Needle: Pushing the Sales Needle
Let advocates advocate. At least that's what Salt Lake City–based start-up Needle suggests. In late 2010, the company launched its Guided Shopping Platform, connecting crowd-sourced product experts and brand mavens with online shoppers through Web chat.
Boosted by more than $12 million in funding raised last year alone, the company has extensively grown its cloud-based Web chat platform, expanded its pool of brand experts, and signed some significant online retailers as clients.
The Needle service represents a significant leap forward in online sales assistance, replacing traditional contact center staff—crammed into rows of cubicles and providing scripted responses to customer inquiries—with highly qualified and motivated product experts, called Needlers, who engage in real-time conversations to help Web site visitors find exactly the right items to purchase.
"Most contact center agents haven't really used the products, so they can't make qualified recommendations," says Needle CEO and cofounder Morgan Lynch.
Needle taps into its clients' existing fan bases, cruising their Facebook and Twitter pages, online forums, and online review sites to find new Needlers. The company then trains and certifies the Needlers to sell the companies' products or services. As users of the products themselves, Needlers are able to build a rapport with customers, turning simple sales suggestions into recommendations from a "trusted friend."
Brands connect Web site visitors with Needlers via click-to-chat links or pop-ups on their Web pages. Needle uses Web analytics and tracking software to see where site visitors have already been on the brands' pages, what they did, and what they looked at, and uses that information to determine which experts to bring online for each particular interaction.
Needlers get paid per interaction, whether or not they make a sale, but the real benefits of working for Needle are the flexible hours, work-from-anywhere convenience, and opportunities to earn products from the companies they represent.
"We tap into their intrinsic motivation, enabled by gamification," Lynch explains.
In business since January 2010, Needle now employs more than 1,000 product experts ready to help in a variety of categories, from electronics to cosmetics. It provides sales support for dozens of companies, including headphone maker Skullcandy, clothing retailer Urban Outfitters, and sports apparel maker Under Armour.
Skullcandy.com engaged in the first beta tests of the platform in May 2010. Last year alone, Nick, a Skullcandy Needler and skier from Salt Lake City, sold $32,783 of Skullcandy products to online shoppers. On average, Needle's clients are noticing a 27 percent increase in sales conversions as a result of Needle's service.
Needle's Guided Shopping Platform can be used across multiple sales channels and is customized for each partner's specific needs. The platform currently only supports chat interactions, but Lynch says it could potentially support voice and video conversations as well. And though not currently in the plans, he adds, it could potentially be used for customer support interactions. —Leonard Klie
Infusionsoft: Socializing Small Businesses
Small businesses are a big deal for Infusionsoft. Since its founding in 2004, the company has been dedicated to providing small businesses with an all-in-one sales and marketing application and simplifying the demands of their daily operations.
Infusionsoft's approach to CRM involves fusing the often disparate sales and marketing platforms into one single, automated process that's more affordable and efficient for small businesses. In January, the company received $54 million from Goldman Sachs to improve and grow its sales and marketing automation system.
"We've been growing at a solid rate of fifty percent per year," Infusionsoft Chief Marketing Officer Greg Head says, "but we were looking for funding to help us continue to grow. Goldman Sachs understood our purpose and our focus on small business, and we were glad to find that they were connected to our cause."
According to Head, the money will be put toward continued research and development of new products, partnerships, and general company growth. "It's going to be an exciting time for us," Head says.
On the heels of the funding announcement, Infusionsoft revealed its acquisition of GroSocial, a provider of Web-based software that enables small businesses to build and track marketing campaigns that generate leads across popular social networks.
"The way users engage with companies is totally different now than it was in the past. Over eighty percent of customers are active on social media, especially Facebook, and connecting with customers via social media is an increasingly important trend for small businesses."
At its annual InfusionCon conference in May, the company introduced Infusionsoft Sync for Gmail, a Gmail integration system. "This is going to make the lives of Infusionsoft users who rely on Gmail to conduct business a whole lot easier," said Richard Tripp, chief product officer at Infusionsoft, in a statement. "More Infusionsoft users use Gmail as their email system than any other, including Outlook. Now, without leaving their Gmail inbox, customers can centralize contacts and communications, view Infusionsoft appointments, and trigger sales automation. Our customers are going to see a huge boost in productivity with Infusionsoft Sync for Gmail."
Making Inc.'s 500/5000 list of fastest-growing companies for the past six years and nabbing a spot among Deloitte's Technology Fast 500 in 2012, Infusionsoft is embracing the momentum. "The past year has been incredibly exciting," Head says, "but we're not stopping here. We'll continue to remain dedicated to small businesses, and provide...services to meet their unique needs."—Maria Minsker
Gigya: Building a Solid Social Infrastructure
An innovator among social infrastructure providers for businesses, Gigya has made a name for itself by not only developing ways to collect and extract user data from social networks, but also by putting that data directly into the hands of marketers. With more than 600 clients and 1.5 billion unique monthly users, the company has grown 150 percent over the past three years and, in that time, introduced a product nearly every six months, according to Gigya CEO Patrick Salyer.
Last fall, Gigya launched its redesigned user management program, User Management 360. Taking a page from the software-as-a-service playbook, the company unveiled its Registration-as-a-Service (RaaS) platform. Gigya's RaaS enables businesses to create registration pages with traditional fill-in forms or make use of Social Login without complicated coding and development.
"In the past, marketers had to rely on IT departments to access their users' data, but that's just not the most efficient way of doing business anymore. With this cloud-based registration system, marketers have immediate access to easily accessible data that we present in a unified way," Salyer explains.
Gigya was recognized for its innovation and named one of ZDNet's CRM Watchlist 2013 winners.
In May, Gigya partnered with Acquity Group to create a cartridge that would help companies improve their customers' shopping experiences on the Hybris Commerce Suite and smooth the transition from data analysis to marketing by incorporating Social Login. "We're always looking to simplify things for our clients and get rid of the need for complex coding and technical integration and this, too, was a step in that direction," Salyer reiterates.
Just days after the partnership announcement, Gigya also revealed a major update to its NEXUS Partner Ecosystem and the addition of 21 social and marketing technology partners, including Marketo, Disqus, and Sailthru. "The social data that Gigya captures is invaluable for marketers [who] want to personalize their customer interactions," said Michael Hershfield, vice president of business development at Sailthru, in a statement. "Our partnership will enable Sailthru and Gigya clients to connect with their customers on an even deeper level, as well as increase the success of their marketing campaigns."
Having grown drastically within the past year, Gigya has even had to expand its office space, adding about 6,000 square feet to its Mountain View, Calif., headquarters. "We've always felt that we had to be aggressive in looking for ways to improve and make ourselves better for our clients," Salyer says. "Our recent innovations and growth are simply a testament to that." —Maria Minsker