Thursday, February 12, 2009

Infusionsoft: Impressive Marketing Power for a Very Low Price

Two economists are walking on the street. One looks down and sees a $100 bill. He points it out to the other, who says, “It must be counterfeit. If that were a real $100 bill, someone would have already picked it up.”

The point of the story, other than showing why economists are poor comedians, is that the market is not always perfectly efficient. I suppose no one needs reminding of that in today’s economic situation. But most of us still assume there is a reasonable relationship between price and value. This is why it’s hard to imagine that low-priced software can deliver similar performance to mainstream products.

Now we come to Infusionsoft, which offers marketing automation, CRM and ecommerce for as little as $199 per month. Like a free breakfast at Denny’s, that sounds too good to be true. But the company has been around since 2001 and has thousands of customers, so there must be something to it. At least it’s worth a closer look.

I took that look last week and came away impressed. The company’s marketing is tightly targeted at very small businesses (under 25 employees) but its marketing features are competitive with demand generation products aimed at much larger firms. Three of the five core demand generation functions are clearly there: outbound email, Web forms, and lead nurturing campaigns. Of the other two, lead scoring is primitive at best (I only saw an ability to apply segment tags, which I suppose is all you really need; the company says lead scoring is available “but we don’t advertise it because we haven’t made it easy enough within the software yet”). The fifith core function, integration with Salesforce.com, is not provided because Infusionsoft has its own sales automation capabilities. If you really wanted it, the system does provide an API that would let someone with the right skills set it up.

If advanced lead scoring or Salesforce.com integration are show stoppers for you, then read no further. If not, the marketing automation functions in Infusionsoft are worth considering. Although I mentioned only email campaigns before, users can in fact import lists and then execute email, fax and voice broadcast from within Infusionsoft, or extract lists for direct mail, call center or other external vendors. Simple telemarketing could also be handled within the system using its CRM features. The system includes an email builder with the usual features such as personalization and required “unsubscribe” links. Infusionsoft enforces double opt-in email procedures, monitors its clients results closely, and has a ‘three strikes” policy to educate and if necessary remove clients who violate the rules.

Users can create landing pages and forms within the system, although they must load the HTML onto their own Web sites since Infusionsoft doesn’t host them. This differs from other demand generation vendors, who nearly always host those pages themselves. The practical impact is nil, since the Infusionsoft forms do post data to the client's Infusionsoft-hosted marketing database. I suspect the difference reflects the small-company orientation of Infusionsoft: while marketing departments in larger companies want to be independent of their Web team, Infusionsoft clients probably don't have a Web team separate from marketing (if they have a Web team at all).

Users can also specify the activities that follow submission of a form or other customer interaction. This is where the real power of Infusionsoft shines through. The activities can include assigning the lead to a sequence of follow up messages, assigning it a tag for later segmentation, or sending it to a salesperson or affiliate, either directly or through a round robin distribution. Different answers on Web forms can be linked to different sequences, and users can add filters that determine whether these actions take place. Subsequent events can add leads to new sequences and remove them from existing ones, thereby adjusting to customer behavior.

The result is enough fine-grained control over lead treatment to satisfy all but the most demanding marketers. To me, this is the essence of a lead nurturing system and probably the critical feature of demand generation in general. After all, any email client can send an email and any Web system can put up a landing page. It’s the multi-step, behavior-dependent campaign logic that’s otherwise hard to come by.

That said, the campaign manager you’re getting here is not as polished as the best mainstream demand generation systems. To that extent, at least, you get what you pay for. There’s no flow chart to visualize campaign flows and no easy way to do split testing. Nor is there branching within a sequence, although you could achieve the same effect by having one sequence feed into several other sequences with different entry conditions.

(Side note: Infusionsoft has a public ideas forum for users to suggest and vote on enhancements. Split testing currently ranks number five, behind four refinements to the ecommerce features. This probably means that most users find the marketing features relatively adequate, at least compared with the ecommerce capabilities which definitely looked much less mature. The public forum itself certainly shows a healthy attitude by Infusionsoft towards its own customers. The company also has excellent online documentation and an active user forum for questions and answers.)

On the other hand, Infusionsoft actually does a better job than some demand generation systems of tracking marketing costs. Users can attach a fixed cost and per-response cost to each lead source, which can be an outbound marketing campaign or an inbound source such as Web ads, trade shows, or traditional advertising. Users can also attach a piece cost to each message in a sequence. Revenue for individual customers can be captured with the shopping cart or from opportunities in the CRM system.

This information is presented in a variety of standard reports, although, perplexingly, I couldn’t find one that related the cost of a campaign to the revenue from its respondents. Reports do track response rates, conversion rates, and movement of opportunities through stages in the sales funnel. Standard reports can be run against user-specified date ranges and sometimes against user-specified customer segments. Users can’t create their own reports within the system, but can export their data to analyze elsewhere.

User rights (i.e., which users can do what) are actually more fine-grained in Infusionsoft than in many demand generation systems. Infusionsoft needs the control because it will be used by people throughout the company than a typical marketing system. Infusionsoft also includes contact management and project workflow features, such as tracking tasks and appointments, that aren’t found in most demand generation products.

Infusionsoft pricing starts at $199 per month for a system limited to 10,000 leads and 25,000 emails per month. This version has pretty much all the features needed for demand generation. Going to $299 per month adds ecommerce, sales automation, affiliate management and the API. Even people who don’t need those features might pay the extra money just to move the volume limits to 100,000 leads and 100,000 emails and go from two to four users. $499 per month buys the same features but higher volumes and one more seat. Clients can also add seats for $59 for the base version or $79 per month for the higher two. Implementation costs range from $1,999 to $5,999 depending on the version. [Note: in July 2009, Infusionsoft dropped its implementation fees. Other prices were unchanged.]

Any way you slice it, Infusionsoft would be a tremendous value for a marketing department that could use it instead of a mainstream demand generation system. That’s not to say the choice is a slam-dunk: you may need some of the missing features, and there are other demand generation products that also underprice the mainstream vendors (see last week’s post). Still, if money is tight and your needs are limited, Infusionsoft is certainly an option to consider.

6 comments:

Brad Martineau said...

David,

Thanks for the review. I work at Infusionsoft on the product team.

Just thought I'd add a note regarding the ROI reporting. Coming next Tuesday there will be two additional columns added to those reports that will supply the Revenue generated and then an ROI calculation (Revenue/Expenses).

If you have any other questions/comments, let me know. I'm "bardley" on twitter.

Thanks again.

Brad

David Raab said...

Thanks Brad. Glad to hear you'll be adding that.

Danika said...

I am impressed with there price & Service, Actually I head this from my friend who recently had a business deal with infusionsoft..! i wish all the best..!

Danica
EventGain

elliott said...

David,
I just wanted to drop a line and say that I think you're review is spectacular. It's by far the most comprehensive and well written review on Infusionsoft I've come across and I just wanted to, as the kids say, give you mad props.

Rachael said...

I just wanted to give my two cents on Infusion. I am a website designer and shopping cart manager. I know how to use Infusion so this is not a beginner's opinion. Infusion is not a good system. It is not intuitive at all. It has a million glitches. I seem to know more than customer support. I would NEVER recommend this company until they troubleshoot their system.

For instance, you can send an email out, think it went out with no problem. But later find out that your email didn't go out to the 1000 people for a call. Why? Because you had a comma in the title of your email. They don't have anything that says DON"T PUT A COMMA in your title next to where you put in the title, and when you go to send the email, there is no error message not letting you to continue. Then you hit send to your list, and there is no reason to think that it didn't go out. In fact, when you look at your broadcasts it says sent 1000 people. But if you go into a completely different area, REPORTS, it says sent 1000 people, Skipped 1000.

Isn't an error message in this instance pretty basic stuff?

This is just an example of how easy it is to make a 'mistake' because they don't tell you or warn you or give you any clues.

Think twice.

Infusionpros.com said...

If any of you guys are interested in Split Testing with Infusionsoft...

Just wanted to let you guys know we have finished our desktop application that links to your infusionsoft application and allows you to create split test groups of your people.

You can grab any percentage of any or multiple tags or your whole list. Then split them into any number of splits to test the effectiveness of your emails.

For example if you choose to take 20% of your whole data base and split them into an A/B test you can do this. It will Randomly grab 20% and then split that 20% into two groups randomly.

Once the split is complete you can find each group and send out your broadcasts. Use Infusionsofts email reporting to track the effectiveness of each. You will then know which one received the best conversions and then send the 'best' email to the other 80%.

http://infusionpros.com/isplit

All my best,
Steve Hofstetter
Owner
Infusionpros llc