With new expansion, Ann Arbor software company takes aim at marketing industry giants

Nutshell, an Ann Arbor-based customer relationship management (CRM) platform, is taking aim at major companies like MailChimp and Constant Contact with an expansion into an area Nutshell has dubbed "growth software."

"Growth software is what we're calling the fusion of sales software and marketing software," says Nutshell CEO and co-founder Andy Fowler. "Tools like MailChimp probably would call themselves email marketing software. We called ourselves sales software three years ago, but what we realized is that sales and marketing teams are increasingly working closer together."

Nutshell first started making headlines in 2009 as a new, relatively small startup that found success competing alongside CRM giants like Hubspot and Salesforce by focusing its software and user design on smaller businesses and other startups that were being underserved by the big names.

"One of the ideas that we were founded on is that the small businesses and mid-sized businesses deserve the same access to technology that big business does," Fowler says. "But it can't be the same piece of software. If you try to give someone all of the capability of Salesforce, you would need to hire two or three staff people to manage Salesforce just for that small business."

Nutshell, on the other hand, is designed to be more accessible and user-friendly for a single person or small team where members may wear different hats or may not have the same sales experience as a career sales professional. Fowler says Nutshell is now applying that same concept to marketing — since many of its users are already occupying both spheres. He says he and his staff "really started to get excited" when they realized over 70% of their customers were integrating products like MailChimp or Constant Contact with Nutshell products.

"We can only take the integration so far," Fowler says. "The best thing that we can do is do this ourselves and give people what MailChimp and Constant Contact offer — the ability to send email marketing — but directly inside of Nutshell. It really was something where our customers kind of led the way for us and showed us this is where they saw our product and our company."

While Nutshell still offers integration with MailChimp, its latest features allow users to create and control their own email marketing campaigns directly through Nutshell instead. The focus, as with Nutshell's sales features, is on simple, user-friendly design created to help guide those who may be new to marketing and advertising. 

Fowler says Nutshell owes its success in taking on the established CRM and email marketing giants to the thousands of small businesses it serves. 

"Most of our customers have under 50 employees," Fowler says. "Small businesses are a big part of this country and its economy, and helping them is really important to us, so we're excited to be able to offer them more."

Sabine Bickford Brown is a freelance writer and editor based in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at sabinebickfordbrown@gmail.com.