Wouldn’t it be nice to double your sales in this economy? What if a software company guaranteed that you would do just that or get your money back? Well, one has.
“My team and I are out to revolutionize the way small businesses grow,” says Infusionsoft CEO Clate Mask in a video on the company’s website. “We know how tough it is to be an entrepreneur, how difficult it is to grow your business. You have multiple systems, you don’t have automation working for you and you are probably not keeping in touch with your customers the way you’d like.”
Gilbert, Ariz.-based Infusionsoft has built its business around a simple guarantee: “Fix your follow-up failure and you will double your sales.” Company executives contend their customers can drive enormous growth by adopting automatic follow up software that combines customer management, email marketing and e-commerce into one system. As Mask puts it, his firm’s solution is the “killer app for entrepreneurs.”
It’s a bold and provocative offer – one meant primarily for small businesses that are engaging their customers on the Web. And it seems to be starting a fire.
Infusionsoft has recently been named to the Inc. 500list, reflecting its own explosive growth. While the company was founded in 2001, it seems to have finally hit its stride in recent years. Having experienced 300 percent growth in unit sales between the first half of 2008 and 2009, it now has more than 3,000 business customers and 15,000 subscribers. The company’s Double Your Sales Club, meantime, now has 400 members – firms that have doubled their sales and now receive special benefits as part of the group.
While these gains are impressive, Infusionsoft’s ambitions are truly vast. In fact, the company intends to drive subscriber numbers to one million within the next three to four years, becoming as critical to small businesses as Intuit’s QuickBooks. To achieve that goal, its front-office team of marketing, sales and service professionals will have to perform at exceptional levels. Will they deliver? Here are our findings from the front:
The marketing perspective
ave Lee, vice president of marketing for Infusionsoft, says the Double Your Sales guarantee has electrified the business. It has, in effect, radically lowered the barriers of adoption for small companies that are unfamiliar with the Infusionsoft brand and don’t have the IT resources to engage in extensive due diligence on new software. “Our particular target market – entrepreneurs with one to 25 employees – need that extra level of comfort before they dive into something that is going to revolutionize their businesses,” says Lee. “We came out with it and the results have been outstanding.”
Such guarantees are unusual – perhaps unheard of – in the software industry. But Infusionsoft feels comfortable making this one based on past experiences and the high growth potential of its targeted customers. Under the arrangement, half of one’s subscription fees, which range from $200 – $500 per month, will be returned if there is dissatisfaction or sales do not double over a one-year time frame. “Our attorneys were nervous, but supportive,” says Lee.
The company has further strengthened its position with new prospects by eliminating costly startup fees, which previously ran between $2,000 and $6,000. Having raised two rounds of venture capital funding, the company chose to invest heavily in making the hosted software easier to set up and navigate. Now, capabilities embedded in the software guide new customers through the implementation process, helping them import data and set the parameters for their marketing campaigns.
Marketing also is investing heavily in content and community efforts to help its customers become better marketers. On the company’s website, one finds an online forum where customers can network with other small businesses while gaining access to an array of tools and content to support their growth efforts. The site contains a number of useful white papers and e-books (such as “The Entrepreneurs Guide to Follow-up”) as well as a blog and resource directory. As such, the site becomes a one-stop shop for resources to support the sales and marketing strategies of entrepreneurial businesses.
Infusionsoft is convinced that the success of its customers depends on providing reliable guidance that enables them to increase their skills and performance. Indeed, the company’s people operate as coaches, consultants and (to employ an increasingly popular term) community organizers. “We’re not just software,” says Lee. “We inspire. We encourage. We have coaching programs. We just do things very differently here.”
The sales perspective
Adam Ross, vice president of sales and business development, is responsible for managing both direct and indirect sales channels. While 70 percent of business presently comes through direct channels, the company expects to drive as much as half of its revenue through its Infusion Certified Consultants and other indirect approaches by the end of next year. It now has 125 partners in its program.
“There are so many marketing consultants, sales coaches, IT shops that are really trying to expand and get into new markets,” says Ross. “They can get into the local markets that we can’t penetrate because the small business segment is so fragmented. It only makes sense to leverage their capabilities on the sales side and education side versus us trying to do everything.”
Ross also points to the company’s increasing focus on customer loyalty and retention – a significant shift in terms of developing and managing his sales organization. While top-line growth remains vital, his team is increasingly compensated on building a book of business and cultivating existing clients. That’s led to recognizable increases in terms of customer retention percentage (now at 97.5 percent).
By acting as small business coaches, the sales team and other client-facing professionals are generating enormous enthusiasm. But accountability is a key component in the success equation. “As our customers go through the process of implementing Infusionsoft and get a few campaigns going, they start fixing their follow-up failure,” he explains. “But small business owners wear many hats. They get a couple of things done, but then they kind of start running off and looking at other things they’ve got to do. So, by having this group proactively engage customers on a daily basis, we hold them accountable for what they signed up to do and make quite a large impact in a very short time.”
The service perspective
JoAnne Ravielli, vice president of customer service and support, is most proud of her team’s ability to increase satisfaction by “elevating the voice of the customer within the organization.”
In other words, her team is actively focused on gathering feedback from customers and making it available to all the different groups – marketing, sales, product management – within the company. This keeps customer care from becoming a compartmentalized silo within the organization and amplifies the impact of its efforts. Customer feedback is now kept in a centralized repository where it is proactively shared with the executive team, particularly when a customer gives a “thumbs-down” rating.
Such efforts show up in high customer satisfaction scores (4.42 on a scale of 5.0) and high “net promoter” scores (87 percent), which reflect a customer’s propensity to recommend one’s product to a friend or a colleague. “We want loyal customers out there,” she says. “We want advocates for what we are doing here.”
Ravielli also underscores the importance of empowering her front line of customer care professionals, encouraging them to take the actions necessary to provide an “absolutely stellar” customer experience.
But the service group’s real power may be in its growing use of social media and community interaction to address customer concerns and interests. The customer care team now relies on software from another firm, Helpstream, to enhance its support activities and cultivate interactions among customers. The approach is leading to astounding deflection rates of 49 percent, an indicator of how many customers turn to online knowledge bases or other customers to get their problems solved. “We’ve transformed technical support from a cold ‘open a case and wait’ approach to a social media Mecca where customers interact and network with our support organization,” she says.
While there are some notable exceptions, the enterprise software industry has never been terribly accountable for a customer’s business results. But all that may be changing as the experience of companies such as Infusionsoft now suggests. Indeed, Infusionsoft may be in the vanguard of an emerging movement where firms measure themselves based on enduring customer success.
Will Infusionsoft be able to maintain its momentum and continue penetrating the notoriously fragmented market of entrepreneurs and small business owners?
Much will depend on the strength of its partner network, the continuing impact of its marketing and the viral intensity of its existing customer base. But consider the growing number of success stories now appearing on the Infusionsoft website or being enthusiastically shared at its annual customer conference, InfusionCon.
“These are amazing success stories,” says Lee. “People share the impact on their lives, their families, the people around them and their customers It fulfills our mission to help these entrepreneurs not only double their sales, which is part of it, but also liberate themselves. Through marketing and sales automation, we are able to free them up. We are able to liberate them, and I think these stories are more powerful than anything we could ever say about ourselves.”
The customer perspective: V.I.P. Auto Appearance turns customer follow-up into a growth driver
V.I.P. Auto Appearance is demonstrating the power of follow-up. This family-owned shop, which is based in the Washington, D.C. area, specializes in auto detailing. It is relying on Infusionsoft, however, to meet its business and marketing objectives.
Having implemented the software in August 2007, the organization experienced a 17 percent growth in sales in the first three months. To date, V.I.P. Auto has increased sales 50 percent.
Founded 25 years ago by Charles Mack, Sr., the business now has a staff of eight people managing a customer base of thousands. Moving beyond point solutions such as email marketing and appointment reminder programs, V.I.P. adopted Infusionsoft as a single, integrated approach to customer marketing and now has a database of 4,000 customers for automatic follow-ups, explains Charles Mack, Jr., who is now co-owner.
“I knew I needed to do more on the marketing and follow-up front, but I also knew that the problem was my systems,” Mack, Jr. says. “I needed to get rid of my multiple systems and streamline them into one. Just hiring another person wasn’t going to solve the problem. It would have been a waste of money.”
In addition to the results generated by automated marketing campaigns and outreach, V.I.P. soon began to benefit from Infusionsoft’s Web store capabilities. The online store, which allows customers to purchase everything from interior shampoos to car alarms, has increased revenue per customer by simplifying the shopping process. “In my industry, hardly anyone has a shopping cart,” Mack says. “Once we began using the online shopping cart features, we saw our sales increase by 30 percent from online purchases alone.”
With 100-plus customers who prepay on the website to have their vehicles detailed twice a month, V.I.P. has a loyal and committed core. It’s also become an increasingly recognized entity with coverage in the Washington Post, USA Today and Black Enterprise Magazine. Leveraging its automated marketing platform, the Mack family has built a strong business that they now are hoping to franchise and further grow.