I had the pleasure of spending my morning yesterday at the Infusionsoft headquarters in Phoenix, a day before the kick-off of the annual Infusionsoft User Conference. This year the event moved to the Phoenix convention center to make room for the 3,000 plus registered attendees (up 50% from 2013). In a presentation to press and analysts this morning, CEO Clate Mask highlighted some of the core tenets that contribute to the continued (and impressive) growth in Infusionsoft adoption, including a steadfast dedication to the small business. But as Clate was quick to point out, therein lies the problem – the small business is notoriously misunderstood and underserved by technology.
What defines a small business?
That’s an interesting question. Ask ten people how they define small business, and you’ll get ten different answers. The US government defines small businesses as firms with under 500 employees, and there are an estimated 27 million firms in the US alone that meet that criteria. Then you have software providers who tend to loosely define SMB as a massive category ranging from 50-1000 employees and in most cases software is usually too costly and too complex to meet the needs of the low-end businesses in the spectrum. Heck, Gleanster is definitely guilty of broadly defining SMB in our research. Clate was very clear on the target buyers for Infusionsoft, 1-25 employees and over $100k in revenue. It is this steadfast commitment to millions of lifestyle entrepreneurs and businesses that has led to Infusionsoft’s success. In fact, according to Infusionsoft they aren’t even focused on businesses with over 100 employees and probably never will be. You know you have a strategy when you tell prospect with budget, “Sorry, we aren’t the right solution for you.” That’s exactly what Infusionsoft has been doing, and it’s paying off.
Which leads to one inevitable conclusion. There’s a sub-segment of what we traditionally call “small business,” and they are largely underserved when it comes to technology, best practices, and business recommendations. Business with 1-25 employees don’t relate to most definitions of SMB; small businesses owners are resource constrained, time constrained and wearing many hats, and that’s the way they like it. They are the risk-takers, the ones who are scrutinized by friends and family who tell them to “go out and get a real job” and they number in the millions in the US. That’s who Infusionsoft is targeting, and it’s starting a movement from these individuals.
But small businesses are also frustrated because in most cases software providers do not address their needs. That’s why most small businesses invest in a hodgepodge of low-cost point solutions like Act! or Aweber. It’s chaos to manage all these technologies. To date there are actually very few accessible holistic sales, marketing, and ecommerce integrated platforms positioned for small businesses. In fact only a handful of companies have successfully addressed small business technology at scale; those would arguably be !ACT, Intuit, and Constant Contact. And despite the burgeoning array of low cost solutions that are actually accessible for small businesses, it’s never been harder to manage customer relationships. There’s more channels to worry about, more content to create, more technologies to adopt, and growing customer expectations that are near impossible for even the biggest enterprise to address (much less a small business). Which is why automation becomes critical for businesses of all sizes. But dovetailing automation into a small business environment is tricky.
Small businesses are notoriously difficult to sell technology to. They are frugal, lack funds, and typically require more extensive support than most software providers are willing to offer. That’s why the vast majority of software providers start by offering solutions to “small businesses” and quickly move up-market where deal sizes are larger. This was a primary concern about Infusionsoft for many customers – particularly after they accepted a $54 million round from Goldman Sachs a few years ago. So it really should hit home when a CEO like Clate Mask continues to re-enforce a steadfast commitment to the lower spectrum of the SMB market – what he referred to as the “lifestyle entrepreneurs.” These are the folks who are completely overlooked by most technology solutions, and they number in the millions!
There is a movement afoot that is forcing small businesses to evolve and automate in very powerful ways. If you are a small business you need to realize you are not alone in feeling misunderstood and underserved by technology – you largely have been. While the rest of the world is buzzing about CRM and Marketing Automation, small business marketers struggle to find the time to do everything they need to do – and in many cases they struggle with finding the budget to invest in the right technologies. The truth is, many small businesses fail because poor decisions or even mistakes are much harder to come back from. An investment in the wrong technology can drag the business down from a marketing and sales standpoint.
I wish I could bottle the energy in the room when 3,000 entrepreneurs and small business owners come together at the Infusionsoft event (#ICON14 on Twitter). It’s inspiring. They want so badly to be better, and their voice comes through in the 24,000 unique companies Infusionsoft calls customers. These are people who have passion for what they do. They desire more time and financial success. In most cases the businesses Infusionsoft serves don’t have aspirations to be a large enterprise. Sure, everyone wants to grow, but this market wants control over that growth because it’s a byproduct of their passion. It’s what they love to do. It’s interesting to hear how dedicated the Infusionsoft team is to meeting the needs of these small businesses, because at the end of the day there’s a huge underserved market that coming together in force in Arizona this week.