Tuesday, April 26, 2011

MakesBridge Offers Powerful Features to Small Business Marketers

Summary: MakesBridge offers a full set of marketing automation features with some special strengths that will appeal especially to small companies.

I’ve written quite a bit recently about marketing systems for very small businesses – a category I’ve tentatively labeled “micro-business” and pegged at under $5 million revenue. This group of marketers has different needs from even slightly larger companies. In particular, they want a highly-integrated combination of standard marketing automation (email, landing pages and individual-level Website behavior tracking) with customer relationship management (tracking personal and telephone contacts with individuals). Leaders in the space are Infusionsoft and OfficeAutoPilot, which both also provide integrated shopping carts for e-commerce. HubSpot also has many micro-business clients but is not focused on them exclusively and – probably as a result – has a slightly different feature set: more Web traffic generation and no built-in contact management or shopping cart.

There are plenty of other vendors serving micro-businesses. I’ve previously reviewed Genoo, which supplements the standard marketing automation features with Web hosting and built-in CRM but no shopping cart. Canterris , NurtureHQ , and mKubed all provide email, Web visitor tracking, nurture campaigns, lead scoring, and CRM integration ((Salesforce.com for Canterris and NurtureHQ; its own CRM for mKubed) for under $500 per month. Canterris and mKubed also host Web forms and landing pages but NurtureHQ apparently does not. See my List of Demand Generation Vendors for other options.

MakesBridge is another contender. The company started in 2001 as an email service provider and still offers a $29.95 per month email product. It greatly expanded its features in 2010 and now offers a marketing automation system starting at $500 per month. This includes the full rig: outbound email, multi-step nurture campaigns, landing pages and forms, lead scoring, Web visitor tracking (licensed from VisiStat and quite impressive), and a sales automation module that can work as a stand-alone CRM system or integrate with Salesforce.com, NetSuite, Google Apps, or Capsule CRM, a $12 per month per user system also aimed at small business. There’s no shopping cart or Web site hosting but I don’t yet consider those standard features, even for micro-business systems.

MakesBridge does a particularly good job of taming the mass of Web pages that are critical to reacting to lead behaviors. It does this by letting users write rules that reference sets of Web pages rather than individual pages. This can be done by either assigning a shared label to several pages or by assigning page attributes and selecting on those. This is a helpful middle ground between rules that treat all pages the same (e.g. “visited any Web page”) and those that require users to list a specific page or several individual pages. These rules can be used in segmentation, lead scoring, and sales alerts.

The system also has a solid campaign engine, which breaks campaigns into steps and allows multiple options within each step. Each option has a filter that determines which leads are eligible, in addition to actions and an execution schedule that apply to those leads. Users can view reports on performance for each step and for each option within the step. A “circuit breaker” enforces limits on the total number of emails sent during any time period, alerting the user and limiting the damage from what MakesBridge calls "automation run wild".

MakesBridge also supports automated direct mail production, another feature favored by micro-business marketers. For this, the company has integrated with Cloud2You, a Salesforce.com App Exchange partner that loads selected records directly into templates to produce personalized mailing pieces. Cloud2You handles the actual printing and mailing without any additional effort by the user. Mailings can be triggered by steps within a MakesBridge campaign,

The sales automation module gives salespeople access to detailed information about their leads, including their current campaigns. Salespeople can remove a lead from a campaign, suspend the campaign, or skip a particular message. Although MakesBridge is designed to integrate with external CRM products, some clients use its sales automation module as their primary CRM system.

Pricing of MakesBridge is based on the modules used, number of users, email volume, and number of leads in the database. The system currently has more than 150 clients. Most are small businesses but some are large corporations.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Argyle Social Helps to Track Social Media Results

Summary: Argyle Social offers social media marketing with above-average features for tracking results.

I’ve had a couple of conversations in recent months with Argyle Social, one of the zillions* of companies offering social media marketing tools. Argyle’s particular focus is making social media measurable. It does this in two ways:

- embedding trackable URLs in social messages. The system provides a social media publishing tool that automatically creates links with embedded Google-Analytics-compatible identifiers for campaign, content, and source. This overcomes the fact that social media traffic often can’t be tied to a referring Web site. The identifiers can also include custom parameters for other Web analytics packages. The URLs are sent to an Argyle-controlled destination which logs the traffic before redirecting the Web visitor to the original target page.

- adding cookies to visitors’ computers when they view Argyle-generated social media content, and checking for those cookies when visitors reach a “conversion” page (i.e., make a purchase or take some other targeted action). The conversion pages can be created outside of Argyle but must contain Argyle tags. Results are used to identify visitors who are "influenced" by social media.

Argyle uses its tracking features to generate reports on direct responses to social media campaigns (i.e., clicks on Argyle-generated messages) and on influenced responses (i.e., conversions of visitors whose cookie shows they previously saw social content). Although this is far from the ideal of measuring the true incremental impact of a campaign, it's a step in the right direction. It also provides data that could be the foundation of a more sophisticated analysis.

These features are not technically difficult, so it's quite possible they're available in some other social media systems. But that matters less than knowing they're available in Argyle if you need them.

Argyle's tracking features are combined with a publishing interface that lets users set up accounts, create posts, and deliver them immediately or on schedule. It can currently post to Facebook, Twitter and Linked In. It can also scan for social messages containing specified keywords and store these messages for future reference. The publishing features don’t yet include enterprise-level capabilities such as response templates, approval work flows, case management, or relationship tracking, although these are on the horizon. A rules-based inbox filtering feature will launch tomorrow.

Argyle launched its product at the end of last year and is nearing 100 customers. A basic edition (three users, ten social properties, one conversion goal, one inbox filtering rule) is priced at $149 per month and the advanced edition (five users, unlimited social properties, five goals, ten advanced rules) costs $499 per month.

*at last count. Here are the first three lists I found via a Google search, plus others whose authors were SEO-savvy enough to find a nice, round 100, and one with a cool infographic:

[INFOGRAPHIC] What Are The Best Social Media Monitoring Tools?

22 Social Media Marketing Management Tools (Lee Odden)

42+ Social Media Marketing Tools (Joe Pulizzi)

List of Social Media Management Systems (SMMS) (Jeremiah Owyang)

100+ Social Media Monitoring Tools
(Pam Dyer)

Top 100 social media monitoring tools

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Step-by-Step Guide to Selecting the Right Marketing Automation System - Part 2

Yesterday' post described the first three steps in Raab Associates' vendor selection process: defining requirements, researching options, and testing vendors against scenarios. This post lists the four steps needed to complete the task. As before, there's a worksheet for each step that can be a model for your own, more detailed version. And remember, the complete set is available for free in our Vendor Selection Workbook in the Resource Library at the Raab Guide Web site.

4. Talk To References

This is an often-overlooked source of insight. The question isn’t whether the references are happy, but whether your situations are similar enough that you’re likely to be happy as well. Find out whether the reference is using the system functions you care about, how long they took to get started, the amount of training and process change required, what problems they had, and how the vendor responded.

IssueQuestions to ask
System fit vs. my needsWhat kinds of programs do you run with the system?

How many programs do you run each month?

How many people at your company use the system?
System reliabilityHow often has the system been unavailable?

What kinds of bugs have you run into?
Ease of useHow much training did you need to use the system?

What kinds of tasks need outside help to accomplish?

How long does it take to set up different kinds of programs?
Vendor supportHow well does the vendor respond when you ask for help?

How quickly do problems get solved?

Does the vendor ever offer assistance before you ask?

What help does the vendor provide with email deliverability?
CostDid you negotiate any special pricing?

Did you pay extra for implementation and on-going support?

Were there any unexpected costs after you started?

5. Consider A Trial

Nearly all marketing automation vendors will let you try their system for a limited period. Trials are a great way to learn what it’s really like to use a system, but only if they are managed effectively. This means you need to invest in training and then set up and execute actual projects. As with scenario demonstrations, you may still rely on the vendor to handle some of the more demanding aspects of the project, but, again, make sure you see how hard it will eventually be to do them for yourself.

What you can learn from a trialHow hard it is to install the system

How hard it is to set up a campaign

How hard it is to make changes and reuse materials

What features are available or missing (if you test them)

Quality of training classes and materials (if you try them)
What you can’t learn from a trialHow the system handles large volumes of data, users, etc.

Results from complex or long-running campaigns

Accuracy of scoring and reports

Quality of customer service and support

Quality of vendor partners (agencies, integrators, etc.)

6. Make A Decision

Don’t let the selection process drag on. Selection is a means to an end, not a goal in itself. Unless you have very specialized needs, there are probably several marketing automation systems that will meet your requirements. Look at your key criteria and assess how well each vendor matches them – bearing in mind that a system can be too powerful as well as too simple. Once you’ve found one that you are confident will be sufficient, go ahead and buy it. Then you can start on what’s really important: better marketing results.

Selection criteriaKey factorsVendor Fit
Too Little AppropriateToo Much
FunctionsOutbound email

Landing page and forms

Web behavior tracking

Lead scoring

Multi-step campaigns

Sales integration

Reporting and analysis

UsabilityEasy to learn

Efficient to use

TechnologyEasy installation


CostDirect (software and support)

Indirect (staff, training, services)


Expansion costs

VendorStaff resources

Product plans

Financial stability

Invest In Deployment

Marketing automation systems allow major improvements in marketing results. But those improvements require more than just a new system. If you don’t already have a formal description of the stages that prospects move through to become buyers, build one and instrument your systems to measure it. Use the stages as a framework to plan, design and develop a balanced set of marketing programs. Invest in the staff training and content to execute those programs successfully. Document and improve internal marketing processes. Work closely with sales to define lead scoring rules, hand-off mechanisms and service levels, and ways to capture results. Build measurement systems and use them to hold marketers at every level of the department responsible for results they control. Bring in outside resources, such as agencies and consultants, when you lack the internal expertise or time to do the work in-house.

Balanced set of marketing programsDefine lead lifecycle (buying process and buyer roles)

Map existing programs to process stages and identify gaps

Prioritize new programs to close gaps

Execute programs and measure results

Refine programs with versions for different segments
Track leads through stages in the buying process

Import revenue from sales systems

Link revenue to lead source (acquisition programs)

Measure incremental impact (nurture programs)

Project future revenue from current lead inventory
Process managementDefine processes to execute marketing programs

Identify tasks and responsibilities within each process

Define measures to capture task performance

Assess existing processes and possible improvements

Monitor execution, test improvements, check results, repeat
Sales alignmentIdentify key contacts between sales and marketing

Agree on process for lead qualification, transfer to sales

Agree on measures for lead quality, revenue attribution

Deploy agreed processes, monitor results, review regularly
Staff trainingDefine skills needed to deploy new system

Assess existing staff skills and identify gaps

Plan initial training to close gaps

Plan on-going training to maintain and expand skills

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Step-by-Step Guide to Selecting the Right Marketing Automation System - Part 1

Choosing a marketing automation system is a major decision. A disciplined selection process is essential to make a sound selection. This series of posts presents the seven-step methodology we use at Raab Associates, along with related worksheets. The first three are below.

For a complete list of the steps, worksheets, and background materials, visit the Raab Guide Website and download the Vendor Selection Workbook from the Resource Library (registration required).

1. Define Requirements

Create a list of your goals in buying the system. Relate these to financial values when possible. Then define how you’ll use the system to meet these goals, being as specific as you can about the actual processes involved. Be sure to include processes beyond what you do already: one of the reasons you’re looking at marketing automation is to expand what your department can accomplish. Your requirements are based on the tasks you must perform to meet your goals.

GoalsRelated Requirements
Generate more leadsManage online and offline advertising campaigns

Import email address lists and send personalized emails

Monitor and publish to social media

Build and deploy landing pages to capture responses

Use IP address to identify the company of Web site visitors
More effective nurturingCapture the source and Web site activities of each visitor

Create Web forms to gather information about visitors

Score visitors based on form responses and Web behaviors

Execute multi-step campaigns tailored to different groups

Use visitor behavior to trigger campaigns and other actions
Better sales integrationSynchronize data between sales and marketing systems

Send leads to sales based on lead score and actions

Send alerts to sales based on Web site behaviors

Report on revenue generated by leads from marketing
More efficient marketing operationsStore marketing materials and share across programs

Track planned and actual costs of marketing programs

Manage tasks and approvals during program development

Research Your Options

Raab Associates’ B2B Marketing Automation Vendor Selection Tool (VEST) provides a good starting point for matching possible vendors to your requirements. In particular, match the scale and sophistication of your marketing operations to the different buyer segments used in the report. Bear in mind that company size alone doesn’t necessary predict the depth of your requirements: small businesses can run complex marketing programs, and large business programs may be simple.

Company TypeKey System Features
Micro-businessOutbound email and multi-step nurture campaigns

Landing pages and forms

Built-in sales and service features

Built-in or integrate with third party ecommerce and shopping cart
Small to mid-size businessOutbound email and multi-step nurture campaigns

Landing pages and forms

Web site visitor tracking

Lead scoring (one score per lead)

Integrate with external sales automation system
Large businessOutbound email and multi-step nurture campaigns

Landing pages and forms

Web site visitor tracking

Lead scoring (multiple scores per lead)

Integrate with external sales automation system

Manage marketing budgets, program tasks and approvals

Add custom tables with data from many sources

Limit different users to different tasks and programs

Test Vendors Against Scenarios

Develop scenarios that describe actual marketing projects you expect to run through the system, and have the most promising vendors demonstrate how they would execute them. Scenarios based on your own needs are critical for understanding how well each system would function in your own environment. Be sure that some scenarios describe your more complicated processes, since these are most likely to highlight differences among systems. If vendor staff executes the scenarios for you, be sure to understand how much the vendor built in advance. This ensures that you get an accurate sense of the total work effort involved.

Outbound email campaignImport list from CSV file, from Excel

Compose personalized emails with embedded graphics

Create landing page with data entry form

Set automated email response to form submissions

Set rules to score leads and send qualified leads to sales

Report on results: sent, opened, clicked, completed form
Nurture campaignSet start and end date for campaign

Set rules to select leads, based on attributes and behaviors

Set priority of campaign vs. other campaigns

Define multi-step flow with wait periods between steps

Set rules for different treatments for segments within steps

Set rules to score leads and send qualified leads to sales

Create emails, landing pages, and forms

Report on results including leads to sales and revenue
Revenue reportingDefine stages in lead lifecycle

Define rules to assign leads to lifecycle stages

Report on movement of leads through lifecycle stages

Set up process to import revenue from sales system

Define rules to link revenue to campaigns

Define rules to estimate incremental revenue per campaign

Report on revenue generated per campaign

Capture campaign costs

Report on campaign revenue vs. campaign cost

The next post in this series will present additional steps in our process.

Monday, April 11, 2011

[x+1] NexTargeting Conference: Cross-Channel Attribution and Online Ad Scalability Remain Hot Topics

Continuing my adventures in online ad measurement, I attended [x+1]’s NexTargeting Summit last week. This reinforced and refined my conclusions from last month’s OMMA Metrics conference, which identified the burning industry issues as:

- better understanding of the interactions between online and offline events (both advertising and results), and

- better scalability for successful online advertising programs.

The online / offline connection was covered by MarketShare CEO Jon Vein, who presented studies that showed including the “indirect impact” of online display ads can dramatically improve their reported return on investment. He also said his firm has found that marketing mix models with complete data can explain as much as 98% of the variance in revenue, while optimization based on mix models can typically improve marketing effectiveness by 10% to 15%. Although I don’t recall Vein mentioning it during his actual presentation, he did tell me in a side conversation that his firm purchased JovianData last year in order to expand its ability to work with individual-level data. MarketShare and [x+1] announced an alliance last month to combine MarketShare’s cross-channel analytics with [x+1]’s digital targeting.

Scalability was covered [x+1] itself, which announced extension of its Media+1 audience targeting platform to combine information from direct media buys and ad exchanges. The relationship between that extension and scalability is a bit complicated, but it boils down to this: combined information lets marketers control the number of ads served to individual consumers across both types of media buys, which segment-level purchases do not. This means that marketers can expand their budgets by targeting ads to new individuals (=effective scaling) rather than bombarding the same people with more messages (=ineffective scaling). That this mimics the reach and frequency measures used in traditional mass marketing (i.e., television) is a happy bonus.

I’ve skipped some of the subtleties of the Media+1 product. These include tracking the degree of overlap between the audiences of different direct-buy Web purchases; identifying optimal message frequency by customer segment; using direct-buy Web sites to establish a base of impressions and then supplementing these on a customer-by-customer basis through real time bidding on ad exchanges; and using scorecards to track performance after initial customer acquisition. The bottom line on Media+1’s beta client was reallocating 40% of the online ad budget to achieve a 20% improvement in results.

[x+1] also used the conference to announce an even broader product, called [x+1] Origin, scheduled for release this summer. This will build a customer-level data hub that combines data and sends targeted messages across display ads, Web site, email, and mobile. I asked [x+1] CEO John Nardone whether it’s actually possible to identify the same customer across all those channels, and he said it’s not an issue in many cases, since you can often give the customer a reason to log in or otherwise identify herself.

Of course, the big exception is acquisition, which seems like a pretty big exception indeed. (“Other than that, how did you like the play, Mrs. Lincoln?”) But tracking mechanisms do get better all the time and there’s plenty of value in better treatment within existing customer relationships. So it’s definitely a good start.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Whatsnexx Manages Customer States, Not Campaigns

Whatsnexx offers itself as a radically easier way to manage customer and prospect interactions than conventional marketing automation. I agree that it's radically different: it works without a central marketing database and tracks customer states rather than assigning them to campaigns. Whether it’s radically simpler is another question.

Some perspective is in order. Although Whatsnexx was launched just last year, state-based systems have been used in marketing before. Previous products include Verbind (later purchased by SAS), Elity (eventually owned by Unica), and Harte-Hanks Allink Agent (still around in some form). The concept is intriguing: instead of creating campaigns that predefine paths a lead can follow, you define the actions to take when customers are in a particular situation. The advantage is you can think in terms of new customers, loyal customers, disgruntled customers, etc., and specify how to treat each group after common events such as placing an order. Most marketers find this easier to conceptualize than a massive campaign with separate branches for each contingency.

Anyway, that’s the theory. In practice, defining customer treatments in Whatsnexx didn’t look much easier to me than defining them in other systems. (You can judge for yourself by viewing several how to videos on the company's Web site.) The process is this: users first define “scenarios”, which are customer processes such as acquisition, retention or complaints, and "states", which are customer types such as new, high value, or disgruntled. They then define the flow of events within each scenario, with the possible responses for each event for each customer state. Terminology aside, I don't find this much different from assigning customers to segments, assigning the segments to multi-step campaign flows, and assigning treatment rules to each step.

But maybe I’m missing the point. Whatsnexx’s Jacques Spilka says he finds huge time savings in the analysis stage that precedes the campaign set-up: instead of taking a week to understand client needs and processes, he can do it in a few hours using the state-based technique. Most of the time setting up any system is spent on analysis, not the mechanics of the campaign design. So savings of that magnitude would be significant. On the other hand, you still have to create the actual content, which is probably the biggest expense of all.

The other main difference between Whatsnexx and conventional marketing systems is that Whatsnexx doesn’t rely on an independent marketing database. This isn’t an inherent feature of state-based systems: other products do work with a database of their own. Indeed, even Whatsnexx maintains a central database of customers and their states. But Whatsnexx doesn’t import all the events that occur in other systems and it doesn’t send messages by itself. Rather, users configure "Infogates" that let existing systems send alerts to Whatsnexx when specified events occur. These alerts (technically, XML messages via a SOAP protocol) include whatever contextual information is needed for Whatsnexx decisions. Whatsnexx receives the alert, applies its logic, and returns a message telling the external system how to respond. The company has existing Infogates for Salesforce.com, Constant Contact, Deliva and CakeMail. It will add new Infogates as required by customers.

It seems to me that this approach is actually a more important differentiator for Whatsnexx than its state-based logic. As the company points out, it lets marketers continue to do their work in their existing systems. This saves the effort of learning a new tool and potentially needing to rewire their current infrastructure. It also lets them avoid building a central marketing database – although I suspect that many will need one anyway for data consolidation and analysis. Still, even deferring that need could remove a barrier to immediate adoption. This is especially true as marketers add data sources that are not built into standard marketing automation products, which are often limited to Salesforce.com and perhaps a tagged Web site.

Whatsnexx was developed by Montreal-based email company Komunik over several years. It was formally launched in late 2010 and has four current customers. Pricing is based on the client’s activity level and starts at $500 per month for up to 100,000 transactions.