Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Next-Generation Marketing Automation Systems Target Small Business

I’ve been gearing up for the next edition of our VEST report on B2B marketing automation systems, which involves catching up with established vendors and chasing down some new ones. The new entrants are clustered towards the small business end of the market, where they see an opportunity for simpler systems at lower prices than existing market leaders. I always wonder whether newcomers can find substantially simpler approaches than the older firms, which are already focused on ease of use and typically gone through several redesigns as they learn from experience. But it’s still worth scanning the new entrants to see how they’ve departed from older approaches. It’s also interesting to see how the new systems are similar, which gives some insight into what are apparently perceived as common problems in the older approaches.

Before jumping into the new systems, it helps to define a set of standard features to measure them against. I’ve written about this extensively in the past, so I won’t go into great detail here. Briefly, a standard B2B marketing automation system can send bulk emails to segmented lists, capture email responses on landing pages and forms, track email and Web site behaviors, score leads based on behaviors and profile attributes, execute multi-step workflows (i.e., nurture campaigns), and share leads with a CRM system like Not quite standard but increasingly common features include social media sharing and tracking, Webinar integration, visitor identification via reverse IP lookup, and capturing campaign information from Google AdWords. A system can be useful even if it lacks some of the standard features, but buyers should know what they’re missing so they can decide whether it’s something they really want.

Here are highlights of several vendors I’ve looked at recently. I’ll write about some others next week and then offer some general observations.

Leadsberry is among the oldest of these systems, launched in July 2012. It basic versions of the standard marketing automation features: lists are not updated automatically, workflows only branch on email behavior (opens, clicks, or nothing), and lead scoring is largely limited to profile attributes. On the other hand, it adds a powerful survey tool, easy conversion of emails to Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn messages, and easily created “instant offers”. Looking beyond technology, the vendor provides access to a 15 million name email database, a telephone lead generation team, and other services that can supplement or even replace an in-house marketing department. System pricing starts at $99 per month for up to 1,000 contacts; a system with 15,000 contacts costs $499 per month. There are additional fees for survey responses, list rental, and other services.

Leadsius launched its first paid version around July 2013. Like several of the new vendors, it is based in Europe (Sweden), although the user interface is in English. The system includes email, landing pages and forms, and Web behavior tracking. Workflows are currently limited: triggers are based only on email and Web activities, segments are defined only with profile attributes, and the only actions are emails. The next release will support list-based triggers and additional actions. Workflows can execute multiple steps but only branch on whether the previous email was opened. Synchronization with and SugarCRM are due by mid-2014. Lead scoring is not available and probably won’t be added any time soon, because the developer feels it is dangerous without validating that scores are accurate.  Among its strengths, the system provides detailed control over the rights assigned to different users; premium clients can have their own domain for landing pages and IP address for emails; and lists can be dynamic (i.e., continuously updated) as well as static. Leadsius comes in several versions including a free edition with a good set of basic features. New pricing in mid-February will retain the free version and introduce several other levels, most under $1,000 per month.

Salesformics is designed primarily to give sales people a pleasant-to-use CRM system, while offering marketing automation and dashboards to everyone in the organization. The system was developed by a UK-based marketing services firm and is still in public beta, which should end in mid-February. In a relatively radical departure from standard interfaces, it replaces traditional menus with a search box that lets users type commands or contact information (name, address, phone, etc.) and have the system return the best matching results. The system is also unusually reliant on third-party applications – dare we say “platform”? – using external systems to trigger promotions (for example, executing targeted searches in Twitter or LinkedIn to find contact-related events), to capture data (via externally-built web forms), and to deliver messages (email via Constant Contact or SMS via Twilio). Data from those sources, as well as the built-in CRM functions, can be used to create campaign segments. Indeed, the only traditional marketing automation functions provided by Salesformics itself are workflow and basic (untracked) email. Otherwise, trackable email and forms are provided via integration, there is no cookie-based Web behavior tracking, and lead scoring is not yet available (though planned). There is no synchronization to any external CRM system since Salesformics includes its own. The workflow uses a conventional diagram of triggers linked to actions; the triggers and actions are based on both internal and external data. A workflow can include multiple steps but branching won’t be supported until mid-2014. Pricing is based on number of users and starts at $79 per user per month.

Target360 was also developed by a UK-based service firm, in this case CRM consultants specializing in Microsoft Dynamics. The system adds email marketing and campaign tracking to Dynamics, working with Dynamics files directly rather than synching to a separate database. Among U.S-based firms, CoreMotives and ClickDimensions take a similar approach. Of the standard marketing automation functions, Target360 provides email, Web behavior tracking, lead scoring, and workflows. There is no form builder but the vendor provides a tool to map existing forms to the Dynamics database. Campaign workflows can only react to an email result, with separate branches for opens, clicks, and no response, although standard Dynamics workflows could support other actions as well. The system’s particular strength is tracking customer activities across different channels by assigning them campaign codes; this covers emails, Web visits, social media responses, and CRM interactions. These are connected with revenue captured in CRM to create return on investment reports. Revenue can be attributed in these reports to either the first or last campaign to reach a customer. The system was released in mid-2012 and starts at $1,050 per month including a Dynamics license.

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