Wednesday, June 29, 2011

ExactTarget and Eloqua Stake Their Claim To Centralized Customer Management

You probably saw ExactTarget’s June 13 announcement of its strategic partnership with Marketo and Eloqua’s June 21 announcement of its new AppCloud marketplace for connectors with other systems. So did I. But it took a little while to connect with the vendors to get the details, so I’m only now ready to write about them.

Both announcements shared a theme of integration between core marketing platforms and other marketing systems. That Eloqua sees itself as the center of a marketing infrastructure isn’t surprising, although it does show how far we've traveled from the once-common view of marketing automation as an auxiliary to the sales automation “system of record”. ExactTarget’s aspiration to a central role was less expected, since its original and still primary business is email delivery. But ExactTarget has added mobile, Web pages, and social in recent years. They've been pulling these together with an “Interactive Marketing Hub” in beta since last September, which is now used by 500 of their 4,000 clients. The IMH, as we cognoscenti call it, combines ExactTarget's email, mobile, Web pages, Web visitor tracking, and social media with external touchpoints as well as and Microsoft CRM.

The IMH sports a slick user interface with a very nice dashboard showing real-time updates of summary statistics for each channel. It also provides a central marketing calendar of campaigns across the channels. The underlying database can be simple lists, as in traditional email system, or a proper multi-table structure acting as the primary marketing database. As Captain Planet used to say, The Power Is Yours.

It’s perfectly sensible for ExactTarget to move in this direction, since it otherwise risks being pushed to the unprofitable edges of the marketing world as a commodity email engine. In fact, the real head-scratcher was why ExactTarget would deal with Marketo if it had ambitions to occupy the same central turf. (Marketo’s motivation is obvious: to gain broader distribution.)

ExactTarget’s answer was refreshingly honest: IMH lacks key B2B marketing automation features including lead scoring, advanced segmentation, and multi-step campaigns. The campaign engine will be improved before IMH's official launch this September, but other specialized B2B features probably won’t be added. ExactTarget also sees Marketo as the first of many partner applications for IMH, further clarifying that they see it in the central position.

Eloqua’s AppCloud is obviously modeled on’s AppExchange and other application stores. The goal is for third parties to extend the value of a core platform by building tools that enhance it. In Eloqua’s case, most of the initial applications are connectors with other systems for Webinars, social communities, messaging and data acquisition. These will be joined over time by apps that add functionality within Eloqua itself. The AppCloud is an extension of Eloqua’s earlier Cloud Connector initiative, which provides APIs for external systems to access Eloqua data and functions. Basically, AppCloud makes it easier to find and deploy those connectors.

I did ask Eloqua how AppCloud relates to its Revenue Performance Management positioning. This felt like a pretty clever question until I later saw it was addressed in the AppCloud press release. Oh well. The answer came smoothly enough: AppCloud makes it easier to gather the activity data needed for Revenue Performance Management analysis. That makes sense, although AppCloud implies a more active integration with external systems than simply reporting against them.

Both the ExactTarget and Eloqua announcements reflect a strategy of positioning their products as a company’s primary customer management system. If you recall my post last week on Adobe and Oracle announcements, those firms also wanted to place themselves at the center of the customer management universe. So does pretty much everyone else.

Obviously they all can’t win this game. At the end of the day, I’d still put my money on the big CRM systems as the logical central repository for customer data. But I do believe that many auxiliary systems will continue to feed data to the central system and somehow coordinate treatment decisions with it. Connectors created to service ExactTarget, Eloqua, and others will make it easier to integrate the peripheral systems with whichever product ends up in the middle. So it’s all good.


Jill Rowley said...

David - your keen observations continue to impress me. You are following the evolving space well. I am confident you will continue to contribute great perspective. Commenting on acquisition, you mention CRM. Why not a top of the funnel company like Adobe? I view Eloqua primarily middle of the funnel and CRM bottom of the funnel. Long term, I see top, middle and bottom offered by one company. The question is when and after how many steps in between? Cheers! Jill Rowley @ Eloqua.

David Raab said...

Hi Jill,

I agree that Adobe is a candidate for building a top-to-bottom system. The only caveat is they have clearly limited themselves to digital touchpoints, so it's unlikely they would buy a full CRM system with its call center and field marketing features. But could they buy a marketing automation vendor? Definitely.