A Review of SharpSpring Marketing Automation with Rick Carlson: One Last Tool Episode 9
Announcer: Is your digital business efforts in need of a tune up or major overhaul? If you’re ready to get your sales, marketing and services machine up and running, you’re going to need just the right tools. Welcome to One Last Tool, your pit stop for learning about all of the latest and greatest digital tools to get your business engine running on all cylinders. Now, here’s your resident technician, George B. Thomas.
George: All right, ladies and gentlemen, we’re back for yet another episode of One Last Tool. I am George B. Thomas from The Sales Lion. As always, this podcast, this video interview is brought to you by WP Inbound Machine. If you’re trying to put an inbound or content marketing machine together and you don’t know how to put the pieces together, then just go to WPInboundMachine.com.
Now, today, I am super excited and I know people, I always say I’m excited, but I truly am excited because we get to dive into the world of marketing automation and agencies and normal people and weird people and all sorts of stuff. Although Rick, he’s not a weird person. He’s actually with us today. Rick, why don’t you explain to the audience listening on iTunes or watching this video right now who you are and what you do and who you do it for?
Rick: Sure. Thanks, George, appreciate it. I don’t know if I can live up to that not weird person label you just gave me, but I’ll do my best. I’m Rick Carlson. I am the founder and CEO of SharpSpring. SharpSpring is a marketing automation company that also has a built-in CRM and works with tools like Salesforce and Zoho and SugarCRM. So we’re kind of a complete package there. If you’re familiar with HubSpot or Marketo or those types of companies, that’s essentially what SharpSpring does. We certainly have a unique spot in the market, which I’m happy to talk to you about, but I’ll stop there for now.
George: That’s fine, Rick. You just briefly touched on what is SharpSpring. I’d really like you to go a little bit deeper. When we talk about marketing automation and software, really let’s start at the very beginning for folks who, shoot, might not know HubSpot or marketing. These people that are still using like Excel spreadsheets and Post-It notes to keep track of their stuff. Yes, they still do exist, believe it or not.
George: The question is at a very high-level, 50,000-foot view, what is SharpSpring?
What Is SharpSpring?
Rick: Sure. SharpSpring is a combination of marketing automation and CRM. So you can use either one or both tools together. Then let’s take a dive into what both of those things are. When we think about marketing automation, I describe marketing automation as a suite of tools. The suite of tools is designed to help you do three things, drive more leads into your business is the first. The second is once you have those leads, marketing automation helps you convert those leads into sales with some of their tools, some of the tools built into marketing automation.
The third big goal of marketing automation is to track and analyze that entire process so that you know what’s working and what isn’t. If you know what’s working and what isn’t, you can obviously eliminate the things, both the money and the resources spent on the things that aren’t working and take that money and resources and steer it towards the things at are. So that really leads back to the beginning of driving more leads and converting them into sales.
If you’re not on the marketing automation bandwagon, whether it’s with my company, SharpSpring, or one of our competitors, you just need to be. That’s the bottom line. That is, again, this isn’t a plug for SharpSpring. This is, get on the marketing automation bandwagon because it is the key to doing business these days.
A lot of marketing automation companies are starting to look at integrating CRM and the reason for that, and SharpSpring does that, and the reason for that is because there’s always been a rift. There’s always been a gap between sales and marketing. Marketing thinks that the sales team is squandering the leads that they developed.
The sales team almost always complains that the leads that marketing is giving them aren’t good. We can close that gap and have complete transparency through the entire lead generation to close and beyond into customer engagement and adoption beyond the sales process all into one unified process with a lot more clarity than has ever before been possible given to the sales people.
They can see everything that happened before that lead came to them and the marketing people, they can see everything that happened after the lead was passed on to sales. So combining marketing automation and CRM, it just makes sense and that’s where everything is going. SharpSpring is already there. HubSpot is already there. Infusionsoft is already there with combining these tools. I think the rest are going to follow. So I hope that gives you kind of an idea.
Not to go on, but for those folks that aren’t familiar with CRM and are still using those Post-It notes and Excel sheets, CRM is really your database of record for managing a sales process through a funnel, through a sales process from the moment the lead ends up with your sales team on through to the point where it’s completed. It gives you a way to record all that information and better CRMs actually help you drive the sales process forward by instituting policies for sales people to follow when they’re at different stages of this funnel and reporting and all of that stuff comes out of your CRM.
George: Rick, that was awesome. There are a couple pieces that I want to unpack for the viewers/listeners. First of all, the need to eradicate the marketing and sales silo and being able to use a piece of software that is paying attention to CRM, sales and the marketing automation and bringing them together is so valuable.
The other thing that as you were talking, I thought about insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. I wondered how many viewers or listeners actually are being insane in their business, meaning every day it’s the same old thing and why aren’t we growing? Why aren’t we breaking down silos? Why aren’t we able to track these things that we’re trying to do. That was awesome information.
So maybe let’s go two steps deeper instead of what is SharpSpring, maybe how does SharpSpring work? Like for an end user, what could they expect, what should they be looking for? How does it work in the daily lives of the users?
How Does SharpSpring Work?
Rick: Sure. Well, our product, like all marketing automation platforms is a cloud-based service. So there’s nothing to install, really, in your system. They run through the web, like Salesforce does as an example, so it’s a cloud-based monthly service.
When you first get a marketing automation platform, there’s a little bit of integration work. You get a little piece of tracking code that immediately connects into your website. That tracking code is part of the magic that makes the whole thing work. So we’re going to begin to track behaviors of people on your website. We’re going to know where those people came from. So what’s driving the traffic to your website, whether it be pay-per-click ads or naturally search or social or referral sites, maybe you’ve got some nice articles written about your company and those websites are sending you traffic, your paid ads. We’re going to start tracking all that stuff, the sources of all the traffic to your site.
But we’re going to go way beyond what a Google Analytics would do because we’re going to track that behavior and then we’re going to tie it to names of people built into SharpSpring and all marketing automation platforms are from builders or landing pages. So as that person wanders through your site, we’re seeing everything they’re looking at. Are they interested in this product or that product? Are they at the beginning of the sales cycle because they’re looking at what is this widget that I’m selling? Or are they ready to buy, hey, what’s the best price? They’re looking at your pricing page, for example. So we’re tracking all that.
Then if they were to fill out a form on your website, maybe they download a whitepaper or something, some sort of content marketing that you’re doing, we’re going to connect all of that tracking information now to the name and email address and other critical information for that lead. And by the way, that behavior can be used to kick off automation and workflows.
So getting back to your question, once you get that tracking code installed and maybe some forms built into your website to collect leads, you start building workflows. Somebody fills out a form looking for some basic information, you can kick off an automated set of email communication to them, not just generic emails that people think of as spam, but highly targeted emails based on their interest because you know their interest because you’ve seen what they’ve been looking at on your site.
We can very easily see, “Hey, this person is interested in this product and that product,” but they don’t seem to be ready to buy. They’ve visited the site for the first time and they’re looking for really basic info. We can start to communicate with them and bring them along the sales process over time and build that trust with them as they get ready to make their purchase decision by giving them valuable, relevant information.
We can simultaneously notify the sales team. We can score leads and do all kinds of things to say, “Hey, this is a hot lead,” or, “This is a lead that needs to be nurtured by marketing a little bit more.” The beginning of that process is really about getting those basic workflows setup, understanding your business and what you’d like to do with the platform, getting the tracking code installed, some form collection and beginning to build those workflows that are relevant for your business.
George: Awesome. Folks, just rewind that part and that’s like the playbook to marketing automation. I love it. So we mentioned a couple times in the what is and how does it work, we mentioned you and your team. So what I want to do is I want to, Rick, dive a little deeper and really ask the question who is that you? Who is the best fit for the SharpSpring software?
Who is the best fit for SharpSpring?
Rick: Yeah. So we built our platform for small to mid-market businesses, small to medium businesses. There are very complex, very expensive, very difficult but also very powerful tools out there. Eloqua has got a great one. Marketo probably falls into that category as well. But these tools are really built for enterprises. They’re very powerful. To this day, they do a few things that SharpSpring doesn’t do.
Just to kind of prove I’m an honest player and giving you some honest info, but they’re also very, very expensive, very, very difficult to use and they’re built for enterprises. So we built our entire business around really two pillars. One, digital marketing agencies, more than a thousand digital marketing agencies trust SharpSpring and bring our product to their customers and build marketing automation into their customers’ sales and marketing processes.
Then because they are bringing it to their customers, those products are the SMBs that I’m talking about, the small to medium businesses that I’m talking about. So the products got to be super easy to use, very affordable. So we have more than a thousand agencies that work with us and that’s really something that SharpSpring . . . these are the thought leaders in our industry and we’re super proud to have built that trust among that community because these are the guys that know what’s going on, that know how to implement marketing automation.
Having that track record with those guys is just something we’re really proud of. But at the same time, our product is perfect for their clients, the SMB, that is looking to really accelerate their marketing and lead generation tactics, but not have something that’s so overwhelmingly expensive that they can’t get a return on their investment. So that’s kind of where we fit into the equation
George: Yeah. There is definitely a need for that software. I can’t tell you how many times I’d have a conversation with people and they’re like, “We just can’t afford to do it,” on most of these other platforms. So I love that. So I know that the answer to this one could be many, so maybe let’s drill down to two or three when I ask you this question. What are the problems or what is the problem, maybe you do have one main one you want to talk about, I think there’s going to be more than one, what are the problems that SharpSpring helped folks to handle?
What Problems Does SharpSpring Solve?
Rick: Sure. It is a suite of tools. It’s an incredibly powerful suite of tools. It is difficult to narrow that down to just one or two things. We can do things for, the platform is equally beneficial for B2B companies, we talked a little bit about CRM, as it is for B2C companies. We have shopping cart integrations where again, you can follow a lead and how they got to your site and their buyer journey through your site. Then even if that culminates in a sale through a shopping cart, we can tie that back to the resources.
It’s difficult, you can use the same tools to engage customers that you already have and either make them use more of your product, if that’s appropriate or cross-sell them to different products within your suite of services and turn them into customer advocates that are referring customers to you. There’s actually a whole host of problems that we solve or benefits is probably another way to say it, after the sales. So marketing automation, tremendously, tremendously powerful tool.
If I had to really focus on the sweet spot, I’d go back to that description I gave of marketing automation. It’s really about driving more leads into your business. The bread and butter of marketing automation is up at the top of the funnel driving leads into your business and then in the middle of the funnel, once you have those leads, making sure that they don’t start falling out of the bucket.
You’ve spent all this money to get those leads into your business. You’ve paid Google their pay-per-click, not just on the one that converted, but the other 99 that didn’t convert, right? Google still got their money for the clicks. So you’ve got all this money invested. Marketing automation helps you maximize that through bread and butter lead generation, lead nurturing tactics and communication, then signals and behavioral based communication that really helps to maximize the conversation of every one of those leads. If I had to boil it down to two things, it’s lead generation and lead conversion.
George: Yeah. Love it. I like too that you talked about money. It’s about money and saving money, in that case. Even generating more money because you aren’t losing the leads through the cracks, the crevices of the floor. With that said, and I love this question because usually, it’s the question where people start to get a little uneasy, they wiggle around in their seat a little bit. I think you’ve got this one nailed though, although I think too because of your other answer, it might be multiple things here.
But when somebody comes to SharpSpring and they’re thinking, “Do I need my first born child? Do I need my right arm and my leg?” Like what does it cost to actually have this powerful suite of tools to use for my business?
How Much Does SharpSpring Cost?
Rick: I think you’re right, by the way. I’ve got this question nailed. So we built our entire business around SMBs. I’ll tell you a little story at the risk of boring your audience. I was running another company and became exposed to a really great company called Marketo, fantastic platform, great people. They’ve really done a great job with their business. I was blown away by the technology itself, but I said, “Wow, this is expensive.”
The company I was running was a larger enterprise. So it actually inspired me to start SharpSpring, though. I wanted to start the business with the goal of bringing it down to an affordable price point for SMBs. I thought, “Boy, we could make something that’s simpler that everybody can use.
So our stated goal here at our company has been to democratize the price of marketing automation in general and in part through the price and in part through the ease of use. So our price point, it depends on the size of the business. But our price point is typically a quarter to a third the cost of the competitors that are out there. So HubSpot and Marketo and those guys, we tend to be well less than a third of a company like a Marketo or something.
For our agency partners, we are literally one-tenth the cost. So we train up an agency and they build their entire business around our platform. One of our largest agencies has over 80 clients on the platform, just to give you an idea. We tend to be about a tenth of the cost, sometimes even a bit less than the competition that’s out there.
So we’re actually down at the price point with our end customers that we’re probably far less, far, far less than a company who’s kind of piecing together Constant Contact or MailChimp and Salesforce.com and a form builder over here and some sort of analytics package. First off, it’s a monstrous mess of a technology stack to try to get to all talk to one another. So there are gigantic overhead costs, but just the direct costs, we’re probably far less than all those license fees put together.
Just to kind of put a real number out there, I hesitate to do it because there are different size companies. We tend to be a few hundred dollars a month. The way we work is that if you’re not happy, you can leave at any time. We’re one of the only companies in the market that’s doing this, but our position is we never want to trap anybody into a long-term agreement.
You need to be happy with us. You need to be seeing the ROI and our customers do. So they stay with us. We have one of the lowest attrition rates in the industry, even though every one of our customers can leave in any given month.
George: Yeah. So first of all, you nailed the question. Second of all, that is super interesting to me because you’re right, most other marketing automation companies that I’ve talked to, done interviews with or been involved with as far as using for clients, it’s one year. You have to sign up for one year and usually they’re trying to get that one year all at once and not a monthly payment. So that is definitely a separator.
So we’re kind of journeying into the question that I want to ask anyway and we’ve mentioned some names, but I still have to ask the questions just so we can bring it to a point here. Who does SharpSpring consider to be the major competitors in your space?
Who are SharpSpring’s major competitors?
Rick: Absolutely. So if you’re familiar with the marketing automation industry, I’m not going to surprise you at all. If you’re not, then maybe these names are new, but we compete, generally speaking with HubSpot, Marketo, Pardot and Act-On. Those are really our four competitors. There’s also Infusionsoft that’s out there. Infusionsoft is kind of a little bit of a different animal for us.
But by in large, we view HubSpot as our number one competitor. It’s kind of funny for me to say we probably wouldn’t be in business without those guys. They’re an absolutely great company. They’ve done tremendous amounts of work, high quality work educating the market on what marketing automation is and how to use it. They deliver some of the best content in the world. I couldn’t ask for a nicer group of people to compete with.
That said, I think what we’re doing is something really pretty revolutionary. We started about seven years after those guys. At this point, any kind of major feature that you would expect, we’re feature comparable. So we have form builders. We have analytics. We have landing page builders. We’ve got an email suite built in and we’re talking about next generation email that’s behavioral-based email, not to be confused with what you might get from a Constant Contact or something like that.
We’ve got anonymous visitor identification in the tool we call visitor ID, which helps drive additional leads to your business. I’m forgetting so many things. We’ve got shopping cart integration. We have RSS. We have a blogging tool with RSS integration. So as you write a blog, we can send an email out to all your subscribers automatically to let them know that a new piece of content is out.
So feature to feature, we’re comparable and the truth is everything I just listed, HubSpot has and Marketo has and Act-On and Pardot has. We’re really very different on those two reasons. We’ve built the business to be, we’re constantly told that we’re one of the easiest platforms to use. That’s because again, we had a seven-year head start, excuse me, we actually were seven years behind a lot of these guys.
We were able to see what people liked about their platforms and what they didn’t. I think we were able to learn. So when I say we might not be in business without these guys, I actually mean that. That’s led us to a really simple platform and again, price points, when you start with no revenues, you’re kind of free to set a pretty unique price and not worry about cannibalizing yourselves. So our price tends to be a tiny fraction of what these competitors charge as well.
George: That section was great, Rick, because it almost reminded me, you got about halfway through of listing the things and then you’re like, “I know I’m forgetting this.” It reminded me of like an Oscar or Emmy speech. You’re just trying to get all the people’s names, “I know I’m forgetting you, Uncle Joe.” So here’s the thing. Usually I love asking that question, though, because I like volleyball and it’s usually kind of the set-spike moment.
The spike is coming with this next question that I love asking. So we’ve listed the competitors. You’ve listed pretty much how you’re alike in all those features, which is great. I think I know the answer. Hopefully it’s part of the answer and there’s more. But what makes SharpSpring better than the competitors?
What makes SharpSpring better than the competitors?
Rick: Well, first off, maybe I’ll give you an unusual answer. We’re not better than the competitors. We’re only better than, not outright, we’re only better than the competitors for certain customers. So we’re not better than Marketo for an enterprise customer. If you need this or that feature, it’s a real possibility that you could be better served by one of our competitors.
So we absolutely don’t subscribe to the idea that we are the best fit for every customer that’s out there. In fact, our agency partners every once in a while use a different tool for a specific customer. We get it, we understand it, it makes a heck of a lot of sense to us. We’re pretty proud of the fact that we help other businesses succeed. So we never want to stand in the way of that for the benefit of our own product.
Now, having said all that, it is the answer kind of that I’ve already touched on. We just fit where other competitors don’t. We’re easier to use and then the price point means that heck, people who can’t afford one of those tools can use ours. For the people that can afford it, they can take the dollars that they would be spending, the thousands of dollars every month that they would be spending on another platform and put that towards their marketing agency to help them deliver results or put them towards Google pay-per-click ads or remarketing or what have you.
The fact is, for every dollar you’re not spending on the automation platform, that’s a dollar you can spend implementing it. It boils down not to any individual feature because all the platforms are powerful. If you for whatever reason don’t like what I’m saying and you would never consider SharpSpring, go get yourself a marketing automation platform because it’s going to help your business if you’ve got the resources to implement it appropriately. It almost can’t not help your business. If you’re looking for a platform that you are looking for ease of use and it needs to be affordable, I think we might have a better than even shot of being the right platform for you.
George: So I’ve got to be honest, Rick, I love that very honest and transparent answer. What I got from it was we’re absolutely better than the competition for the right person.
Rick: That’s right.
George: Not because of the right features. I love that because it really is, look, we talk about in marketing, in sales, it’s human to human. That is the most probably human answer from a marketing automation company I think that I’ve heard.
Rick: I’ll take it. Thank you for that.
George: Take that and kudos on that. Here’s the thing. As I’ve bumped around the interwebs, I’ve noticed there’s like two different types of people. There are those people who are technically savvy and they can just get stuff done and then there’s folks, well, that just aren’t. And so, if I’m new to the marketing automation space and I sign up for SharpSpring, what might be some of the possible problems that I might run into as a user when I get started?
What Problems Might A SharpSpring User Run Into When Using The Software?
Rick: You know, when you were talking about running around the internet and two different kinds of people, I really thought for a second you were going Republican/Democrat. I’m glad you weren’t. I’m really glad you weren’t. Let’s avoid that topic entirely.
Rick: Something we haven’t touched on so far is support. There’s no getting around it. As easy as we try to make SharpSpring and as logically as we’ve laid it out, it’s a powerful platform, just like the other platforms that are out there. For somebody that is moving from very basic email and sending that monthly newsletter every month just to kind of stay top of mind and to now give them a tool where you can build workflows and basically have one-on-one communication with every lead that comes to your website, it can be a little bit daunting. I don’t want to sugarcoat that.
What I will say about it is that there’s a lot of great content out there that can teach you best practices and talk to you about what you should be considering and how you should be setting things up. The other thing I want to say about it is it’s just so well worth it. It’s just well worth it.
So don’t go into marketing automation thinking it’s going to save you time. That is not the value proposition. I even see other marketing automation platforms saying that and it’s not true. It’s not going to save you time. What it will allow you to do is be far more powerful with the time that you invest in it, which is likely more time than not having the platform.
SharpSpring comes with unlimited support for our customers, just so you know. Support for us means we will be on the phone with you, work with you through email, teach you how to do things. Almost all the platforms include an onboarding process. For ours, it’s 60 days. So we have a dedicated onboarding professional that’s going to help you get setup, get it hooked up with your site, get you configured, getting the platform rebranded if you want to do that, setting up your workflows, putting users in, really just handholding and getting you going for 60 days.
Our onboarding process is designed to be flexible because we get one person that comes in that just runs, just like you’re saying, the highly technical person. You get the other one that comes in and everything here is new. I think that what I’m saying is true of the competitors as well. I think we all recognize that to be successful there needs to be a real solid element of support. I think we do well there and I think most of the competitors at this point have done a good job as well.
George: Rick, great answer. Again, you’re like the Babe Ruth of marketing automation interviews, man.
Rick: You know what it is? I think Thanksgiving is coming up. I don’t have to pace myself for a full week. I can just lay it all out in this interview.
George: There you go. So I want to thank you for taking the time to do the interview, but I do have one last question before we get off of here and do our little closing. If people want to find out more about you, if they want to find out more about SharpSpring, where do you want them to go?
Where Can People Learn More About SharpSpring?
Rick: Yeah, sure. So of course, like a lot of companies, we’ve got a Facebook page. You’re welcome to visit us on SharpSpring on Facebook. Obviously SharpSpring.com and some people, “What’s that? Say that again.” SharpSpring, my joke is like something you wouldn’t want to sit on. Just in case, it’s spelled the way it’s sound. We’d love to have some of your users check us out, obviously. We’d be glad to connect with you.
George: Very awesome. Folks, that was another episode of One Last Tool. That’s how we roll her, no fluff, just great information about the tools. If you’re listening on iTunes, make sure you go over and leave us a raving review. You can leave any review you want but the raving ones get read more, for sure. As always, I am @GeorgeBThomas on the Twittersphere and until next time, go out and use that One Last Tool.
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