Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Marqui Combines Content Management and Demand Generation

Summary: Marqui started as a Web content management system and then added basic demand generation. It’s a good choice for organizations that need both and don’t have very sophisticated marketing requirements.

Marqui is one of the oldest demand generation vendors, founded in 2000. But that date is a bit misleading because the company’s original product was a Web content management system (CMS). It added demand generation features later in response to client requests. Today, content management and campaign management can be purchased separately although they are tightly integrated.

The entry of CMS vendors into the demand generation market is a bit of a mini-trend right now: others following the same path include Sitecore and Lyris-owned Hot Banana. Among conventional demand generation systems, Pardot is a spin-off from CMS vendor Hannon Hill and Marketbright includes extensive CMS features. Since the CMS marketplace is now almost totally commoditized, in particular by open source products like Joomla and Drupal, it makes sense for vendors to look for an adjacent field with greater profit potential.

Whether demand generation is the right refuge is another question. Marqui’s VP Marketing Richard Sharp defines “marketing automation” as the combination of Web content management and campaign management. In this view, content management is responsible for attracting, engaging and capturing leads, while campaign management captures, nutures, and sends leads to sales. That makes a nice diagram but it ignores the reality that content management systems are generally purchased and run by IT while demand generation systems belong to marketing.

This poses a serious sales challenge. Marketing and IT have different priorities, different cultures, and are likely to be buying systems at different times. In practice, Sharp said, most of Marqui’s new clients start with CMS and add campaign management later as the need becomes more evident. He said about one-third do purchase both modules at once.

Sharp also said he is finding that control of the company Web site is generally slipping away from IT departments, especially at smaller organizations. That sounds both true (as in “factually correct”) and right (as in “the way it should be”). As the Web site becomes a more prominent source of information for prospects, it’s increasingly important for marketers to watch and optimize its operations.

Still, the technical chores of managing the Web infrastructure will always remain with IT, so there’s an on-going question of who will be responsible for what. Ultimately, it’s hard to imagine that IT won’t have the dominant voice in selecting the CMS. This will leave marketing to either use the demand generation features embedded within the chosen CMS system or to integrate a separate demand generation product.

Encroachment by CMS systems poses another strategic threat to stand-alone demand generation vendors, who (at least in my opinion) are already in danger of being absorbed into CRM suites because of the need for closer integration between sales and marketing. I see demand generation as a tasty little fish swimming among some much larger sharks. This leads to an elaborate metaphor about hiding in coral reefs, but I'll restrain myself.

Marqui has the features you’d expect given its background: strong content management and basic demand generation. To accentuate the positive, the system provides hierarchical folders for marketing assets, version tracking, expiration dates, advanced templates, and fine-grained user rights management.

It also does a good job with Web forms, allowing users to specify whether responses update the main lead profile or are stored separately. The system can send notification messages to the person who completes the form and to someone else (e.g., a marketing or sales manager). It can also direct visitors who complete a form to another Web page.

One particularly nice feature is tight integration of Marqui-generated pages with Google Website Optimizer. This makes it much easier than usual to test alternative components within landing pages and elsewhere on the site. I can’t immediately recall any other demand generation vendor offering this integration, but haven’t checked carefully.

The outbound marketing features are not as advanced but should be adequate for simple programs. Users create subscriber groups (i.e., lists) by building rules; these can incorporate behaviors, such as email responses and Web page visits, as well as attributes and form responses. Behavior definitions can be include relative time (e.g., the past three days), which is important and not always the case with other products. However, the rules cannot reference membership in other groups, which makes some things harder. Groups can be dynamic (reselected each time they are used) or static (selected once and frozen) – a common but important capability.

Emails are defined as activities within a campaign and assigned an execution schedule, email template, and target group. Campaign activities can also be Web behaviors such as clicking on a banner ad. Each activity can be assigned several Web pages to track as goals, allowing reports to show leads moving through a conversion funnel. This feature is a somewhat unusual among demand generation systems but pretty common in Web analytics.

Users can also enter the cost of each activity and combine this with expected and actual revenues for Return on Investment reports. The revenues are based on opportunity records imported from the CRM system. This is probably adequate for most uses and more than some other demand generation products offer. But Marqui doesn’t capture cost details and can only link campaigns to opportunities when opportunity is "owned" by a lead from the demand generation system. Such links are often missing, and more advanced demand generation vendors offer alternative attribution methods to compensate.

Marqui’s features for lead scoring, multi-step campaigns and CRM synchronization are similarly basic. Lead scoring is associated with individual Web forms, a somewhat unusual approach. The scoring formulas can look at a broad range of data, including activities, attributes and form replies, but cannot cap the value from a single element or automatically reduce scores over time.

Multi-step campaigns are probably the weakest of all these features. Multiple activities can be assigned to the same campaign, but are not directly linked in a sequential flow. Nor is there any visualization of the entire campaign. A new interface is planned for later this summer.

The system can exchange data with, NetSuite and Microsoft CRM Dynamics, but does not allow field-by-field update rules.

Pricing also leans toward the lower end, starting around $1,000 per month for campaign management and under $2,000 per month for campaign management and CMS combined. There are some additional charges based on email volume and for template creation.

Marqui's customers tend to be smaller organizations, and are not as concentrated in technology as clients of most demand generation vendors. This also reflects its base in content management software. Companies with basic demand generation needs that also want a tightly integrated CMS will find it worth a look.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Cloud-Based QlikView Still Isn't Available as a Service

Summary: Pay-as-you-go pricing would make QlikView easier to buy, but the company doesn't offer this option. To make a stronger business case for the purchase, include the value of shifting work from IT to business users, and of producing results faster.

Last week’s post about QlikView 9.0 prompted an inquiry from a manager who has been trying for a year to convince his company to consider the product. Having run into this issue many times, I easily felt his pain and we speculated a bit on what might help things along.

One obvious tactic would be to purchase QlikView on a pay-as-you-go basis, presumably cloud-based. But a quick check with QlikView confirmed that they don’t allow this and have no plans to change.

The closest they come is to let their partners offer QlikView-based applications as a service. For example, they pointed me to SportsDataHub, which lets users analyze football statistics for $40 per year. But the key point about this and similar QlikView services is that you can only access data loaded by the partner. You can't define and load your own data sources directly. At best, you might be able to create your own reports based on the loaded data. (See QlikTech Marketing SVP Anthony Deighton's comment on this post for a little more on the subject.)

I don’t understand QliiView’s reluctance to adopt a Software-as-a-Service model. It has proven viable for many other software companies, including other business intelligence vendors. To me, it seems a natural extension of the company’s “seeing is believing” sales approach as well as a good way to sidestep the barriers raised by corporate IT.

In fact, QlikView’s tremendous ease-of-use makes it an excellent fit for the SaaS model, because business users can deploy it for themselves with minimal technical support. In our conversation last week, QlikTech's Deighton said the majority of clients already implement the system without purchasing any external services. If there was ever a piece of software suited to SaaS, this is it.

Be that as it may. The lack of a proper SaaS offering left my correspondent with several avenues to pursue:

- find a QlikView partner who would build an appropriate application and sell it to him on a services basis. This doesn’t seem very plausible because he probably won’t be able to commit enough funding to make the project worthwhile for the partner. I mean, if he had that much money, he could just buy the software outright in the first place.

- use an alternative system that costs less. Yes, QlikView is unique and wonderful, but products from ADVIZOR Solutions, Lyzasoft, Tableau Software and TIBCO Spotfire offer some of the same advantages at a much lower entry price. Again, this is far from ideal, and it might not work at all because I didn’t explore precisely which aspect of QlikView my correspondent found attractive. Still, it’s better than nothing.

(Vaguely related aside: today, people often cite author Jim Collins’ phrase “good is the enemy of great” as a reason to avoid compromise. Previously, I was more likely to see Voltaire’s “the best is the enemy of the good,” which means that compromise is better than nothing. I’m sure this reversal says something important about our society, although I can’t say what. You're welcome.)

- Find a way to sell QlikView internally. Of course, my correspondent had already been trying, so his question was whether I had any new ideas for how. This actually prompted some very deep thinking over the weekend, which will show up in my Information Management magazine column over the next several months. To summarize four pages in 100 words, there are two approaches to consider:

- do a cost of ownership analysis showing the savings from letting business users perform tasks currently done by IT. Traditional cost analysis compares the time it takes IT to do the work with one tool vs. another. This hides rather than highlights the advantages of QlikView and similar products.

- do a “time to result” analysis that measures the time spent waiting for IT to deliver solutions through multiple iterations. This applies to many analytical databases, not just QlikView, because their flexibility reduces the time spent building conventional BI structures like star schemas and data cubes.

Perhaps one of these will work. I hope so, because we could all benefit from finding ways to take advantage of what new technologies like QlikView have to offer.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

QlikView 9.0 Reaches for Broader Business Intelligence Market

QlikTech released version 9 of its QlikView business intelligence software today. The product has been in public beta for several months, so the general features are well known to people who care about such things.

Probably the item that attracted the most advance attention is an iPhone version that supports interactive analysis; this also works for other Java Mobile clients like Blackberry. It's cool (or ‘qool’, if you must) but not so important in the grand scheme of things. More significant changes include:

- availability through the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), which lets companies order up a QlikView-equipped server in minutes. (Of course, they still have to purchase a QlikView license.) Users can also expand or reduce the number of servers to match fluctuating needs. Advantages including avoiding the wait for new hardware, no need to physically install a server, and the ability to meet peak demands without making a fixed investment.

- API for real-time updates of in-memory data. This is an extension of previous changes that allowed incremental batch updates and manual data entry. But it still marks a major step towards letting QlikView run time-critical applications such as stock trade analysis, pricing and inventory management. No one will be processing orders on QlikView (hmm, never say never), but the line between analytical and transaction databases just got that much thinner.

- enhanced support for enterprise-level deployments. This includes centralized control panels for multiple servers; load balancing and fail-over; better thin-client support; multi-billion-row data sets; and more efficient calculations. These are critical as QlikView moves from being a departmental solution run primarily by business analysts to a mission-critical system backed by corporate IT.

- free Personal Edition with full development capabilities. The main limit vs. the licensed version is that Personal Edition cannot read QlikView files developed on any other copy of the software, and no one else can read files that Personal Editon generates. The goal is to make it easier for users to try the system on their own – a continuation of the company's long-standing "seeing is believing" strategy.

- functional enhancements including improved visualization, search and automation functions. These are nice but none seemed especially exciting. Changes in previous recent releases, such as set analysis (simultaneously comparing two sets of selected records) were more fundamental. Remember, we're talking about version 9: the system is already quite polished.

Of all these items, the one I found most thought-provoking was the free Personal Edition, which replaces a 15-day free trial. Removing the time limit let users build QlikView into their regular work. The strategy makes sense, but it doesn’t lower the $30,000 - $50,000 investment required for the smallest licensed QlikView installation. Few analysts, who are the most likely users for Personal Edition, have the clout to sponsor so large an investment. Competing analyst tools such as LyzaSoft, ADVIZOR Solutions and Tableau can generally provide a 5-10 user departmental deployment for under $10,000. Although QlikView is vastly more powerful than the others, the lower cost will give them an initial advantage. And once they’re in place, it’s hard to get a company to switch.

On the other hand, maybe QlikView is really moving to compete with traditional business intelligence tools like Cognos, Business Objects and MicroStrategy. QikView’s entry cost is vastly lower than those products, especially once you consider the savings in labor. But most enterprises have a BI tool already in place, so it’s not a matter of comparing entry costs. Rather, the choice is entry cost for QlikView vs. incremental deployment cost on the incumbent. The labor savings with QlikView are so great that it will still be cheaper for many projects. But QlikView will remain be a tough sell because IT departments are reluctant to invest in the staff training needed to support an additional tool.

QlikView will never fully replace the traditional data warehouse and BI tools because its in-memory approach limits the size of its databases. With 64 bit systems, the product can easily handle dozens of gigabytes of data. This is quite a lot, but even the smallest enterprise data warehouses now hold multiple terabytes. QlikView works with such systems by executing SQL queries against them, pulling down limited data sets, loading these into memory, and analyzing them. That’s an excellent and perfectly viable approach, but it does rely on the warehouse being there in the first place.

None of this is to suggest that QlikView has anything but a very bright future. When I first spoke with the company in 2005, it had just reached 2,000 clients; at last count, it had over 11,000. Revenue for 2008 was $120 million and had risen 50% from the previous year. The product has finally attracted attention from analyst firms like Gartner and Aberdeen and is very well rated in Nigel Pendse’s latest BI Survey. My brief fling as a VAR ended two years ago, but I still use it personally for any non-trivial data analysis work and remain absurdly pleased with the results. I won’t say QlikView is better than sex, but its pleasures are equally difficult to describe to the uninitiated. Anyone interested in BI software who hasn’t given it a try (QlikView, not sex) should download a copy and see what they’ve been missing.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Marketo Sales Insight Expands Salesforce Access to Marketing Data

Summary: Marketo's new Sales Insight ranks prospects for sales people, based on recent Web and email activities. It lets Marketo sell seats to sales departments, which could be more lucrative than selling its core demand generation system. But I expect the sales automation vendors to take the business for themselves.

Marketo today officially launched “Sales Insight”, an application that makes prospect activity history directly available to sales people from within I had a personal demonstration last week (are you impressed?), but there’s an online demo that seems to cover pretty much the whole product. Features include:

- a ranked prospect list, based on measures of interaction intensity (represented by one, two or three flames) and prospect value (up to three stars). The idea is to help the sales rep decide who to call first. Users can drill into the details of each account, including Web activities, emails and score history.

- a list of “interesting moments” for each prospect, showing activities that the company has deemed significant. The moments are set up as real time triggers within Marketo. They can be linked to a specific campaign or defined more generically (e.g., three Web site visits in two days). I found this the most interesting capability in the system, because it fills a middle ground between summarizing all activities and providing the item-by-item detail. It does depend on marketing setting up the definitions, rather than letting sales people create their own. But, then again, how many salespeople really want to do that?

- a “lead feed” feature that can send “interesting moment” alerts via RSS, SMS, email, iPhone and other mobile devices. Sales people can select the individuals and accounts to monitor and the types of activities that trigger alerts.

- an option to send emails and add prospects to Marketo campaigns.

- ability to track anonymous Web visits within the sales person’s territory, using IP lookup to identify the visiting company and location. This can be integrated with Demandbase and Jigsaw to download the names of contacts at those firms. The system can also open a window to LinkedIn to let the sales rep find network contacts of her own.

It’s irresistible to compare Sales Insight with Eloqua Prospect Profiler, launched two weeks ago (see my review), which also gives sales people access to prospect activities gathered by the marketing system. The products are designed around slightly different scenarios: while Marketo starts with a list to help the sales rep decide who to call, while Eloqua aims to help the rep understand a prospect she has already selected. Still, both systems provide views into the data and both let salespeople receive alerts about prospect activities.

There are some subtle differences. Marketo is a application that works only with, while Eloqua works with several CRM products. Eloqua lets sales people define their own alerts rather than relying on marketing to predefine the “interesting moments”. Marketo lets sales reps send emails and add prospects to demand generation campaigns. Eloqua provides interesting graphs of activity trends. Marketo includes the anonymous visitor tracking.
It’s hard to say which product will be more appealing to sales people, but that probably won’t matter: any significantly attractive feature in one product will (and should) be quickly copied into the other. Competitors without any equivalent product are more at risk, but, you can bet they'll quickly add something similar if it becomes an issue.

What really matters is that these products provide an opportunity for the marketing system to integrate more deeply with sales. This is THE big industry trend right now, so much so that we’re probably due for some clever nay-saying. The attraction to vendors like Marketo and Eloqua is quite clear: they can expand the size of their installations by serving new customers within existing clients.

This could have a substantial impact on total revenues. At Marketo’s price of $49 per seat, a 20-user license would bring in another $1,000 per month. ('s Genius Pro, a somewhat similar tool that helps sales people track prospect activities, is also priced at $49 per seat.)Compare this with maybe $2,000 per client per month earned by most demand generation vendors. Figures like these radically change the economics of the demand generation business. They also explain why some vendors have been willing to sell to new clients at very low prices.

But these figures also raise the specter of sales automation vendors moving in the other direction. An average seat is around $100 per month these days. From the viewpoint, adding marketing automation for $1,000 to $2,000 per month per client isn't particularly exciting. But if that same application also justified another $49 for each seat, you're starting to talk real money.

Of course, this has always been the threat inherent in demand generation vendors’ symbiotic relationship with CRM in general and in particular. I’m increasingly convinced that it’s just a matter of time before sales automation and demand generation / marketing automation do merge – and it will almost certainly be sales systems swallowing the marketing vendors, not the other way around.

That will put the business marketing world pretty much where consumer marketers have already landed: most companies will use the marketing features of their CRM vendors, except for a relatively small number of businesses with marketing needs so advanced that they can really need the special features of a “best of breed” system.

In support of this view, it’s worth noting that demand generation systems for small businesses already routinely include their own sales automation system. This integrated model will likely filter up into larger companies, even as CRM vendors add marketing automation features and move down from above. Vendors offering just marketing automation or just sales automation will be trapped in the middle – rarely a pleasant place for a vendor to be.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Market2Lead User Interface: Attention to Detail Pays Off

Summary: Market2Lead's revised user interface has plenty of refined details. But what's most important is it offers different ways to build simple and complex campaigns. This beats even the best "one size fits all" approach.

Time flies. I saw a demonstration of Market2Lead’s new user interface last December, and they released it in February. But I’m only now getting around to writing about it.

It’s a good thing that Market2Lead moved more quickly than I did, because the new interface is a huge improvement. Their previous offering was a good example of what happens when technicians design a user interface: you get the thinnest possible skin stretched over the underlying components. It’s all perfectly logical and functional, but makes no accommodation for how users actually work.

For the redesign, Market2Lead had the good sense to bring in a usability consultant who focused them rigorously on intuitive navigation, fewer mouse clicks, presenting options only as they are needed, and accommodating both novice and expert users. The results included:

- tabs structured around user activities rather than system tables
- wizards to lead users through creating campaigns, programs and Web forms
- floating menus that show options related to the user’s current activity
- pleasant and consistent color schemes that highlight the commonly-chosen menu options
- searches entered directly into form fields and allowing advanced syntax such as lists and value ranges
- different interfaces for creating simple and complex campaign flows

These are not especially novel concepts, so what really matters is how rigorously they are executed. One objective metric is mouse clicks: Market2Lead reports these were reduced by 300%. The others are largely verifiable by sight – yep, the wizards and floating menus really exist.

But listing these items doesn’t convey their combined effect. The resulting system simply feels less stressful than the original version. Even though you may not know in advance how it works, the next step is usually clear.

The campaign interface is the acid test. Market2Lead offers three versions, each tailored to a different level of complexity.

- The simplest are static campaigns, which use predefined flows and typically present a single marketing program. The program itself represents a single offer, but may contain a sequence of contacts such as an outbound email, landing page, and confirmation email. These elements are predefined for different program types, and users simply fill out forms to specify the details. There is no visual flow chart for the program.

Static campaigns wrap some additional rules around a program, such as which campaign the prospects should enter next. These rules can have some conditional logic, creating the equivalent of a branching workflow. But the structure of the flow is predefined for each campaign type and users cannot change it. As with programs, they use forms to fill in the details.

- A second type of campaign does allow users to build their own workflow. For these, called "workflow campaigns", Market2Lead has provided a Visio-style flow builder but kept it simple. Decisions can only have two results (true or false), branches cannot merge within the flow, and prospects always enter a new campaign at the beginning. This eliminates some options but avoids the complicated paths that can make conventional flow charts so confusing.

In fact, the drag-and-drop interface offers just five icons: send a program, make a decision, wait a specified number of days, send to another campaign, and exit. As in other systems, users can click on each icon to define its parameters. Market2Lead has posted an online demonstration.

- For really complicated projects, Market2Lead provides “adaptive” campaigns. These are designed with standard work flows, but replace the specific programs with rules that select the most appropriate program for each prospect. This allows one simple campaign to deliver different messages to different prospects simultaneously, and to deliver a sequence of messages to the same prospect over time.

Of course, the user must still define the rules used to make the program selections. But Market2Lead argues, and I agree, that this is easier than trying to build the rules within the flow chart itself. It also opens the way for increasingly sophisticated selection capabilities, such as the automated statistical approaches that I described last month.

Choosing from three different campaign types may sound confusing. It certainly will take some time for new users to learn when to select each one. But the Market2Lead interface makes the options readily apparent, which will help to some degree.

More important, each choice makes building its particular type of campaign about as easy as possible. This is a much more effective approach than trying to build a single interface that is good for everything. For marketers who execute a broad variety of campaigns, ranging from simple to complex, this will ultimately make their jobs easier.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Marketbright's Campaign Flows Work Well for Serena Software

Summary: Serena Software is pleased with Marketbright's Visio-style interface for complex campaigns. The real work is in designing the campaigns, not setting them up in the software.

(Second of three posts on demand generation interfaces.)

I spoke last week with Marketbright client Michaline Todd, director of corporate marketing at Serena Software, to see how Serena likes Marketbright’s campaign interface. Marketbright uses the two-level approach that I consider an industry best practice: users can build simple linear campaigns with a wizard-driven interface, and embed these in a Visio-style flow chart to manage flows across campaigns.

The short answer is that Serena is very pleased, since the flows make it easier to enforce complex processing rules that were otherwise difficult to define and execute. The long answer adds a few shades of gray to this rosy picture, and these are worth exploring.

- Serena didn’t build the complex campaigns for themselves. The work was done by an outside agency, Maratona Marketing. The reason was not the Marketbright interface: of the six weeks it took to develop the company's first complex flow campaign, setting it up in Marketbright took twenty minutes. Maratona spent the rest of the time on business issues such as lead scoring, process flow and content creation. This reinforces the point that most companies will need help to take advantage of the new opportunities that demand generation systems present.

- Todd felt the campaign flows were “as easy as Visio”. She meant this as praise, although I suspect that many marketers don’t find Visio all that easy. In particular, Todd said the visual diagrams helped to explain the flows to marketing and sales managers who would otherwise find them hard to grasp. Todd also noted that Serena itself sells software development tools, so its staff is already very comfortable with flow charts.

- Serena is now running into conflicts when a given prospect is in more than one marketing campaign. Marketbright handles this now by limiting each prospect to one message per day, storing any additional messages, and sending them later. The vendor plans to refine this approach by letting users prioritize the campaigns so the most important messages are sent first.

Todd cited a couple other features she appreciated. These include a “flight check” of all components before the campaign is executed and an option to view results of active campaigns by clicking on icons in the flow chart. She didn’t mention some of the limits I noted in my Raab Guide analysis of Marketbright, such as a maximum of two splits leading from any decision within the flow or the inability to create random tests without SQL coding.

We did discuss testing in general. Todd said her company doesn’t run formal a/b tests although it does review the performance of different messages to see which yield higher response. She hinted that she might add testing later but was wary of creating too much complexity in the company’s first flows. Marketbright president Erik Bower reinforced this comment, suggesting that most marketers are too busy to analyze results from many tests. Instead, Marketbright plans to add “self-optimizing” capabilities similar to Google AdWords, which will let marketers load alternative versions and have the system automatically select the better-performing option over time.

We also discussed whether an automated lead nurturing campaign can build a relationship between a prospect and the sales rep whose name is on the system-generated emails. Both Todd and Maratona’s Cari Baldwin told stories about prospects who believed the emails werebeing sent personally. This is good news for companies hoping that demand generation systems can compensate for the loss of direct contact between sales people and early-stage prospects. (See my recent white paper Restoring the Balance for more on this.) But the stories also raise a note of caution: in both cases, the prospect approached the actual sales rep at a trade show, and the rep had no idea what they were talking about. Happily, both reps handled the situation well.

(Note: MarketBright was purchased by Act-On Software two years after this post was published.)

Silverpop Engage B2B Adds Visual Campaign Builder

Summary: Silverpop Engage B2B has added an innovative visual campaign builder that supports complexity without the drawbacks of a Visio-style flow chart. Thumbs up.

(This is the first of three planned posts on updated interfaces from demand generation vendors.)

Silverpop Engage B2B (formerly Vtrenz) on Monday released its first visual campaign builder, finally matching a feature offered by nearly all its competitors. The interface takes a creative approach to the conflict between simple presentation and complex campaign flows, using what Silverpop describes as “horizontal video-production-style features” that lay out each contact stream in a separate row on the screen. Movement between streams is handled by objects that list the destinations, but don’t connect to them with lines like a conventional, Visio-style flow chart. (Click here for a video demonstration.)

Silverpop told me that they had originally planned to use a Visio-style approach but found the diagrams became unworkably complex once they expanded beyond a few branches. Since this matches my own oft-stated opinion, I readily agreed.

It also can’t have hurt that the Engage B2B was already organized around contact streams, which it calls “tracks”, and rules to direct movement between streams, which it calls “track routes”. This fits perfectly with the new interface. In fact, “track” is precisely the term that audio, video and film producers use to describe their synchronized inputs. Think “sound track” or “8 track tape”. But I digress.

The ability to explicitly direct leads from one contact stream to another is what separates the Engage B2B approach from simple linear campaign flows. In the new interface, track routes are objects within the contact stream, and can be opened to edit the decision rules that determine where the lead moves next. The stream can also contain decision objects with a single rule that is tested repeatedly during a specified evaluation period. This allows the system to wait for an event (e.g., allow one week for response to an email) and still react immediately if it happens. If the rule is not met by the end of the evaluation period, the lead can move to the end of the track, to another track within the campaign, or to another campaign.

The interface includes a variety of thoughtful details that have a major impact on usability.

- A track can include placeholder objects, letting users design a campaign before its marketing materials are ready. Since this raises its own risks, the system flags incomplete objects so users know which still need work.

- Users can hover over the list of destination tracks within a track route object and then click on a destination to move to it.

- When events are based on fixed dates, as in a Webinar promotion, the objects in the different tracks are vertically aligned by date. This makes it easier to grasp what happens when.

- Once a campaign is under way, the system displays actual metrics on the track objects (responses, leads currently in the object, leads that have passed through, etc.) so users can see the results at a glance.

- The rule definition interface offers a wide variety of pre-formatted, fill-in-the-blanks statements. This lets non-technical users build complex rules, since it spares them from learning about database details or programming syntax.

Of course, no interface is perfect. There is no visual overview of how leads move across tracks and campaigns, which can make the flow hard to grasp. Nor is there an alternative, more concise interface for simple linear campaigns. The system doesn’t seem to adapt to different user skill levels or to adjust which options are exposed, although I might have missed some of these features.

Still, the Engage B2B interface represents a much-needed fresh look at solving some of the basic issues in campaign visualization. It definitely raises the bar for the rest of the industry.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Demand Generation Vendors Offer Few Social Media Applications

Summary: marketing vendors offer several types of social media applications. But none truly automates social media management, which is what's ultimately needed.

Social media is this month’s Trend of the Year. But no one knows how best to use it, which has led to a wide range of offerings under the social media label. Here’s a quick and surely incomplete run-down of those I’ve seen recently. They provide three basic functions:

- send messages via social media. Treehouse Interactive just introduced a “talk it up” feature that embeds “share this” buttons in Treehouse-generated Web pages and emails. This lets people easily send a Tweet, post to a Facebook wall or create a LinkedIn article that points to the original content. CRM vendor RightNow offers something similar under the label of Cloud Links.

- add social media data to prospect profiles. InsideView is gaining the most attention for this at the moment. It lets marketers or sales people specify companies and individuals to monitor, and then scans media including social networks (LinkedIn, Facebook), public forums (blogs, wikis, Diggs, Twitter), paid sources (D&B, Zoom, Jigsaw,) and Web pages for information about those entities. It analyzes the results to identify key events and to build consolidated profiles with its best guess at the correct current information. These can be loaded into sales and CRM systems to make them easily accessible. InsideView is already integrated with major CRM vendors and with the Marketbright demand generation system.

Broadlook offers somewhat similar functions, although it is largely limited to Internet searches to gather the data it examines. The company’s main product, Profiler, extracts names, titles, email addresses and telephone numbers from a specified Web site. It can also search other Web sites for email addresses containing the targeted domain. An enhancement released last month, Profiler X, will also incorporate data from Hoovers. Other products include Eclipse, which scans online directories that require user log-in, and Diver, which scans the results of a Google search one page at a time. Results can be imported to sales automation and CRM files to update and enhance their profiles.

Many other vendors let a user automatically jump to the LinkedIn or Jigsaw profiles of the prospect they are reviewing. Ones I know about include Pardot, LoopFuse , TrueInfluence , and ACT! by Sage This is a crude sort of integration – the data is simply presented in a window on the screen, not actually loaded into the demand generation or sales automation database. But it does save a few keystrokes.

- scan for social media mentions. Specialized systems like ScoutLabs, Crimson Hexagon and BoardTracker have been available to track social media mentions for some time. Just last week, RightNow announced Cloud Monitor, which integrates such tracking with the ability to respond with its sales and customer service features. This will surely be a standard CRM feature before long, and will probably migrate to demand generation systems soon after.

All told, I'm rather disappointed at what I see in this list. InsideView and RightNow have the most important applications, but neither is a demand generation system. Treehouse Interactive is the only demand generation vendor to offer anything beyond a simple LinkedIn integration, and even Treehouse is only making it easier to use social media as a broadcast medium. No one seems to be executing meaningful dialogs through social media, even though that is marketers’ truly pressing need because doing it manually is so expensive.

Of course, this ties into the larger need for automated personalized dialogs that I have previously identified the future of demand generation. I’ve now believed this for almost two full weeks, so it must be true.

Monday, June 01, 2009

How the Buying Process Has Changed, and How It Hasn't: Notes from the Field

Summary: The Internet has given more power to buyers and changed the buying process. But product and responsive salesmanship still make the difference.

The deer that ran into my car on May 21 provided still more posthumous marketing insights when the insurance company declared my car a total loss and I had to buy a new one on short notice. My latest pass through the quintessential American purchase experience confirmed one obvious truth and recalled two others that are easily forgotten.

- The obvious truth was that information, and therefore power, have shifted to buyers from sellers due to the Internet. Everyone knows this, but, for the record, I was able to do nearly all my research online and even get price quotes without setting foot in a dealer. This almost completely eliminated any personal relationship from the equation, as well as blocking traditional dealer tactics like the indirect negotiation with the sales manager.

- A less obvious truth was that, whatever the pundits say, products are not fully commoditized. My online research and preexisting preferences quickly narrowed the field to Honda and Subaru models with virtually identical specifications. The Honda has better reviews and a lower price, so I was all set to purchase it. But then I actually drove both vehicles and found I had a small but definite preference for the Subaru. Lesson learned: product really does count. This is something we all know but tend, as marketers, to disregard when we focus on decisions we control.

- The other easily-overlooked truth is that execution really matters. I put out online requests for price quotes to three Honda dealers and four Subaru dealers. I had responses with pricing from two Honda dealers in just over one hour, and from the third within three hours. In contrast, it was twenty-four hours before I got my first nebulous price from Subaru. More specifically, one Subaru dealer responded immediately but wouldn't discuss price except in person, one called me on phone even though I had requested an online reply, one responded twenty-three hours later, and one responded after four days.

In short, based on ease of doing business, Honda won hands-down. On the other hand, Subaru corporate sent me an email checking up on its dealer responses about two days after my original inquiry. So we can at least hope that Subaru dealers, as well as their cars, will eventually match the performance of Honda.

There were also clear examples of poor coordination within the dealers. The dealer that took four days to answer my email was very responsive in other channels: they published detailed prices on their Web site and gave me a price immediately over the telephone when I called. The phone and Internet prices differed slightly, but were both quite competitive. When I finally got their email, the price matched the one I had been offered on the phone. Of course, by that time I had already made my purchase and told the salesman.

The Subaru dealer who telephoned me also sent an email response three days later, but the email system was clearly unaware of our telephone interactions. That dealer proved particularly inept: they played the “let me talk to my manager” game on the phone for two days running, taking so long that I had already purchased the car elsewhere by the time they got back with a realistic quote. Ironically, I had recently purchased another vehicle from this dealer and had no particular complaints about my treatment, so the business was theirs to lose. They lost it by moving too slowly and playing old-style negotiating games.

For the enjoyment of anyone who really cares about the details, here is a log of my contacts during the buying process. Dealer names are changed to those of the Seven Dwarfs for no particular reason.

11:22 a.m. Subaru quote request via to Doc, Dopey, Grumpy and Bashful
11:33 a.m. auto response – Doc Subaru
11:33 a.m. auto response – Dopey Subaru

11:37 a.m. Honda quote request via to Sleepy, Sneezy and Happy
11:41 a.m. personal response – Dopey Subaru
11:46 a.m. auto response – (Honda service company)
11:46 a.m. auto response – Sleepy Honda
11:46 a.m. auto response – Sneezy Honda
11:46 a.m. auto response – Happy Honda
11:52 a.m. price – Sleepy Honda
12:00 p.m. (?) phone from Grumpy Subaru (sales manager)
12:47 price – Sneezy Honda
1:12 p.m. price details – Sneezy Honda
2:00 p.m. phone from Happy Honda (apologized; said system often doesn’t show whether requested email response)
2:20 p.m. price Happy Honda
3:00 p.m. (?) phone from Grumpy (my previous salesperson; gave him target price

3:30 – 5:00: test drove vehicles at Dopey Subaru and Happy Honda. Offered uncompetitive price from Dopey Subaru.

10:08 p.m. email w/other vehicles – Sleepy Honda

12:03 a.m. auto response – Sleepy Honda
9:50 a.m. personal response – Doc Subaru
11:26 a.m. price - Doc Subaru (details not stated – actually about $800 higher)
12:00 a,m. (?) phone from Grumpy Subaru
12:03 a.m. clarification – Sneezy Honda
12:16 a.m. details - Doc Subaru
12:41 a.m. note – Sneezy Honda
1:39 p.m. note from Doc Subaru (prices are ‘all in’)
3:00 p.m. (?) – phone price from Grumpy Subaru; told to get lower; said will talk w/manager
5:25 p.m. – price clarification from Doc Subaru

9:27 a.m. note from Sneezy Honda (can I come in?)
9:30 a.m. called Grumpy Subaru (salesperson; gave him target price)
9:30 a.m. called Bashful Subaru; got price (about $300 higher than on Web, but w/$500 gas card)
9:47 a.m. note from Sneezy Honda (thanks)
9:58 a.m. offer to negotiate price from Doc Subaru
10:43 a.m. price agreement from Doc Subaru
12:00 a.m. signed papers at Doc Subaru
12:30 p.m. phone from Grumpy Subaru w price; told had already purchased
3:00 p.m. (?) phone from Bashful Subaru; told had already purchased
4:03 p.m. email from corporate Subaru checking on dealer response

6:14 a.m. auto response from Sneezy Honda (had already informed dealer would not make purchase)

3:11 a.m. opt-out form from (Honda)
3:13 a.m. auto response from Grumpy Subaru
11:03 a.m. email w/price from Bashful Subaru Internet division