Case Study: How QuickBooks’ Innovative Market Strategy Spurs Growth in a Mature US Market
Intuit QuickBooks operates in the small business market, sized at approximately 29 million businesses in the US, and it has more than 80% market share with small businesses that use financial management software. With the goal of helping more of these small businesses improve their financial lives, management implemented highly-targeted and innovative customer segmentation and market strategies. Jim McGinnis, Vice President of the Accountants and Advisors Group at Intuit, detailed some of QuickBooks’ successes and gives insight into how other businesses operating in mature markets can carve out new segments and experience impressive growth.
Small Business Customer Segmentation
QuickBooks has long identified two important segments of small businesses:
- The 400,000 accountants who serve small businesses as key influencers
- The five million small businesses currently using financial management software
This leaves 15 million other self-employed individuals who have the opportunity to do more business with QuickBooks or become new customers. These customers are characterized by a casual approach to their financial management, many seeing their small business as a hobby or part-time endeavor. McGinnis expounds:
“Think of this market as the casual Etsy seller, Lyft driver or freelance consultant. A certain percentage of this 15 million will grow their businesses and become great customers for us—but we had to find a way to engage them early on.”
By carefully segmenting its customers, QuickBooks has been able to develop specific market strategies to cultivate potential in each segment. Let’s look at two of these strategies.
How QuickBooks Cultivates the 15 Million Self-Employed Market
To reach these 15 million casually self-employed individuals, QuickBooks realized it must make a convenient, easy-to-use version of its product. As McGinnis says:
“These small businesses prefer to do other things than enter data. So we need to make it as easy as possible. If we can collect data in an invisible way, we can start to provide help in areas that are more visible to the business—like cost savings or reducing the tax burden.”
To address this need, Intuit created QuickBooks Online Self-Employed, an easy-to-use app that helps customers track income, download expenses and prepare for both quarterly and year-end taxes, all while meeting compliance requirements. This app goes beyond invisibility by adding a touch of gamification to the data entry process—for example, users can categorize expenses by swiping left for business expenses and right for personal. At $8/month, it’s an inexpensive entry point for customers that may, one day, need the more robust features of QuickBooks Online.
By easily collecting data and organizing it, QuickBooks Online Self-Employed also allows customers to more easily afford an accountant. Shoeboxes of receipts are replaced with data that is organized and easily shared with an accountant. Now, QuickBooks ProAdvisors can serve these clients affordably, and it creates a new market opportunity for everyone. Let’s turn to the ProAdvisor program to see how QuickBooks encourages referrals.
How Accountants Help Small Businesses with the ProAdvisor Market Strategy
QuickBooks’ successful ProAdvisor program has been developing productive referral relationships with accountants for over 18 years. The program trains and certifies professionals in using and managing the software, along with providing Intuit products at significant discounts for resale. McGinnis explains the program:
“We know that accountants recommend what they know, use and love. Our primary objective is to get our offerings into their hands for them to use themselves. Our membership of accountants want to grow their practice, and we help them do that with QuickBooks. Our ProAdvisors are an army of evangelists for us.”
With 90,000 ProAdvisors in the US and 120,000 globally, it’s fairly accurate to describe the group as an army. Part of the program’s success is how QuickBooks has evolved the strategy as the market changes. Here are three recent, major innovations:
- Previously, the program was fee-based and focused on desktop products. McGinnis helped lead the charge to give away online software, training and continuing education to help ProAdvisors transition clients to QuickBooks Online.
- Another innovation was to partner with developers who create third-party software that integrates with QuickBooks, like Bill.com and TSheets. These developers often have capabilities very useful to certain small business niches, but lack mass distribution channels. QuickBooks introduces the third-party software to ProAdvisors who try the software for free and then recommend it to their own clients. These partnerships enhance the ProAdvisor program through providing more comprehensive offerings.
- Customers use QuickBooks’ Find-a-ProAdvisor directory to locate a ProAdvisor in their area, with expertise in their industry or by other criteria. Customers can also write reviews of their experiences. Accountants value this lead source as part of their membership and can enhance their profiles with descriptions, skills and pictures. QuickBooks prioritizes accountants who are highly-certified and more engaged with QuickBooks.
It’s apparent that the QuickBooks team values innovation in pursuit of carefully crafted market strategies. I’ve rarely seen a mature market brand this smart and strategic in its growth. This case study should inspire all brands to become more carefully strategic and efficient implementers.