At the start of 2013 things had really taken off with Findly. Now Private Equity funded, and deep into the product build, we had outgrown our small space in Palo Alto and graduated into the next division, Market Street in San Francisco.

For anyone not familiar with San Francisco, Market Street and the roads leading off it are home to many of the technology titans that rule the tech landscape today. Household names like Salesforce.comTwitter and Uber were just some of the logos that adorned the shiny glass towers. The district abuts the long established financial district creating a unique sensibility as sharply suited bankers bumped shoulders with fantastically tattooed and bearded hipsters at the local Urban Kitchen. Locating your business in the Market Street area, particularly if you’re in the tech sector, is a very public way to signify your arrival at the next phase of growth.

While Findly’s new digs at 720 Market Street weren’t exactly the height of cool, being squeezed between a Walgreens and Chase bank branch, it was far more spacious than we’d been used to. Little did we know that within 12 months we’d be on the move yet again to a much larger office further into the Market Street area, but for now this felt palatial compared to Palo Alto.

Part of our graduation into the next phase of growth, was to start putting a structure around our marketing efforts which until recently had consisted of some social media in combination with traditional channels. Basically we were trying to shout louder than our competitors though with a significantly smaller budget. Thank goodness the sales guys were getting into their stride and the product team was killing it with new releases coming out at consistently shorter intervals.

While trade shows seemed to be the quickest way to get a lot of people in front of our product, software is not as easily displayed as a new car or TV is. Essentially you cross your fingers that your 20’ x 20’ stand filled with screens running the product demo will attract passers-by or better still, that they will come with a pre-booked slot for a one-to-one demonstration.

At the time Findly branding used the metaphor of bees, and with our core product named the Hive the consequent naming of the product portfolio was all related to bee terms. This metaphor had many advantages, firstly we were never stuck for names of product extensions. We kept a beekeeping dictionary close to hand and products were quickly dubbed Waggle, Swarm and Maize. This was accompanied by graphics that were fun and approachable, the polar opposite to the rest of the industry. There was resistance from the salesforce as some struggled to talk seriously about a product called Waggle, but they soon got the hang of it.

For Findly, the trade show was a calculation in the volume of noise that we could make x the size of our stand + its proximity to the main doors. Clearly this was a war we were never going to win and although our colourful and approachable stand, artfully decorated with bees in their natural habitat of a farmyard, stood out possibly for all the wrong reasons.

Actually the most valuable thing that I obtained from the trade show was 25 sheets of white paper on which were the names and email addresses of every show attendee. This was solid gold but we needed to decide how best to utilise this new found gem.

  • Should we send it straight to the sales team?
  • Should we put together some product brochures and mail them to each person on the list?
  • Or should we just put it in the file and keep on with social media and PR?

We needed to find a way that we could easily, and at scale, remind the people on the list who we were and why we were in business. We didn’t want to sell them anything at this stage, but we did want them to know we existed. We wanted our Bees and farmyard to sit apart from all of the other clipart and stock photography of our competitor’s brands. We also wanted to make sure that if we sent them subsequent emails these would be tailored to their response from the first email. We also needed to be able to tell the sales team when we thought a particular customer was ready to be contacted for a sales call. And all of this we had to do quickly before the trade show, and our brand, had slipped from the memory of potential customers.

I was entering the world of lead generation and my marketing life would never be the same which given the speed that the industry was, and still is moving, was no bad thing for me.

Lead generation was a strategy that had been around for a long time but had undergone a Renaissance and was tearing through the marketing offices of Lower Market Street like a tornado. Suddenly terms like sales funnels, persona building, lead scoring and marketingqualified leads became all that everybody talked about. Perhaps unsurprisingly the new darling of the technology world that quarter was HubSpot, the first digitized enterprise lead generation platform.

As a bonus much of the work that we were going to do within the marketing automationplatform would talk directly to the Findly CRM. It sends an automated signal to the sales reps when a particular lead had turned into a prospect and could then be approached for a sales meeting.

This got me thinking – was I witnessing the future of marketing? Certainly, I figured, from a B2B context, an automated marketing platform was going to revolutionize and systemize, lead generation.

While marketing automation promised much, the part I found most interesting was theautomation. At first pass it was difficult to believe that you could automate marketing. That the process could be automated I understood, but the marketing itself? And how would that go over with consumers? Was there an opportunity for automated marketing to replace other channels in the marketer’s tool set?

The first thing that struck me was that the process wasn’t all that automated. Sure, you could set bunch of rules so that when a person clicked on a particular email a follow up action would result. Pretty cool however, as I’ve ventured further down the rabbit hole that is the world of marketing automation, I realized that not only was it not fully automated you also required a team to drive the platform. Firstly without an HTML capable designer (very scarce and highly sought after) you required a designer to design your landing pages and then an HTML programmer to build it. Then you needed somebody who understood data to make sense of your list because ramming it into the system was only ever going to end up in a complete mess when it came to the analytics.

Then if you wanted to use other platforms at the same time with the same message you had to build these campaigns separately and also analyze them separately. So all in all it actually became quite a labour-intensive operation.

It seemed to me that a smoothly functioning marketing automation platform was far more complicated and more expensive than it should be. I had been under the mistaken impression that the technology was there to speed things up and allow us to execute at scale.

I firmly believe that technology is really about democratization, and being able to democratize marketing I thought was actually a really good place to start. How could a marketing automation platform be truly automated and also be able to be driven by a single operator rather than a whole team of people?

After a lot of research and trying quite a few platforms I came to the realisation that the only way to create a true automated marketing platform was to build it myself. So over the next few months I went on one of the steepest learning curves I’ve ever been on. In the next email I’ll cover that journey and I’m sure you’ll be interested as to where I ended up.