We are delighted to share the latest interview from Napier’s Marketing B2B Technology podcast.

In this episode, we interview Chip House, CMO at SharpSpring, who discusses why he thinks marketing automation is a revenue growth platform, and why SharpSpring’s vision to cross CRM, sales and marketing automation to provide a comprehensive suite of tools will continue to be a major success in the next 5-10 years.

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Transcript: Interview with Chip House – SharpSpring

Speakers: Mike Maynard, Chip House

Mike: Thanks for listening to marketing b2b tech, the podcast from Napier, where you can find out what really works in b2b marketing today. Welcome to the latest edition of the Napier, podcast marketing b2b technology. Today, I’ve got Chip House, who’s the chief marketing officer of SharpSpring on the podcast, welcome to the podcast chip.

Chip: Thanks so much for having me, Mike.

Mike: It’s great to have you on. So how long have you been at SharpSpring?

Chip: You know, I started during COVID, which is been quite a quite a rush, a very unusual experience. For my memoirs, someday, I’m sure. But, yeah, so about six, seven months, I’ve been at SharpSpring now, and, you know, I use exactly the type of company that I was really excited to join. I’ve been in marketing technology, and SAS technology for 2025 years. And you know, more recently, I was I was doing a start up more in the HR space. And I spent some time doing e-commerce also recently, but the bulk of my career has been in, you know, email marketing, digital marketing. And so it’s, it’s good to be back, I guess, selling marketing technology to marketers and other companies that want to grow.

Mike: Great. And obviously, I mean, sharp springs, one of the better known marketing automation platforms. So what particularly attracted you to marketing automation as a marketer.

Chip: Well, for SharpSpring, specifically for me, Mike, I, you. Yeah, well, like I mentioned, you know, I really, I came from a direct marketing background, really a catalogue marketing, background, and, you know, in it was with a company called Fingerhut Corporation in the late 80s, which at one point was very, very sizable company with 4 million loyal customers that we sold as many things as like Sears or JC Penney’s would, via catalogue market, it was a highly targeted, you know, marketing company, highly analytical, and, you know, I, that was an amazing foundation for when I, when I moved into email marketing and having that, you know, knowledge of direct marketing, you know, in targeting and working out segments, and which ones you can profitably send into, and, you know, email marketing just blew my mind in the early 2000s.

For a period of time there, I was working for an e-commerce company, and we were sending emails on behalf of our clients who were software companies trying to drive revenue online. And I was blown away at the power of sending even a simple text based email. And, of course, you know, pretty soon we’re doing a B testing, and much more than that would you know, batch and blast, you know, more than many people were doing in the early 2000s. So when I first saw, you know, an HTML editor that allowed a marketer, the tools to build their own visually attractive, you know, a nice nice looking marketing piece. That was kind of my first love with with email marketing. But, you know, over time, obviously, that space got super, super crowded, the company, by the way, I’ve been mentioned, that I joined was back in 2001, was exact target. And we scaled had an office in London and Australia and Brazil, etc. And we were acquired by Salesforce in 2013. But we were late to the marketing automation game, you know, we and we certainly had, we have had customers that were helping on our platform that were reacting to opens and clicks with follow up emails, but we didn’t initially have a very built out b2b, you know, marketing, automation workflows, any sort of lead scoring things that now you think are just sort of table stakes for a marketing automation platform. So we acquired par dot, and that actually helped us get acquired by Salesforce in 2013. And, you know, to be honest, that that about 2010 was my first you know, really introduction into marketing automation and what it could Do with par.so the space like every SAS space has gotten more and more crowded, there’s more and more technologies. There’s plenty of point solutions. But then you’re also seeing some cloud suites. And you know, competitors of ours such as HubSpot, that have sales solutions and marketing automation solutions and have expanded.

So, what attracted me to SharpSpring, specifically, I guess, was the kind of bread the breadth of the vision to, you know, across marketing automation, and sales, automation, and CRM, and to provide that comprehensive suite of tools to small businesses and agencies that, you know, themselves right now are just struggling with, you know, what technology should they choose, and they’re there, they have too many different SaaS platforms that they’re paying for monthly on the credit card, they can’t even keep track of them. And versus a and b, because of that, they’re just not that not that effective. So that was a long answer to your question.

Mike: That was a great answer. I mean, you did allude to something that I think kind of a difficult question is, how would you define a marketing automation platform today, because that there appears to be lots of, you know, fuzzy edges around this, this sort of category.

Chip: I think that like, like many things, there might be sort of a fuzzy edge, you know, because we even think, broadly now as our platform as a revenue growth platform, you know, and because I think it’s helpful to bring together the purpose and sort of the value proposition and how to how you describe a piece of software. So, you know, I mean, I think, you know, marketing automation, obviously, historically is a suite of tools, to, to manage your leads and prospects with highly personalised and kind of behavioural based intent based communications, and being able to score those prospects, such that you can decide, hey, am I going to market to these people more Am I going to send them on to the sales team, to engage with, and you know, just to understand the, the entire entirety of their journey, so I, you know, so when I, when I think about that, you know, we’ve built up a platform, right, and it really is a marketing and sales platform that companies run their entire business on, you know, effectively running their entire business on so you’d have the, your customer prospect list and our CRM, and you’d be building, you know, landing pages that integrate with your website to capture leads as they come in, you might have a chat bot, you might be building campaigns on our site, such that you can track them and manage, you know, where they get attributed, we have something called life of the lead, you know, that allows you to see actually how a prospect came into your system and all the communications they’ve interacted with, across channels over a period of time, you know, and see how they move from prospect to, to lead to customer. So, I mean, I think all of those elements, plus many more, have you and, you know, tracking and analytics over the top, to help you understand what’s going on what’s working, what’s not all of those have become, you know, just almost the price of entry to being part of the marketing automation. You know, top tier.

Mike: You mentioned actually a really interesting feature SharpSpring, I mean, you’ve got a very full functional CRM, as well as the marketing tools. Whereas, you know, some of the other marketing automation vendors, they pretty much say, well, you’re going to use Salesforce, so we’ll just integrate with Salesforce. What’s the logic behind having that CRM? And does that mean that you then become perhaps less attractive to the Enterprises? Or is it just I don’t care for the enterprises?

Chip: Well, I guess, to two part answer to that. I mean, first of all, we do play nice with others, you know, and in the, the age of the API economy, you have to integrate with multiple pieces of software to be effective, especially as you move more up market, you know, so, we do have a Salesforce integration, you know, that a number of our customers use effectively and you know, that’s something we’ll be investing more in over time. By having our own CRM, you know, essentially our customers are building relationships and being able to manage those relationships between their sales team and their marketing team. So it becomes a very practical it’s hardly a leap at all really, you know, once you once you start driving traffic and then being able to, to manage and attribute that data and flow it through the system. And then, you know, we use and run our entire business on SharpSpring as well, right. So we send promotions via SharpSpring and score leads and, you know, manage them with our sales team with the with some sales optimizer call cadences and things like that. So you know, I think CRM is an important component.

Mike: Cool, okay. So you definitely give people the option of, you know, a third party CRM or the SharpSpring. One, it’s you’re not disadvantaged if you don’t use the SharpSpring CRM?

Chip: Correct, yeah. But there are inherent benefits for why we built ours that I kind of touched on that. So yeah.

Mike: And we say do the same thing. I mean, Napier is a SharpSpring partner, and we run our business on SharpSpring. And, and actually, I have to be honest, love the CRM, it works really well.

Chip: So. Right, yeah, very cool. Yeah.

Mike: Yeah. Which brings me to another point. I mean, you did mention a agencies earlier on and SharpSpring, you know, feels to me to be the market automation platform that’s most focused on working with agencies, you know, some of the other platforms are really very much a direct sale with consultants to support others have some sort of, you know, agency programme, but SharpSpring seems, you know, very focused on working with agencies. And can you tell me why that is why you think that’s the right strategy?

Chip: Sure, you know, agencies themselves, you know, many people who started agencies didn’t necessarily start an agency to, because they were amazing salespeople, you know, that they, nor that, were they software engineers. And so, we, you know, we’ve been really attracted to the agency arena, and really built a lot of the platform, around agencies, because of their unique needs. So an agency, like many small businesses themselves is, you know, needs to generate business and move kind of beyond word of mouth, which typical agency focuses on, and builds, build a lead gen practice, potentially hire salespeople. And, you know, so, and right now, like anybody, they’re probably struggling with too many point solutions of different pieces of software that they’re using poorly, you know, so they themselves need a way to manage the business, you know, via marketing automation.

But with something like SharpSpring it, you know, we’ve, we’ve built it such that, you know, they can rebrand it, such that they can, you know, we’ve got our support team dedicated to, to helping them sell it and resell it and support their, their clients on the platform. And, you know, if you think about many businesses that, you know, choose to pursue marketing automation, it’s still Greek to many people, you know, and, or if you’re small enough business you might not have might not have the people on staff, you know, that have the expertise or time to learn a platform. And so, you know, by partnering with agencies that learn our platform that gets certified on it, that become very successful with other clients, it becomes a really important multiplier effect, so to speak, for us as a business and yeah, so that the the agencies themselves get a unique benefit out of SharpSpring that they can get with other automation platforms. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that we’re a fraction of the cost of HubSpot and some of the others.

Mike: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I was gonna ask you about cost because the cost of a marketing automation platform can be frankly very cheap. You can look at something like an Infusionsoft or you know even even a MailChimp has got basic automation functions. Or it can be incredibly expensive and you know, some of our clients are doing amazing things, but but obviously spending a lot of money I mean, how does a potential customer decide where they sit in that, you know, huge variety of costs? And how much they should look, you know, should be expecting to pay for marketing automation system?

Chip: Um, well, I think you, you need to decide, you know, what’s right for your business. And, you know, I think many businesses are at the point, especially if they’re just getting into marketing automation, where they simply have to create the discipline around, you know, campaigns and lead generation and lead scoring and be able to manage, you know, leads between a marketing and a sales team. And I would say, Mark, many clients and even agencies of ours, kind of start out not using all the platform, you know, not using all that it can do. And so, I think that that’s broadly true for SAS software, everywhere, I think many companies buy software on the promise of what it can do, but don’t affect literally bring all of those capabilities to bear. And so you know, we are we’ve got hundreds of customers, you know, on review sites like kaptara and jeetu crowd that have rated us to as well or better than, you know, HubSpot, and some of our other competitors. So, I would just say, you know, why pay too much for something, you know, when you have the chance to get a very similar type of outcome, which is really important, right, you should buy, I think SAS software based on the outcomes you can achieve. And you can get very similar outcomes with SharpSpring.

Mike: I think that’s a great point. I mean, we’ve, we’ve used HubSpot in the past, and I have to be honest, I love HubSpot. I think it’s a great product. But we moved across to SharpSpring. And there’s virtually nothing with it on HubSpot, we can’t do on SharpSpring right. And yeah, and you’re absolutely right, that the pricing is very attractive to

Chip: Yeah, no question. And, you know, specifically, again, to agencies, you know, it allows them the ability to, to make a margin and create recurring revenue streams, which are, which are difficult to, for some agencies to do that are, you know, my big sort of project work to project work, you know, and always, you know, having to kill what they eat, so to speak, I mean, you know, being able to have some of the benefits of a SAS recurring model, as part of your agency is helpful.

Mike: Absolutely, absolutely. I mean, maybe we can move on and talk a little bit about actually using the product, you know, I mean, one of the things I’m interested in is where do you see people getting, you know, really outstanding return on investment from using SharpSpring? Is there a particular part of the tool or a particular approach that works really well?

Chip: Um, you know, it’s, I’m trying to decide where to where to start there. I think it’s, when I think back to my email, marketing career, and when I when I think back to, well, at any point in my career, you know, the companies, the customers that I worked with that were doing it effectively had a great understanding of the customer journey. And were cognizant about how they were engaging with customers at different ways through the platform. So when I think about, again, I’d mentioned life of the lead before but being able to capitalise effectively, the different segments inside of your platform, and be reactive to the pieces of content that they’re engaging with, on your website, the events that you’re doing, being able to then segment, your prospects and customers based on the content that they’re engaging with, you know, I think we have got a number of different clients that have built some workflows, automated workflows on the platform that make, you know, prospects, you know, feel like they’re an individual that’s heard, you know, so I think broad broadly, you know, the it’s the holistic approach across channels and being reactive to where the customer is in their journey. So I mean, that’s typically an approach that works really, really effectively. And it’s, it’s, you know, with that said, it’s interesting how you’re seeing commonalities emerge across our agency partners, and, you know, their clients. Many of them are sort of kind of returning to things like, you know, on site optimization. And, you know, one of the tools that we launched earlier in 2020, was chat bots, you know, the ability to instal a chat bot on your website, such that you can engage somebody while they’re browsing your website. You know, similar to your familiar things, Mike, like drift and some of the other templates that are out there, right. So it also in our platform has been chatbots. And we are, you know, pleasantly surprised at how well that has been adopted by our partners, and they’re using it effectively to kind of kick off, you know, a cold lead into a set of set of journeys with the company.

Mike: I mean, chat bots are very interesting to me, because, you know, we’ve had quite a few projects around them internally, we’ve looking at it. And I think the biggest challenge people have is how do you manage and determine where that handover is from a chatbot? To a human, where, particularly if you’re not a huge company, you can’t put answers to every possible question into the chat bot. So you have to define that handover. Do you have any suggestions as to how people can can do that more effectively?

Chip: You know, I think the, the chat bots that I’ve seen, and I’ve interacted with myself, I think they, they work on converting you, you know, and, and so I think, you know, that’s how I would advise people, I don’t think in the context of a marketing tool on the front of your website, you certainly want to be helpful and route them, if they’re an existing customer, to the your support team, or if they’re a prospect, you know, figure out how to get them to a sales team. You’re not like, unless you’re like a knowledge base or something and you’re trying to answer endless questions from your, from your chat bot, I think that the main purpose of it is to qualify to triage and to help to get them to the right place as quickly as possible. So I think, you know, with that said, you can be pretty personal, you know, by mapping out the most common scenarios which you learn very quickly, when people begin to engage with you, you know, what are the what are the top 10 reasons people are engaging with us a chat bot, and so it’s the type of thing you’re not going to nail out of the park, when you start it, for sure. But you’re gonna get better over time.

Mike: And it sounds like the customer journey comes back into there about, you know, pushing people down that customer journey, and that really defines when you hand over is where they’re at the right stage in that journey.

Chip: Yeah, I think that that is absolutely right. Where when you hand them over and who you hand them over to? Yeah.

Mike: Yeah, absolutely. And obviously, the chatbot is, is probably, you know, one of the first sort of times where marketers will really use AI, in their marketing campaigns, I’m interested to know, you know, what sort of impact you think AI will have on marketing in the future.

Chip: You know, I, it’s interesting, I’ve seen AI emerging as important in it, and a lot of the SAS suites out there. In many people are engaging with it day to day and don’t really notice it. But you know, I think now, I use Google Mail, for example. And, you know, it’s suggesting finishes to my sentence. You know, for example, at first was kind of annoying and you weren’t used to it. And now you expected it actually makes you a lot more productive and effective. There’s a, there’s another technology I’m aware of a company called pattern 89 that does predictive AI around the social space. So by scanning all of the Facebook ads in the world and looking for commonalities and Kind of engagement of those different ads can can provide to marketers, best practices for trends and colours and pictures, like how many people they should have in their pictures for their ads, or what colours they should be using, you know, over time, just to take some of the guesswork out a bit for marketers, you know. And, you know, I think that the same opportunity exists and are similar as part of a marketing automation platform, you know, what content is most likely to be engaging, you know, clearly, you know, personalization and dynamic content have gone on for gone been used forever, in email, and marketing automation, and you can do that as well with SharpSpring. But over time, I can see AI being an exciting, exciting layer for marketing automation, because of the predictive aspect of, of what and when and how.

Mike: And, you know, one thing I’m interested in is, obviously, ai tends to need very large training sets. So if you work in a particular market niche, you’re never going to have that much data to be able to train up an AI engine, do you think people will be able to apply learnings across much broader industries into theirs? Or do you think there’ll be problems in converting? You know, for example, what engineering does in general, through to a very specific aspect of engineering.

Chip: It’s a great question, I think there’s certainly opportunity to, you know, much like the company I mentioned, that could pull in information from a broad data set and be effective, I think, you know, one of the things with marketing automation, which might be a little bit unique is often you’re sort of reacting to an action, you know, you know, once you have the ad itself, you know, the automation is, you know, a set of logic, you know, that’s builds on what you learn from, you know, customers over time. And so, the kind of the, the end all be all goal for marketers is to get the, you know, one to one, right content at the right time to the right person. And so, you know, if, if AI can get more information about me specifically, you know, you know, it could be really, really effective. But I think, anyway, I don’t know if I answered your question or not, but I think it’s a, it’s, it’s compelling to think about being able to pull in a broader data set without being spooky about it, to the to the end user, because otherwise, I think you can be very effective, interacting with them based on what they’ve told you and how they’ve behaviorally interacted with your website, or your advertising or your sales team, etc.

Mike: Brilliant. No, that’s, that’s really, really interesting. And I think it raises some interesting possibilities, particularly, you know, as you say, about people who can pull a broad data set and then get, you know, general trends about what’s happening in the world that that informs marketers.

Chip: Yes. Yeah.

Mike: Yeah, I guess until we’ve got those AI’s helping us, we’re gonna have to do it our, you know, do it ourselves as marketers, and I’m sure one of the things people would love to know, is what they should avoid doing? What are the kind of, you know, biggest mistakes people make with marketing automation?

Chip: Yeah, I think, me, me, what we, what we’ve noticed are a couple things, you know, so, so one, I think I already touched down a little bit, which is, you know, using your marketing automation platform, like a batch and blast email platform, you know, because that’s not what it’s built for, you know, it’s not built for, for you to send, you know, non targeted communications to people that you’ve never engaged with. Right. So that’s definitely a no for multiple reasons, including obviously getting spam spammed out and blocked and things like that, but it’s also not as effective. I mean, at the end of the day, it is not an effective strategy.

So I think, again, the it takes, it takes planning, it takes a bit of time to do it correctly. And, again, you know, when I think about some of the work we’re doing ourselves now, and that I’ve done with clients historically, you have to write down you have to document your customer journey and understand every stage of it, and understand what their motivations are and what your motivations are, and how you can move those, move those along and Because so you’re starting out, plan fully thinking about that, that’s from, that’s how you determine what content at what stage, you’re going to be, you know, using. And, of course, you’re going to want to be able to understand how people are getting into your marketing funnel, right. So don’t run, don’t run campaigns, you know, to your website that you don’t have a tracking code on, for example, you know, you build build campaigns, top to bottom as much as possible, so that you’re, you’re tracking them from the moment the ad is seen and interacted with, and makes its way to your, your website, and then your automation system. So I guess, you know, the answer is use the tools that are there. Because they’re pretty amazingly powerful.

Mike: Yeah, I mean, I think you mentioned earlier about the fact that, that the marketing automation tools, look across that whole customer journey. And to me, you know, what you’re saying there is exactly the same thing, you need to make use of the tool across the whole journey, and not use it as a, you know, point tactic for sending out an email blast. But rather think about it as a, a tool to ease people along that journey to becoming a customer.

Chip: Right? Me there’s, there’s a long period of time where, you know, people are out researching your business, and they’re looking at competitors, businesses, and they’re trying to decide who they’re going to do business with. And so they might visit 20 sites they make it back to your site a few different times, and finally, will, they’ll engage with an ad or a download, or they’ll come to an event, they’ll do that for a period of time, you know, while you’re kind of engaging and reacting to them. And, you know, over time, that that continued engagement makes an individual prospect interesting and interesting inside of a CRM or marketing automation platform, because they’re, you know, assuming you have lead scoring setup, they’re gonna score really well. And you’re, then be able to route that lead appropriately. And this is all just before they even become a customer. So, you know, you know, or moved into your official sales funnel, where they’re engaging with you, you know, and then post, you know, post interaction. So it really is, it really is being cognizant of the, of the entire journey and being able to, to react to all the stages, really with effective content that’s thought through.

Mike: That’s great. I mean, there’s been so many great tips here. But I, I need to ask you a bit of a cheeky question. I mean, obviously, you know, you were working exact target got acquired by Salesforce. You know, they’re an incredible company, you’ve moved across the sharp spring. Now, what what do you see in sharp spring that convinces you that you’re going to be successful over the next, you know, five to 10 years, the longer term competing against, you know, frankly, some very big names in the industry?

Chip: Yeah, no, it’s a great question. Like, and there’s so much of what I feel here at SharpSpring. You know, we’re about a 250 person organization, it feels a little bit like deja vu. I mean, it feels like some of my experience is, you know, growing with other SaaS companies at a similar stage where there’s still such a sense of entrepreneurialism and can do and we can build this week, you know, it still feels like the sky, I guess it’s kind of a limit. And when you look at the total addressable market, you know, with our, our main market agencies right now is gigantic, just in the US United States alone, but also, obviously, in the UK and out and throughout Europe. And, you know, there’s, there’s plenty of room for, for different technologies to uniquely solve the needs of different customer segments. So, you know, I think we, as a company, like any company, I’ll just say, a generic, gets acquired into a large suite, it’s more difficult for them to innovate. Whereas, you know, we’re, sort of we’re a public company, but we’re still pretty scrappy, you know, so there’s still, there’s still there’s still a lot that we can do on our own. It’s pretty exciting.

Mike: That sounds great. I mean, we’re certainly looking forward to seeing you know, what happens at sharp spring and what features you release going forward? So that’s, that’s really exciting news to hear that you’re proactively doing that.

Chip: Yeah, I think there’s is a huge passion for, as you can see, by the breadth of the platform now, but just building out functionality that certainly requested by our customers, but just you know, solving problems for businesses.

Mike: That’s great. Well, I really appreciate your time. I know that that you’re quite limited for time today. So I appreciate you spending the time to talk to me. Before you go, what’s the best way for people to get hold of you? if they have questions about SharpSpring?

Chip: Well if they’d love to learn more about SharpSpring, we actually developed a campaign and the specific URL for specifically for this podcast Mike, which we’re eating our own dog food, drink, arrow and champagne. However you describe it, so and it’s SharpSpring.com/b2bpodcast. And you can learn more about SharpSpring, certainly in sharpspring.com. But if you go to the /b2bpodcast, you can register to get a demo, and we’ll show you the breadth of the platform we’d love to do.

Mike: That’s amazing. I think that that’s, that’ll be great. And I’m sure anyone listening to this would love to, to go and take a look at SharpSpring and try out the link. And thank you so much for being on chip. I really appreciate your time.

Chip: It was really fun, Mike, thank you. Appreciate it. Let’s do it again.

Mike: Thanks very much.

Chip: Take care.

Mike:Thanks so much for listening to marketing b2b tech. We hope you enjoyed the episode. And if you did, please make sure you subscribe on iTunes, or on your favourite podcast application. If you’d like to know more, please visit our website at Napierb2b.com or contact me directly on LinkedIn.