Back in the olden days circa 2000, it was easy to figure out who the CRM leaders were in the SMB market. Goldmine, ONYX, Pivotal, Sage, and SalesLogix were among the top brands, with maybe a dozen or so others trying to establish mind- and market-share.
Now, thanks to the ease of launching a cloud-based solution, I have no idea. I don’t follow the CRM tech space closely enough to render an opinion on industry leaders. But I have kept up with a few companies over the years that seem to have that special “something” that industry leaders need.
Capital, for sure. Solid product, it goes without saying. Backed up with aggressive sales and marketing, of course.
But it seems to me that an essential differentiator for industry leaders is focus. Knowing the market they intend to serve and relentlessly improving their value to customers and users. Not trying to be all things to all people.
Let’s take a look at two companies to illustrate that trait.
Infusionsoft gets easy, finally
Infusionsoft sells a solution that combines “CRM” (sales automation) with marketing automation (lead generation, email marketing) with e-commerce. It’s a good product (more on that in a moment) but what has impressed me most is their obsessive focus on very small businesses: under 25 employees. I can’t think of one other example of a CRM vendor that hasn’t gone upmarket after starting with SMBs.
Infusionsoft has built a great fan… I mean customer base because this commitment really shines through. In fact, this culture is really the company’s strength, because its product, while powerful, has been criticized for being too hard to use. Three years ago I wrote:
The current version of Infusionsoft gets the job done, although it suffers from the same “programmer-itis” design that I’ve seen in many other marketing automation systems. The challenge is creating a solution that helps marketers easily implement what is inherently a complicated job — a marriage of right-brain creativity (email and landing page creative design) with left-brain process management (campaigns, lead scoring, follow-up actions).
I also said I’d like to see more of a Mailchimp-like approach, where power is packaged in an easy to start and use solution. Especially for small businesses, this is paramount.
Well, good news! After 18 months of user research and development, Infusionsoft unveiled an updated version that is a huge improvement. Also introduced — a free trial, which I took advantage of to kick the tires. The signup and initial usage experiences are really well designed, with lots of prompts and templates to help get going quickly. When I had questions, I got answers immediately via chat.
There’s still plenty of power under the hood, but it’s presented in a much more friendly, easy-to-use way. Here’s an example of a loyalty coupon campaign (screenshot from trial account):
Cofounder/CEO Clate Mask told me this relaunch was really about “helping small businesses” — not just providing a marketing automation solution. Their research found that what small business owners really want to do is provide great service to their customers — in a holistic sense, not just solving a problem or closing an incident. “Service” means taking care of their needs, good communication, and follow-ups, says Mask.
I call this “serving customers” thinking, which is reflected in the new design with templates for a variety of tasks that don’t fall in the traditional realm of lead generation. Interestingly, Mask says that while they plan to focus on small service businesses (e.g. accountant, consultant, contractor, dentist, lawyer), they don’t offer a traditional “customer service” or ticketing solution.
But for those that have a need, Infusionsoft can integrate with other solutions. Like Zendesk.
Zendesk shifts from multi- to omni-channel service
Another company on the rise in recent years is Zendesk, which has built a loyal following with an intense focus on the service agent.
The company was founded in 2007 in Copenhagen, moved to San Francisco in 2009, and went public in 2014. During the time, the company evolved from a simple ticketing solution to a multi-channel customer service system that could be used in contact center environments.
Good news: Zendesk supports a lot of channels, including phone, chat, and email.
Bad news: These channels add complexity and cost to the buying process and weren’t tightly integrated
The latest Zendesk Suite announcement addresses these issues, says Astha Malik, VP of Product. New channels acquired via acquisitions are now supported in a more “holistic” way for agents, as you can see here.
Furthermore, admin improvements in channel setup, reporting, and billing also help the user experience.
Zendesk Connect was also announced as a workflow-based tool to help agents set up proactive messages. “Campaigns” can be designed to automate follow-up communications for incidents or even to suggest new products — edging into the marketing automation domain.
I asked customer service pro Jeremy Watkin, Director of Customer Experience at call center outsourcer FCR, for his take:
It’s been interesting to watch Zendesk move from being a ticketing platform with a wide variety of integrations to a multi-channel platform offering their own solutions for voice, text, SMS, and self-help powered by AI — typically at a very attractive price. This announcement has been a long time coming and is an essential move for Zendesk.
Speaking of price, that’s more good news for service organizations. Simplified packaging and aggressive pricing were also announced to encourage more customers to go omnichannel.
What’s your focus?
There’s a lot involved in creating and sustaining a customer-centric business. In my research, the top two factors predictive of success are:
- Constantly seeks ways to improve solutions delivered to customers
- Systematically close the loop between customer feedback and action
You can see both of these practices at work at Infusionsoft and Zendesk. It’s clear that leaders of these tech firms know their customers well and are focused on providing solutions that help them succeed. What about your business?