Autopilot is a marketing automation software company that was just as frustrated with spammy pop-ups and irrelevant emails as you and I. So now they help companies create customer journeys that engage people at just the right time. But their remarkable growth hasn’t come from product alone. Here’s their story.
“A rising tide lifts all boats.”
John F. Kennedy said that in a 1963 speech. The idea was that improvements to the general economy benefit everyone. Instead of focusing on ourselves to gain an advantage, why not lift each other up through community?
That’s also the way we see it at Autopilot. Companies can grow by developing lots of new features to differentiate themselves from the competition, or they can focus on being the very best at one thing and grow together through partnerships.
We choose the latter. Here’s why and exactly how we do it.
Why focus on strategic partnerships?
In 2015, we stripped Autopilot of everything it didn’t need—landing pages, social sharing, sales prospecting, and content management, to mention a few. Then we put all that extra energy into being the very best at one thing: marketing automation.
In other words, rather than filling functionality gaps with watered-down features, we let our open API connect us with best-of-breed solutions. This shift away from jack-of-all-trades, all-in-one solutions reflects the way people buy products today.
Customers have the freedom to select niche tools that solve specific problems, and they expect these tools to integrate seamlessly with their other favorites. In case you haven’t heard, “unbundled is the new bundled.”
So far it’s working. We grew from 0 to over 2,500 customers in less than two years by partnering with big players like Salesforce, Segment, Slack, Zapier, and now Typeform. But it didn’t happen from simply building a product integration. The real impact comes from picking the right partners and focusing on strategic co-marketing efforts.
How Autopilot prioritizes integration partners
Our product development roadmap is heavily guided by customer suggestions through Autopilot’s Product Feedback Forum. The voting system helps us identify which features our customers want the most, and it gives us a strong sense of which integrations we should prioritize.
“When it comes to prioritization, data is your friend. Having an accurate picture of what your customers would like to see next not only makes saying ‘yes’ easier, but also gives you the confidence to say ‘no,’ which is just as important.”
With this backlog, we assess whether it’s the right time to build by asking ourselves three critical questions:
1. Does the integration solve a pain point?
The goal is to make your customers’ lives easier. If you can address their most painful problems by integrating with a tool they can’t live without, you’re creating value.
For example, we know Salesforce CRM is widely adopted by our target audience. We also know that the biggest impact to business growth happens when marketing and sales are aligned. So we made it incredibly easy to connect Salesforce and Autopilot. In just a few clicks, customers can sync data bi-directionally in real-time and automate actions like lead assignments, field updates, and task delegation. Win-win? Yup.
2. Does the integration provide a growth opportunity?
We also weigh the growth opportunity against the cost of implementation for every potential integration. Will building the integration help retain current customers? Will it attract new ones?
Growth opportunities include wider brand awareness, revenue potential, competitive advantages, audience overlap, added credibility, and expanded functionality. On the cost side, we consider development effort, time constraints, resource requirements, ongoing operational costs, and other risk factors.
Tip: develop a scoring methodology to categorize integrations as short-, mid-, and long-term bets to help you rank the highest growth, lowest cost opportunities. Tackle those first.
3. Does the integration align with our mission?
Autopilot was born out of frustration with bad, untargeted marketing. You know the culprits—the spammy pop-up, the irrelevant email, the creepy retargeting ad.
Our team is driven to help marketers create remarkable customer experiences. As CEO of Autopilot Michael Sharkey likes to say,
“The best kind of marketing is so tailored to each customer that it doesn’t feel like marketing at all.”
Marketing should feel like a 1:1 conversation between two like-minded people. But manually sending personal emails takes a lot of time and effort, and at some point it becomes impossible. That’s why growing companies turn to automation software.
But this creates another potential problem. When you batch and blast everyone in your database with the same message, your communication starts to feel less human. Your language becomes botified. You begin marketing at people, instead of helping them solve problems.
Where does this lead you? Right into the spam folder.
How do you fix this? As marketers, we have access to more data about our customers than ever before. It’s up to us to leverage this information to communicate in personalized, timely, and human ways to create real, engaging relationships throughout the customer journey.
That’s one reason we prioritized our Typeform + Autopilot integration. We’re selective about partnering with companies that enhance our vision of delighting customers with personal and contextual experiences that make them feel uniquely special at scale.
How Autopilot promotes new integrations
You need both hands to clap. Likewise, a successful partner integration launch requires a mutually beneficial strategy where both sides work together to make some noise.
We determine action items for our launch based on whether the integration has growth or retention potential (or both):
High-growth integrations: These are golden opportunities. Our wider audience is hungry for it. The integration dramatically expands or improves product functionality, and there is huge potential to generate new demand and achieve step-function growth. These also require the most strategic effort.
Goal: increase referral sessions to our website or signups from the campaign.
Retention-focused integrations: These are launches that will help retain existing users and/or meet the needs of a niche segment of our user base. Each side agrees on a plan to promote it to their respective audiences. Retention-focused integrations can be highly impactful, but aren’t newsworthy releases.
Goal: reduce churn or increase activation rates.
Here’s a list of deliverables we pick and choose from to build our launch plans, and some tips for how you can make them work for you.
Tell your story
Content: At the very least, every launch involves a blog post about the announcement. It might be a guest post swap with your partner, or maybe each side posts on their respective sites. Go above and beyond with a series of posts that show use cases, tips, and best practices to activate and inspire users.
Looking to go bigger? A product video, webinar, event, or some form of gated content are a few other demand-driving ways to promote a launch. These are also great post-launch co-marketing projects to take the partnership further.
PR: We reserve PR for high-growth launches that have a highly compelling story. It helps to have a mutual customer who is willing to go on record with reporters, original data points from a survey, or a really hot opportunity—like this Slack launch that landed in VentureBeat.
Paid Promotion: Paid promotion can be a great way to reach new audiences. The trick: define a specific target audience and craft an emotional message. We’ve seen great results with Facebook lookalike audiences by layering on criteria like location, age, and interests.
Message relevant users
Beta testing: We invite motivated customers to request early access to new integrations. This helps us gather feedback before the general launch. It also helps us identify customers to feature in the announcement. You can generate beta testing interest by creating a simple landing page like this one we did for our recent Heap launch:
Announcement Journey: It’s tempting to get into a “we have to tell everyone” mentality. But if you want better results, only message the people who are likely to care about your new integration. Plus, you’ll avoid frustrating other users with irrelevant updates. How do you do this?
Think about customer behaviors. What features do they use or actions do they take that might indicate interest in your new integration? Figure that out, then target those people with your announcement.
After we’ve identified those people, we typically send an email along with contextual Headsup message that links to the announcement blog, like we did with our Segment Sources launch:
Ongoing journeys: Not everyone is ready for an integration when it’s first announced. That’s why we keep our eye on the customer journey, and send relevant messages at moments when a customer is ripe for activation. We call these “product nudges.”
For example, after someone sets up their first Proactive Headsup message, we send an email to encourage them to connect other apps to Autopilot via Zapier.
Be there when they need you
Website: Most SaaS apps have integration directories or marketplace listings. Every new integration should have a dedicated landing page optimized for converting organic search traffic. Zapier has done this brilliantly.
Help Center documentation: We also make it easy for customers to self-serve by publishing clear support documentation. When done right, this lets users learn how to setup the integration, without interrupting your customer success team.
Release Notes: We keep a log of all product updates and new releases in our Product Blog. It’s linked from within our product, so users always have quick access to the latest info.
Our newest integration partner
“If you can stand on the shoulders of giants, you can get bigger, faster.”
Partner marketing has been a huge part of our growth trajectory at Autopilot, and we hope our inside process helps you develop your own growth strategy.
Remember: whether the aim of your partnership is growth or retention, the real win is the commitment from partners to promote to the people who will get the most value from it. This is the number one goal.
In case you haven’t seen it, the Autopilot + Typeform integration is already sitting in your Autopilot account. Go check it out.
And then ask yourself: who can you integrate with to power up your product, amplify your reach, and improve the lives of your customers?
Anne Fleshman is the Director of Marketing at Autopilot where she drives brand awareness. She’s also helping build a human claw machine for the upcoming Burning Man festival.