A few weeks ago Greg Head, the CMO of Infusionsoft, invited me out to visit him, and to take a tour of his company. It’s rare that I ever get to have an opportunity to meet other professional colleagues, and simply spend some time learning more about what, and how they do things so I quickly jumped at the opportunity.
Infusionsoft is one of the few Valley (Phoenix, Az Metro) tech companies to hit some serious stride in its growth. Most recently they completed another round of investment, and to date have raised over $125M. Infusionsoft makes, what I would call, a front office (sales and marketing) platform for small companies.
Now when I say small I’m not referencing the 0-100 employees segment we mostly think of when someone says small business. Infusionsoft is very quick to point out that they focus on the 1-25 employees as their bread and butter market segment. What is particularly amazing is that they seem to have cracked the code of delivering solutions to this segment in a scalable, and efficient way.
A Culture First Company
One of things that the management of Infusionsoft will be quick to speak to is their culture, and how that is the core to their business success. The company’s core mission and values are front and center in the main gathering area, and Infusionsoft is so committed to this core mission that they have started offering education beyond just how to work their software, to that of teaching entrepreneurs how to run their business better.
Long term plans even call for an entrepreneurial university of sorts, where small business leaders can get coaching on all facets of starting, and growing a business to success. When one reads about Infusionsoft in the media, the company’s culture and Esprit de corps is usually the lead story.
Now we all love reading about companies with strong cultures and morale; however that can sometimes be a problem. The CEO of many companies will read these articles and say “We need to have culture like those guys”, and then proceed to call the marketing team in and start drawing cool poster designs, or ordering scooters, and replacing chairs with rubber bouncy things.
We’ve all been there, and the one thing we all know is that culture is something that cannot be created overnight, and in fact it usually starts with employee #1, and no matter what posters, speeches, or t-shirts are given away you either have it or you don’t.
While the majority of us may not ever work in as “vibrant” of a company culture as Infusionsoft, we can still be very successful in our businesses providing we adopt some other key success factors that I saw very much alive during my brief visit.
A Commitment to Strategic Execution
One of the biggest surprises I had was the company’s absolute commitment to strategic planning and the operationalization of these plans. There wasn’t anything fancy or trendy here. It is the simple x’s and o’s of planning and execution. What was different was the transparency and ownership associated with these plans and all were out in the open for everyone to see.
In the main gathering area the companies annual and long range plans are emblazoned on the walls. The long-range plan for the company goes by the moniker of “The Everest Mission” and it’s what I would call a long/mid range plan. These are goals needed to be achieved over several years in order to reach a longer-term business objective.
What’s nice to see on the “Everest Mission” is that in addition to mission and vision the target market of the company is defined. How many business fail because of a lack of definition as to who the core customer is? We also see brand and positioning appear on the long-range plan, as well as, the most important vital signs that the company will track on its way to goal achievement.
How many companies fail to succeed because they spend or invest foolishly, and fail to track core KPI’s? What’s also nice is that every one knows the core KPI’s, and I like that fact that one of the vitals is a Net Promoter Score (NPS), that reinforces the importance of the customer in this goal attainment.
On either side of the “Everest Mission” the company has its annual priories stated along with that quarters priorities and goals.
The annual plan consists of 3-5 key priorities, and each quarter breaks these annual priorities down into several core projects, each with an owner and a sponsor. Evidence of success are identified for each project, and each projects key quarterly milestones are identified, all with an owner and due date.
There is nothing fancy about their planning process as I said before, but strategy is about sacrifice and unfortunately that’s a lesson that the majority of smaller businesses never understand. As a result these businesses will never drive the growth they want as not everything can be a priority when resources are limited.
Your Future is Greater Than Your Past
Aside from culture and planning there is something that I believe is even more core to the Infusionsoft’s success, and that is in how their management team views their business as a way of enriching the lives of their employees, and in helping them to achieve personal goals outside of work. One of the more innovative ways I saw in how the company was embodying this principle was in the creation of a “Dream Library”.
The space is a quiet, and meditative place for people to come and rest, think, and dream, and where employees are encouraged to write a dream on the wall. The company even maintains a full time employee dedciated to helping people achieve their pursuits outside of work.
This commitment to people is something that all of us can do whether a CEO or a department manager. How much effort does it take to send an employee to a conference, or to get more education and training? Not a lot. This effort builds a stronger bond between company mission and employee that become seeds to building a dynamic culture in the future.
So we can all support our people in many different and fundamental ways, even without having a “Dream Library”. At the end of the day its people that are the differentiating advantage for any business.
Customer Focus. It’s one of the most overused yet most misunderstood catch phrases there is. How many businesses truly know their customers? Or converse with their customers on topics outside the context of what the company sells? And really gain insight into what the customers core needs are. While many of us say it, few us really internalize and operationalize it.
At Infusionsoft I saw a unique focus on the customer that I believe inherently gives the company a leg up on its competitors while being able to create an emotional bond between the brand, and customer. One of the things I really liked was the major display of customer personas in company that took on the metaphor of cereal boxes, each representing a core persona of the company’s customer segment.
This effort on persona development no doubt helps the companies development stay on track, and ensures delivery of a product that is right for that particular customer segment.
The other area where I think the company’s customer centricity really manifests itself is in providing education to its customers beyond just showing them how to implement and work Infusionsoft software. This effort, I believe, will strengthen the emotional brand relationship with their customers and in turn fuel a channel of customer driven insights straight into the development team thus sparking a continued innovation engine.
Education after all is core to the mission of helping Infusionsoft customers be successful, and that mission has expanded the headroom managerially to support increased investment in customer education.
Role of Marketing
One of the challenges in marketing to this customer segment is the potential size of the market is overwhelming, and to be successful as a tech company you must find a way to efficiently and effectively scale business operations around service, marketing, and sales. As a result Infusionsoft really views its marketing function as its most successful sales person. Marketing is tasked with delivering 80% of the companies’ revenue targets, and does this efficiently by focusing on a scalable and metrics led online demand generation engine.
In addition to delivering the annual demand plan marketing is tasked with optimizing the other areas such as the churn rate, and in building an ecosystem of channel and development partners. Again there is no fancy secrete sauce other than a focus on metrics, continual optimization of the model and growing and developing the marketing team. What is refreshing is the importance on marketing that the company has in viewing the function as far more than just a cake and cookies role.
So while many of us will envy the culture of Infusionsoft, while others will be wary let us take away some of the core lessons behind this company’s early success. A focus on strategy and execution, a focus on people, and a focus on customers are all things we can do better and deploy with greater vigor tomorrow vs today. In doing so our endeavors in both business, and personal goals will be more successful in the future.