Tuesday, February 24, 2009

First Look at New Marketo Release

I’m going to diverge just slightly from my current obsession with usability to talk about a conversation I had today with Marketo President and CEO Phil Fernandez, who previewed the 3.0 release of his flagship product, scheduled for March 3.

The changes that Fernandez described seemed good but subtle. Major themes were greater access to detailed information, more precise targeting, and tighter integration with Salesforce.com. The company also reworked the user interface--of more than 200 total changes in this upgrade, about 75 were tied to usability--although it still takes the same basic approach of building campaigns as lists of steps, rather than branching flow charts. In Fernandez’ view, this reflects a fundamental philosophical difference from his competitors: Marketo sees marketing as reacting to prospect-initiated behaviors, not executing company-driven interaction paths. Although I actually think that quite a few demand generation vendors share the Marketo philosophy, it’s still helpful to hear the distinction made clearly.

What's ultimately more important than the uniqueness of Marketo's philosophy is how they have built it into their software. In Marketo, each campaign is a relatively small, self-contained sequence of steps that is triggered by a particular prospect need. Fernandez used the analogy of a cocktail party: you might have a few stories you expect to tell, but don’t know exactly when you’ll tell them or in what order. The simplicity of these individual campaigns is what lets Marketo use a simple interface to build them. There is certainly more to it than that—the company has a fanatical devotion to usability—but I’d argue that being structured around simple campaigns is the key to Marketo’s well-deserved reputation as a system that’s easy to use.

The challenge with all these simple campaigns is the same as the challenge of telling stories at a cocktail party: you have to be sure to tell the right story to the right person at the right time. Marketo’s approach is to trigger campaigns based on specified events or list criteria. But since this by itself won’t coordinate the separate campaigns, Marketo also lets users set up other campaigns (which sound suspiciously like flow charts, although they are not displayed that way) whose rules send prospects to one campaign or another. This is a perfectly straightforward approach, although I suspect that marketers may find it hard to keep track of the selection rules as they get increasingly complicated.

Here is where it’s worth considering the approaches of other vendors. Products including Silverpop Engage B2B (formerly Vtrenz), Market2Lead and Marketbright also let marketers set up small, sequential campaigns and embed them in selection framework. Each vendor takes a different approach to building this framework, and, like Marketo, they can all be difficult to grasp once you pass a certain threshold of complexity.

Still, I think its fair to say that the general approach of simple campaigns linked in a decision matrix is a more effective way to implement non-linear, prospect-driven interactions than conventional flow charts. My own experience over the years has been that flow charts quickly become too complicated for most marketers to deal with.

Hmm, I seem to have fallen back into a discussion of usability without planning to. You can just imagine how much fun I am at a cocktail party. Fernandez and I did in fact discuss other things, including Marketo’s phenomenal growth (he hopes to sign his 150th customer any day now), its success in selling to non-technology companies (healthcare, manufacturing and business services have been strong), and the growing importance of demand generation systems as buyers take control of the purchasing process.

That last point morphed into a discussion of the increased integration between marketing and sales. Today's prospects repeatedly bounce between the two during hyper-extended sales cycles that begin earlier and are far less linear. That resonated with me because I’ve noticed several other demand generation vendors offering features that cross into traditional sales department territories, such as prospect portals and reseller management.

In Marketo’s case, though, it’s less a matter of adding sales-type functions than tightening its integration with Salesforce.com. Changes to support this include faster response times, more extensive data sharing, and more precise control over synchronization rules. Still, the general point is the same: marketing and sales must cooperate more closely than ever. It's always interesting to see how a thoughtful company like Marketo looks at a trend like this and decides to react.


Unknown said...

I took a look at the Marketo website and was very impressed with their number of installs and their testimonials. Does anyone know what the general public is really saying about them? Do they really have 400 installs paying them at least the minimum monthly fee? If yes, that's really impressive over a 2 year period.

David Raab said...

It's wise to take any vendor claim with a grain of salt, and there certainly has been plenty of discounting in this market. But whatever the specific numbers, there's no doubt that Marketo has grown rapidly and has many happy clients.