Friday, March 07, 2014

Ontraport Revamps Its Small Business Marketing Automation System

It’s five long years since I wrote a detailed review of OfficeAutoPilot (now Ontraport), which is a lifetime in industry terms. But, while the product has steadily expanded its features during that period, the basic interface and structure have remained unchanged. I speak with particular authority here, since Ontraport is the marketing automation system of record at Raab Associates – in part because they give me a free account, but mostly because it has the particular mix of email, Web forms, order processing, automation, and WordPress integration that suits my needs and have provided great customer support. Nor does it hurt that I enjoy their corporate sense of humor – see their recent announcement of integration with Wistia for video display, featuring 9-year-old “Girl CEO” Phoebe Ray, daughter of the company founder.

Great customer support has been important because setting up work flows in Ontraport, such as order processing for the VEST report, was pretty darn complicated. It was especially hard for someone like me who only touches those features once or twice a year. Ontraport recognized the issue some time ago and has in fact been working on a complete rebuild for more than two years. They finally released it last week, at least for new clients. Existing installations will be converted over the next few months. But I saw a beta version some time ago and it looks like a major improvement.

The basic workflow approach is still the same: customers define a list of steps without a graphical flow chart. This is somewhat simplistic but adequate for most small businesses. What’s changed is that emails within the workflow are now read from a central library, avoiding the common mistake (at least by me) of editing the library copy without realizing that the system sends a separate copy stored within the workflow itself. The other big improvement, also a pain point for Yours Truly, is that data capture forms and order forms are now the combined: previously, they were created and stored separately. The new version also allows users to store incomplete steps while building a sequence, to assign actions to different task outcomes, and to track response using Google Analytics tags. Those haven’t been issues for me personally but they should be valuable to others. Ontraport can now send and receive SMS messages as well.

I’m only talking here about new enhancements. Ontraport already provided rich features for CRM, task management, marketing automation, order capture, and partner and membership programs. An open API lets it integrate with third-party systems for shopping carts, payment processing, and webinars, as well as with WordPress for Web content management and Facebook for social sign-on. In addition to email and SMS, the system supports postcard mailings through integration with a network of printers. Beyond standard customer support, users can pay a “concierge service” to execute projects for them. Pricing remains a very affordable $297 per month for up to 25,000 contacts, 100,000 emails per month, and two users.

Ontraport reports about 5,000 clients, about half of whom are on SendPepper, a lower priced system for email, postcards, and landing pages. This makes it one of the industry's larger vendors, although the company has kept a relatively low profile.  It’s certainly worth a look if you’re in the market for a small business all-in-one sales and marketing system.

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