Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Treehouse Interactive MarketingView Combines Demand Generation with Campaign ROI Tracking

I originally spoke with Treehouse Interactive in late January, but didn’t write about them because weren’t quite ready to talk about their integration. Since that’s critical to many demand generation users, I didn’t want to give a false impression by leaving it out. They officially announced the Salesforce integration and other changes (more about that later) on March 3. So now the story can be told.

It’s actually quite a long story, dating back to the company’s initial sales automation system in 1997, followed by its MarketingView demand generation product in 1999. Finding a demand generation system that old is always a surprise, since most products were launched much more recently. But Treehouse Interactive has been growing quietly all that time, now reaching a perfectly respectable 100 or so clients, of which more than half use MarketingView. The balance use the company's sales automation product, SalesView, (which is what let them get away without integration for so long), and a partner portal called ResellerView.

Given the number of perfectly acceptable demand generation products available today, it’s tempting to focus on SalesView and ResellerView as items that really distinguish Treehouse Interactive. But any evaluation still has to start with the core functions, since each product does these slightly differently. MarketingView is no exception. It provides a pretty typical email builder, with a graphical editor that lets users modify HTML templates and insert personalization variables. The system is a little above-average in that emails can contain if/then rules to display different images based on differences in lead data. These rules require a little script writing, which is always a negative in my book, but nothing fancy.

MarketingView is also unusual, though not unique, in assigning a separate IP address to each client. This ensures that spam problems of one client don’t spill over to affect the others. I was just discussing this recently with another vendor who also gives everybody their own IP address, and it seems the cost is quite minimal. So far as I’m concerned, it should be provided by every vendor as part of their base price.

Emails can be attached to lists, which are either maintained within the system based on user-specified criteria or imported from external files. The list definition interface is a bit old-school: users fill in the blanks on a form that shows lead attributes and a few behavioral attributes: numbers of email clicks, email opens, spending and purchases. This is a very limited set of behavioral attributes compared with what’s available in other demand generation systems. Users do get to specify threshold values, greater or less than operators, and date ranges to measure.

Although most of the old fill-in-the-blanks query interfaces could only select records that contained all of the user-specified field values, MarketingView is a bit more flexible: it lets users specify ‘or and ‘not’ relationships among the values. The interface to do this still seems old-fashioned: users get a numbered list of the specified attributes and can then write script statements such as “1 and 2 or 3 and not 4’. This is a bit awkward, since you have to look somewhere else on the screen to find what each number refers to. It could also be misread when users leave out parentheses. But it’s basically serviceable and I suspect few MarketingView clients have trouble with it.

The system’s Web form builder is considerably more advanced. Users can create questions on the fly, list allowable answers, specify required items, and either map results to database fields or store them separately. New questions are automatically added to a library so they can be reused across surveys. Users can also set up form-level rules that let visitors save and return to a partly completed form, set an expiration date on a survey, authenticate the visitor based on their name or other value, prepopulate the form with data for known visitors, and control what happens when someone fills out the same form more than once. (The system can prevent this, overwrite previous entries, or keep each the entry as a separate record.) Forms can be hosted by Treehouse Interactive or run on an external server. MarketingView can also accept data posted from forms built outside of the system.

This is all good stuff, and some is above the industry average. But what really makes a MarketingView form special is what happens after it’s completed. Users can attach any number of actions to a form and can assign both selection conditions and time intervals to each action.

In fact, campaigns in MarketingView are nothing more (or less) than a list of actions attached to a form. This is certainly an unusual approach, and I can’t quite decide whether I like it. Since the available actions include all the basic campaign tasks – sending an email, adding a name to a list, sending a lead to the CRM system, notifying a salesperson, and sending another form – it does give users pretty much the same functionality as a conventional approach. In fact, it’s arguably just a slightly different version of the small linear campaigns I consider the basic building blocks of an easy-to-use campaign interface. (See my earlier posts on the topic.) But without a way to visualize the flow of leads from one campaign to another, it would be difficult to use MarketingView for complex programs.

There are also some significant limits to how MarketingView implements its campaign approach. The most important is that filter conditions for subsequent actions can only look at the data on the original form. This means you can’t define different paths based on other information in a lead record or on subsequent behaviors. Even something as simple as removing a lead from a campaign when the lead is sent to sales requires terminating the campaign for everyone.

Another issue is that all campaign actions are scheduled relative to the original form submission date. This means a campaign can’t wait for an event and then resume once it happens. I think there are ways to achieve similar outcomes by having separate campaigns trigger each other in sequence: that is, one campaign would end in an email that links to a form, which would then start another campaign. But this seems considerably harder to manage than doing everything within one campaign.

Ok, people looking for the world’s fanciest campaign manager are probably not going to buy MarketingView. But there are other reasons to consider it.

- ROI reporting. This was the other key point in the March 3 release. MarketingView can pull revenues from the CRM opportunity records, pretty much the same as other demand generation systems. But it can also insert a script into an ecommerce system transaction page to pull revenues from online purchases. The system links this to campaigns through a campaign cookie on the buyer’s computer. I believe this is unique to MarketingView, at least as a standard feature.

MarketingView can capture revenue from sales through channel partners. It does this through its ResellerView portal, which attaches campaigns to leads it distributes to partners and reports back the revenues that partners associated with those leads. The actual process is somewhat complex: the leads are actually sent to a sales automation system (SalesView or which in turn sends them to ResellerView, and the revenues are read from opportunity records that also flow from ResellerView to sales automation to MarketingView. This makes it easier to coordinate direct sales and channel sales efforts, and it done without requiring partners to license the sales automation system. Again, this particular approach is apparently unique.

Taken together, these features mean that MarketingView can link campaigns to revenue for direct sales (from CRM), online sales (from ecommerce) and channel sales (from ResellerView). For clients who use those channels, the result is a more complete view of campaign revenue than traditional demand generation products can provide. The system also captures campaign costs, so it can produce a proper ROI report. In fact, it produces a bevy of statistics based on the different combinations of cost, revenue and response statistics, such as cost per opportunity and revenue per click.

- lead scoring based on actual purchases. This draws on the revenue capture features just discussed. In particular, the system has a “Who’s Climbing Up” report that tracks scores based on recent email opens, link clicks, form submissions, purchase dollars and purchase events. This report can be turned into a list of hot prospects. Of course, every demand generation system does lead scoring. But access to online and channel revenue lets MarketingView produce more useful scores, at least for companies where those sales are important.

- Partner management. I didn’t examine ResellerView in depth, but it promises a broad set of partner relationship management features. In addition to distributing leads and capturing revenues, the system can register partners, give them accounts, manage contracts, track their certifications, manage coop advertising, send newsletters and other notices, register opportunities, and even run a dealer locator. The only other demand generation vendor I’ve seen with serious partner management is Marketbright.

- bidirectional real time data synchronization with sales automation. This applies both to SalesView and Several, but not all, demand generation vendors support real time synchronization. It’s increasingly important as marketing and sales groups both stay involved with leads throughout their life cycle, instead of abruptly ending marketing involvement once sales takes over. Real time alerts from demand generation to sales automation are relatively easy to find, but real time updates from sales automation to demand generation are not. MarketingView does both. The value of real time updates from sales automation is that they can trigger immediate automated responses from demand generation, allowing more attentive service than sales people can do on their own.

Treehouse Interactive products are offered as subscription services. Pricing on MarketingView is based on the number of contacts in the database, without regard to volume of emails or Web transactions. A 5,000 contact system costs $599 per month, which puts the pricing firmly in small business territory. Rates for higher volumes are confidential but still priced with small and mid-sized business in mind. The company has some larger firms among its existing clients, although it isn’t actively targeting the enterprise market. Treehouse Interactive also offers custom development, Web design, and marketing consulting.

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