Keap CEO Clate Mask on How Automation Can Help Small Businesses Thrive

Keap CEO Clate Mask on How Automation Can Help Small Businesses Thrive

Interview by Anja PaspaljAnja Paspalj
Published: May 04, 2023

Who Is Clate Mask

Clate Mask is the co-founder and CEO of Keap (formerly Infusionsoft), a sales and marketing automation software for small businesses. He is a national speaker on entrepreneurship and small business success, and co-author of the New York Times bestseller “Conquer the Chaos: How to Grow a Successful Small Business Without Going Crazy.” Mask has a BA in Economics from Arizona State University, as well as an MBA and a JD from Brigham Young University.

While big businesses may often steal the spotlight, did you know that small businesses make up the majority of the U.S. economy? In fact, research shows that a staggering 99.9% of businesses across the U.S. are small businesses  — that’s a whopping 33.2 million small businesses in the country, playing a significant role in job creation and economic growth.  

However, one in five small businesses fails within its first year. One of the many reasons they face immense challenges is that owners and employees are forced to tackle all business segments of at once. That’s where companies like Keap come in. 

The customer relationship management (CRM) automation company helps small businesses tackle the most difficult parts of their day-to-day through marketing automationThrough what Keap coined as the “lifecycle marketing” framework, they are on a mission to simplify growth for 1 million entrepreneurs worldwide by 2030.  

In an exclusive interview with Spotlight, co-founder and CEO of Keap Clate Mask is letting us in on why helping small businesses is Keap’s primary focus, how CRM simplifies the growth process, and the importance of regularly following-up with customers.  

How does the adoption of sales and marketing automation tools differ between small businesses and larger enterprises? What are some of the reasons for these differences?   

Clate Mask: The main differences between how small businesses and larger enterprises adopt sales and marketing automation comes down to the scale, complexity, and ownership of the tool.  

Compared to small businesses, larger enterprises are likely to have more customer records and data to capture, more complex programs, maybe more segments of customers, and maybe a larger product set. This makes it a heavier lift to manage sales and marketing automation, which is why they likely have large operations teams, as well as marketing and sales professionals, to build their programs and handle this work.  

In contrast, small business owners and staff must wear many different hats. They may not be trained marketers and might struggle to know what to create in sales and marketing automation tools. They typically don’t have time to dedicate to managing these day-to-day, which is why they need something that will allow them to build in simple, turnkey ways and have support if they need it. 

Keap is built to make it easier for business owners without time or expertise to successfully manage their customer journey and grow their business. Many of our customers do this themselves until they can grow into hiring dedicated sales and marketing staff. 

As different as small businesses and larger enterprises may be, they still have a lot in common. Just like in enterprises, small businesses need to think thoroughly about their customer journey and the strategies they want to use to bring prospects and customers through the different stages and to stay top of mind. No matter the size of the business, when strategy comes first, the right programs and automations will follow.  

Decades ago, at Keap we coined the term "lifecycle marketing" to describe our framework for building a strategy to capture leads, convert clients, and create fans. This is a simple framework that can be applied to businesses of any size. We now call this lifecycle automation to reflect the fact that there are so many uses of automation in a business - from organizing the customer journey, to delivering and tracking invoices, to recruiting. Once customers gain confidence in the software, they start applying our automation to numerous areas of their business.  

We know from serving a wide variety of business types and businesses of all sizes, including some that would qualify as “large,” that the core automations, or “plays,” are very similar across all businesses. For example, business owners need automatic communications going out when someone signs up for their email list and need to welcome and onboard customers, so they can sell to them again. There is nuance and complexity that varies by business size and type, but the basics of the lifecycle automation framework is applicable across them all.  

Keap has been focusing on empowering small businesses for more than a decade now. What inspired your company to serve them, in particular? How does your platform address their unique needs and challenges?  

Keap has focused exclusively on small businesses since our inception, and this is where we intend to keep our focus. Our mission is to empower small business entrepreneurs so they can grow their businesses and find the balance and freedom they dreamed of through automation.  

Small businesses power the economy, creating wealth, freedom, and balance for thousands of entrepreneurs. But it’s also risky and hard to build a business. We started Keap to serve small businesses because of the power they have to change lives. My co-founders and I love the process of building businesses, and wanted to create a solution that served small business entrepreneurs like ourselves. That’s how this company was born.  

Keap’s combination of support and services, best practices for automation, and all-in-one solution make it an excellent fit for small businesses. We integrate features that aren’t too complex, and the cost is right for the businesses we serve. We keep it that way because we want to serve small businesses. Some of our competitors aim to go up market and sell to enterprises. Their cost structures are complex and expensive once you grow. Keap gives growing businesses the tools and support they need, such as a framework for how to automate, as well as access to the Keap community of like-minded entrepreneurs. This is the best recipe for success out there, and we’re inspired by what our customers can do every day.  

How does your CRM, sales, and marketing automation platform simplify the growth process for small businesses? What features set it apart from other solutions on the market?  

Capturing leads systematically and storing them in a CRM is just the first step. The next step is triggering automations so that the leads have regular and appropriate communication based on where they are in the funnel. We know small business owners are busy, so we keep things simple by offering features that make it easier to set up automations and populate them with content. Two of the hardest parts of sales and marketing automation is knowing what to say and then how to create the materials to go into the emails and texts at the core of automations.  

That’s why one of our newest features is a Content Assistant. It uses OpenAI and a simple Q&A format that enables users to answer several simple questions, then it writes a full campaign customized for that business. We are continually looking for ways to make it easier for small business marketers to succeed with lower effort, and AI tools like this will be a big part of Keap’s future.  

How do these tools contribute to tangible growth for small businesses that are still in the early stages of their development? What are some of the most effective strategies for leveraging on CRM?  

To properly leverage a CRM, there first must be a strategy. This means considering who is being marketed to (a persona or customer avatar), what will entice them (the offer), and the important differences between customer types that lead the way in communicating (segmentation). Doing this will allow a business owner to create offers that work to entice customers and help capture the right information when entered into the CRM.  

Keap creates tangible growth by filling gaps with automation so business owners can focus elsewhere, while also ensuring customers don’t fall through the cracks. Could a small business owner reply to every email to welcome a new customer? Yes, but that’s highly inefficient. Sales and marketing automation ensures the customer journey can be predictable and orchestrated, which leads to happier customers, no missed opportunities, and growth.  

It’s important to remember the basics when leveraging a CRM. Things like using segmentation so that relevant messaging can be delivered to customer groups, welcoming customers when they are new, delivering relevant offers to buy again, and asking for reviews from happy customers. These are simple things that are often missed.  

When Keap first entered the market in 2001, what were some of the biggest obstacles you faced and how did you overcome them to achieve success?  

Sales and marketing automation and CRM were new concepts in 2001, and to some extent, still are today. We’ve had to essentially create this category of software and educate the market along the way. To do this, we had to invest in robust customer training and community-building with partners very early. Keap has been, and still is, an education company. We train small business owners and their staff to think about the customer lifecycle and to create ways to build their business by capturing more leads and marketing to their customers. These principles are old now, but it took a lot of education and effort to educate people.  

The other issue we face is in serving small business owners. There is a lot of volatility in small businesses. They face a lot of risks, and it’s hard to stay in business. Most fail. We learned early on that we had to partner with our customers to help them achieve success. We did this through education, but also offering done-for-you marketing services and referrals to a larger partner network. When our customers succeed, we succeed, so we learned that we had to support them in lots of ways, including building an easy-to-use product, but also by providing strategic frameworks and access to the entire Keap community, from technical support to partners.  

What are three aspects of handling everyday business that could serve as best practices for small businesses in the beginning stages of growth? 

First, you need a way to capture someone’s interest in working with your business. The simple way to do this is a website form and/or by building a simple place to store customer information – a CRM. Then, implementing automations to ensure that leads are nurtured so that they convert into a customer. Email and text nurtures are basic ways to stay top of mindWhen and if they convert to a customer, automations should be built to ensure they get the service they expect, invoices delivered, and then ask them for a next step, a review or referral.  

Even if a business doesn’t have a lot of customers to start, these programs should be built from the beginning so that as the list grows the business can deliver an orchestrated journey. Leaving things to be done manually, even before there are a ton of customers and things to do, leaves too much to chance. Automation ensures the best customer journey because it doesn’t forget to follow-up, ask for feedback or sell to them again.  

How does Keap help its clients build and strengthen relationships with their customers, and what are some of the most effective strategies for achieving this?  

A good CRM allows business owners to strengthen relationships by delivering the right messages at the right time. This means using segmentation and automation to provide offers, follow-up, and information a customer needs at the right stages of their journey.  

The core of what Keap does best is automating follow-up at every stage. We know customers will leave a business if they don’t follow-up. In fact, we surveyed the market and found that nearly half of customers will find another company to provide a product or service if they don’t hear back fast enough. 

Some business owners are afraid automation will feel impersonal but because automations are built in a brand’s tone and voice, they can sound just like the business owner because they wrote them and can be personalized via segmentation in hundreds of different ways. If they’re written thoughtfully and delivered at the right time, these follow-up messages feel personal to the recipient, not robotic. Keap allows business owners to control every aspect of an automation from the send time to the message, to the look and feel of the design.  

Can you share a success story about a small business that used Keap's platform to achieve significant growth and success?  

Amit Kakar, an independent pharmacist in Rancho Mirage, Calif, is a great example of a customer who signed up for Keap simply seeking a CRM, before realizing how drastically our automation tools could improve customer engagement and increase revenue. 

Amit started with Keap in February 2020, just a month before the COVID-19 lockdowns. Avalon Pharmacy had been slowly losing market share to big retail pharmacies, but the pandemic became a more urgent threat.  

While other pharmacies lost around 20-30% in revenue during that time, Avalon Pharmacy only declined 10% thanks to Amit’s strategic use of Keap. Three years later, Amit’s small business has grown revenue 20%, and in January 2023, Avalon Pharmacy saw their biggest year-over-year revenue gains in eight years.  

A key way Keap triggered this transformation was by turning foot traffic into follow-up. Avalon Pharmacy got a lot of walk-ins from a nearby urgent care facility but didn’t have an easy way to follow up with them. Amit set up an iPad in the lobby to collect walk-in information, which went straight into Keap via a landing page with a form. Once he started collecting emails, Amit used Keap to create automated campaigns to follow up and nurture relationships with customers. In a community of about 20,000 residents, 8,000 are contacts in Avalon Pharmacy’s Keap app which is nearly half the population of the town.  

Amit has not only exceeded his revenue goals, but also become more impact driven. Before Keap, Amit was caught up in the cycle of filling prescriptions and was focused on revenue as his main measure of success. Now Keap takes care of the mundane tasks so he’s able to focus on engaging with patients one-on-one. This personalized service is what really sets Avalon Pharmacy apart from its competitors and is driving its growth.  

You developed a partner program for individuals looking to turn their expertise into products to help small businesses grow. Why was this an important part of your strategy and how does it contribute to what Keap offers its customers?   

Partners are a very critical part of our business. We have relied on partners to help us drive sales and help customers succeed. Many of our customers are not trained marketers, they often hire partners to help them develop their marketing and automation strategies, implement them and manage their Keap apps. We train and nurture our partners to help them build their businesses and serve customers with the latest best practices.  

Partners refer customers who need sales and marketing to Keap, and we have programs to reward them for their referrals. Some then service their clients by creating marketing campaigns, implementing sales funnels, creating customized automations, and more.  

Finally, what’s next for Keap? How do you envision the company continuing to support and serve small businesses in the years to come?  

Keap is on a mission to simplify growth for 1 million entrepreneurs worldwide by 2030.  

Since day one, the Keap team defined what sales and marketing automation could be for small businesses. Over the years we’ve continued to evolve to be easier to use. We’re leaning into AI to create solutions for customers that streamline the creation of materials. We’re working on a number of things that will make Keap more intuitive, helping guide people in the app, and quickly build automations driven by the CRM. We’re building more sophisticated ways for our customers to understand key elements of their sales and marketing programs through more advanced reporting on their progress. In addition, we’re working on making email deliverability issues more transparent. Email continues to be the most effective way that most of our customers market, but they are sometimes hampered when they don’t follow email best practices. New email deliverability reporting will help them learn to avoid issues and to learn best practices of how to manage their contact list and communicate with prospects and customers.  

Keep up with Keap on Linkedin and read more interviews with industry experts here!

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