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When Zac Gregg and Julia Ahumada launched the digital agency Vital in 2001, their focus was branding, print advertising and collateral, and web design. For a while, it worked. The agency grew slowly but surely, hiring a new staff member once a year for the next decade. But in 2011, Vital found itself at a crossroads.

“We had some turnover and realized Vital wasn’t the agency everybody had hoped we were building,” says Chris Getman, director of inbound marketing. “We were taking the work that was available, but we weren’t as excited or as passionate as we wanted to be.”

This gave Gregg and Ahumada pause. Growth wasn’t enough. There needed to be intention. So the founders took some time to re-evaluate the agency and its purpose in the world.

“What they realized was that our agency is great at building websites, and it was something the entire team enjoyed doing,” Getman says. “It made sense for Vital to make that our focus, but we had to get it right.”

Proof of Concept

Of course, it wasn’t enough for Vital to simply focus on building websites. Those websites had to make a measurable impact for their clients.

“We came at the problem from a business angle,” Getman says. “Our product had to help business owners and provide something that would really make a difference. It wasn’t enough to make something that just looked nice. We wanted to provide something that could demonstrably help clients grow their business.”

And Vital had good reason to believe that was possible.

“We’d seen it work with our own website,” Getman says. “When we focused on ourselves and did our own digital marketing, we had to figure out ways to measure our own success. That gave us the experience to better help our clients.”

The new focus led to success and significant growth. In 5 years, Vital expanded from 10 people to more than 55. It was during this period that Getman joined the company as a digital marketer—a vital (if you will) part of Vital’s 2-pronged approach to helping clients.

“We’re essentially divided into two different sides,” Getman says. “One builds the websites, and the other focuses on marketing and strategy. We specialize in tactics that drive more traffic and make better conversions.”

Getman plays a key role in establishing those tactics and measuring their success. “When I came on, we were really seeing business ramp up, but we needed to get a lot of our processes in place,” he says. “Having the right processes, and being good at documentation, allows us to provide better service for our clients.”

That includes helping clients see the opportunities they’re missing with automation.

“There’s a level of accessibility with MailChimp that other software doesn’t have.”

Activating Automation

“When we get a new client, we start by figuring out their goals and work backward from there,” Getman says. “Then we do an evaluation on all their marketing. It’s basically a series of audits on everything they’re doing, both to understand the full infrastructure of their marketing and to find the low-hanging fruit they’re missing. Often, we can make a few quick gains right away while we ramp up for the bigger stuff.”

Over the years, as Vital has collected more and more data from these audits, the agency has seen a few patterns emerge.

“A lot of companies are trying to use automation, but just aren’t getting its full potential,” Getman says. “They got sold on a product that they don’t really know how to use, so 80% of the platform’s abilities go unused.”

For clients, this is obviously a frustrating experience. In some cases, these platforms can be very expensive but end up doing very little in practice.

“We try as much as possible to educate people on the tools they’ve purchased,” Getman says. “If someone bought a product, we want to teach them how to get the most out of it. But a fair amount of the time clients don’t even log into their accounts—we just run it for them.”

For clients who want to be more involved, Getman says MailChimp offers certain advantages. “There’s a level of accessibility with MailChimp that other software doesn’t have. It’s very intuitive, and hard to get lost. The product serves the client.”

That leads to better use of automation—and better results.

You Snooze, You Win

If there’s one thing Getman has learned about automation, it’s that it isn’t exactly a tough sell.

“Everyone wants to make money while they sleep. Well, automation allows you to market while you sleep,” Getman says. “That’s especially true for clients who have a lot of leads to nurture. Automation can perform at levels that an actual sales team couldn’t keep up with.”

To make automation effective, it has to be flexible. Thinking through processes and workflows ahead of time allows Getman’s team to determine how a lead will move through the system in a way that still feels personal.

“Good nurture emails should be very friendly and knowledgeable,” Getman says. “Some of the best leads we get from nurture campaigns come from people who responded because it has a very human voice. It’s asking, ‘How can we help? What questions do you have?’ It’s not instructing people to dump their information in a contact form.”

These strategies don’t just work for clients. They’ve also contributed to Vital’s success.

“We’re big on eating our own dog food,” Getman says. “Anything we recommend is something we’ve tried. And we play the long game. If we’re helpful, and we’re good, and we can build a relationship with someone, we can gain a loyal customer—even if it’s years down the road.”

3 Steps to More Nurturing Campaigns

Automation is ideal for building a long-term relationship with future clients—if it’s used well. Here are 3 steps you can take right now to make sure your campaign hits the mark.

Step 1: Offer something of real value.
If you want to build a more nurturing campaign, give serious thought to the value of the content you’re sending. Is it useful? Informative? Entertaining? “We’re always trying to offer value and consultation,” Getman says. “And that prompts people to respond. We’ve had multiple instances where somebody responds to an email because they want to learn more, and we’ll hop on the phone and have a non-sales-related conversation.” By offering real value, Vital inspires real engagement and gets a chance to show off the agency’s expertise.

Step 2: Find opportunities to be human.
Automated emails should have personality, voice, and all the things that make human beings connect with one another. “Our nurtures are not hard sales pushes,” Getman says. “From our perspective, if you signed up for our email then we’ve already gotten the lead. Now we have an opportunity to introduce you to our company and the things we care about.” People connect with brands on an emotional level. When you let people see who you are, they’ll want to know more about you.

Step 3: Respect your reader. 
You can’t trick someone into making a purchase, but you can convince them to unsubscribe if you don’t respect their time and attention. “People aren’t idiots,” Getman says. “They can tell when you’re only after a sale.” When you show up in someone’s inbox, be about more than coupons and special promotions. Offer them value, be human, and show them respect.