Over our careers, Craig and I have been involved in the implementation of many marketing automation tools. We’ve been on the ground floor of Marketo, Pardot, Hubspot, and Mailchimp implementations, creating entire marketing automation workflows from scratch.
We’ve been part of both the technical and creative implementations, as well as creating all of the nurturing paths, workflows, and sales automations that connect with the Customer Relation Management (CRM) systems attached to the marketing automation systems.
We have been using SharpSpring for our own business since September 2018. Very quickly we realized that this tool had everything we needed in a marketing automation system, and all of the capabilities we needed in a CRM.
In the 18 months since we started using SharpSpring, we’ve watched the platform grow, adding new features such as sales optimization, incredible reporting, and more trendy features like a Chatbot.
SharpSpring is the marketing automation solution that small to medium sized businesses should be looking at.
The Price is Reasonable
Compared to any of the marketing automation platforms out there, SharpSpring is the most affordable solution with the most comprehensive toolset.
The base price for SharpSpring including 100,000 contacts, 25,000 emails a month, and unlimited end users is $950(USD). This includes a full featured CRM, email system, landing page builder, blogging tools, social media content calendar and posting, marketing automation, sales optimization, reporting, and integrations with other platforms.
Unlike other platforms, SharpSpring isn’t a “plus, plus, plus” situation where you keep on adding extra features and get nickel and dimed to death, all of their basic features are included. You pay extra for email synchronization (you get 3 for free with the package), and integration with Salesforce ($150/month for Salesforce sync).
That’s where the extra pricing ends though. Other platforms can easily get you into the thousands very quickly.
Marketing automation can help you to warm your leads, identify hot prospects, and improve sales. If you’re doing e-commerce, marketing automation can help with cart abandonment and improve your overall sales. A marketing automation tool will pay for itself tenfold.
The Tools are Very Good
No tool is perfect. There are frustrations with every single system out there, no matter how great their ratings are.
SharpSpring’s tools are made so that an average marketer can build end-to-end solutions without getting a coder deeply involved.
While this means that things are simplified, they are also robust enough that you can make them do very interesting things.
From an automation perspective, we haven’t run into any examples where an idea we’ve come up with can’t be executed.
Every marketing automation tool has limitations, there are only a finite number of triggers, and there are a finite number of actions you can take.
However, the reasons that SharpSpring uses the triggers they do, and allows the actions they do are backed up by very solid logic. We’ve had instances where we wanted to do something specific, and after consulting with SharpSpring’s fantastic support agents, we were told why our request was not built into the system, and their logic was good.
In large markets, you could advertise for a “Hubspot Expert”, and get a ton of people replying to your ad. Is hiring a tool specific person the right solution? In other industries you don’t hire a “Sherwin Williams painter” do you?
Looking for marketing automation experts is a better idea. If someone understands marketing automation and CRM tools, they can apply that knowledge to SharpSpring’s easy to use and simple to understand platform, what’s more, you can do things inside of the tool without deep technical expertise.
Companies shouldn’t be hiring tool experts, they should hire marketing experts who understand the in’s and outs of marketing, not how a particular tool works. Tools change, but the fundamentals of marketing will always be the same.
The CRM Features are Very Good
SharpSpring’s strength is its integration of Sales AND Marketing. You get deep insights into customer behaviours, as well as great note taking tools, appointment setting, meeting tools, built-in integrations with Zoom, and much more.
SharpSpring’s Smart Mail feature allows your marketing team to develop great sales collateral which your sales team can send with one click, they can also customize the email that they send, and even schedule it for a specific time.
The sales pipeline is fully customizable, allowing sales management to create custom deal stages to track the progress of an opportunity from the beginning to end of the sales cycle. Opportunities also allow you to create deal forecasts, and a full pipeline view.
When combined with SharpSpring’s powerful Sales Optimizer tools, you can create events, tasks, capitalize on lead engagement, keep your team accountable with powerful reporting, and close more deals.
SharpSpring’s CRM tools out of the box are better than any we’ve seen in other solutions (outside of Salesforce itself).
Constant Development, New Features and Improvements are Regular
We’ve been impressed with the rapid changes that have happened in just the past year.
They just rolled out a sales dialer feature in January, and there are many new features in the pipeline. Later this month they will be releasing a brand new Chatbot which will integrate with the Life of the Lead and the powerful automations already built in.
The Downsides of SharpSpring
Lack of Deep Customization
If coding up custom templates is something that you really want to do, then SharpSpring isn’t right for you.
We’ve had no problem making SharpSpring look and feel like our clients’ websites, but there is no templating language for SharpSpring, which means you need to build things inside of the editors provided.
Likewise, if you really like configuring Salesforce and creating your own Salesforce objects, you’re not going to have that ability in SharpSpring.
Again, we’ve had no problem creating very advanced optimization routines for sales, but if you’ve got your heart set on digging into some code, these are not the droids you’re looking for.
Mobile Tools are Not Great
If mobile is a show stopper for you, then SharpSpring is not the right tool for you. The mobile app is only available on iOS, and mobile is a lower priority development goal for SharpSpring currently.
With the SharpSpring iOS mobile app you can:
View, edit, and add leads, pipelines and opportunities
Place calls and send emails
Browse and edit your contacts
Take notes on contact records
View life-of-lead events
View lead scores
Set task notifications
The old IT saying was “Nobody ever got fired for choosing IBM.” The same goes for Hubspot, Marketo and Pardot.
However, you pay for those brand names, and we have found that the more functionality you require, the more you will pay.
To be truly useful, you’ll be paying $3,200/month for Hubspot, plus $300 for CRM, plus onboarding fees, plus setup fees, plus training fees, plus, plus, plus. It is easy for the first year of a Hubspot account with 90,000 contacts to hit $62,000(USD), and they require a minimum one year commitment.
We can have you up and running in your first month!
We’re confident about this one because we’ve done it multiple times. We’ll get your system turned on, build your first email template, your first landing page template, and show you the nuts and bolts of how to use the system in days, not weeks, not months.
Update – January 15th, 2020 – we have updated the Vendor Comparison with prices as of January 2020.
When you decide to invest in a marketing automation platform, you’re faced with a massive challenge figuring out which vendor will meet your needs. This Vendor Comparison Tool will show you a side-by-side comparison of prices, features, and key variables.
In a few short minutes, you’ll have everything you need to make a decision by answering a few simple questions.
How many marketing users will need access to the system?
How many sales users will be accessing the system?
How many admin users do you need?
How many contacts/leads are you currently managing?
How many new contacts/leads will you add in the coming year?
With those questions the Comparison Tool will generate pricing for the most popular automation tools including Hubspot, Marketo, Act-On, Pardot, and Infusionsoft.
The tool also includes actual reviews from TrustRadius, as well as the star ratings from Caterra, G2 Crowd and Software Advice.
We’ve included a tab with things to consider before selecting your marketing automation solution, including questions about key features, contract length, total cost of ownership, and exactly what is included with Onboarding.
When NorthIQ provisions a Sharpspring install for you, it is a true turn-key solution, we set up your templates, create your initial emails, landing pages, and automations, and you hit the ground running within your first month!
Download your copy of the Marketing Automation Vendor Comparison tool below.
At the beginning of 2019, we set out our “NorthIQ Goals for 2019”, which we work on during the January 1 – December 31 Calendar year, we’ve been doing this for the last three years, and in the next few days we’ll start in on our 2020 goals. Before we start with new goals though, it’s important to look at where we’ve been, and what we’ve done.
This year we worked on creating meaningful and measurable goals that would get us where we wanted to be. We didn’t put out a bunch of unrealistic “Grow the business by Eleventy Eight Billion Percentage Points”, instead we found some specific key metrics, and we worked on improving those.
Our main goals were to find more clients, use our own tools, invest in the business, and refine our tools.
Each one of these goals would create a number of add-on results, and overall we did really well with those goals. Some of our goals changed over the course of the year as we learned new things. While we planned on releasing 26 blog posts on NorthIQ, we pivoted instead to create content on pillar pages that would help us get found by people looking for what we do. Conversely we created even more content on Manage Comics, and we’ve positioned ourselves for some very cool things this year.
Here is a review of our goals from 2018.
Find more clients
Our goal was to find more clients, specifically in London and the surrounding area. Working with new clients exposes us to new things every time, and we’ve become better because of the unique challenges that each new client has.
Manage Comics added 18 new stores in 2019.
NorthIQ worked with 5 new companies in 2020
We decided against more micro-sites in 2019, and we’ll likely look at some different content for 2020.
Overall, finding more clients was a great success, and it is something that we’ll focus even more on in 2020.
Use our own tools
We wanted to start using our own tools in 2019, specifically we wanted to get better with how we use Sharpspring for NorthIQ and Manage Comics.
We really started using Sharpspring in 2019, we’ve created a series of different nurturing systems, and we’ve got something really cool on deck that we want to start marketing which will be integral to our plans in 2020.
Continue content marketing
Our goal in 2019 was to create 26 blog posts on both NorthIQ and Manage Comics (52 blog posts in total).
We did much less content marketing for NorthIQ in 2019, with only 10 new posts created. However we went really deep on pillar pages for specific aspects of our business. We have five significant pillar pages (plus a capstone page about all of our Digital Marketing services), these pages were 1500-4000 words each, and they’ve helped us significantly with our SEO efforts. We’ll be continuing on in this vein, with 10-12 blog posts over the year, and a few more significant pieces like these. I would also like to do some guest posting on other sites, such as Tech Alliance locally, and other sites that will get our name out there.
Over on Manage Comics, we posted 48 blog posts (which includes 12 product updates). We created a new series called “Managing Your Shop”, which was picked up by Bleeding Cool, where four different articles were posted.
This was great, and we’ll be sending things to Bleeding Cool as well as a few other industry specific blogs/websites in the new year.
Invest in the business
Our goal here was to move Manage Comics forward significantly by building out the Point of Sale system. We created the specs, and got some ideas behind what would make it better, but we didn’t execute on this.
The goal was kind of vague, and while we invested in the business in other ways (paying for some content marketing, buying different courses for ourselves, and even investing in an SEO Audit to find out opportunities to improve), we failed in the big picture.
While we invested in Manage Comics in 2019, we need to do a better job of this in 2020.
We have a couple of projects in mind for this coming year, and we’ll be investing in both Manage Comics and our special NorthIQ project in 2020.
Refine our Tools
Our goal was to improve our communication with clients, and make our own work loads more manageable by leveraging better tools and creating new workflows for our incoming work.
We totally revamped how we manage incoming requests, and things are much better than they were before. We now have a dedicated help desk account, and project management software currently accounts for 20% of our monthly non-payroll expenses (mind you, we keep our monthly expenses pretty low). Since we changed over to Help Scout, we’ve found managing day-to-day requests is so much easier, and we don’t lose requests anymore.
The Look Back on 2019
In some ways 2019 was very successful, but we still want more. While we got some processes nailed down this year, it still feels like a lot of the things we do require manual effort, and usually significantly more than we expect. In the first week of January we’ll be doing a deep dive into 2020 to figure out exactly where we want to go, and exactly how we want to get there.
2020 will be the 3rd anniversary of NorthIQ as a corporation, but I’ve been at it for 5 years in 2020. I’m always simultaneously amazed at where we are, and anxious about where we should be whenever I look at the company as a whole.
Mark Manson’s popular book “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F***” is marketed as a “A dose of raw, refreshing, honest truth that is sorely lacking today”, it doesn’t literally mean to not give any F*’s, it’s just a ballsy way of repeating other self help books like “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff”.
A caveat before we get started, I know that neither of these books is about shortcuts, in fact they’re about helping people see the big picture, and understanding what is important, and what isn’t. They’re also about living your best life, your authentic self, and generally being true to yourself. These are all good things.
The scary part about messages like that is that some people have taken this to mean that you can just do a surface level skim coat and call it “good enough”. If I shouldn’t sweat the small stuff, why do you care that the thumbnail for your news story grabs the right part of the image?
Sometimes we need to give a F***, sometimes we need to give all of the F***’s, and borrow a cup of F***’s from a neighbour to add some extra F***’s to your awesome sauce, otherwise you’ll just end up with a big lump of “adequate sauce”.
Hey, maybe adequate sauce is exactly what you need on your Corporate Chain Pizza of life.
Then again, maybe you need to give a f***.
What is the “Subtle art of giving a F***”?
The Subtle Art of Giving a F*** is more than just “sweating the small stuff” and in fact it’s a lot about big picture thinking, and how small details add up to the big picture.
Let’s start with a website. You can tell within 30 seconds of looking at a website how the company is going to treat you.
How does it look? Is the site old and tired, or is it fairly modern?
Does the navigation make sense?
Is it obvious what you should do? Is it simple to find the thing you’re looking for?
Is it easy to get in touch with them?
When you want to get in touch with them, do they require a whole bunch of seemingly irrelevant information?
Sometimes it’s the little things. Maybe they have a really intricate logo, but the thing is so small that it loses all context – it was likely designed for print, not for a 300px phone screen, where 87% of your potential customers initiate their first contact. Maybe it’s the fact that a captcha form takes seven attempts to get through.
You can tell very quickly when thought hasn’t been given to who is using the website, and what they’re doing with it.
When the basics are taken care of, then the difference is in how an experience can delight you. The little things can take something from 90% or “good enough” to 125% – “Wow, this is great”
Sometimes it’s about doing something that only you will care about.
The other day I spent over an hour on a single image for a blog post. The post itself probably took me another hour. I doubt anyone will even notice the difference between my picture and the default. The post was – How to Survive the Retail Paradigm Shift over on my Manage Comics blog.
For those of you wondering, I went in and added actual comic books to the book covers, so that the picture was actually reflective of the source material. This may not seem like a huge deal, but it felt important to me at the time. It was fun, I flexed some Photoshop muscles I don’t normally use, and it lends some extra context to the post.
It’s also the kind of thing that a detail oriented person might notice, and since this particular post was going in front of hundreds of thousands of eyes that’s the kind of detail that matters.
For that post I also recorded a video, it took me 14 minutes to record the video, and another three revisions of the thumbnail image to make sure it was exactly right.
In the first version, I realized that at certain screen sizes, the sides were being cut off, so I resized the caption and moved the logo a bit. However reading it I realized that the title needed some juice to make it more relevant, so I revised it again. Each revision only took a few minutes, but they were important.
In short, I did sweat the small stuff, and I gave a F***.
Don’t miss the forest for the trees
The little things gave me a sense of accomplishment. However, I worked on the things that I thought would make an impact, I did things quickly and efficiently, and I only worked on these little things after I had the big picture covered.
The video I did was recorded quickly, and without fuss. The idea behind the videos I am making right now is that I want to do things that have a low barrier to entry, that don’t take me a ton of time, but that can hit an adjacent audience to the text.
I recorded the video twice, the first time I hemmed and hawed quite a bit, but the second time I managed to get through the entire thing with only one minor screw up (I couldn’t remember the name “Geek Easy” no matter how hard I tried). Now I could have done a quick edit and fixed that up, but after watching it, I liked the raw energy of the unedited video.
What was important was that I got it up, that it enhanced the original post, and that it didn’t take a whole ton of time to do.
I’m a big fan of the term “Appropriate Effort”, meaning that you don’t spend a ton of time on things you know very few people will ever see, but you do put a lot of effort into the details on things that many people would see. I can’t imagine myself spending an hour on a graphic for a blog post just for Manage Comics, but when I’m going to draw in a much bigger audience, it makes a ton of sense.
Cover the big picture, make sure your message is consistent.
Don’t kill yourself over the little details that aren’t important.
In the summer of 2015, I finally made good on a promise I had made myself a long time ago and set out to start a brand new venture. This time I’d “do it right”, as opposed to all of the other times I had started a business, and I would focus on doing the things that I do best. Right from the beginning, NorthIQ was the culmination of everything that I had done before, and we wouldn’t be where we are today if it wasn’t for everything that had prepared us for where we are today.
On one hand, four years seems like a long time, but it feels like just yesterday that I was walking out the doors of my “sure thing”, and venturing off into the unknown. I founded NorthIQ as a sole proprietorship on August 13th, 2015, but I wouldn’t really get started for another three weeks.
Four years ago I knew one thing, I was going to rebuild All New Comics, and I would start working on Manage Comics. Other than that though, I didn’t have a clue what would be next. By November we were ready to launch Manage Comics, and All New Comics was ready to re-launch. I had a few little jobs in there, a couple of websites, I taught myself a ton about WordPress, and I started using Divi to build websites.
In October 2015, Craig Oliphant and I set out to build a complete product in one week. We succeeded in that challenge, and delivered the incredibly poorly titled – Kickstart Guide to Small Business Marketing – which we have seriously tweaked, modified, and revised this into a project called “Dude Where’s my Sales” which we will be launching wide next week.
That same week, we had a chance meeting with a company that would become my longest recurring client – Timber Block. We were hired to basically save their website, revise their SEO strategy, and improve their lead generation. I learned so much on that job, first working with Salesforce, and then later migrating them over to Hubspot. I relied on Craig to really help me out in this period, and everything we did in this first year months is the foundation for the business we have today.
When I left my previous job I thought I would build a business revamping websites. It’s grown to become mainly about lead generation. Even our SaaS – Manage Comics – has a huge lead generation component that has allowed it to grow to where it is today.
The things I didn’t know could fill a book, from simple things like accounting and reconciliation to complex things like onboarding and offboarding employees. The things I can do today are vastly different as well. I had never logged in to Salesforce in my career, but within a month of leaving my job I was logging into Salesforce daily. I have now implemented marketing automation solutions like Hubspot multiple times, and we’re a certified partner with Sharpspring. I’ve dug deeper into scary server side command line commands than I ever thought possible, and I know how to make a website sing and dance!
A ton of thanks goes out to Peter from All New Comics for that initial job that let me leave a very comfortable career and have a four-month runway of work. I also need to thank Craig, Sean Robinson, Taras Zubyak, Brent Potter, Nate Robinson, Mark Tauschek, Gord Harrison, Ryan McFadden and of course my wife Charlene for the help, leads, encouragement, and just generally being good people to bounce things off of.