Swiftpage President and CEO, H. John Oechsle sat down with Ramon Ray to share his insight into the acquisition process that helped Swiftpage become one of the leading CRM and marketing automation platforms for small and medium-sized businesses.

Swiftpage was founded in 2001 by Bob Ogden as an email marketing company similar to Constant Contact or MailChimp. John Oechsle was an early investor in the company and provided advisory services as a board member. He was subsequently named the company’s CEO and it’s been on the fast-track ever since.

Growing companies is John’s specialty, and he says he’s definitely not a startup guy. However, he does say, “if you start it up and get it going, I can grow it for you.” He focuses on acquisitions, organic growth, and geographic expansion and either takes those companies public or sells them.

The 4 Pillars

John shared that he believes SMBs need 4 digital pillars in order to grow:

  1. Presence- websites, Facebook pages…etc.
  2. Traffic- drives traffic to the presence, which then creates leads
  3. Conversion- conversion and retention converts those leads to customers, retains them, and grows them
  4. Optimization- things like financial software, HR software, payment systems…etc.

Swiftpage’s goal was to own conversion and retention for the SMB market. They wanted to be the anchor of conversion and retention and they believe that anchor is CRM. So, the next step was that they needed to go out and acquire that anchor.

Buy vs. Build

The Swiftpage development team wanted to build a new system, but John wanted to buy it and says his decision was based largely on time the market. It would take too long to build a brand-new CRM system, at least a couple of years. “A really good small business CRM that already has an existing base, you can take that, rapidly get it in the market…and grow it.”

So, the search began and not long after, they were contacted by Sage who owned both Act! and SalesLogix, both of which Swiftpage was already integrated with. “We knew the customers, we knew the base, we knew the channel.” John shared. “We went from a 4 million dollar, 15-person company and we acquired two CRM system companies, just acquired 65-70 million in revenue and 300 additional ‘Swifites’ and 4 locations around the world all in about 4 or 5 months. We’re going to write a book about it,” John laughed.

A Time to Change

Oechsle is confident that the Act! brand is the anchor of the SMB market conversion and retention. It was a strong, well-known brand that had a robust, global customer base. But, with every acquisition comes a series of challenges and this one had its challenges: “It was a distressed asset when we bought it. It had sort of died on the vine, it was losing market share and the technology was old,” John admits. So they had some work to do and had a plan to get the product where they wanted it by taking it through 3 distinct eras:

The Transformation Era: They had to transform the technology. It was a closed desktop system and they had to move it to an open cloud-enabled platform, they had to completely revamp the entire office/business model and systems to subscription and SaaS-based. John said “We had to rework the entire sales process, retool the channel. It was an enormous amount of work.”

The Conversion Era: Next, they had to convince their 60,000 customers to convert from desktop software to the cloud and to subscription, and they were essentially changing the dynamics of the business.

The Growth Era: There is still a lot of room for organic growth John said, but they currently have 85,000 customers and over 300,000 users

  • Geographic expansion– they service 100 countries worldwide. The US, UK, Canada, Australia, France Germany are the largest subscribers. But, there is a lot of room for growth in Latin America and other European countries.
  • Acquisition- CRM + Marketing automation and service management = conversion and retention. Switchpage needed to add Marketing automation to their resume and of course, they were going to buy it, not build it.

Marketing Automation

Swiftpage just recently acquired Kuvana, the maker of InboxGuru, an email marketing automation solutions for SMBs. John said that it was really easy to integrate that technology right into their existing platform. The next generation of Act! is one platform that has CRM and marketing automation built into it.

“You need to understand what we call the 4Cs of information: Currency, correctness, consistency, and completeness” said Oechsle If you don’t have current information about your customers and prospects, it’s not correct. And if it’s not correct, it’s not current, if you don’t have those two, you’re not even going to be able to get out of the gate.”

CRM helps SMBs capture that information. There is an enormous amount of cheap technology out there and small businesses are probably using multiple tools to run their business that each store information about your customers. If that information isn’t consistent across the platforms you’re using, you don’t know what the authoritative source of information was. If the information is getting pulled from something that’s not getting updated, you’re back to the first two C’s, it’s not current and it’s not correct. You need consistency across your platforms. The 4th C is probably the most important and that is Completeness.

“Capturing every single interaction you have with a customer or prospect and storing it in one place so you can do something with it, and that’s really what a CRM does. It’s your anchor, your authoritative source for all interactions and all information about your customers.”

Marketing automation says, “Now I have all of this phenomenal information about my customers, how do I have relationships with them, how do I have interactions with them?” Marketing automation allows you to do just that. It sets out a workflow and allows you to have an interaction with a certain kind of customer or prospect you have in your CRM. Email marketing, lead capture, asset tracking, workflow management, campaign management…etc. It ties interactions together and your CRM stores it and you can manage it all from there.

“It’s not just CRM, it’s conversion and retention, as one platform.” That bring John to his 5th C, Connected–SMBs don’t want to have to worry about connecting different systems.

You’ve Got What It Takes

Oechsle  gives some advice for small businesses who are looking to scale and grow:

“Three words: courage, tenacity, passion. You have to have those three.”

Courage- to do something, to start, to grow, take the big step

Tenacity- when you have the courage to take the step, it’s going to be tough, you have to work through it

Passion- If you don’t wake up every morning and say ‘man, I’m going to kill it today’ then you’re not going to do it.

In addition to courage, tenacity, and passion John advises SMBs to “look for something simple that is purpose-built for the small business.”