Monday, November 29, 2010

Treehouse Interactive Refines Its Features and Targets Larger Firms

Summary: Treehouse Interactive has been slowly enhancing its marketing automation system with features that appeal to experienced users. Its new clients are larger firms and half are switching from another marketing automation product that they found inadequate. This might foreshadow attrition problems at other vendors.

It’s been nearly two years since my last review of Treehouse Interactive. Here's an update.

The big news is, well, that there’s no big news. Treehouse has been quietly but steadily growing its business (up 30% this year), improving its product, and attracting more demanding clients. One telling statistic is that about half its new customers are replacing an existing marketing automation system – a sure sign that Treehouse offers features that only an experienced marketer will realize are missing from other products.

A bit of background: Treehouse started in 1997 with the Sales View sales automation product. It added Marketing View marketing automation in 1999 and Reseller View partner management after that. Its marketing automation system offers the usual range of functions: email, Web analytics, landing pages, multi-step campaigns, lead scoring, CRM integration, ROI reporting. The greatest divergence from industry norms is Treehouse contacts always enter campaigns by completing a form. Other systems select campaign members with rules that can access a broader set of data.

In addition, Treehouse originally required all subsequent campaign steps to execute the same actions on the same schedule. This is considerably more rigid than the branching capabilities built into most marketing automation products. Treehouse has since enabled imported data to trigger campaign actions, and promises behavior-based triggers in the near future. See my original post for more details.

Treehouse’s developments since that post have largely played to its strengths. I’ll group these into themes, with the caveat that I’m combining enhancements introduced at different times in the past year and a half.

- form integration. Treehouse has continued to expand how clients can use its forms, which were already more powerful than most. The system can now generate HTML code to embed forms within external Web pages, allowing users to create standard Javascript or Facebook-compatible non-Javascript versions, or both. It can also post form responses using HTTP Send commands, which can send data to GoToWebinar (replacing GoToWebinar’s own registration forms) or to other systems such as product registration, CRM and customer support. The HTTP Send avoids API calls or Web Services, although Treehouse offers data exchange through Web Services as well. The system also has an “instant polling” feature to embed surveys within any Web page.

- CRM synchronization. When I last wrote about Treehouse, it had just added integration. It has since added a connector for Oracle CRM On Demand. It has also improved its CRM integration to synchronize data in real time, show Treehouse events within the CRM interface, and allow salespeople to add leads to campaigns and remove them. CRM integration is handled through forms that map fields from one system to another. These forms also contain update rules (controlling when data from one system replaces data in the other) and action rules (specifying when to take actions such as sending an email or updating a list subscription). The action rules are particularly significant in the context of Treehouse’s forms-based campaign design, since they provide a way to modify lead treatments that isn’t based on the original form entries.

- Web analytics. The system now builds separate Web activity profiles for individuals (whether identified or anonymous, so long as they have a cookie), for all individuals associated with a company, and for companies identified via IP address but lacking an associated individual. An individual’s lead score can be based on both individual and company Web behaviors. The system has expanded its referral reporting to track results by the exact referring URL. The CRM integration can now capture the search phrase and other referral details for leads imported from Web to Lead forms: this required special processing since embeds the information within a text string.

- download and document management. Treehouse can now tie multiple downloads to a single request form. It can list the leads that downloaded a specific document (a feature Treehouse says is unique, although I can only confirm that it's rare), as well as counting total downloads and downloads by unique leads. Downloads are now part of contact history along with emails, campaigns, purchases, click-throughs and form actions. The system also maintains a library of available documents. These can be stored outside of Treehouse so long as there’s a tag for Treehouse to call them.

- social media integration. Marketing messages can include a button that lets recipients create social media messages with an embedded URL. The messages will be sent under the recipient’s own identity in systems including Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, LinkedIn and Digg. Although many demand generation vendors now offer some type of social sharing, Treehouse introduced this feature back in May 2009. Emails and forms can also include a forward-to-a-friend button that allows recipients to enter several email addresses at once.

- other advanced features. These include fine-grained access permissions, split and multivariate testing, easy addition of new tables linked to contact records, and support for non-Roman languages such as Chinese. All are features particularly relevant to larger or more sophisticated clients.

Treehouse pricing has changed a bit since my original post, now starting at $749 per month for up to 7,500 contacts in the database. This is still firmly in small business territory, although Treehouse’s advanced features really make it a better fit for more sophisticated marketers, who are usually at larger companies. The company is a particularly good fit for channel marketers who can benefit from its Reseller View system.

Treehouse now has nearly 200 total clients, of which more than half use Marketing View. This makes it one of the smaller players competing for mid-to-upper size clients, a particularly crowded niche. But the firm is self-funded and profitable, and it's selling on features, not cost. So I'd expect it to be a reliable vendor, even if someone else eventually dominates its segment.

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