Tuesday, April 14, 2009

LeadLife Mixes Advanced and Simple Features

I have my little checklist of features to define whether a demand generation system is suited for simple or complex marketing programs. (You'll find most of the list in our report on Vendor Usability Scores on the Raab Guide site.) Sadly, some vendors didn't get the memo and have built products that straddle my categories.

Consider LeadLife. It offers many features that appeal to large marketing departments: fine-grained user rights management, rule-based content selection, multiple scores per lead, central processes to score leads and transfer them to sales, APIs to integrate with external Web forms, campaign cost tracking, detailed ROI reporting, and project management with tasks. But it lacks other features that are equally advanced: approval workflows, templates linked to deployed content, split tests, campaign actions to update data values, support for channels beyond email, and, most important, any way to direct leads from one campaign to another.

One way to explain this particular mix of features is to note that LeadLife’s founders previously sold sales automation software. Many of LeadLife's strengths and weaknesses are typical for sales automation systems.

Of course, Joe the Marketer won't care about my classification scheme. LeadLife president Lisa Cramer says the system is targeted at mid-size firms (which she defines as 25 or more employees), not large enterprises, and she should know. Still, it’s probably significant that “flexibility,” not simplicity, was the first term she used to describe the system. Her second term was “intuitive”, so she wasn’t saying the system is designed only for expert users. To me, those terms reflect an ambition to support more than just the simplest marketing programs.

I did in fact find the user interface in LeadLife to be particularly well designed. It follows some principles I first heard many years ago, the gist of which was to divide the screen into fixed regions that always display the same type of information (e.g., navigation folders on the left, detail data in the center) and avoid windows that pop up and disappear in random locations. Today that looks a bit old-fashioned, but it really does make things easier because users always know what to expect. On the other hand, LeadLife has inexplicably chosen a green-based color scheme that can only be described as institutional.

I’ll forgive them the color scheme because LeadLife had the good sense to agree with me on the much more important issue of flow-chart vs. step-based campaign design. LeadLife campaigns are defined strictly as a list of steps, without any branching at all – not even the if/then/else logic that some vendors embed within a single step. In fact, Cramer told me that LeadLife originally tried a flow chart approach, but discarded it because clients got lost. My point exactly.

Notwithstanding the austere simplicity of its campaign flows, LeadLife is a very powerful system. Emails, landing pages and Web surveys all support rule-driven content selection, which lets the system send different messages in different situations even without conventional branching. Rules can dynamically select survey questions, so a single survey page can ask the same visitor different questions over time. Users build emails and Web pages by positioning objects (text, data entry fields, images, etc.) in layers. This allows more flexibility than conventional methods, although it also opens new opportunities for errors. The system incorporates SpamAssassin spam scoring and is exploring how to add preview rendering for different ISPs. Marketing materials, including downloadable documents as well as emails and Web pages, can be shared across several campaigns.

The campaigns themselves can contain multiple events such as trade shows, Webinars, newsletters and surveys. Leads can be assigned to an event with a list or posted to the event from a Web form. The system keeps track of all events each lead is linked to and uses events as its primary vehicle for marketing performance measurement.

Leads can also be added to a campaign through queries against the system database. Queries can reference pretty much any data in the system, including survey responses and activity details. The query builder is quite sophisticated, allowing queries to incorporate multiple data elements and to scan for multiple values and substrings. Advanced users can view and modify the underlying SQL if they wish. The same interface is used to set up selections, campaign conditions, and lead scoring.

Once a query is created, the user can export the selected records, send them an email, or update data on their records. Queries execute continuously as data changes. This lets a campaign attached to a query react immediately as new members become qualified.

Users can combine a sequence of steps into a single campaign. Each step is either a query condition, which must be met for the lead to continue through the sequence, or an action. Conditions can also define waiting periods in multi-step campaigns. The only available actions are different types of emails. Cramer said that LeadLife originally allowed other actions, but removed these for simplicity. The company is considering adding some new actions, including one to direct leads from one campaign to another.

The system already provides an unusually rich set of administration functions. Campaign events can be assigned expenses, goals, budgets and activities such as notes, appointments, and tasks. Task attributes can include due dates, responsible individuals, billable time, and status. Access to system functions is managed by user groups, and at last count could be tailored to control 656 specific capabilities.

Lead scoring is also quite sophisticated. Users set up lead scoring rules, which run outside of campaigns but can be limited to members of a particular campaign or event. Each rule contains a query condition and number of points earned for meeting that condition. Users can also define several scores per lead and specify which score a given rule will update. The system can be set to score a rule just once, thereby capping the number of points derived from a particular type of event. Users can also define “decay” rules that reduce a lead’s total score after a specified period without activity. The system updates scores for each lead every few minutes.

Users also define one or more scoring processes, which can assign lead status (new, open, contacted, qualified, etc.) and execute actions when leads meet status and score thresholds. Actions can send the lead to the CRM system, assign the lead to an owner, and send the owner an email. LeadLife has existing integration Salesforce.com and could connect with other CRM systems via the system API. Users can define up to sixteen user-assigned fields on the lead record, plus an unlimited number of survey responses.

LeadLife provides full Web analytics, fueled by tracking codes on vendor-created and external Web pages. Campaign reports show activity counts (emails sent, opens, links clicked, etc.) and let users drill into the reports to see the individuals, and then drill further to see all activities for a selected individual. Other reports can list individuals by status, by products purchased, by contact recency, and other attributes. The system calculates ROI for each event within a campaign, drawing on the cost figures entered by the user and on revenues imported from CRM opportunity records. Revenue is attached to the earliest event associated with a lead linked to the opportunity.

Pricing is based on primarily on email volume. It starts at $500 per month for 1,500 emails and reached $1,395 for a more practical 25,000 emails. Each price includes all system features, unlimited Web volume, and five users. Additional users cost $10 to $30 per month depending on the user type. There are no additional fees for set-up, implementation or training. A quick implementation program aims at executing the client’s first campaign in three days. The company requires a one year contract but clients can leave within the first 90 days without further payment.

LeadLife was established in 2006 and released its first version in September 2008. The company now has about 20 clients.

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