Infusionsoft's ICON14: Treating People Better to Better Your Business

PHOENIX—For small business owners, customers aren't anonymous, faceless conversions. They're people they may meet in person, cultivate, and build relationships with. The process of life-cycle marketing, what Infusionsoft dubs "attract, sell, wow," is personal. Understanding your customers and employees as people, not dollars, has been a focus at the ICON conference held this week.

The new paradigm of marketing is providing information so valuable that people would pay for it. Jay Baer, marketing consultant and the author of Youtility, showed the audience examples of marketing that provide value without overtly selling the customer. The Twitter account @HiltonSuggests gives restaurant and travel suggestions to people, regardless of whether they're staying at a Hilton hotel or even traveling. The goal isn't to immediately convert a customer, but to create a memorable experience the customer will remember later.

"Even three years ago, spending time and money on this would be considered crazy," Baer said. "Now it's considered smart." To undertake marketing techniques like this requires a shift in thinking. "The key is that Hilton is okay with eventually. Today, everyone wants to be a hunter and no one wants to be a farmer. But being good sometimes means delaying a sale until the time is right," he concluded.

Social media and the Internet have transformed the dissemination of information in many ways. But on Day One of the conference, both Baer and entrepreneur and publicity expert Peter Shankman drove home the same point: New media is making it much more difficult to lie. "Information wants to be free. You have to be transparent about it," Shankman told the audience.

Baer offered an example of radical transparency. In Canada, McDonald's created a Web site "Our Food, Your Questions," which answered tough questions people had about conditions on their farms and how they sourced their food. "In the old days, the first thing you would do was delete those comments," said Baer, himself a former corporate marketer. McDonald's answered those questions by going directly to the source and interviewing a Canadian cattle rancher. Among those skeptical of McDonald's, there was a 30 percent increase in trust because of the Web site. Similarly, Shankman said it's only a matter of time before you or your business "screws up, and misses a quarter, or deadline." What matters is being honest about it. "You shut down the conversation by being transparent."

Using interactions to create long-term relationships and being honest aren't unique to business; in fact, they're even more natural tips for interacting with people generally. During the morning's opening keynote, author and TED speaker Simon Sinek explored how the brain's feel-good chemicals, endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin, make or break organizations. Serotonin is the "leadership chemical," Sinek explained. When people are recognized for doing something, their brains release serotonin. People receive the same chemical boost when they help someone, making it a chemical that influences both leaders and followers. With the trust and power leaders receive comes responsibility. "Leaders are responsible for setting the conditions inside the organization," Sinek said."If people do not feel safe, we force them to apply their time and energy to protect themselves from each other." The power of that message hit the audience hard: during the Q and A afterward, two people asked their questions through tears. It was not the first or the last time that attendees have been brought to tears during the conference, underscoring Infusionsoft CEO Clate Mask's message about small business owners coming from a place of passion. When you're a small business owner in Infusionsoft's customer sweet spot, with less than 25 employees but more than $100,00 in revenue, there's no meaning to the saying "It's not personal, it's business."

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