Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Infusionsoft Helps Clients Map Their Marketing Strategy

Summary: Infusionsoft is making it easier to build campaigns and taken a new approach to helping clients plan their marketing programs. Both are needed for marketing automation to reach to a wider audience.

Infusionsoft this week staged the official coming out party for its latest release at its annual Infusioncon users conference. The big news was a one-step “web lead campaign” generator that automatically creates a Web landing page and three cross-linked email flows: a set of follow-up messages after the initial Web form; a “hot lead” track for people who click on a link in any follow-up message; and a “nurture” track for people who complete the follow-up sequence without clicking on anything. Users still need to build the initial Web form and put copy into all the blank emails. But Infusionsoft said that the automated set-up itself saves six to eight hours of work and even more time puzzling out the underlying concepts.

This may seem underwhelming: Infusionsoft has simply added campaign templates, which higher-end marketing automation systems have offered for years. Indeed, you could sniff that Infusionsoft is only now adding campaigns, in the sense of a container to link separate process flows. As if to drive the point home, the company was also previewing early designs for its next release, which will apparently center on a visual flow chart to build campaign diagrams: Dude, welcome to 2003!

Okay, that was totally unfair. First of all, some of these features are pretty impressive. For example, the system-generated forms and emails automatically include campaign-specific tracking codes, which most systems require users to add manually. And true branching campaigns – as opposed to sequential campaigns with splits inside each step – still aren’t found in most marketing automation systems (although those vendors argue they’re not needed. See last week’s post on eTrigue for details).

More important, the significance of Infusionsoft’s new features isn’t that they’re playing catch-up with systems built for larger companies. It’s that Infusionsoft has been tremendously successful – more than 6,000 clients and 20,000 individual users – without them.

In fact, the company’s research has found that nearly half its clients do almost no email, using the system instead primarily for sales automation and service. Others have used its sequential processes either separately, to automate a variety of annoying manual tasks, or by painstakingly stringing them together by themselves or with professional help.

Another to look at it is this: campaign management is just one application for Infusionsoft, and to date it hasn’t been the dominant one. Rather, Infusionsoft clients have valued labor savings they gain from having one integrated system for marketing, sales, e-commerce, and service. Some of those savings are inherent in the integration itself – that is, files don’t need to be moved from one place to another. Other savings come from running simple automated processes against that integrated data. Only a few Infusionsoft users have added value by running more complex processes, although the crowd at Infusioncom was clearly eager to join them.

The other big announcement at Infusioncom wasn’t about technology at all. It was a new planning methodology called the “Perfect Customer Lifecycle”. It made immediate sense to me, in good part because it somewhat resembles the Customer Experience Matrix that long ago gave this blog its name.

Like the Matrix, the Perfect Customer Lifecycle is organized around the stages in a customer’s relationship with the company, from Attract Traffic through Collect Cash to Get Referrals. Infusionsoft developed it after realizing that few clients could see how the pieces of their marketing programs fit together, which made it difficult to prioritize and maintain focused.

The Perfect Customer Lifecycle replaces a previous Infusionsoft methodology that based on standard marketing programs shared by Infusionsoft’s most successful clients. Although Infusionsoft doesn’t put it this way, the critical difference I see is that one methodology is built around the customer while the other is built around the company. As with the Customer Experience Matrix – still used by my friend and the concept’s original developer, Michael Hoffman of ClientXClient – the customer-oriented approach makes it easy to track every step in the customer relationship and pinpoint opportunities for improvement.

The Perfect Customer Lifecycle illustrates how much effort Infusionsoft puts into helping its customers succeed. I don’t want to make too much of this, since many vendors – and surely all the good ones – care deeply about their customers’ success. But there's an extra passion at Infusionsoft that I think comes from serving small business people. (The company and its clients prefer the term “entrepreneur”; I’ve been toying with “micro-business” as a label. From a practical standpoint, I draw the line at $5 million in revenue and having a professional marketer on staff). The micro-business owner's life is tied to the company’s success in the way that even the most loyal employee's or corporate manager's life is not. I see the same passion for helping customers at other firms serving this market, notably OfficeAutoPilot.

(It doesn’t hurt that micro-business owners often see themselves as self-created Ayn Randian heroes and are more than little susceptible to flattery along those lines. But they're also passionately loyal to anyone who genuinely seems to care about helping them.)

That brings me to my central observation. Marketing automation for micro-businesses is fundamentally different from marketing automation for larger firms.

The technical difference is that micro-business systems expand beyond marketing to integrate marketing, sales, and service. Of course, this is the same scope as traditional CRM, but the micro-business systems add stronger process automation than most CRM products.

The integration and the process automation share the same root cause: small businesses lack the resources to build custom integration or tolerate process inefficiency. Larger firms are organized into departments where the costs of separation are less obvious, intra-departmental efficiency is often hidden from top management, and, probably most important, department heads want separate systems they control directly. Those departmental fiefdoms don’t exist at a micro-business because the owner makes all important decisions personally,

Micro-businesses also need more vendor services because they lack internal marketing expertise. Remember, pretty much by definition, these companies have no professional marketers on staff. The exceptions are small marketing agencies and business coaches, who form a major segment of successful micro-business marketing automation users. This makes sense: they’re the one group of micro-business owners equipped to figure out how to use the systems for themselves, or at least to ask vendors for the right kinds of help. Other micro-businesses nearly all rely heavily on the vendors for both technical and marketing assistance.

By contrast, the pioneering users of larger-company marketing automation systems have largely been technology firms. I think the driving force with this group has been comfort with technology – almost verging on blind faith – even when specific applications were unclear.

If micro-business marketing automation (which obviously shouldn’t be called “marketing automation”) is distinct from the rest of the industry, the next question is whether the adjacent segment is one group of firms from $5 million to $500 million in revenue, or that segment must be divided. My first instinct to look for a division, but when I think about the systems used by companies in that range, their functionality is not very different. You may I recently pointed out that Eloqua, Marketo and Pardot all have about half of their clients with under $20 million revenue (but I suspect very few under $5 million). So even the more powerful marketing automation systems have a lot of small(er) clients.

I do suspect that some mid-tier vendors skew towards the smaller end of the scale and others skew towards the higher end. But that has more to do with pricing and sales models than the products themselves. So maybe one big segment from $5 million to $500 million makes sense after all.

Regardless of how you split the market, it’s clear that both the micro-business and other (regular? corporate? grande?) segments are moving beyond pioneers towards mass adoption. Furthermore, both groups face exactly the same challenge: to make marketing automation easy enough for non-pioneers to adopt it.

Infusionsoft’s move towards campaign templates and visual flows is a big step in this direction. But those features alone won’t solve the problem: if they could, other products that already have them would be more widely adopted. The need to supplement simplicity with marketing training is why Infusionsoft is simultaneously moving ahead with the “Perfect Customer Lifecycle” and related programs.

Vendors selling to larger companies have also been stressing education. So far, though, their focus has seemed more tactical (“how to run a Webinar”) than strategic (“optimize the customer lifecycle”). Maybe that’s because their clients are professional marketers who already have the big picture or rely on marketing agencies and other service partners to provide it. Or – and this is my bet – the marketing automation vendors just haven’t yet recognized that they need to offer strategic frameworks. This is a delicate task since you don't want to insult your prospective buyers. Perhaps the frameworks will be disguised as deployment methodologies and best practices. If I’m right, it doesn’t bode well for vendors who believe that greater ease of use by itself can greatly expand adoption.

This line of thought (plus lack of sleep and coffee – most of this was written on a late night plane ride) leads a final question. If micro- and non-micro-marketing automation vendors are converging on features and strategy training, will the micro-business focus on process automation also be duplicated at larger companies? I can’t point to any evidence yet, but it wouldn't surprise me. Certainly all marketers are subject to the same pressure to operate more efficiently. If process automation does become more important, it will further increase the pressure for process optimization as part of successful deployments. Not to beat a dead horse.

1 comment:

Scott Martineau said...

David, I think your analysis of the small business resource constraints and the larger company departmental fiefdoms is spot-on.

Some hear that and conclude that small businesses somehow need a less sophisticated solution. In fact, the opposite is true... they need both an integrated solution and serious automation in order to be successful (which is why automation naturally moves from marketing to other areas of the business).

More automation means more efficiency, more sales, and ultimately more freedom-- the very thing I set out to accomplish as an entrepreneur.

-Scott Martineau