Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Eloqua10 Offers a Much-Improved Interface and Revenue Reporting

Summary: Eloqua10 provides much-needed update to Eloqua's user interface and a new reporting infrastructure for “revenue performance management”. Neither change is revolutionary but both substantially improve the company’s competitive position within the crowded B2B marketing automation industry.

Eloqua is slated to officially release its long-promised Eloqua10 system on November 21. The main changes are an updated user interface and a new foundation for what the company calls "revenue performance management".

Let’s start with the interface. Previous versions of Eloqua were very powerful but notoriously difficult to learn and use. The company took this criticism to heart and began work more than two years ago on a new approach. The primary goal was to speed and simplify user navigation, which its research found was the root cause of 70% of user problems.

The new interface is a huge improvement. Users start on a customizable home page, which they populate from a pool of widgets for recently accessed items, favorite reports, upcoming campaigns and other information. System functions are access through tabs that align with typical user roles: campaigns for program designers, assets for content creators, contacts for segmentation managers, insight for managers and analysts, and setup for administrators.

Campaign design has been wholly revamped. The old system used a classic Visio-style diagram that only an engineer could love. Users now drag campaign components into a blank canvas, and then connect and configure them. The esthetics are carefully thought out, with components grouped and color-coded by type:

- audience (segment members)
- assets (email, e-form, landing page)
- decisions (a mix of lead behaviors [clicked email, opened email, submitted form, visited Web site] and attributes [compare contact fields, shared list member, sent email])
- actions (add to campaign, add to program, move to campaign, move to program, wait)

The components are connected with squiggly lines, which probably makes no actual difference but definitely seems more friendly.

More substantively, multiple users can work on the same design simultaneously and the designs can be saved as reusable templates. It’s worth noting that the “move to campaign” action can send leads to a specific step within another campaign – not a new feature but still rare within the industry.

Users can open up assets within the campaign flow and then create or edit them. Eloqua10 introduces a Powerpoint-style design interface that lets users drag objects into place and see the changes rendered immediately. These Powerpoint-style interfaces are increasingly common among marketing automation systems, replacing the older approach of editing blocks within predefined templates. The objects can be text, images, data fields, hyperlinks or dynamic content blocks.

Eloqua10 uses the new interface to create emails, forms and landing pages – an improvement over the older version, which had different design tools for different asset types. One downside of the change is that some assets built in previous Eloqua editions will need to be modified, as will some reports.

However, old campaigns and data should transfer to the new format automatically. This reflects the fact that, once you get beneath the interface, the functionality and data structures are largely unchanged from Eloqua9.

The big exception on the data front is what Eloqua calls “revenue performance management” (RPM), which uses a new analytical database that tracks the movement of leads through stages within the buying process. This database is updated in near-real-time with operational transactions and can also receive opportunity outcomes from sales automation or other external systems.

Unfortunately, Eloqua hasn’t released the actual reports that will be provided for RPM. It does say there’s a list of sixteen, of which some already exist. Reports they’ve mentioned include: the number and ages of leads at each stage in the funnel; relation of leads delivered to sales capacity at local levels; and revenue projections based on existing leads and stage-to-stage conversion rates. I don’t know which of these are already available.

There’s also a “two way revenue attribution” report that shows revenue allocated both by “first touch” and “all touch” methods. Although I’ve previously made clear my objections to revenue attribution in general, I think this approach is relatively sensible. “First touch” reporting is useful for acquisition programs, while “all touch” shows which programs are reaching buyers even if it doesn’t show the programs’ actual influence. With apologies for damning with faint praise, I’ll say Eloqua's approach is better than the illusion of precision created by fractional attribution.

Other enhancements planned for future releases include:

- benchmark reports that let marketers compare their company’s performance with averages for similar firms

- enterprise-level security enhancements such as global log-in across multiple Eloqua instances and item-level asset security

- user interface versions in languages other than English

- a new lead scoring interface and analytics to help build more accurate scoring rules

- Webinar management

- fax, SMS and print-on-demand outputs

Eloqua has a dozen or two customers already running Eloqua10. Other clients will be converted to the system over time to ensure users are ready for the new interface and have converted whatever assets and reports are needed. The company has a suite of new training materials in place and will not charge extra for the conversion.

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