a sense that you can learn from them and use that to adjust or evolve, but it can also drive that referral for your business as well.

[00:30:38.170] – Joran
Yeah, because in the end, as you mentioned, you’re building the foundation in a way with good clients and make sure that they start referring you once you start growing further. When we get past the 10K monthly recurring revenue, and now we’re growing towards 10 million ARR, I know it’s a big step, what advice would you give SaaS founders here?

[00:30:56.210] – Shay
On the path to 10 million ARR, a lot of it becomes about some of the soft skills and the criticality of the team you’re building and the culture you’re setting. So don’t be shy about how you’re focusing on how you’re growing and building that team and being critical about are we hiring the right people? Are we setting the right culture? Have we defined our values? And are we hiring, promoting people, holding the mechanicalist of those values? And are we holding that bar actually high enough for the company we want to build and establish? Alongside that, you’re also focusing on how does the team work? Are we building a level of operational excellence into what might be some more of the formal functions or disciplines in the business? Do we have the right measurement tools in place? Do we have the right project management in place? Is all that built in a way that is fundamentally serving our customers? It’s not tools for the sake of having a process or just having a layer of documentation around who’s doing what, but really is it geared, is it oriented into providing value for our customers? In a Golden Locks approach, do we have the right amount of process for ourselves in that moment?

[00:31:52.770] – Shay
Not too much, but not too little in a sense where you’re able to actually grow the business through that. A lot of that into the 10 million AR side, its team and its culture, and a lot of the initial takes of processes.

[00:32:03.670] – Joran
Yeah, and I think as it is a big step, the process as well that will change and break. As you mentioned, don’t have too many because in the end, that will probably change as well during the beginning and end of the journey. Any advice or encouragement you can give to to SaaS entrepreneurs out there which are now on their journey?

[00:32:21.670] – Shay
I always admire folks on that SaaS entrepreneurship path and that you are doing something so few folks rarely do. So few folks actually dare to do that. It is hard. It is challenging. It may be one of the most difficult things you end up doing. Know in that path, you’re not alone. There are other SaaS entrepreneurs out there who are going through a lot of the same challenges as you are. You can network with them. You can support one another. You can grow. You can fundamentally do that together. Really valuable in that. In the same sense, you’re doing something of fundamental value. You are on that journey because you likely identified a problem and you have found a real need that you want to go out and solve. All angles point to that action being making a difference in the world. Making a difference usually doesn’t come easy. It’s going to be difficult. You’re also capable of a lot of great things, though. Not everyone gets into this and runs a bad idea. You’ve dared to do it. You’re capable of a lot to just do that. You have the right skills, you have the right knowledge, you have shown the level of determination to actually build and build a successful business.

[00:33:13.440] – Shay
A lot of self-doubt can creep in. A lot of questions of, Do I have the ability to do I have the ability to do this, or am I just getting lucky? It could be a mix of both, but just know that the sense of what you’re doing, so few people actually dare to do. There should be a lot of pride in that. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help. There’s no shame in doing that either.

[00:33:28.540] – Joran
Exactly. I think that does what you mentioned at the beginning, you’re not alone. There’s communities out there, there’s Eventoins there where you can mingle with other SaaS founders. And if you don’t know where to find them, then just ping me because I will have a list for you to go through and check out which fits you best. The final question, what is one thing you wish you knew 10 years ago, Shay?

[00:33:50.440] – Shay
What I wish I knew 10 years ago is something I often remind myself of. And when I say often, not just every year, almost every quarter, in the sense that I’m going to contribute more to my own problems than I’m going to realize, and I don’t have to. And that what I mean by that is, anytime I run into an issue or someone, generally just speaking, has a problem arises under a different belief or different understanding of, Jordan, you want one thing. I want something else, and we’re going to argue or maybe clash our heads against that. There’s a different path through that, and that could just be one of, I need to understand where do you hold your belief, where that belief came from. You probably have different experiences in your life. Just because your belief is different than mine, that doesn’t mean that you are wrong and that I’m fundamentally right. I’d be better served by changing how I think, learning a little bit more about you and bringing new perspective into this. That could shine a light on a lot of different opportunities that I’m not seeing and fundamentally brings people a lot closer together.

[00:34:44.510] – Shay
And this idea that people are obstacles, there’s fundamentally opportunity of just learning about them and finding ways to work together and recognizing that I might get in my way more often than not there. And that you have to keep an eye open to where maybe your bias is too strong and you need to recognize there’s something to learn from everyone and it’s your responsibility to figure out what that is. So don’t run through life full-charge. Actually try and get to learn to know more about people along the way.

[00:35:10.730] – Joran
I think that’s really good closing advice here. Thank you. Thanks for coming on to the show. If we want to get in contact with you, Shay, what would be the best way to do?

[00:35:19.220] – Shay
Yeah, absolutely. Best way to reach out to me would be LinkedIn. It’s Shayhowe on LinkedIn. Fortunately, I have a pretty unique name and you’ll find me relatively quickly. Then if you’re interested in active campaign, want to learn more, you can go to activecampaign. Com, create that free trial. And if you have feedback, reach out. Let me know if you have questions, if something doesn’t make sense, any thoughts or ideas you have, I would love to hear from you. So please do not hesitate to reach out.

[00:35:41.170] – Joran
Nice. We’re going to add links to both, to Active Campaign and to yourself so people can find it really quickly and easily. Thanks again for coming on to the show today, Jay.

[00:35:51.790] – Shay
Yeah, Jordan, thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it.

[00:35:54.470] – Joran
No worries.

[00:35:55.560] – Outro
You’ve been listening to growing a B2B SaaS. Joran has been ahead of customer success before founding his own startup. He’s experiencing the same journey you are. We hope you’ve gotten some actionable advice from the show, and we hope you had fun along the way. We know we did. Make sure to like, rate, and review the podcast in the meantime. To find out more and to hook up with us on our social media sites, go to www. GetReditus. Com. See you next time. on growing a B2B Saas.

Joran Hofman
Meet the author
Joran Hofman
Back in 2020 I was an affiliate for 80+ SaaS tools and I was generating an average of 30k in organic visits each month with my site. Due to the issues I experienced with the current affiliate management software tools, it never resulted in the passive income I was hoping for. Many clunky affiliate management tools lost me probably more than $20,000+ in affiliate revenue. So I decided to build my own software with a high focus on the affiliates, as in the end, they generate more money for SaaS companies.
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