How ActiveCampaign Became One of the Leading Marketing Automation Companies for Small Businesses

marketing vs in house graphic

In the ongoing pursuit of finding SaaS companies that continue to thrive, I recently met some of the folks at ActiveCampaign at SaaStr Annual 2018. ActiveCampaign is a sales and marketing automation tool that helps small businesses engage and nurture leads that turn into more sales. I got the chance to speak with Adam Johnson, the VP of Sales for ActiveCampaign, and learn a little bit more about their recent growth among marketing automation companies.


small restaurant business owner


BLD: You guys are based out of Chicago, correct? How’s the weather up there in the Windy City?

AJ: Yes, the weather here has been typical Chicago, cold and windy. Fun fact – Chicago is not called “The Windy City” due to the wind.

BLD: Really?

AJ: No kidding. Citizens coined the phrase back in the day because the local politicians were full of hot air. It just so happened that Chicago also gets pretty windy, so the phrase stuck.

BLD: Wow, I guess you learn something new every day. So, tell me a bit about ActiveCampaign and how it all got started.

AJ: ActiveCampaign was started by our CEO Jason VandeBoom while he was in design school in 2003. His background was in computer programming and he recognized a need in the market to build a tool that automated sending email. Over the first few years, he ended up working on eight different products at the time. In 2013, he decided to double down on marketing automation and consolidate the eight products down to one and devote his time and energy into building out ActiveCampaign.

Jason was also one of the first pioneers to take software from a perpetual license model to a SaaS based model.


active campaign logo blue


BLD: Tell me a bit about your background and how you got involved with ActiveCampaign.

AJ: I started with ActiveCampaign in June of last year and have experience leading sales teams. When I heard about the opportunity at ActiveCampaign, I immediately got excited by the direction they were heading and how they’re truly helping small businesses grow and land more deals.

BLD: So what kind of growth have you seen since you’ve been with the company?

AJ: From a Sales team’s perspective, we’ve grown from 18 to over 60 sales reps since I joined and the company continues to be on an upward trajectory.

BLD: That’s great! What do you think is contributing to its recent growth? Is it tradeshows, SEO, referrals, all of the above?

AJ: I think it’s a combination of things. Another large factor is the amount of referrals we’ve been getting due to our large customer base. Our customers continue to spread the word to other customers which has gone really well for us. We also have a strong partner referral and affiliate program that helps us close more deals.

“We do well in organic search, but we also use ActiveCampaign ourselves to nurture prospects on a large scale.”

BLD: Have you hit any obstacles that have kept you from hitting your goals?

AJ: Although I can’t speak from some of the challenges we faced early on, I know from a sales standpoint, we have been very fortunate to continue to meet and exceed our sales goals.

BLD: Have you ever run into prospects that are on a larger marketing automation tool (e.g. Hubpsot or Pardot) that is simply too much for them to handle?

AJ: Sure, we run into that all the time. They realize they don’t have the time or resources to invest in learning the ins and outs of a much larger platform.

“So, our tool is simple enough for small businesses to adopt and understand yet is powerful enough to meet the needs of their growing demands.”

On the flip side, we work with companies that have graduated from an email tool like a MailChimp or Constant Contact where they’re looking to go beyond just an email marketing program and seek out more features and horsepower in terms of sales and SaaS marketing automation.

BLD: How do you define “small business”? Do you refer to it in terms of revenue or size?

AJ: We don’t look at it in terms of revenue, typically our sweet spot for us can range anywhere from one to 200 employees.

BLD: Are there any specific industries you guys do exceptionally well in?

AJ: That’s one of the great things I like about ActiveCampaign. We’re not isolated into any one particular vertical. Our solution works really well for small businesses of all kinds, both B2B and B2C, regardless of what industry they’re in.

BLD: What is one unique thing about ActiveCampaign’s solution that really stands out?

AJ: I would have to say its ease-of-use. We spent a lot of time making sure the UI was clean and intuitive for small businesses to use without overwhelming them with too much information. Setting up the right campaigns and automation can be complex, but we worked hard on making it very intuitive and visual.

BLD: Do you have any stories you could share from actual customers that you’re really proud of?

Yes, one comes to mind. Heather Read is a stay-at-home mom turned full-time photographer. Heather was struggling with the amount of leads coming in while balancing current clients and her new role of being a mom to her newborn.


stay at home business mom


She took advantage of ActiveCampaign’s marketing automation to identify the less-serious leads and nurture the more serious leads that were more likely to close. In the end, it was a huge time saver for her so she could focus on the clients that were more likely schedule an appointment (while giving her more time back in the day to be a mom).

BLD: Adam, thanks for taking the time on giving us an insider’s look into ActiveCampaign. Best of luck to your team and your continued success.

AJ: Absolutely, thank you.

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Tory Smith
Tory Smith co-founded Bay Leaf Digital, one of Texas’ first SaaS growth agencies. When he’s not offering marketing advice to SaaS companies, you can find Tory jamming out on stage with his 80s cover band, 80s Gadgets ( Connect with Tory on LinkedIn.
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