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by Ben Kolada

Intuit (INTU) on Friday announced its largest M&A move in six years, acquiring SMB-focused marketing automation startup Demandforce for $423.5m. The deal, and Demandforce's valuation, was primarily driven by the target's market traction. The company, founded just in 2003, has amassed a customer roster of more than 35,000 SMBs. The transaction also demonstrates the accounting and tax giant's desire to further penetrate this market with additional products and services - this is its first major play in marketing automation.

The Demandforce acquisition complements Intuit's QuickBooks software and expands its offerings for SMBs. (We'd note that Intuit already offers a marketing management product called QuickBase.) Demandforce provides marketing automation SaaS and helps businesses maintain an online profile and better communicate with their customers. The company has grown considerably over its short lifetime. According to Inc.com's annual survey of the fastest-growing companies, Demandforce generated $15.3m in revenue in 2010, up from $6.4m in 2009. Continuing that growth rate would put its 2011 revenue at roughly $25-30m.

Intuit is handing over $423.5m in cash for Demandforce, making this deal Intuit's largest since it forked over $1.35bn for transaction processor Digital Insight in 2006. Demandforce's growth certainly factored into its valuation. Assuming that Demandforce maintained historical growth rates, Intuit's offer would value the target at a whopping 15-20 times trailing sales. If our initial estimates are correct, that valuation is double and even triple some precedent valuations. For example, in 2010, IBM (IBM) bought Unica for 4.4x sales. Unica had flatlined during its final years as a public company, with revenue remaining in the $100m ballpark for the four years before its sale. The valuation is also double Teradata's (TDC) Aprimo acquisition, also announced in 2010. Teradata paid $525m for Aprimo, or 6.3x sales.

Source: Intuit Pays Up For SMB-Focused Demandforce