Thursday, February 26, 2009

Getting Closer to My Usability Ratings

If you suspected that my last two blog posts were a way to avoid writing a post that ranks vendors on usability, you’re probably right. You’re also spending way too much time worrying about my blog, although I appreciate the attention.

But it turns out that those posts served a purpose beyond procrastination. In particular, they helped me to clarify the distinction between small campaigns focused on a specific treatment (e.g. offering a white paper or promoting a Webinar) and the larger process of managing the flow of treatments.

I’d already noticed that the simplicity-focused vendors (Marketo, Infusionsoft, OfficeAutoPilot and, as of yesterday, build their campaigns as a list of steps with no branching flows. (To be wholly accurate, some of them do permit limited branching within each step. But they hide it well.) As a result, I had flagged that as a key item on my usability-for-simple-programs checklist. (As a reminder, I'm planning to build two usability scores, one for simple marketing programs and one for complex marketing programs.) (Yes, there are far too many parenthetical comments in this post. Sorry.)

But I also knew that some of the vendors focused on complex programs (Market2Lead, Marketbright and arguably Silverpop/Vtrenz) embed similar-looking list-style campaigns within a larger flow logic. The question was why those systems should not also be rated as easy for simple projects—because, at least in my opinion, they are not.

What I realized while writing my posts on Marketo and is that you can’t view the individual campaigns in isolation. You must also consider how a system moves leads from one campaign to another.

The complexity-oriented vendors do this with flow logic that explicitly routes leads among campaigns. Marketbright and the new Market2Lead interface use an actual flow chart; Silverpop/Vtrenz uses non-visual rules. This makes sense, since marketers with sophisticated programs will want precise control over this routing. (In case you're wondering about other vendors I track, Eloqua, Neolane and Manticore Technology all set up flow charts without embedding the small list-style campaigns. So the distinction between campaign design and lead routing doesn't really apply.) (Sorry about the parentheses.)

The simplicty-oriented vendors don’t have explicit campaign-to-campaign routing. Instead, independent qualification rules for each campaign determine where the leads go next. This is obviously less work for marketers to set up, although it can be harder to understand lead flows when more than a few campaigns are in place.

I had documented the mechanics of this process during my research, but not thought of it as a lead routing mechanism. Yet even though there is no explicit lead routing involved, leads are still moving from one campaign to another. As Kurt Vonnegut never said, no matter what you do, lead routing happens.

So that's my grand epiphany: every system has a lead routing approach. Simplicity-focused products route leads by default, via independent campaign selection rules. Complexity-focused products route leads explicitly. As epiphanies go, it may not match Saul on the road to Damascus, but it will have to do.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, it’s evident that the proper checklist item is not linear campaign design, but implicit lead routing. It’s equally clear that the checklist for complex program usability will include explicit routing. I think that’s enough wisdom for one blog post, so I’ll end this one right here.


Mike Pilcher said...

I think you have it right on the money. Putting my hand up as running sales at Marketbright, a complexity-focused vendor, I understand my comments are biased and I declare so.

We believe if you are selling a single product, at a single price point, therefore with a largely homogenous prospect, then a simplicity-oriented system is adequate. I think you see this is reflected in the customer base of these simplicity-oriented system vendors. Small companies, simple requirements. When you have multiple products, verticals, geographies, price points, then when you are looking to nurture a prospect you also need to understand when they are not suitable for that product offer you are making. When you discover a product offer is unsuitable for a specific prospect, the chances are you want to identify another offering for them. To be able to manage this effectively you need to be able to route leads explicitly as it is through this routing you can effectively and efficiently nurture the prospect with the right product.

Fred Yee said...

Hi David,

At ActiveConversion, we've also believed that not having (or hiding) complexity is the best route. Although features like branching flows may sell product, we find marketers are more interested in ensuring the right list with the right content, than with complex (or even not so complex) rules.

Our product works with some of the best ESPs in the world and one thing they have in common is simplicity. And it's not because they're not capable of providing more complexity-focused systems. In many case, we've noticed they've taken (or hidden) that logic away.

Besides there's enough work, in getting the right list together with right content, at the right time, without having to worry about the occasional errant email.