When I was a kid, I lived in an old limestone house down in Fort Riley, Kansas. In the hallway downstairs was the shelf for the phone and next to the phone was a round metal dial with one toggle switch and a range of temperatures.
The metal dial on the wall was our thermostat — our connection to the cooling system that kept the home comfortable during the very hot summer months on the plains. When set to auto, magical things happened — cool air would blow from the vents until the system sensed the house had reached a certain temperature, then the system would shut off automatically. When the house’s temperature climbed back up, the system turned back on and the whole dance started again. It was brilliant!
One summer, a young man walked up on our porch and knocked. My mother opened the door and I am sure a blast of our cold, automated air must have hit this guy right in the face. Over the course of several minutes he built a rapport with my mom and was invited inside. Face to face, he made his pitch and we bought a set of 30 hardback books that served my brother and me for years to come.
By the 1990s, door-to-door sales was all but gone from the landscape, as email was becoming a more prevalent way to communicate and it wasn’t long before marketers caught on. Out with the face-to-face, personal sales pitch — email was an efficient way to reach millions of people. Blow cold air in a room for long enough and someone may walk in.
Over time, email providers helped marketers segment their customers into groups and marketing automation was born. The first groups where simply those who had opted in and those who had opted out. Marketing automation’s job was to only email people in the opt in-group while still saving the opt-outs to your lead list. Like the auto setting on my little thermostat, this was a big deal.
Four years ago, my wife and I bought an old home that was built in the 1960s and had never been updated. In the hallway there was a familiar round metal dial with one toggle switch. When we renovated the home, we updated the thermostats. Wow, there were a lot of choices. We chose one that could be programed to turn on and off at certain times and certain temperatures on different days of the week. Setting up the thing took a PhD, but once programed it worked well, so long as your habits or preferences didn’t change.
By the time we were done renovating, marketing automation was in a full-on feature race that lasted several years. By mid 2013, the top providers could help their customers track email and website activity, nurture leads through a customer journey, score leads based on behaviors, share data with their CRM systems, and much more. Like my new thermostat, programing took some training. The end user had to be self aware enough to know something needed to change and competent enough to make the system do what he wanted.
A few years ago, a company called Nest completely rethought the thermostat. The Nest thermostat doesn’t require the user to program it. Instead, it learns from user behavior and programs itself — it’s on when the user needs it at the temperature the user wants and it is off when the user isn’t home or in that part of the house. If the user changes habits or preferences, Nest learns and adjusts automatically. Underneath that simple, clean exterior is a powerful, big data engine. And somehow Nest has used all that power and all that data to make the thermostat more human.
Marketing automation is following a similar path. The story about what is under the covers will feature phrases likes big data, machine learning, social nurturing, and predictive analytics. The real story will be simplicity. A solution that learns and adjusts automatically. A solution that looks outside the marketing CRM and delivers more potential leads based on marketing and sales results. A solution that helps marketers and salespeople spend more time building relationships and less time blowing air into an empty room. A solution that uses big data to make marketing and sales more personal — more human.
Image via Shutterstock.
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