Can Propel Take Infusionsoft—and Small Business Marketing—to the Next Level?

Founded in 2001, Infusionsoft has always focused on providing small businesses with 25 or fewer employees sales and marketing automation solutions to help them grow. Over the years, Infusionsoft now has 34,000 companies and over 135,000 users subscribing to its solution. However, it has just scratched the surface when it comes to penetrating the very large and diverse small business universe.

Infusionsoft has faced challenges in expanding its footprint because although its solutions have proven to be powerful and effective, they take considerable time and energy to configure and learn to use. While there are certainly some small businesses with the appetite to make this investmentpeople Infusionsoft calls “builders”there are arguably far more that lack the time or interest to make this investment.

At ICON17, Infusionsoft’s annual user conference, the vendor announced, among other things, Infusionsoft Propel, a new solution designed to meet the needs of these customersand help Infusionsoft take its own business to new heights.

Infusionsoft Propel: Turnkey Marketing Campaigns for Small Businesses

Infusionsoft Propel offers small business a new and different way to automate marketing campaigns. Designed from the ground up to offer a fast, guided experience to create automated marketing campaigns and follow up, users can set up and launch bite-size automated campaigns in minutes.

Infusionsoft Propel is built specifically for users that don’t have the time or interest to learn how to use software. Users select a templated campaign from a gallery, such one designed to get repeat business with a special offer, or get reviews on social media (Figure 1). The tool pulls in the company’s logo, branding, and colors automatically, and optimizes the campaign for both mobile devices and desktops. It also uses pre-built connectors to pull in and organize data from other applications, such as email, Facebook, and Intuit QuickBooks Online, so users have all the info they need in one place.

Figure 1: Infusionsoft Propel Screenshots

Once launched, Infusionsoft Propel gently reminds the user to set and complete follow up activities.Infusionsoft is using Google’s App Engine and machine learning to help shape this automated follow up.

In limited access beta now, Infusionsoft expects to launch the product for general release later this year as a freemium offering, with pricing for upgraded versions driven by factors such as consumption and list sizes.

While Infusionsoft has seeded the offering with several campaigns, it’s also bringing partners on board, providing them with full access to Infusionsoft Propel via Infusionsoft Partner Edition. Partner Edition offers tools to help partners build, package and deploy campaigns, and to manage clients. Infusionsoft’s goal is to have partners develop specialized campaigns that meet a spectrum of micro-verticals and other specific requirements.

Perspective

Attracting new customers, growing revenues and maintaining profitability are top challenges for small businesses (Figure 2). But many are consumed with just keeping up with day-to-day tasks of running the business. They don’t have marketing expertise or experience, and are wary of the time it takes to get productive with a new solutioneven though they may see the need and want to try one.

Figure 2: Top Business Challenges for Small Business

Infusionsoft’s vision to serve these customers is a lofty one. Infusionsoft Propel caters to these small business users, and the growing expectation that people have for the immediate gratification they get from consumer apps, such as Facebook and Instagram.

Designed to compete against the inertia that prevents many small businesses from implementing marketing solutions, Infusionsoft hopes to give the enormous market of businesses that need an easy on-ramp to marketing automation so they can stay connected, nurture customer relationships and grow without becoming marketing gurus.

Infusionsoft Propel looks good on paper, and in the demos. However, this initiative represents a big shift from Infusionsoft’s flagship solution, not only for Infusionsoft, but also for the partners that are essential to scale and accelerate market growth.

To succeed, Infusionsoft needs to elevate market awareness for Infusionsoft Propel and the Infusionsoft brand to a new, broader and different type of SMB customer, and convince them that this solution really is easy.and provides clear beneifts At the same time, the vendor needs to develop a compelling business model to get both existing partners engaged, and to recruit new ones that may, in some cases, be a better fit for Infusionsoft Propel customers.

 

 

Intuit: Big Plans for Helping Small Business Work Smarter

Even though I have tracked Intuit for at least 15 years, I didn’t know that Intuit has about 100 patents pending before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office related to artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, and more than 30 machine learning systems in production—until I attended Intuit’s Innovation Gallery Walk in New York last week. Intuit uses the Gallery walk to showcase new solutions that it has recently brought to market, as well as those that are still in development.

At this year’s event, Intuit unveiled some of the ways it is using artificial intelligence, machine learning and other new technologies to “power prosperity for small businesses and consumers.” With 26 product innovations demoed at the event, Intuit has clearly been busy! While I didn’t have time to see all of these demos, I did learn about some of the ways in which Intuit is putting these technologies to work to help make it easier for small business to manage their businesses more efficiently, intelligently and profitably.

Getting More Insight, More Easily with Natural Language

For most small business owners, time is the most precious commodity. Intuit has created an open, natural language application programming interface (API) to develop conversational user interfaces for its solutions. For instance:

  • Intuit is testing a new chatbot, which let users query their phones in a Siri-like fashion to get answers from and execute tasks in their QuickBooks account. For example, a user might ask, “What clients owe me money?” and then take tell the system to send reminders to clients to pay overdue invoices.
  • Intuit’s Smart Mirror experiment turns your mirror into a virtual assistant by blending the power of natural language queries with the Internet of Things (IoT). While you’re shaving or putting your makeup on, you can ask the mirror to tell you what’s going on with the weather or the stock market, or ask it to pull information about your business from your QuickBooks Online account. The mirror is a potential proxy for an almost unlimited array of objects, and Intuit’s goal to provide QuickBooks users with information when, where and how its most convenient—whether your mirror when you’re getting ready for work in the morning, your car en route to a client’s site, or your Amazon Echo when you’re making dinner in the kitchen.

    Figure 1: Intuit’s Chatbot and Smart Mirror Experiment

 

Helping Self-Employed Workers Save Time and Money with AI and Machine Learning 

Intuit estimates that the percentage of self-employed—aka “gig” workers—will grow from about 36% of the workforce today to 43% in 2020. Self-employed workers often use the same accounts and credit cards for business and personal expenses. Managing and untangling this information can be difficult and time-consuming, and lots of information often falls through the cracks at tax time. In some cases, it all falls through the cracks: Intuit found that 30% of its QuickBooks Self-Employed users claimed no business deductions in 2015—and as a result, likely paid more taxes than they owed.

To help gig workers get organized, keep more of the money they earn, and gain more visibility into their businesses, Intuit is infusing AI and machine learning into QuickBooks Self-Employed. For example:

  • Expense Finder helps uses to identify more taxable deductions. QuickBooks Self-Employed securely connects to a client’s bank account, automatically finds and imports business transactions from the past year, and sorts them into Schedule C categories, to reveal potentially deductible expenses.
  • Automatic mileage tracking tracks mileage every time you drive your car, whether the QuickBooks Self-Employed app is open or not. At your convenience, you simply swipe to the left or right to tag mileage for each trip as a business or personal expense.
  • You can snap photos of receipts, and the app automatically reads all the relevant info from the receipt into the system so you don’t have to spend time typing it in.

Figure 2: Growth of the Gig Economy and QuickBooks Self-Employed Mileage Tracker

 

Inuit is also creating a new offering that combines QuickBooks Self-Employed and TurboTax, called TurboTax Self-Employed. This solution will make it easier for self-employed workers to separate business and personal expenses and file taxes more accurately.

Reducing Friction With Partner Integrations

Over the past few years, Intuit has built out its partner platform to help extend the power of QuickBooks Online through third-party solutions. The platform has provided third-party developers with tools to build data integration with QuickBooks directly into their solutions, and Intuit’s app store has over 450 applications. Intuit continues to push ahead on this front, with new capabilities, such as:

  • A deeper collaboration with G Suite by Google Cloud, which gives QuickBooks users the streamline workflows. With the new integration, users can for instance, send invoices directly from Gmail to their clients.
  • Partner apps that are embedded in QuickBooks Online. T-Sheets and Bill.com have revamped their user interfaces with the QuickBooks Online look and feel, and embedded them in the QuickBooks online application to give users a fast, easy on-ramp to add new services. Via machine learning, QuickBooks Online flags when certain thresholds are met—such a number of employees or transaction volume—when a time sheet or bill paying solution would make sense. Users are offered a 30-day free trial, and if they decide to continue, pay the monthly charge from their QuickBooks account.

Intuit has also streamlined its online financing program. The vendor has simplified and shortened the application process to 5 minutes by using more of the data loan applicants already have in their QuickBooks Online system. With eight lender partners in the platform, Intuit is also providing loan applicants with easy to understand, comparative information on lending offers so they choose the offer that works best for their businesses.

Figure 3: Intuit Financing Application

 

Summary and Perspective

As Intuit CEO Brand Smith noted in his remarks at the event, Intuit’s mission is to “power prosperity around the world for consumers, small businesses and the self-employed through its ecosystem of innovative financial management solutions.” Founded in 1983, this now 34-old company has been able to thrive not by resting on its laurels, but by embracing change to stay ahead of the curve.

As evidenced at the Gallery Walk, Intuit is continuing this trajectory, investing to innovate with AI, machine learning, IoT and other technologies that will help its customers—and Intuit itself—with new and better ways to flourish well into the future.

Keep Calm—and Get Marketing Organization with Lately

Laurie:  Today I’m talking with Kate Bradley Chernis, the CEO of Lately, which is a new company that helps businesses to consolidate and streamline marketing activities into more of a unified step-by-step playbook. Kate, before we get into what Lately does, can you tell me a little bit about yourself and the company?

Kate:  Sure. A little background on me is I own a marketing agency. Eight years ago I was managing a Walmart campaign and the best tool that I could find to organize everything was this insanely thorough spreadsheet. I pulled in everything from analytics to budgets, and I made a calendar, added the graphics and key messaging and everything else we needed for the campaign. We were doing radio, TV, cable and social media and more. The results for the campaign were 130% ROI for three years, year-over-year. Walmart rolled the template of my spreadsheet out to all their campaign managers, which was awesome. Then I noticed that my other smaller clients, startups or non-profits or other smaller businesses than Walmart, had similar problems and we were getting the same type of success using my spreadsheet for their campaigns. Lately was born when I had the idea to automate this process.

Laurie:  So you turned the spreadsheet into a solution to streamline set up and all the tasks in the campaign?

Kate:  Exactly. It’s called Marketing Resource Management, which isn’t a sexy term, and hard to understand because its sort of a new category. Basically, it’s the idea of managing pieces, kind of like a dashboard for all of your marketing.

Laurie:  How long ago did you launch Lately and then, can you tell me about what it does?

Kate: Lately was born live to the world in Octoberjust a few months backwhich is exciting. Lately does a lot of stuff. For instance, we have marketing calendar so you can instantly see what’s going out, when it’s going out. You have visibility and can easily show your boss or clients what you’re doing. We also help you automatically organize messaging. For example, we can check messaging as you type it in to make sure it’s consistent. We know that marketers forget to use key messaging 82% of the time, so we catch this. We even create messaging for you so you can just push it out.

Laurie:  Yes, you showed me that in the demo, which is on your site. So anyone that’s interested can see the way Lately just kind of auto magically does things for you.

Kate:  Our goal is leverage all the work you do, help you do it faster, and make it easier collaborate with team members. For me, I find that organization makes me feel calmer as a person and that’s the feeling our customers get too–it’s all here, it’s super organized, now I can get my work done and feel more empowered.

Laurie:  Is Lately for marketers, agencies, small, medium, large businesswho are you targeting?

Kate:  That’s my favorite question. Short-term, its small marketing agencies or consultants similar to me, who are forgiving, because it’s a new product. So we’re learning with them, they’re our partners and we’re building the product out based on their input. Most of these folks that work with about 25 clients, which is ideal, because our long-term goal is to reach SMBs. We want Lately to become the QuickBooks for marketing. Just like QuickBooks pulled back the black curtain, on accounting so that anyone can do it, even meI’m a fiction writing majorour goal is to make it easy for anybody to do marketing.

Laurie:  Tell me a bit more about the category you’re putting Lately inMarketing Resource Managementwhat defines the category, and how does Lately differ from other offerings in it?

Kate:  You can kind of think of it like Lately is trying to do for Marketing Resource Management or MRM what Salesforce did for CRM. Currently, there are a handful of MRM competitors. Their solutions start at $25,000, and they’re made for an elite group of marketers who really know what they’re doing and have pretty high technical skills. Whereas, Lately starts at $99 and like I said, its simple and designed for self-service. That’s $99 per month per company, so you can invite as many people as you want to use it.

Laurie:  About how long does it take for non-marketers to get up and running and productive?

Kate:  It takes seconds and it is do-it-yourself. Being that we are so new, we love to give people a 15-minute demo first just to make sure we know the basics. But it literally takes seconds. I was giving a demo to a class the other day. There was a Macintosh there, which I’m bad at using that’s I use a PC, so I needed help with the Mac. A student came up and just did the demo for me because it was so easy.

Laurie:  How are you kind of getting the word out and marketing and selling this?

Kate:  We’re starting out light, looking specifically for smaller marketing agencies and consultants who want to get in on the ground floor and partner with us. So, we’re social media, we’re constantly testing our own messaging, and just doing direct sales and marketing right now. So we’re really excited to have this opportunity with you because we haven’t thrown a lot of spaghetti at the walls yet!

Laurie:  Well, the demo looks great, definitely worth a look!

Kate:  Thank you so much.

 

SMBs, the Gig Economy and the New Workplace

Over one-third of U.S. workers are now part of the gig economy, up from 17% in the 1989 survey. Whether you call them freelancers, contractors or contingent workers, gig workers are expected to grow as a percentage of the workforce: Intuit predicts the percentage of self-employed workers to rise to 43% by 2020 (Figure 1).

slide1

What is the gig economy?

Gig workers don’t have traditionally-defined, salaried relationships with employers, or benefits such as medical insurance or a 401(k), but they do have more flexibility and autonomy. The category includes self-employed as well as temp workers, contractors, on-call workers and part-time employees, spanning industries from construction to pet care, and from professional services, such as web design and programming, to Uber and Lyft drivers.

The gig economy started to take off in the 2008 great recession, when layoffs hit hard and hiring ground to halt. Workers needed income, and many turned to contingent work to make ends meet. Many businesses brought on contract workers rather than staff employees to keep overhead down and gain flexibility to scale the workforce up or down. At the same time, new marketplaces for freelancers, such as Elance (now UpWork), Freelancer, Guru and others started providing matchmaking services to bring employers and freelancers together.

Since then, the economy overall has rebounded but the gig economy continues to grow.

The Gig Economy and SMBs

The gig economy is certainly an important factor for SMBs. Of course, “non-employer” businesses of one are gig workers. And, they are also small businesses. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 22 million U.S. businesses have a single owner, but no paid employees.

In addition, SMBs rely on external workers/freelancers to perform a wide range of business functions (Figure 2).

slide2

SMBs are most likely to depend solely on gig workers to get the job done in accounting/financials, workforce management/payroll and marketing. SMBs are also most likely to use a combination of salaried employees and gig workers for these areas, along with business intelligence/analytics.

Overall, SMB plans to hire more workers in the next 12 months are robust (Figure 3), with larger SMBs more bullish on hiring than smaller ones. As shown, while plans to hire salaried employees are strongest, SMBs also expect to hire more contractors and freelancers, with   marketing, business intelligence, accounting/financials and customer service cited as the top areas.slide3

Perspective

In addition to dealing with different regulatory and compliance requirements, SMBs that hire gig workers often have to juggle workers who are frequently off-site and schedule their own hours. Gig workers are likely to have competing priorities, and lack insight into the operations, values or mission of the companies they work for. 

As discussed in SMB Group’s 2017 Top 10 SMB Technology Trends, this trend, as well as the rise of remote working (telecommuting and traveling workers), along with the influx of millennials into the workforce, highlight the changing face of the workforce and workplace.

While traditional tools such as email, file sharing and web conferencing aren’t going away, stream-based messaging and collaboration tools, cloud file sharing, conferencing, smartphones, tables and laptops can help employees and contractors collaborate to get work done more quickly and easily (Figure 4).

slide4

For instance, stream-based messaging and collaboration solutions provide a unified view and access to information across servers, clouds, apps, devices and locations. Examples include Slack, Salesforce Chatter and Quip, Microsoft Teams, Cisco Spark and RingCentral Glip. These solutions not only help facilitate collaboration between employees and contractors across physical locations, but also across digital ecosystems.

Since SMB reliance on gig workers is likely to continue to grow, now is the time for SMBs to refresh workplace culture, strategy and solutions to attract, engage and retain employees and contractors. SMBs that use figure out how to and streamline collaboration will reap productivity gains today, and the flexibility necessary to scale the workforce–whether salaried employees or contractors–up or down in the future.

For more information on SMB Group studies referenced in this post, please contact Lisa Lincoln, Director of Client Services & Business Development, SMB Group, at lisa.lincoln70@smb-gr.com.

Zoho: What You Need To Know

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StatX: Mobile Dashboards for Small Business

Laurie: Today I’m talking to Prasad Raje, president and CEO of a new company called StatX. I met Prasad this fall at Intuit’s QuickBooks Connect Conference, and was intrigued with the demo I saw of the StatX solution, which provides users with a mobile dashboard for QuickBooks Online and several other top small business applications. Before we talk more about the StatX solution, Prasad, can you first tell me a little bit about the company, and when and why you got started?


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Prasad:  Thanks, Laurie, sure. StatX has been around since about the middle of last year. I and my co-founder Pablo Bellver founded the company. Prior to that, I was CEO of Instantis, a company that was also in the collaboration space, and was acquired by Oracle. Pablo had been at Google for about 10 years, and had built Google Now, which is a very successful Android app for consumers. We put our brains together and created StatX to deliver mobile relevant business updates to your mobile phone, no matter where they are. Our motto is that StatX lets you know what changed in your business via your mobile device

Laurie: I like the term you used in our earlier conversation–that StatX is like an Instagram for business–because it relays real-time information to you in a very digestible way, right to your phone

Prasad: That’s right, that’s the way we think about it. We want the information to be visual and easy to consume, so we built the StatX platform to do this. It doesn’t take up too much of your time because that’s the way people use their mobile devices.

Laurie: One of the top applications that StatX works with is QuickBooks Online. Can you tell us a little about this?
statx-qbo-dashboard-1200x876Prasad: Sure. If you use QuickBooks Online (QBO) to keep your books up to date, you want to be able to send updates and financials to your clients or co-workers. StatX directly connects to QBO. QBO authorizes StatX to fetch your financials from it, and StatX pulls that information into a set of visual elements that we call stats. Twitter invented the tweet, and StatX has invented the stat, which is a visual representation of numeric or status information. In the case of financials, it would represent things like income, expenses, cash, AR, AP, etc., in a beautiful, easy to consume dashboard. And it brings you live, real-time updates to information when it changes.

Laurie: How long does it take for a QuickBooks Online user to get productive with this?

Prasad: Very little time. We want to compete with the best of the consumer apps out there in terms of ease of use. So, if you are an accountant that wants to set up QBO with StatX, it should take no more than a few minutes of time to connect your QBO account and start seeing live data on your phone from QBO. From there it should take less than a minute to share that information with your client. By the way, the client doesn’t need to do any setup, they simply just consume the live dashboard information that you provide to them.

Laurie: It sounds like the accountant does a tiny bit of work and the client gets the benefit of that without really any heavy lifting at all.

Prasad: Exactly. Even for the accountant, it’s a one-time setup, then we do all the work on an ongoing basis to keep it live at all times.

Laurie: How do you price StatX?

Prasad: Pricing is very simple. We have a monthly per user subscription fee for each client or user using StatX. The fee is $10 per user per month when paid as an annual subscription. That allows the client to use StatX with QuickBooks Online, and with the other apps we have on our platform.

Laurie: Before we get into those other apps, can you clarify whether the accountant has to pay a user fee for each of the clients he’s pushing notifications out to, or just for his own use?

Prasad: For each user that has the app installed on their phone. So, if the accountant sets up 5 clients, the accountant would have one subscription for him or herself, plus 5 for their clients.

Laurie: Got it. So what are some of the other small business applications that StatX already has a mobile dashboard for?

Prasad: Our connector to WordPress is one example, we can fetch your daily visitor stats and see how it trends and you can get notifications for new posts, comments, visitors etc. Another one is MailChimp for email marketing. Instead of having to go to MailChimp every time you want to see how many people opened your email and how many clicked through, we just send you live updated stats as things change.

Laurie: I know StatX also works with Microsoft Excel and you work with QuickBooks Desktop. How does it work with these?

Prasad: For QuickBooks Desktop, you can export reports into Excel, as you normally do, and we have an add-in to Microsoft Excel that lets you connect that information with StatX. So, you can provide stats to your client’s phone with a single click in Excel or QuickBooks Desktop.

Laurie: Anything else that’s important for small business owners and decision-makers to know about StatX?

Prasad: In addition to being a powerful dashboard that connects to many different apps, StatX can be used to create quick and easy, succinct workflows. For example, if you’re collaborating with your team on a particular check list of items that need to be done, instead of sending e-mails back and forth, people can just check off items on the checklist via their mobile device, and everyone gets notified of the status. Say you need approvals from your boss for different things, you create an approval stat for that. We have many stats like this that help with collaboration and to coordinate workflows.

Laurie: Very interesting, and thank you so much for your time today and sharing this info.

 

Top Takeaways: 2017 Salesforce Analyst Summit

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