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Chris Baggot Interview

This month's interview is with Chris Baggott, co-founder of Indianapolis-based ExactTarget, founded in 2001. ExactTarget helps clients leverage the data they own to facilitate true one-to-one communication across their organization with their customers. The company has 114 employees, 30 sales offices nationwide, and annual revenues exceeding $40 million.

Chris led the growth of the company to over 5,000 customers in less than five years. Chris was recognized by BtoB Magazine as a "Who's Who in B-To-B" and his blog was voted "Best Online Marketing Blog" by Marketing Sherpa readers and "Best of the Web" by Forbes.

Prior to founding ExactTarget, Chris worked for RR Donnelley where he became an expert in database marketing.

Q: Congratulations on the success of ExactTarget. For our readers who may not be familiar with your company, perhaps you can give us your "elevator speech."
A: We are very proud of the organization we have built and the value we bring to our customers. ExactTarget starts with the core premise that it is the goal of all organizations (business, non-profits, mom & pops, enterprises, government) to have a better relationship with their constituents. It's the holy grail. The problem is that there are only a few ways to accomplish this. Face-to-face interaction, telephone — beyond that, every other tool is a mass marketing tool. Print, broadcast, newspapers, billboards... these are all acquisition tools and do nothing to actually build a human-to-human relationship. We call it a dialog — listen and respond. E-mail is the perfect tool for this. We would be in the smoke signal business if that were a better way to build relationships. Fortunately we have e-mail.

Q. What's your advice to small business owners who want to grow their businesses successfully?
A: Wow. I think the main thing we have done right with ExactTarget is staying true to our core competency. We want to make the best tools to help our customers communicate better through e-mail — period. We outsource other things that don't fit with our core business. I see so many companies that hire people and set up organizations and departments that have nothing to do with their business. Like IT or payroll, etc... Those kinds of things start to get distracting.

We also measure everything. We know what works and what doesn't in every department. Marketing is a great example of an area that most organizations don't measure very well. Why do you have a brochure? "Because we always have had one" or "Our competitors have one" isn't the right answer. If you are spending money and don't have a pretty good number around what you are getting back you need to rethink that investment.

Using the Internet is another area that is overlooked by many SMBs. We are the most fortunate generation in the history of business because of this amazing tool. Just from a marketing standpoint alone the Internet is a great democratizer. In almost every marketing discipline it's always been whoever had the biggest budget wins (think TV, billboards, newspaper, direct mail). This is not true with the Internet. Without a big financial investment, SMBs can and do compete head-to-head and win every day. I'm not talking about having a Web site, but using e-mail, or keyword buys or search optimization.

Q: That's great advice. By the way, I notice that you started ExactTarget with co-founders. Do you think businesses are more likely to be successful if there are multiple founders?
A: I can speak for myself. I had another startup that failed miserably. That experience taught me in a very stark and painful way where my strengths were and where I was weak. When contemplating ExactTarget I made sure that the potential partners I talked to were the kind of people who could complement my strengths and make up for my weaknesses. I see partnerships go badly when people go in with friends who are exactly the same as they are. I think that's where conflicts can really boil over. Finding partners who care more about the mission than they do their own personal wins obviously makes a difference and leads to a stronger partnership and a greater chance of business success.

Q: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us today. Any final advice you’d like to offer?
A: My only parting words are "appreciate the Internet." I really believe this is the greatest thing that has ever happened to businesses of any size. The key is to learn how you can apply it to your business. The beauty is that everything you need to know is available online and for free. Look at blogs covering your business. Start a blog covering your business. It may seem overwhelming at first, but you'll quickly get some wins that will help fuel your energy to learn more.