I’m fortunate that I attend many conferences these days as a keynote speaker, but occasionally, it’s nice to not be a speaker and just absorb. Recently, I had the chance to attend the ICON conference in Phoenix, walk around and connect with others, and talk to entrepreneurs about their struggles instead. Plus, ICON is one of the top entrepreneur conferences, so as an entrepreneurial junkie myself, it was a great way to get my fix.
As I talked with small business owners and entrepreneurs at the event, the biggest challenges I heard over and over again revolved around increasing sales. These entrepreneurs had a passion for their craft and for their products, but they didn’t always know how to tie that into their marketing — and it was leaving their sales stagnant.
The people I spoke with aren’t the only ones struggling, either. While I was at the event, I was given the 2017 Small Business Marketing Trends Report with the following data:
- 47 percent of small business owners have zero insight into whether their marketing efforts are effective.
- The percentage of small business owners using a website analytics tool sits below 39 percent; only 25 percent use customer relationship management software to manage their touchpoints with prospective customers and current clients.
- Not even half of the participants claimed to use digital advertising, SEO, content marketing, or video marketing. Less than a third of them had plans to invest more money in those tactics in 2017.
When I asked some of the attendees about their thoughts on these points, it became clear that there’s some frustration surrounding the complications presented by single-point solutions or, at least, the need to use a lot of tools. For example, tools like MailChimp or Shopify address strong pain points that small business owners face, but they solve them in isolation and don’t often tackle their full range of sales and marketing challenges.
These kinds of single-point tools are exploding in popularity because they’re masters at making these challenges approachable and manageable — but they each solve one component of a larger problem. This can lead to entrepreneurs bringing even more tools into the mix, which often leaves more room for data disputes and confusion among small business owners who are already having a hard enough time measuring their effectiveness.
I was intrigued by the launch of Propel, a new product that Infusionsoft developed. It’s a somewhat personalized sales and marketing product that allows small business owners to answer a handful of questions so the software can build itself around those responses. It’s similar to TurboTax, which I’m a big fan of and have used for 10 years now, in that it’s customized to your needs. Propel also offers things like personalized branding by scraping user websites for color and creating additional branding without any work on the user’s part.
When I caught up with Clate Mask, CEO of Infusionsoft, he talked about building a platform similar to Apple’s developer program, in which partners and developers can design the tools and apps that the end consumer uses.
I’ve seen this trend across industries in referencing companies like Apple or Facebook, which are creating platforms that their developers and partners can use to design the most useful tools while still utilizing the core services of those platforms.
This kind of core platform with customizable tools for additional problem-solving is showing up more and more as a solid solution for customers to get what they want while remaining connected to the original platform.
Understanding and actually executing growth in sales and marketing will always be a priority for entrepreneurs. To help, some will go the single-point route and fill in the gaps by bringing in multiple tools, while others will look for all-in-one solutions. No matter what, it will be interesting to see the adoption of new tools as more small business owners start embracing technology.
In my experience, the simpler something is to use, the more likely it is to be adopted — especially for entrepreneurs who are leading and growing their businesses. And these core tools — which give them the ability to build out applications around them — seem to be signaling where things are going. At the same time, new tools appear every day from new startups. I’m looking forward to seeing which platforms win the attention and advocacy of entrepreneurs in the long term.
John Hall is the CEO of Influence & Co., a keynote speaker, and the author of “Top of Mind.” You can book John to speak here.