By Katy Spence
On April 5, 2018, PFL, a Livingston, Montana-based marketing technology company, announced a $25 million investment from Goldman Sachs Growth Equity, the largest the company has ever received. The investment will support research and development, product development, and sales team growth for PFL’s innovative Tactile Marketing Automation® (TMA®).
PFL founder and CEO Andrew Field said in a press release that the company’s history of pioneering creative solutions for sales and marketing campaigns will be further supported by the partnership with Goldman Sachs Growth Equity.
“We have the opportunity to continue the innovation and growth of our TMA® platform to create truly integrated, multi-channel customer journeys,” Field said. “This investment from Goldman Sachs Growth Equity affirms their confidence in PFL’s leadership in the emerging Tactile Marketing Automation category, and the growth opportunities for our company.”
PFL opened its second headquarters in Indianapolis in March and announced last year that they will be building a new 55,000 square foot facility in Livingston for digital production and fulfillment. PFL was one of the Montana High Tech Business Alliance’s 2017 Companies to Watch.
Chief Marketing Officer Daniel Gaugler said this investment will help support PFL’s rapid growth. The company added more than 30 new employees last year, bringing the total number of employees to 300. Gaugler said PFL plans to add around 200 jobs in both Montana and Indiana in the next three to five years.
Building on PFL’s History as the World’s First Online Print Shop to Pioneer Tactile Marketing Automation
Field founded Express Color Printing in Livingston in 1996. With little demand for a local print shop, Field saw an opportunity to pivot and in March 1999, Field and his team launched the world’s first e-commerce print site, PrintingForLess.com. The company found an enthusiastic base in small- and medium-sized businesses across the nation.
Within a few years, PFL began reaping the rewards. They made the Inc. 500 three years in a row, were featured in the New York Times, and won a Gold Award for Company of the Year in Manufacturing at the 2013 Stevie American Business Awards. The company has continued to be recognized for providing on-site child care opportunities and promoting a dog-friendly workplace.
From the beginning, PFL focused on providing high-quality printed products, including brochures, business cards, catalogs, and stationery. Field said the company’s high-touch, high-service model was difficult to scale but delighted customers, spurring word-of-mouth referrals that brought in more customers.
In January 2014, PFL entered the lucrative marketing technology field, piloting the new tactile marketing industry and producing software to sell to its customers.
“We started as America’s first e-commerce print company in 1999, and now we’re the first Tactile Marketing Automation company,” Field told TechPoint in 2018. “We’re a marketing tech company that’s pioneering the TMA® category and it’s the source of most of our growth, which doubled last year after tripling in each of the two prior years.”
Invoca, a call intelligence company, has been a PFL client for three years. After struggling with costly and ineffective batch-and-send outreach, Invoca turned to Tactile Marketing Automation® to bridge the gap between digital marketing automation and print mail in a compelling way.
“The process is really streamlined — really, really simple and easy for everyone to use,” Invoca Director of Demand Generation Julia Stead said. “Sending physical marketing materials has proven to be a unique way to get our foot in the door and accelerate the sales cycle. Timing is important when it comes to direct mail… you don’t want to spend money to have your package delivered and then have it just sit on someone’s desk without any kind of outreach for a few days — you want to strike it when the iron’s hot. The TMA® solution really helped us do that.”
Field often tells Invoca’s story to demonstrate both how tactile marketing works for their clients and how it can increase conversion rates for businesses, reiterating it most recently at PFL’s Big Sky Big Ideas summit in October.
Invoca was using an Amazon gift card incentive program to encourage customers to demo their software. About one out of three demos converted into a paying customer, but only one percent of potential customers interacted with the online promotion.
Field says the secret is FedEx.
“FedEx has a 100 percent open rate,” Field said. “You can reliably buy a few moments of attention for the price of a FedEx label but you have to use those moments to deliver value, not just a gimmick.”
Invoca began identifying potential customers and sending them a package, with a calculator and an equation to see how much revenue they’re missing out on by not using Invoca’s product. It also came with an Amazon gift card that could only be redeemed if they demoed the product.
“It feels like 50 bucks just came out of your pocket,” Field said.
Invoca saw their demo rate increase from 1 percent to 22 percent, with one of three demos turning into purchases. It costs Invoca around $6,000 to send these packages to potential customers, with a return rate of $315,000 in first-year software revenue. That’s a 1,500 percent return-on-investment.
PFL’s SwagIQ® software allows salespeople to connect with prospects by integrating with Salesforce to personalize tangible leads. Essentially, potential customers receive special messages and customized packages to help them know they’re valuable to the company.
Within 15 minutes of a customized package being delivered, SwagIQ’s Salesforce integration alerts the company, allowing them to make a timely call and talk to the customer with the package fresh in their minds, or even in their hands.
PFL’s commitment to a high level of personalization and results for their customers is part of what makes the company so successful. For Field, being in Montana is another factor.
“The friendliness and terrific work ethic of Montanans is second to none, and our customers recognize and appreciate it,” he said. “I’m not leaving Montana.”
PFL’s Strategy for Finding the Best Talent
As more and more orders came in, PFL saw a need to deliberately focus on growing a quality team, but found they were struggling to attract the talent they needed.
Director of Human Resources Suzie Lalich said creating an employee referral program was a good way to incentivize current employees to help them recruit new ones.
“We needed people like the ones we already have, so we decided the best way was to let them recruit for us,” said Lalich.
Employees receive $500 for referring a friend or acquaintance who is ultimately hired, and they receive another $500 if the person they referred is retained six months, which is the end of the probationary period. The incentive is “enough to be enticing,” said Lalich.
PFL is also committed to hiring Montana State University graduates. Gaugler, for example, said PFL gave him a way to live and work in Montana, and he’s glad to give that opportunity to other students.
“My team has six MSU grads who have graduated in the last year,” Gaugler said. “We’re giving the same opportunity to other MSU grads.”
PFL’s investment is the latest in a series of large investments in Montana businesses. Last month, Missoula-based outdoor technology company onX closed a $20.3 million growth equity investment led by Summit Partners; photonics company Blackmore Sensors and Analytics secured $18 million in a Series B funding round led by BMW i Ventures with additional investment from Toyota AI Ventures, Millennium Technology Value Partners and Next Frontier Capital.
About the Author: Katy Spence is Staff Writer and Digital Content Specialist for the Montana High Tech Business Alliance. She worked previously with the Missoula Current and Treesource, and she’s just finishing up the Environmental Journalism Master’s Program at the University of Montana.
About the Publisher: Launched in 2014, the Montana High Tech Business Alliance is an association of more than 325 high tech and manufacturing companies and affiliates creating high-paying jobs in Montana. Find high-paying Montana tech and manufacturing jobs by visiting MTHighTech.org/Jobs.