The Difference Between Email and Marketing Automation with Chris Davis

Sponsored by:

In my opinion, there’s nothing better than brainstorming ideas with a fellow Automator, and that’s exactly what today’s episode is all about. Chris L. Davis is a marking automation expert, and he’s done a few things that have wowed and inspired me. Today, we’re breaking down what exactly email automation is, and how everyone can leverage it to understand and grow their business. In the PRO show, we espouse our love for Airtable.

Top Takeaways

  • There’s a difference between email marketing and marketing automation. One is about list management. The other is about contact management. 
  • Use UTM tags! Never posting a naked URL in social media. You want to know how effective your various channels are so you can double down on the right one.
  • Chris has a FANTASTIC workflow for his webinars. Listen in to learn about it.

Show Notes


Joe Casabona: In my opinion, there’s nothing better than brainstorming ideas with a fellow automator. And that’s exactly what today’s episode is all about. Chris L. Davis is a marketing automation expert, and he’s done a few things that have wowed and inspired me. In fact, I changed my entire guest booking flow, thanks to Chris.

Today we’re breaking down what exactly email automation is and how everyone can leverage it to understand and grow their business. In the Pro show, we espouse our love for Airtable. So if you want to become a member and get ad-free extended versions of every episode, head on over to

Look for these top takeaways. There’s a difference between email marketing and marketing automation, so he breaks it down for us really well. The fact that you should use UTM codes and never post a naked URL because you want to know how effective your various channels are. And Chris also has a fantastic workflow for his webinars. I won’t spoil that here, you need to hear it from him.

So this was a fantastic episode. I’m really excited to share it with you. I’ll also be going on Chris’s show. If you want to check out the show notes for that episode, you can find all of them over But for now, let’s get to the intro and then the interview.

[00:01:31] <music>

Joe Casabona: Hey, everybody, and welcome to How I Built It, the podcast where you get free coaching calls from successful creators. Each week you get actionable advice on how you can build a better content business to increase revenue and establish yourself as an authority. I’m your host Joe Casabona. Now let’s get to it.

[00:01:54] <music>

Joe Casabona: All right, I am here with Chris L. Davis, founder of Automation Bridge. And I am stoked because we were introdu… Oh, my gosh. We were introduced formally, I think, a couple of months ago. But on my interview with Kronda Adair, she mentioned you and so I’ve been kind of in your orbit for a little while. Really excited to have you on the show, Chris. How are you doing?

Chris Davis: Doing great, Joe. Shout out to Kronda for introducing us. She is one of the most resourceful people and entrepreneurs that I know. And Joe, man, just thank you for having me. I’m really looking forward to our time together.

Joe Casabona: Absolutely. Likewise. When Kronda comes up, I always have to credit her because I stole the term “recovering WordPress developer” from her. So I always got to make sure to give credit where credit is due because that’s too good. It’s too good.

Now, Chris, you, as the name suggests, are an automation expert, specifically in email and marketing automation, is that right?

Chris Davis: Yeah, Yeah, that’s my domain. The nature of it, you just kind of learn all areas of your business. But that is where I made my success or… What do they say? Cut my teeth?

Joe Casabona: Yeah, cut my teeth.

Chris Davis: I don’t know how the saying goes but-

Joe Casabona: I say made my bones. I think that’s like a mafia term.

Chris Davis: There you go. Make my bones in marketing automation for tech startups. So that’s my sweet spot, my bread and butter. And then again, just becoming the influencer, you just have to learn, you know, just by necessity other areas and how automation can be applied to all operational areas of your business.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, absolutely. A new year path was… I got really good advice when I was 21 or 22 that I never took. And it was like, when you graduate, get a job at a company within your industry so you know how the industry works and you meet people and expand your network. And I was full of hubris, and I was like, “I don’t need to do that. I’ve been freelancing since 15 or 14 or whatever.” You took the right path, right? Because you worked for like ActiveCampaign for a while, right?

Chris Davis: Well, eventually. I started out at Lockheed Martin. I was an electrical engineer there for seven years. Maybe seven years. Joe, I enjoyed it the first two years, man. I really did. And then the last five was just like hell. This is what I said, Joe. I’m not lying to you. I said, “You know what? I have been following Pat Flynn and Brendon Burchard and all these internet marketers,” I said, “You know, those guys barely have degrees. I’m an engineer. Whatever they’re doing on this thing called the internet, I can do it. It can’t be that hard.”

So I started out my entrepreneur journey when I got fired from Lockheed Martin. I said, “Hey, well, I know how to code. Naturally, I will program websites. That’s what I’ll do.” I had no marketing chops, man. I did not understand how to like de-techify my language. So I’m talking to business owners and I’m, you know, we’re going to use this framework. At the time it was like Thesis or Genesis, which framework is the best in Hooks and HP and all of that. I’m like, “We’re going to use a framework so that we can hook certain snippets into areas so it’ll make your website a lot more stable and flexible and dah dah dah.” And I go down this whole rant of how beautiful this website is going to be. And they’re like, “Can my logo be in the middle at the top?” I’m just like, “What is wrong with people?”

But I didn’t know marketing, Joe. So I ended up getting a job at Leadpages after… I’m giving you the super abbreviated version. Lost all my money following these internet marketers thinking one day I’ll make it rich, one day one of these landing pages will turn into millions of dollars. It doesn’t work like that. And I realized I needed to learn marketing.

So I started working at Leadpages. There’s a whole story behind that. But that’s where I was able to take my engineering discipline, that just hard work ethic, you know, 10 hours a day type, heads down, figure it out. We used an Infusionsoft at the time, cracked the Infusionsoft code. They made money hand over foot 37 million. And then I said, “You know what? I think I’ll figure something out. Let me test it as any engineer would do. Let me try to break this thing.” So I took that same framework and said, “Let me go and apply it to as many businesses as possible.” And that’s what led me to the director of education at ActiveCampaign.

Joe Casabona: Nice. That’s so smart. You know, again, you’re in engineering, I have a degree in software engineering. I think the way that we think is really valuable as long as we get out of our own way, right? Because like same, right, we’re so excited about the implementation.

Chris Davis: Oh, man.

Joe Casabona: Oh, man. Look at all the whiz-bang stuff I’m going to do to make your site cool. And they’re like, “I don’t care as long as people fill out the form.”

Chris Davis: That’s it. That’s it.

Joe Casabona: I think that’s so interesting. I was the same way for a while. I was very like Field of Dreams marketing, like, “Oh, I built this thing and I know it’s the best thing, so people will buy it.” That’s not even remotely true, right?

Chris Davis: Yeah. Yeah.

Joe Casabona: It’s like you need to be able to market.

Chris Davis: That’s it, man. That’s it.

Joe Casabona: Along with learning marketing, this also kind of helped you build authority. You’re attached to ActiveCampaign, which is an email marketing platform. I’m saying this like I don’t know that’s the answer.

Chris Davis: Right. Right. It’s funny, Joe, because I didn’t even know what influencers were. I didn’t say it, so let me say it now. I am not from entrepreneur, small business, any type of that background. My dad worked at the electric company as a lineman, the power company as a lineman, my mother was a nurse. Humble beginnings, man. You know an exciting day was we get to go to McDonald’s or, you know, after church we don’t have to go home to eat, we can stop by KFC. These were the things that were really exciting to me.

So when I got into this space of entrepreneurship by way of internet marketing, I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know who was real, who was fake. I was just trying to figure out, at that time, Blogspot. Everybody their blog was on Blogspot and I’m just trying to figure out, how did they get that email form on the side of their website? You know, like I’m a baby man.

I witnessed thought leaders in authority, but I never thought of myself as one. And it wasn’t until I’m at Active… actually before ActiveCampaign, I was working at Leadpages, and I was starting to do some of the webinars and be a little more front-facing, which was terrifying, by the way. Just absolutely terrifying. There’s an entire story behind that. But they do me on a webinar and I’m talking… I’m going to share a little bit of it. Put me on my first webinar and I’m talking knees knock and I’m scared.

Bob, the teacher, he was on there. This is like nothing to Bob. He’s like, “Yeah, so and so.” So he’s calling out people’s names and he’s so conversational. I’m like, “What do I do? What do I say?” And afterwards, this lady was like, “I could listen to him read the phonebook.” And I was like, “I was that boring? Oh, my gosh.” You know, I just wanted to go crawl under a rock.

And Bob was like, “No, Chris, it’s the other way.”

Joe Casabona: It’s the other way around.

Chris Davis: She liked your voice. I was like, “I have a soothing voice?” These are things nobody ever told me. Of course, I’ve never talked in this capacity. So at Leadpages, what happened was I started my blog and I would blog about tech. Now, at that time, automation… Still there’s not a lot of marketing automation blogs even to this day that are not owned by software companies. So I’m one of the longest-standing individual, independent-owned blogs. But I would do that. And at that time, since nobody was doing it, I would get on the radar of these companies.

So ActiveCampaign was one of them. They would have me featured on their blog and they would ask me questions. “Hey, if there’s one feature we should add, what would it be?” And before you know it, Joe… Now, I’m still working at Leadpages. Before you know it, they’ve got my picture on their pricing page, and people are like, “If Chris said it, I’m going to do it.” And I’m like, “People are listening to me? What is happening in the world right now?” So that was kind of like my gateway into it.

And then by the time I got to active ActiveCampaign, one of the first things the CEO told, he said, “Hey, you know when we put you on the pricing page, our conversion rate shot up.” I was like, “Really? My face is that important?” That’s when it started to click like, “I think I may, you know, carry some weight in this space.”

So now I embrace it, man. I’m just trying to make sure that I’m a good steward of it, steer people in the right direction. And the biggest thing is helping them understand that, not the easy way, we’re not looking for anything to be easy, but the most straightforward approach to get the result, you know?

Joe Casabona: I like that. Because I think it’s something that people who are in our position, right, who are selling information products, we really want to tell people it’s going to be easy. Or like similar people, right? Like, “Oh, it’s so easy. Oh, you can make $1,000,000 in 12 months. Just do these things.” Well, no, it’s not that easy. I will never tell you it’s easy to launch and monetize a podcast. It’s not.

And I don’t want to undercut my hard work either. That’s like, Oh, yeah, I just did whatever. There’s no magic bullet.

Chris Davis: It’s true.

Joe Casabona: But we are here to make… I love what you said. It’s not easy, but we’ll make it straightforward. You’ll make it straightforward. I like that a lot.

Chris Davis: Yes.

Joe Casabona: So you leave… I didn’t mean for this to be like an origin story, but I feel like it really lends itself well-

Chris Davis: Just naturally, right?

Joe Casabona: Yeah. You leave ActiveCampaign. Is this when you start Automation Bridge?

Chris Davis: Yeah. I always know how long I’ve been running Automation Bridge by my youngest son’s age —and he’s 11. So the best thing that I did… What I learned when I lost my job at Lockheed Martin is I’ll never have a single source of income ever again. So I started out Automation Bridge. It started off as but you know, merged over when I figured out what I was doing. And I’ve been running it ever since.

So I ran it on the side at Leadpages. In that time you know tech startups were still kind of trying to figure out, do we want our employees having their own business or not? So it was real touchy. So there’s more like underground marketing there. But I had launched my mentorship program before I started at ActiveCampaign and it was a high-ticket program. So I got a nice little signing bonus from myself before I signed on. And I just kept Automation Bridge up the entire time. It’s been my baby. I don’t let it go, man. It’s been, yeah, 11 years. 11 years strong.

Joe Casabona: Nice, nice.

Chris Davis: So to answer your question, when ActiveCampaign gave me the boot, I just jumped in full-time, you know, because I’ve been laying bricks for like six years.

Joe Casabona: Awesome. That’s amazing. That’s funny. I started my full-time journey when my daughter was three months old. So I also know the age of my business based on her age. That’s risky, right, but it’s like feet to the fire sort of thing. I got a baby at home, I got to make money. This is real, real stakes.

Chris Davis: It is, man. And I’ll say this. For those who are looking at entrepreneurship and you’re looking at starting a family or taking care of a family, the best advice I’ll give you if you’re listening, do not listen or follow anything that you see online. There are maybe two people that I can point to and say they’re reputable that have a family, take care of their family and have a successful business and actually enjoy their spouse. It’s a rarity. And it’s a tough task. But as you mentioned, Joe, those kids, man, they… the family just in general just gives you a different level of motivation and fuel.

Joe Casabona: Yeah. This is such a trigger point for me because, you know, you see, again, all of these gurus and masters and experts telling you, Just do this. This was honest-to-God advice someone gave on LinkedIn recently. “If you want to get 10 hours of work done in 2 hours, wake up and start working within 30 minutes of waking up, don’t even shower.” And I’m like, What kind of idiot would take this advice? First of all, that was my first thought.

And then, I read the comments, people were like, “Great advice.” And I’m like, Okay, yeah. But then I thought, This person obviously does not have kids because let me te… I love my children, I’m lucky if I get to take a sip of my coffee before they wake up in the morning.

Chris Davis: Oh, man. Oh, man.

Joe Casabona: So all of this advice is for people without kids.

Chris Davis: Oh, man.

Joe Casabona: Tim Ferriss saying he stays productive because he meditates for 2 hours every morning, congratulations on owning your time. You know, I own my time from 8 o’clock to 3 p.m. After that, it’s my kids’ time.

Chris Davis: Yeah, man. And that’s a different ballgame, Joe. And that’s why I said it because there’s got to be at least one listener on here that’s feeling that pressure. And what happens is you start looking at everybody else. Like, “It just seems like they’re moving in and I’m not. What am I doing wrong? What do I not know?” The stakes are totally different. You can’t experiment. If your experiment doesn’t work, there’s no couch that only you and your bag of clothes are required to lay on. You got an entire family, a house. Sensitivity level is a lot lower, you know?

Joe Casabona: Right.

Chris Davis: So it’s an art man. It is an art doing this thing.

Joe Casabona: It’s an art.

Chris Davis: And responsibility.

Joe Casabona: And you need to remember that. Again, this advice that people are doling out are just like… I mean, look at Marie Kondo. Did you see that article about her recently?

Chris Davis: Mm-mm.

Joe Casabona: Marie Kondo, The KonMari Method, does it spark joy? Like how to get clutter out of your life

Chris Davis: Yeah, yeah.

Joe Casabona: They followed up with her now that she has three kids and she says, “I’ve abandoned that method.” Because of course you have.

Chris Davis: Of course, you have.

Joe Casabona: You have three small children, your life is all clutter. And that’s fine.

Chris Davis: Change of the game.

Joe Casabona: Right? I look at our playroom and I think for like half a second, “I really wish this was clean.” But then I think, “You know, my kids had a blast in here today, so it’s fine.”

Chris Davis: It’s the thought that passes through and then on to the next thing. Okay.

Joe Casabona: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. Right. Really I want to double down on Chris’s advice here is what I’m saying. All right, let’s talk automation because email automation I am, I would say, a professional automator. I automate things that nobody should automate just for funsies, right?

Chris Davis: Yes.

Joe Casabona: Email automation, though, is something that scares me a little bit because I feel like you’re playing with live ammo. Like there’s no dev environment for your email automations. Yeah, you could just put yourself through the automation and you can like shorten the amount of time and stuff like that, but again, like you’re playing with your live list.

I have accidentally sent people through automations and sequences. They’re like, “I’m getting four emails right now.” And I’m like, “Oh, gah, I didn’t mean that. Sorry.” So I guess my first question is, let’s start with the very basics, what do you consider email and marketing automation? Is it just sending people emails and updates? What is it?

Chris Davis: I see them in three tiers. I see email marketing, then email marketing automation, then marketing automation. Email marketing is your traditional list-based platform that sends emails to the entire list. That’s the purpose of it. If you’re a little savvy, maybe you could segment on that list. And it’ll tell you segment, but it’s not really built for that. It’s built for you to have multiple lists, add people to the list and send emails. Platforms like MailChimp, Constant Contact… there is one more that I was thinking of. But anyway-

Joe Casabona: Beehive? Have you tried Beehive? That’s like all the rage lately.

Chris Davis: Oh, I have not.

Joe Casabona: That feels like MailChimp since MailChimp got acquired.

Chris Davis: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I was late to the game understanding MailChimp got acquired. But, you know, when MailChimp was first coming out in Constant Contact, that was it, man. You had list. There was no automation between the lists. There was none of that.

So we go into email marketing automation and we start to see that now I can move contacts between lists. I can do stuff to contacts on that list. Like if they’re on this list receiving these emails and they end up opting in on another list, I can stop, I can stop them from receiving emails from the other list. And it has evolved even more to where you can start tagging people in automations.

Email marketing automation platforms like ConvertKit will now have a visual builder, so you can see the flows. And I’ll put MailChimp in there too. So most Email marketing platforms of old are currently email marketing automation platforms.

Joe Casabona: Right. Drip kind of came out and then they had to play catch up to dress it.

Chris Davis: Right. And the thing is this. The thing about both of those types of platforms is everything revolves around email. We haven’t introduced omnichannel. We haven’t introduced anything else. They exist to send an email. Everything else is optional.

So then we go into marketing automation. And what you’ll see with marketing automation is the introduction to contact management. Similar to a CRM. I avoid saying CRM because a lot of times when I say that people’s mind goes in ten different areas.

Joe Casabona: They think like Salesforce or whatever, Pipelines, whatever.

Chris Davis: I’m like a CRM is a contact relationship management software. Anything can be a CRM. It’s an acronym.

Joe Casabona: Mine’s Airtable. Right.

Chris Davis: Yeah.

Joe Casabona: We have a shared love of Airtable. I forgot about that.

Chris Davis: Oh my gosh. Airtable needs to send me a T-shirt. One day I’ll get one. So you have marketing automation. It introduces the ability to manage your contacts separately from the list. Before, when we’re talking about email marketing, email marketing automation, we’re still list-based, Joe. Though I’ve got some dynamic movement because I’ve got some automation, I’m still list-based.

So now true marketing automation platforms break that requirement. They may offer it, but it’s not required. So you look at ActiveCampaign, they have list, but you can function with one list into all your segments and automations outside of that. Keep doesn’t even have list. Entrepot doesn’t even have less. HubSpot has list… they’re smart list, but they’re not required for you to send them in the way that email marketing platforms are.

So when you see that, you start to see that, “Oh, I can now manage my contact independent of the list. Now that introduces a whole new realm of possibilities because this contact that was once tied down ball and chain to a list is free. Flapping its wings. “Hey send me to an automation.” Oh, don’t want to do that?” “Go ahead and give me a tag.” Oh, want to update my custom fields? Go ahead and do that.” “Oh, you got an API you want to send me to? All right, send me over there. I’ll bring back the data.” “Where do you want me to put it?” “I’ll put it in a custom field. Matter of fact, what about events? You want to track all the events that I did?” Like it just opens the game up, man. That’s why I fell in love with it, because I’m like, “Oh, my gosh, the possibilities are endless.”

So that’s really the trajectory most businesses… I’ll be honest with you, Joe, most businesses still to this day just need email marketing and a little bit of automation. So like when I was that ActiveCampaign and I’m looking at these accounts and seeing what people are doing, it’s a whole bunch of automations to do a basic autoresponder with a goal to stop emails once a person takes an action.

Joe Casabona: Yeah.

Chris Davis: That’s what it is. Now, I love the other 20% that actually have some use cases that require a little more creativity and acumen to pull it off. But, you know, for the regular market, it still is not up to the market place acumen of the small business owner, is nowhere near the flexibility and possibilities provided by the marketing automation software yet.

Joe Casabona: So this is interesting. I think email marketing automation is, like you said, pretty understood by small business owners and creators. Someone signs up for one of your opt-ins, you can tag them based on that opt-in, you can send them to your welcome sequence, and then through educational sequence based on that tag, right?

Chris Davis: Yeah.

Joe Casabona: This is what I have. Someone signs up for a form and then they go through my welcome sequence no matter what. And then once I tag them as confirmed, then I send them to my sorting hat. I call it the sorting hat where I ask them like, “Where are you in your podcast journey?” And I send them an email sequence based on that with a soft sell for my Podcast Mastery program at the end.

Chris Davis: Yeah, Yeah. In that case, what you just said, Joe, you’re on the advanced end of email marketing automation. You’re tapping on marketing automation. You do a couple more things and it’s like, “Oh, can’t use this platform anymore, I gotta upgrade.”

Joe Casabona: This is the interesting thing for me. In my head it’s something like I have someone signs up to my list now they kind of become like a subscriber ID that can be universally applied, right? Oh, well, this subscriber, I know they’re on LinkedIn here. If I send them a message on LinkedIn and they respond, maybe I can update that somehow or I can send… If they click on an ad over here on Facebook, I’ll somehow know that. Am I in the right ballpark for marketing automation there, or am I missing some key piece?

Chris Davis: I don’t know, you’re there, right? Because now I’m storing more information. Here’s what’s very interesting because… And once I say it, people start to be able to see it. But until I say it, you’re like, “Oh, I never saw that.” If you think about just how contact custom fields are managed, a lot of email marketing automation platforms don’t even handle custom fields to the point… when you look at some of these integrations, you can’t populate custom fields beyond the basic ones.

Joe Casabona: I’m going to just interject here and like… This is one of my great complaints about ConvertKit. Like they have custom fields and you can add custom fields-

Chris Davis: There you go.

Joe Casabona: …and that’s amazing. And then like you can’t do half the things with custom fields that you can do with tags.

Chris Davis: Yes. Why are you giving them to me? But I get it because you’re not a true content management platform. You’re just everything based on the list. And if everything is based on the list, all they really need for that list to exist, that contact to exist on the list is the email. So is really still all around the email address and sending email.

So to your point, Joe, when you start wanting to do attribution, and storing UTM variables on the contact record so that you can refer to that and start to customize the journey. You go on here, and not tiptoed, but leaped. You’ve leaped into marketing automation from the little bitty kiddy pool. We say email marketing is the kiddy pool and then email marketing automation maybe it’s the five-foot-deep pool for shorter individuals, maybe it’s up to your neck and you get a little nervous. But marketing automation, that’s the deep end. That’s 20 feet more. Nobody feet is touching the ground. You better learn to swim.

Joe Casabona: Oh, I love that. That makes so much sense. And you’re right. I don’t feel like I’m doing it super well, but I feel like I’m… What I would really just love is knowing what web page, the form that was filled out is embedded on.

Chris Davis: Right?

Joe Casabona: Like you know ConvertKit, you know this information, your JavaScript is included on that page. Just capture the URL.

Chris Davis: And this is why it doesn’t make sense for ConvertKit because they even cookie the device so that they know if you’ve opted in before. They give you the option on the form if they’ve already opted in to send them somewhere else.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Chris Davis: So it’s like, why don’t you give me that? But again now it’s… you know what it is… This is going to be terrible but I’m gonna say it anyway. Maybe somebody will get a kick out of it. In my younger years, Joe, in my younger years-

Joe Casabona: Back when we were young men and knew everything?

Chris Davis: Right, back when we were young men and knew everything, I dated a young lady and usually you hear that the woman is out of the guy’s league. Well, this had flipped and I was clearly out of her league. But I had, will say, a vain pursuit. Everybody else is like, “Oh, my gosh, she looks so great.” And I said, “Okay, if that’s going to impress you guys, I’m going to talk to her.” And I talked to her and all the while I was trying to make her into something that she was not. She was not very intelligent. She was just not that type of person. So I tried, Joe, and I tried to do it in a nice way and I tried to teach and say, hey, say this when I do that. When I go here, do… It just doesn’t work, man.

And that’s what happens with these platforms. You try. You try to make them… I was trying to make her into somebody that she just wasn’t. And at the end of the day, she walks away hurt, I walk away hurt. It’s a lose-lose. And that’s what happens with these platforms, too. We try to make them… It’s like you see it, though, right? You’re like, “You know what? If you could just do this. If you could just… And they can’t because they’re like, “I’m sorry, I wasn’t built to do that,” you know?

Joe Casabona: Right. When I moved from MailChimp to ConvertKit in 2018, it was great. I was like, “Wow, I know so much more about my subscribers now.” And like I love ConvertKit, I’m not ready to switch yet, but I feel like lately there are more limitations that I’m running into based on what I’m trying to do in my [inaudible 00:31:15].

Chris Davis: Yeah, for me custom fields would be… I mean that’s the absolute deal breaker. There’s so much data that I store in custom fields. But let me say this, Joe. I started out on Aweber. That was the other tool that I was thinking about email marketing. I started out on AWeber and I migrated from AWeber to GetResponse at a day and age when nobody knew what GetResponse was. It was my first time, Joe, breaking from the herd. I was in Jeff Walker’s Product Launch Formula and all they talked about was AWeber. There was a few Infusionsoft users, but AWeber, AWeber, AWeber. And here I am assessing tech, the same thing that I do to this day. And I was like, “Actually, everything that I want to do, GetResponse can do out the box.

I was using all these plugins for AWeber to do less automation and all of that. Really what I was looking for, didn’t have the words at the time, was I’m looking for email marketing automation platform. So that was GetResponse. GetResponse allowed you to do dynamic segmentation. This was like ten years ago, Joe. Nobody knew about this. Dynamic segmentation, automation between lists. I was in heaven. I was like, “Oh my gosh, I can finally move the way that I want to move.” So I think that experience is similar to what you’re having with ConvertKit, you know?

Joe Casabona: Yeah, yeah. You know, I’m going to Craft & Commerce. Actually by the time this episode comes out… I’m going to Craft & Commerce in a couple of weeks as this episode comes out. But as you can imagine, I’m pretty open with my opinions. I’m a candid person. So I’m sure they’ll have a feedback session there. And I’m going to offer this feedback again, like constantly. I love ConvertKit, but I am worried I’m running up against… I would just hate to migrate my members again. I feel like I move them like every year.

Chris Davis: Yeah, it’s tough, man. It’s tough. I’ll say this, Joe, you mentioned it. One of the things that I love to do is pre-populate hidden fields on a form. It’s interesting you said the URL because I have a script that was written for me many years ago that just continues to work on every single platform. Or I’ll know how to do it native in the app that I’m using. But I always captured the URL that the opt-in came in from. And then I always create UTM custom fields. If there’s UTM in there, I’ll place those values in the UTM field as well. It’s redundancy because Joe, I captured the entire URL. So I see what’s in there.

Joe Casabona: You got all that.

Chris Davis: But I also store it in a custom field, it’s cleaner and I can do some reporting and run some attribution to it.

Joe Casabona: Yeah. Huh, you know, what’s super interesting is you can add custom fields in ConvertKit, you can’t make them hidden and you probably would need some Java Sc… I would need some JavaScript. I would need some code to hide that field and then grab the URL. You know, again, my coding background, I could do that.

Chris Davis: You could do it, right?

Joe Casabona: Yeah. I don’t feel like I should have to do that.

Chris Davis: You shouldn’t. It should just be an option. Now, I’ll say this. I’ll say this. There is a workaround. If you’re using Elementor some other web forms software, as long as the integration with ConvertKit allows them to see the custom fields, you can use them to create your hidden fields and sync them up that way. So there’s ways around it.

Joe Casabona: Can I tell you an automation horror story?

Chris Davis: Yes. Yes. I was doing that with Cadence. I was using Cadence Pro and they had the mailing list block or the form block, and they have a ConvertKit integration. I’m sorry, they had a Zapier. They had a Zapier integration. And I was like, “Oh, this is great. I can send the form with a hidden field with the URL to Zapier and then Zapier can send that to ConvertKit.” And I built the form, it looked great, it worked great and then I forgot to turn the zap on for like a month.

I wasn’t getting that many sign-ups daily anyway. So like a few days go by and no one signs up and I’m like, “Man, nobody wants my opt-ins.” And then like two weeks go by and I’m like, “Man, nobody wants my opt-in.” Then Thanksgiving happens, and then at the beginning of the summer, I’m like, “No one has signed up for my list in a month? That’s kind of weird.” And then I saw that. Of course, I didn’t use Gravity Forms or Ninja Forms, which would store the entries in WordPress.

Chris Davis: That’s right. Yes, you could at least just do it manually.

Joe Casabona: It was lost in the ether forever.

Chris Davis: Oh, man. It is a horror story. Any time you lose data, I… Oh, I lose sleep. I will lose sleep. It’s like, man.

Joe Casabona: Then I was like, You know what? I’ll always use the native ConvertKit forms because those will be the ones that work the most reliably.

Chris Davis: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I don’t think I integrate any form through Zapier anymore or Make or whatever. I need direct integration with my CRM software or marketing automation platforms.

Joe Casabona: Actually, let’s dig into that. Because again, you’re an automator, I’m an automator. I love Make. I moved from Zapier to make. Quick soapbox moment again, right? Because I’m saving like $65 a month.

Chris Davis: Easily.

Joe Casabona: Easily. I said this and someone was like, “Well, it’s worth the money to just stay on Zapier so I don’t have to learn Make.” And I want to be like, Man, I get your time is worth money, but no one became insanely wealthy by just wasting money. Like no one is wealthy by wasting money.” I feel like if you can do everything you need to do and Make, which I could, I was just wasting money with Zapier.

Chris Davis: Yeah. I hate the name Make, not because it’s a terrible name, but because I can’t ever search-

Joe Casabona: It’s so hard to google stuff.

Chris Davis: …online for anything because Google thinks I’m using the word “make” as in-

Joe Casabona: As a verb.

Chris Davis: …the way it’s used for, right? A verb. So I always use Integromat. Hopefully, that will work forever. I’ll say this. I’m on Zapier… Well, I have all three. I’m an automator, so I’m going to have multiple tools to do things. But I’ve got a legacy account with Zapier that came from early ActiveCampaign days.

And what happened with ActiveCampaign, how they really were penetrating the market was through a strategic partnership with Zapier before Zapier was its own platform. Well, Joe, you sign up for ActiveCampaign account and you get a free Zapier account.

Joe Casabona: Wow.

Chris Davis: So when Zapier was like, “Look, we don’t need you ActiveCampaign, we’re our own person, we’re our own man, we’re standing on our own two, it honored all of those accounts and just grandfathered them into like… I get like 15 zaps and maybe 2,000 or 5,000 tasks a month at no charge.

Joe Casabona: Oh, wow.

Chris Davis: So when I tell you zap management is real, I’m always looking like, do I really need to zap? And now that you have Make in [public?], I’m like, Okay, if I can do it in those platforms, I’ll do it in those platforms because I only use Zapier now for tools that don’t integrate with Make. You get what I’m saying?

Joe Casabona: Yeah. Right. I was looking at webinar software recently and I was like, “It has to integrate… It either has to directly integrate… well, it has to directly integrate with ConvertKit.” I would like it to integrate with Make, but if it doesn’t integrate with Make, integrating with Zapier is fine. LiveWebinar is one I found that currently has an AppSumo deal, so I’m suss about it. But I made a little matrix and scored all of them.

Chris Davis: Stop it, Joe. Get out of my life.

Joe Casabona: And LiveWebinar like scored the highest. So I’m like, “Oh, maybe they’re trying to get acquired and they’re trying to get as many users as possible for the acquisition.”

Chris Davis: Yeah, I got to say this. So I do matrix and truth tables all the time because it’s the only way that I can objectively look at the software. Right?

Joe Casabona: Yeah, for sure.

Chris Davis: And it’s a test. Joe, it’s really a test of do you know what you value or do you know what you’re looking for in a software? So if you don’t, anything looks good. The starving man buys a cracker and it tastes like filet mignon. I tell people all the time there’s one time I was so hungry, I went to the grocery store and I saw pickled flavored ice cream. Now, who in their right mind would make that, is the first question. Second is who in their right mind would think that it would actually be good? Me. Take me to the grocery store hungry enough, I’ll buy anything.

Joe Casabona: Well, that was good.

Chris Davis: And that’s what happens, you know, in the same aspect. It’s like if I don’t have anything, I’ll take whatever you give me. Just give me something.

Joe Casabona: You have a free plan? I’ll try it or whatever. Right now I’m kind of doing things with rubber bands and duct tape. I’m still doing monthly webinars, but I am creating the landing page in ConvertKit and then I’m scheduling the reminder emails myself and I’m using I think it’s to create a calendar invite.

Chris Davis: Okay. I can see that.

Joe Casabona: You know, it’s fine. And like I use YouTube to stream and then I make the stream private 48 hours later or the unlisted or whatever. But it’s like, you know, at some point I would like a real solution. I’d like to maybe run an evergreen webinar sort of thing.

Chris Davis: Yeah, yeah, yeah, absolutely. Joe, man, I hate to cut you off. I mean to because I’m excited to, but I won’t make a habit of it.

Joe Casabona: Hey, you’re the guest. This is your time yet.

Chris Davis: Two things I want to share with you. This is hilarious because I’m going the opposite way. But first and foremost is I do have a horror story that I’ll share. You talked about creating the calendar event and all of that. So I do that through Zapier when I was running my webinars. I create the calendar event on my calendar, and then when they opt-in, the zap adds their email address as an attendee to that event, right?

Joe Casabona: Oh, yeah.

Chris Davis: So now is automatically on their calendar just like that, and they don’t have to do anything.

Joe Casabona: Right.

Chris Davis: Well, that works great. And many people don’t know you can do it. Probably somebody my listener right now got a light bulb.

Joe Casabona: I just got a light bulb.

Chris Davis: Let me help you not do this. There is a setting in Google that says, Show all attendees the attendee list.

Joe Casabona: Oh.

Chris Davis: I forgot to uncheck that. So no harm, no foul. I mean, my webinars filling up and I get this email and they were like, “I’m pretty sure you don’t want everybody seeing who’s registered for this webinar. I’m like, What are they talking about?” And I was like, “Oh, no, don’t worry, they can’t see. It just goes into my software.” And they sent me the screenshot and they literally saw everybody’s email address. And I’m like, “Oh my gosh, what went wrong?” It was their setting.

So if you do that, make sure you click that setting so that everybody else cannot see the email. So that was my horror story. I felt terrible. Not only does it show people who you don’t know how many people are registered. Thankfully, I had quite a few people register, but also people are so slimy. You can easily swipe those emails and start… And maybe they did. I don’t know. Hopefully, they didn’t. That person was the only one that found it, so maybe the other ones did not.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, right. Yeah. Because like how many people are doing that, right?

Chris Davis: Yeah. And then how many people know tech enough to know like, “Oh, wait a minute, everybody else can see it.” Thankfully I’ve got a bunch of nerds on my list that are just looking for holes in my system. So that was one thing. And then the second is this. So Joe, watch this. This is regarding webinars.

I’m literally going the opposite direction because I have used a bona fide webinar platforms. I’ve got an evergreen webinar running as we speak, which is being great, by the way. I’ve had a webinar for at least ten years now, so you won’t catch me without one. Here’s what I learned. I actually don’t like any of the platforms I’ve used them all from GoTo Webinar to WebinarJam, Easy Webinar, Demio… What is it? Ninja something?

Joe Casabona: Yeah, Webinar Ninja.

Chris Davis: All of them, man. And what happened is they all do a job where you can register and then send a follow-up if somebody’s attended or not. So basic stuff, right? Great. Most people like doing that, so good job. But I’m an automator. Joe, I want full control, man. This is why I use WordPress and nothing else. I want full control of my experience.

So there’s a plug-in that you’re familiar with that maybe your listeners haven’t heard of called WP Fusion. And let me tell you, one of the best marriages that nobody’s talking about online right now is WP Fusion and Presto Player. Joe, watch this. I can, with the power of Presto Player integration with WP Fusion or WP Fusion’s integration with Presto Player, I don’t know, I can now tag people based on how much of a video they watch. Okay? Right?

So now I’m like, “Wait a minute. I know exactly at what point I’ve made my pitch, what point I’ve done this, done that. I can get so granular not even to the point of marketing, but just understanding who’s leaving and when will let me know how my webinars have performed. No platform would do that.Not one. Not a single platform would do that. I can literally add tags every 5 minutes if I wanted to. I would never do that. But I’ve got enough. I’ve got attended because the first 5 minutes I do like the welcome. So if you left during the welcome, you didn’t attend the webinar because you didn’t really see anything. So my attendee tag doesn’t get applied until like 5 minutes in.

Joe Casabona: Oh my God.

Chris Davis: And then 20 minutes in I know that I’ve done like my foundational framework. I’ve laid that down. So 20 minutes in, they get the tag, they know my framework. Another 10 minutes in, they’ve seen the pitch. Once the pitch ends, they’ve attended the full webinar. That is done with no Zapier, no anything, just natively a video wrapped in Presto Player integrated with WP Fusion.

So what did I do? What did I do, Joe? I say, forget all of this evergreen software. I can, with the power of WP Fusion, when someone registers, can put a link in the email that auto logs them in when they click the link. The auto log-in, they may not know it, but the auto log-in now, you’re a known user, and all of those tags are applied to your contact record as you’re watching this video.

Now, another thing that I do, I’ll put a countdown timer on there and say, Hey, this on-demand—I call it on-demand instead of evergreen—on demand is available for the next 36 hours, whatever. When that countdown expires, it redirects to another page. Joe, that version of my evergreen webinar versus like my Demio and everything else, ten times, ten times better.

And lastly, what I do is, once it’s done, I just have a Slack notification ping me and let me know exactly what they did. They attended, they saw the pitch, they this, they that, and here’s automation that they’re entering in. It’s beautiful, man.

Joe Casabona: Dang!

Chris Davis: And I’m not using any of the software. None of the webinar software. Because that was a limitation that I found it just really didn’t give me what I really wanted to know. But let me say this. I’m in the top 10%, maybe the top 3%, right? I’m comfortable figuring all of that out and doing it, setting it up once and that’s it. So yeah, man.

On the live webinar side, I learned how to embed a YouTube video, your YouTube live video. And I didn’t know that you could also embed the chat on your website. So there’s no need to even send them to YouTube anymore. I put them in Presto Player as a wrapper because it would take away that YouTube logo so they can’t click on it and go to YouTube. And now they’re on my website and I’m tracking everything that they’re doing and I’m in full control. I’m a control freak, everyone, when it comes to my technology. I gladly admit it. I know it. If I don’t have control, I may not use it all. You get what I’m saying?

Joe Casabona: Yeah, yeah.

Chris Davis: When I’m consulting or if someone were to bring me on and say, “Hey, can you build out a webinar funnel?” Joe, I’m going to take the software that’s on the shelf because you’re marketing isn’t even mature to respect what I can really do with it. But for me and my house, oh yeah, oh yeah, we’re going to automate this thing.

Joe Casabona: Oh I love that. I mean, I tell people the same thing. Like, I use WordPress, but you don’t need WordPress. Like you can use whatever.

Chris Davis: Right. Your needs are so basic, just use anything.

Joe Casabona: But like, man. I really underestimated WP Fusion.

Chris Davis: Oh my gosh.

Joe Casabona: Because I was using the Automator plugin, the WordPress Automator plugin. But man. Do they integrate with their…?

Chris Davis: They integrate with everything.

Joe Casabona: Their logo for their integrations is all messed up. I’m seeing like multiple versions of it.

Chris Davis: Oh, really?

Joe Casabona: Looks like they have like a Sprite probably for like retina screens and I’m just seeing the full logo. Oh, there we go. ConvertKit is just like con. So I could use this… First of all, they have a lifetime deal. Both them and Presto Player have a lifetime deal.

Chris Davis: And I got both.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, that makes perfect sense. It’s like 350 bucks for one year or 999 bucks forever.

Chris Davis: Forever.

Joe Casabona: And they integrate with ConvertKit. So you tag your users, send the tags over.

Chris Davis: There you go.

Joe Casabona: Or convert them to custom fields with automat… you have to build out an automation which I guess has-

Chris Davis: Well, watch this. I’m glad you said custom fields because… So I have an academy built on WordPress and use LearnDash for the courses, WP for the access provisioning. And what I like to do in my academy, my logged-in experience is I go by the rule: if I know the information, let me never ask for it again.

So, Joe, I know your name. I should never ask what your first name is ever. And I used that motto. That’s one of the ways that I operate. It’s called progressive profiling in sales and technology. That’s the official term. But I’m always doing that. So what I found is that using platforms like Gravity Forms and all that, it’s a little technical. But storing that metadata, storing the Gravity Forms into the database under the meta, I can refer to that data.

So if they filled out a form with answer, my shirt is medium and this is my address,” and I know how to use the meta key stored in the database and then use Gravity Forms as the default value is the meta value. When they come back to that form, it’s already pre-populated with what they said prior. This is amazing for worksheets.

If anybody has worksheets with their course, I build all my worksheets in Gravity Forms and whatever they do, it always saves for them, right? But that’s not even the kicker. Let me whet your whistle a little bit. With WP Fusion, what happens is, Joe, you can connect custom fields in your CRM to metadata in WordPress. So whenever that form gets filled out, you can literally check a box to say, Whenever there’s a value in here, send it over to ConvertKit. I’m not assuming ConvertKit. I know I can send it over to ActiveCampaign.

So now, Joe, do you understand how dangerous I can get with my marketing? You’re logged in, you’re filling out worksheets, you’re providing all type of information. I don’t need all of it in my CRM. But when I get to the point where you’ve given me some really juicy stuff and I’ve already preplanned, the box is checked, that data goes over, pushes out to my CRM, and now I have it in my CRM to take action. This is why I have to use custom fields because it’s just such juicy data that I can get from a logged-in experience.

Joe Casabona: Oh, that’s amazing. We’ve been talking for so long. We just got like super heady. I love it. Let’s bring it back and close here. If someone wants to start, they’re like, “I’m not even capturing any data. What do I do?” what do you recommend for like steps zero one and two?

Chris Davis: I feel like Google got this right, they just got their analytics platform wrong. Google Analytics is super complicated for no reason. There’s a bunch of people that love other analytics. But the thing that they got right about analytics is UTMs. I highly recommend, highly recommend that everybody start using UTM values.

The first place is in your email marketing software. There’s usually a checkbox that says, use your URL parameters or Google Analytics. You just check it and it will put all of that information in there. That’s your first lesson. That’s your first kind of like rep to start to build this muscle.

Next, and actually in my membership community, I just gave away this Airtable database as a… Every month I give away automation but this Airtable database will create your UTMs for you. So you put your base URL in there and say, okay the source is YouTube or the medium is YouTube, the source is whatever, and then it will create that final link for you.

So when you’re on social media, there’s no reason why you should be putting a naked URL that drives directly to your website on social media. Because you want to be able to at least look in Google Analytics, go under… I don’t know what it is now, but look at the UTMs and see, Oh, look at how much traffic I’m getting from LinkedIn. And you can get specific to the UTM content and all that to know exactly which post. How else are you going to know what’s actually driving people and visitors to your website?

So that’s where I would start in terms… because it’s something easy and once it’s learned and once you put those links in place, it’s automation for you. Now, later on, you can learn how to grab those values, put them in custom fields and all of that, but at least start doing that.

Joe Casabona: I like that. I use for my short links.

Chris Davis: I use them too.

Joe Casabona: Great. One of the few AppSumo deals that I actually use and get value from.

Chris Davis: Yes. Yes.

Joe Casabona: And they make it really easy. Like you put in a URL and then they have a box right above the create link where it’s like, Do you want to use UTM codes?

Chris Davis: Yeah.

Joe Casabona: Like they’ll give you a little form too. Airtable database sounds amazing.

Chris Davis: Oh, yeah.

Joe Casabona: I’m thinking, for a few minutes, in the members-only, in the Pro show, can we chat about Airtable?

Chris Davis: Absolutely, man. Absolutely.

Joe Casabona: Awesome. Well, Chris, this has been great. We’ll continue the conversation in How I Built It Pro about Airtable. So if you want to hear that, head over to It is five bucks a month or 50 bucks a year and you get ad-free extended versions of every episode and you get an automation Friday newsletter only for members.

Chris Davis: Beautiful.

Joe Casabona: So, five bucks. I paid more than that for a coffee the other day. But Chris, this has been great. Where can people learn more about you? Where can they check out your program and see what you’re up to?

Chris Davis: So if you are listening to this and you’re just like, you know what? He went deep. I got overwhelmed, oh, my gosh but I’m excited about the possibilities,” I did this because Joe is techie, I’m techie. I just wanted to, you know, meet you all where you’re at. But most people are novices and beginners, even if they’re technical when it comes to marketing automation.

So I’ve got a five-point automation checklist. This is the easiest read and automation you’ll have, and it will at least get you started with something that you can print out and keep in front of you when you start to build out automations. It’s one of the most valuable, easy-to-consume, and used resources. And that’s at

Joe Casabona: All right.

Chris Davis: So you put that in there. Shout out to Joe for having me on. Listen, everyone, by the time this is out you put that link in, it’s going to… I want you all to pay attention to the URL, you’ll see a UTM in there.

Joe Casabona: I love it.

Chris Davis: So I practice what I preach. So yeah, you can go there. And if you want to contact me or anything, just respond to one of the autoresponder emails, there’ll be an opportunity for you to join the community and membership and all of that. So that’s the best place.

Joe Casabona: Love that. I will include that and everything we talked about over in the show notes, which you can find it in the description of this episode or over at You can also become a pro member over there. And we’re about to talk about Airtable, so that’s awesome. Chris, thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it.

Chris Davis: Yes, thank you for having me, Joe.

Joe Casabona: And thank you for listening. Thanks to our sponsors. And until next time, get out there and build something.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *