Monday, February 14, 2011

ClickDimensions Offers Marketing Automation as a Microsoft CRM Add-on

Now that I’m more or less finished launching the B2B Marketing Automation Vendor Selection Tool (VEST), I can start catching up on the other topics.

Let’s start with ClickDimensions, a system I explored last September but never wrote about. ClickDimensions does pretty much the standard marketing automation activities: email, landing pages, Web visitor tracking, drip marketing campaigns, and lead scoring.

What’s missing from the list is CRM integration. That's no accident: ClickDimensions doesn’t integrate with CRM in the regular sense of synchronizing data. Rather, it works directly from Microsoft Dynamics CRM files. In other words, ClickDimensions is a Microsoft CRM add-on.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. In fact, I (and many others) have long argued that marketing automation makes more sense as an integrated component of a CRM system than a stand-alone product. After all, separate systems must synchronize databases, campaigns, users, content libraries, activity histories, and other things, adding cost and complexity. Small business systems like Infusionsoft and OfficeAutoPilot solve this problem by bundling their own CRM features. This isn't an option at bigger companies, where one or more CRM systems are often deeply embedded. So it makes more sense to extend CRM to include marketing automation than the other way around.

This potential expansion has always been the biggest cloud hovering over B2B marketing automation, which has arguably been allowed to develop only because the business remained too small for the major CRM vendors to care about. Of course, another way to look at this is that the CRM vendors already do marketing automation – certainly Oracle/Siebel does, and plenty of folks would argue that has adequate marketing automation capabilities for most purposes, although most experts (and I) would disagree. Still, a slow incremental expansion of CRM vendors’ marketing automation features is all it would take to squeeze the dedicated marketing automation vendors into an ever-smaller corner of the market, leaving them to serve only companies with specialized needs.

But I digress. ClickDimensions illustrates the advantages of a combined CRM/marketing automation platform. It works off the Dynamics CRM database, so sales and marketing have access to the same, complete data without synchronization. Perhaps more important, ClickDimensions use the Dynamics CRM platform to handle data management, campaign workflows, and user rights. This has freed ClickDimensions to concentrate on the building features that are absent (at least for now) in Dynamics and other CRM systems: advanced email campaigns and Web activity tracking.

ClickDimensions has its own email engine, replacing the product’s original reliance on ExactTarget. The engine supports dynamic content, which is unusual for lower-to-mid-tier marketing automation products. I did find the implementation rather basic: users must write rules in a scripting language and the content is embedded in the email templates rather than read from a shared library.

On the other hand, ClickDimensions has an advanced Outlook email integration that I’ve never seen anywhere else. An administrator can assign an email address to a mailing list; then, end-users send a personalized email to that address and the system delivers it to everyone on the list. ClickDimensions calls this “Outlookcasting.” The advantage is that salespeople can use their familiar Outlook email to send mass emails which are tracked through the marketing automation system.

The system's other major extension beyond standard CRM capabilities is Web activity tracking. This is pretty straightforward: users tag their Web pages with ClickDimensions tracking codes and the system stores activities in custom data objects within the Dynamics data structure. Like many marketing automation systems, ClickDimensions can use the IP address of anonymous visitors to identify their company (if they are using a corporate IP address). It also lets users manually label IP addresses that might belong to a generic ISP but the user knows are linked to a specific company. The system tracks the usual Web information: visits, page views, posted forms, posted fields, and so on.

Email and Web activity data, as well as any activities captured by Dynamics itself, are available for lead scoring and event triggers. Multi-step campaign flows are built using the Dynamics workflow engine. I haven't examined the Dynamics workflow in detail but it seems comparable to most marketing automation campaign engines.

ClickDimensions pricing ranges from $4,000 to $12,000 per year based on email volume. That’s considerably cheaper than standard mid-tier marketing automation products, although some small business systems are cheaper. The initial version of ClickDimensions was released in September 2010, although the company’s own email engine wasn’t added until December. The vendor reports more than 50 current clients, including a few big companies. It sells the product directly in the U.S. and through resellers in Europe. ClickDimensions is also part of Microsoft’s BizSpark program, an initiative to form close relationships with high-potential start-ups.


jodie said...

If you’re looking for a CRM package with the marketing automation add-on, now is a good time to consider Microsoft CRM 2011. There is a current pricing promotion for new customers of $34/user/month (USD) for the first contract year. This link will give you more details:

Jodi E.
Microsoft SMB Outreach Team

David Raab said...

I don't usually accept such obviously self-promotional comments, but in this case I guess it makes sense. But I really doubt that people need much help figuring out how to reach Microsoft, Jodie.