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Infusionsoft's #ICON14 Shows Why Passion for Small Business Fuels Marketing Automation Platform

A few weeks ago Infusionsoft held their annual user conference, called ICON 14.  Back in 2008 I had the pleasure of being one of the speakers at (I believe) the second user conference, which had a couple hundred folks in attendance.  But this year, somewhere between 2,500-3,000 small business owners traveled to Phoenix to participate in the conference.

This isn’t a detailed look at the conference, but more about what I think it signifies. But you can check out a few of the better recaps from the list below:

infusionsoft logoWhile the event has grown in size and scope (and had great keynote speeches from the likes of Seth Godin, Simon Sinek, Peter Shankman and a host of Infusionsoft customers), one thing that hasn’t changed is the passion on display by the small business attendees.  There was plenty of passion from the hundreds of folks in 2008.  But just imagine the same level of passion per individual, multiplied by 10X people in attendance. 

Interestingly enough, the number of folks attending ICON isn’t the only thing that’s grown 10X since 2008.  The number of Infusionsoft employees has grown about that much as well, to over five hundred.  And they are every bit as passionate as their customers attending the event.

This recurring theme of small business, Infusionsoft and passion can also be found in the company’s soon-to-be released small business study, comprised of 850 small business owners – half of which are Infusionsoft customers.  One of the key findings coming from the survey was 34% of InfusionSoft customers said the best thing about owning their business is “they love their work and their customers”.  This compares to only 15% of the non-Infusionsoft customers who participated in the survey.

Passion for Small Business Continues to Drive InfusionSoft

When I first became aware of Infusionsoft in late 2006, they were laser-focused on building a platform to help small businesses automate their marketing processes.  Not the definition of small business used by large software vendors who say “up to 500 employees” or $50 million in revenue defines it.  But, businesses with fewer than 25 employees are where founders Clate Mask, Scott Martineau and the gang out there placed a stake in the ground in 2001.  And in 2014 – even as they’ve grown themselves way past their own definition of what a small business is, that stake is still firmly standing in its place. 

Despite all the action at the top of the marketing automation market - and how tempting it must be to take the well-worn path most vendors do in swimming upstream to get the bigger deals that come with midmarket/enterprise customers – InfusionSoft’s commitment to what they call “true” small businesses was reaffirmed at ICON 14.  In fact, Mask pulled a Clark Gable on stage and said he really doesn’t give a “darn” about the enterprise, and that InfusionSoft will always focus on very small businesses – which drove the audience to give him a big round of applause.  And beyond the applause, it’s Infusionsoft’s continued dedication to small businesses that has aroused the passions of their community of customers and driven the growth of a loyal customer base.

At their corporate headquarters, banners hang with the following numbers highlighted:

  • 2011 – 8,000 Customers
  • 2012 – 12,000 Customers
  • 2013 – 23,000 Customers

And here are a few other numbers to consider:

  • 31K automated campaigns installed in 2013
  • 90K business cards scanned
  • 6K downloads of the recently released mobile app (as of 4/22/2014)
  • 93M contacts added in the past year
  • Sent over 100M emails in the past week
  • 1.8M leads generated with GroSocial (social media marketing platform last year) in 2013

These numbers illustrate something that goes beyond passion. It shows that Infusionsoft has a good handle on what very small businesses need from a marketing automation platform.  The application isn’t a retrofit built from a system meant for larger organizations; it’s built from the ground up for the under-25 employee market – specifically hitting the mark with companies with 2-5 employees.  And while it’s still a powerful, complex system which calls for a good amount of experience to get the most from it, it is much easier to use today than it was a couple of years ago.  

Its acquisitions of GroSocial and CustomerHub help small businesses with social media marketing and membership management, respectively, and have also enabled InfusionSoft to provide true small businesses with an integrated platform they can build their companies on. 

Why They Could Become the Small Business Champion

What makes Infusionsoft compelling is something that came out of the research they’ll be releasing shortly.  I can’t give out any numbers, but let’s just say that a substantial percentage of respondents are small by choice – very small.  And according to the survey, many of these micro-businesses are driven by owners who value personal freedom more than they value growing into a big business. 

Even as Infusionsoft itself grows into a large enterprise, their foundation has been set to focus on this audience of customers.  In fact 50% of their current employees also run their own small businesses, which helps to keep the company in touch with the evolving needs of the true small businesses over time. Although they say they’d like to help as many small businesses as they can, they realized that companies with less than $100K annual revenues are not within their target audience – a new distinction, but an important one moving forward. 

I think you do have to be at a certain minimum level in order to really benefit from using a service like InfusionSoft.  It’s not for every small business, and it’s smart for Infusionsoft to say that – both on the low end (under $100K) and on the top (over 25 employees).   But that leaves them with a huge opportunity to “own” a space with upwards of millions of businesses that have specific needs for sophisticated, automated sales and marketing processes, which are very different than the needs of larger organizations that most leading vendors focus on. 

What it will Take to Be The Leader

While Infusionsoft has seen very impressive growth in their customer base the last few years, it still has a ways to go to get to their goal of having 100,000 customers by 2016.  And even that number is small compared to the millions of businesses out there in their target audience.

According to Infusionsoft execs, they get a good portion of their new customers from small businesses that have decided to leave for one reason or another, and from those businesses that decide they need more than what individual point solutions (email marketing, shopping carts, etc) offer. 

They’ll have to consistently attract bigger numbers of these kinds of folks to their platform to reach their lofty goals.  They'll also have to constantly stay focused on bringing down churn rates - something that is on display all throughout their headquarters. 

Growing their partner/developer ecosystem to have an even more robust marketplace with plenty of apps will also draw more prospects into the fold.  Revenue Conduit (winner of ICON 14’s app throwdown competiton), a partner that integrates online stores from Shopify, Magento and others with Infusionsoft is a prime example of the kind of partners that will help drive customer acquisition and retention. 

Infusionsoft will also need to continue looking for opportunities to develop partnerships and deep integrations with other mainstay services from other vendors small businesses depend on from the likes of Google, Intuit, LinkedIn, Microsoft – and from services like Zendesk, or Freshdesk.  This will allow them to stay fully focused on core sales and marketing functionality, while helping their customers more seamlessly work with other critical apps important to them.

The company will also have to up the ante in terms of educational content, thought leadership and best practices to constantly help customers and prospects understand how to get the most out of their Infusionsoft investment.  They are already doing a number of things in this area.  But as they bring on more users and move towards their 100K customer goal, they will be in a unique position to understand what a relatively large base of true small businesses are trying to accomplish by monitoring how they use the platform.  This will enable them to provide assistance in real-time and look for ways to remove friction and make it easier for users to get things done.  It will also allow them to more accurately predict the needs of this group and quickly bake it into the platform.  And it will help in delivering even more data-driven content to help their user community increase their efficiency and effectiveness in using the application. 

In a Silent Way

Besides giving me a reason to use a Miles Davis album title for the section, Infusionsoft is really intruiging.  Even though they’ve been around since 2001, they have managed to be kind of an outsider in the CRM industry, but also a leader when it comes to marketing automation.  Maybe it’s due to the “CRM is Dead” campaign from around 2009….sorry, Infusionites I had to bring it up…

More likely it’s because they’re out in Arizona, and focused more on the very small business crowd and their marketing automation needs.  They haven’t done a lot of industry events – which they need to start doing more of to help with their customer growth efforts.   But, most importantly, they have stayed connected to the true small business.  And that is why they are in a really good position that at this time doesn’t have a great deal of direct competition.  Their sweet spot is well below the target audience of the major players (Marketo, Oracle Eloqua, Salesforce’s Pardot, etc.) and up and comers (HubSpot, Act On) and a host of others looking mid-market and up.  And they are a way more comprehensive solution than what the point solutions offer (Constant Contact, Mailchimp, AWeber, etc.). 

The growing sophistication of the microbusiness, and their need to handle more complexity and higher volumes of activity will cause them to seek more comprehensive platforms to handle their sales and marketing needs.  And this is why InfusionSoft sits in a unique position.  They have been building a system for this group to use for a long time.  They have a great amount of knowledge of what this group needs, and have built the foundation of their platform around those needs.  Other vendors no doubt will venture into the under-25 (and more granularly even the under five) employee space.  But those coming from above will find it hard to make it work from a financial perspective.  These deals are minute compared to what they’re used to, which will keep many out of it.  Others vendors coming from point solution looking to move up will find it difficult to add components like lead scoring, workflow, predictive analytics and other advanced areas. 

This all leads to Infusionsoft having a good opportunity to take and maintain a leading position in automation for those small businesses who require a robust platform to handle complex sales and marketing; those that are looking to scale their marketing operations to a certain extent, without needing to scale the number of people in their business outside of their comfort zone.

As long as Infusionsoft stays passionate about and focused on the true small business, and acts on that passion by constantly building their platform and ecosystem to serve them, they stand a good chance of seeing that passion returned in large numbers.

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