Thursday, May 26, 2011

Oracle Real-Time Decisions Empowers Business Users

One of the few dependable rules in the software industry is that Suites Win. When a market first develops, it is filled with “point solutions” that do one function – say, send emails or analyze Web traffic. Over time, products emerge that combine these functions and displace the individual point solutions. Even though the point solutions may be better at their particular task than the corresponding suite components, the time, cost, and risk savings of preintegrated products are irresistible to most buyers.* This is especially true when IT departments, rather than end-users, control the purchase process.

The only reason that companies haven’t already ended up with a single mega-system is that new applications appear constantly. It takes time before the existing suites can expand to assimilate the new features. This is especially true in customer management, where new touchpoints – Web, mobile, social, etc. – appear at a dizzying pace. In the real world, nearly all companies run multiple customer contact systems and probably always will.

What this means in practical terms is that companies wishing to coordinate customer treatments across channels need to knit together their separate touchpoints. A class of systems to do this has long existed, loosely labeled as “interaction managers” or “decision engines”. These systems manage outbound campaigns and real-time interactions using a combination of business rules and predictive models. Examples include Infor Interaction Advisor, IBM Unica Interact, Pegasystems Recommendation Advisor, SAS Real-Time Decision Manager, eponymous thinkAnalytics, and Oracle Real-Time Decisions.

These systems are all broadly similar in that they connect to external systems for customer data, marketing content, and message delivery. This contrasts with standard marketing automation and customer relationship management systems, which maintain their own customer databases, store content internally, and deliver messages themselves. Interaction managers and other types of customer management systems do share decision management capabilities including multi-step process flows, logical rules, and predictive models.

Interaction management vendors compete on the power of their rules, automated model generation, user interface, scalability, and analytics. To some degree they also compete their ability to connect with data sources and touchpoint systems. But every vendor I've spoken with says this integration is easy, so it doesn’t seem to be a major point of differentiation.

I caught up last week with the Oracle Real-Time Decisions (RTD) team, who released their latest version earlier this month. RTD is based on the SigmaDynamics product, originally built in 2002 and purchased by Oracle in 2006. Oracle now sells it as a general purchase decision platform, positioned as one of its business intelligence and middleware products. But although some clients do use it for customer service, sales, and operations management, 90% of implementations are still for marketing decisions, primarily to select offers for Web sites and call centers.

RTD’s particular strengths are automated learning and sophisticated decision rules. Users set up process flows, define decision points within each flow, and connect to touchpoint systems to capture events at those decision points. The system then automatically correlates event outcomes with creative, channels, offers, customer attributes and other factors. This happens without users specifying which factors to track -- a significant labor saving. The scope of data lets the system predict behaviors based on the full context of a situation, not just the customer’s identity. The data also provides the foundation for in-depth reports on the factors driving results, in addition to standard campaign reporting.

Decision rules can incorporate multiple goals, each assigned a relative weight, and multiple choices, each assigned a value towards reaching each goal. The system scores each choice by adding up the value it contributes to each goal, adjusted for the probability that the customer will accept that choice if offered. Users can also weigh goals differently for different customer segments: for example, retention might be more important for high-value customers, while cost reduction could be a priority for customers who are less profitable. The same goal definitions can apply to multiple decisions, reducing work and ensuring consistency.

Although RTD has always been powerful, its user interface was designed for technical users. The latest release changes this, introducing role-based security that allows different business users throughout an organization to control different functions. This means offers could be controlled by one person, campaigns designed by someone else, and touchpoint placements by a third party. Different users can also be presented with different views of the underlying objects, so they can see information organized in ways that make the most sense for their own purposes.

The new version of RTD is still aimed at large enterprises. Pricing depends on the type of deployment but it's a safe bet you won't get started for less than a couple hundred thousand dollars.

*True believers might argue that Software as a Service upends this rule by making integration very simple. I’ll grant that SaaS makes it easier to add new components on top of a standard platform such as’s But I'd argue that the platform itself is the functional equivalent of the suite, so the rule still stands.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Pirates, Train Wrecks, and Marketing Automation

Summary: Selecting a marketing automation system is an adventure. Here's the screenplay. Ready when you are, CB.

I spent most of this week at the inaugural DemandCon conference in San Francisco. My presentation, How to Avoid a Marketing Automation Train Wreck, was based largely on the Marketing Automation Vendor Selection Workbook I released last month (available for free on the RaabGuide Web site). But the heart of the Workbook is a series of checklists like the one below, whereas DemandCon asked presenters to avoid long lists of bullet points. So I had to rethink the format.

After some pondering, I decided it would be more memorable to structure the presentation as a story. This made sense: deploying a marketing automation system is literally a quest, and one that can end in either triumph or the train wreck of my title. Although my actual delivery was marred by a few technical hiccups, I liked the result enough to offer a version of it here.


A good adventure begins with a map. This one starts with our hero, a young prince, accidentally uncovering a box containing a map of the marketing technology landscape, showing where B2B marketing automation fits among other types of customer management systems. Since any story is better if you add pirates, this is a treasure map, where X marks the spot. (Sadly, one of the technical hiccups meant the DemandCon audience never saw this image, but I personally find it hilarious. Note the pirate-style headline.):

The box also holds a chart that lists the features of different types of marketing automation systems. I didn't have time to reformat it, but in the story these are presented as clues to identifying the treasure.

He also finds a set of puzzle pieces that, when assembled, present a flow chart of standard B2B marketing tasks: program setup, lead generation, nurturing, scoring, transfer to sales, and reporting. This teaches him that marketing automation is a process, not a technology.

Our Story Begins...

The young prince is intrigued by his discovery, but reluctant to take on the quest. He is moved to action by a village of marketers and salespeople crying out for more leads and better nurturing. Specific benefits include replacing point solutions with an integrated system; running larger numbers and more types of marketing programs; less reliance on non-marketing resources to manage Web content and process data; and closer integration with sales. Who could resist?

After the hero announces his decision, he is warned about the perils ahead by a wise old consultant. These include:

- buying without concrete objectives
- choosing systems based on who has the most, best, or coolest features
- only considering industry leaders
- not using scenarios to test systems against your needs
- ignoring the information you can gather from references
- not investing in training, planning, program design, content, and other resources for successful deployment

Thus forewarned, our hero starts his quest. He starts by making a plan, which means he identifies the business benefits expected from this project. These should be quantified and linked to marketing programs that will deliver them. Then he defines the requirements implied by these programs, by listing the tasks to be completed for each project and the system features needed to execute these tasks. I represented requirements as a kitten who “requires” a bowl of milk – except that now it’s a pirate kitten (my second-favorite slide in the deck. Yes, I am easily amused.)

Planning complete, the hero sets out on his search. Along the way, he meets several companions with different traits. Recognizing that he can't succeed alone, he knows he must choose one of them to help him find the treasure. His task at this stage is choosing the right one. (We somehow seem to have lost the pirates. Pity.)

These companions represent the different marketing automation systems. To choose wisely, the hero must understand the type of product he needs. I divide the B2B marketing automation world into three segments: systems serving “micro-businesses” (very small firms where marketing is a part-time job, often for the owner); small to mid-size business (a separate marketing department but typically in one location and serving one product line); and enterprises (huge companies with dozens of marketers serving multiple markets and products). Each type of business has different requirements and is served by different vendors: I won’t list the details here but they’re in the Workbook.

The Journey

Our band of travelers now faces a series of challenges, escaping from traps, crossing rivers, and beating off attacks by wild animals. At each stage a different member demonstrates his special skills. In concrete terms, this means defining scenarios based on the goals you have set for your marketing automation system. What matters is seeing how well the systems perform the tasks you need, not the ones the vendor likes to demonstrate. This means the real challenge is understanding your requirements – our hero must learn about himself before he can complete his quest. It’s a cliché but how else can I sell this to Disney?

Now the scene switches: it’s the tavern after a day of adventures, and our little group are warily eating together, trying to decide who they can trust. In other words, they’re checking references. You’ll remember that skipping references is one of the dangers I warned against. It’s true that the company will hand-pick happy customers, but you can still learn a lot if you ask the right questions:

- why did they pick the system (maybe the cared about something that’s not important to you);
- what do they see as strengths and weaknesses;
- are they using the system the same way you expect to;
- are their skills and resources similar to yours.

If a vendor can’t connect you with a reference whose situation matches your own, be very cautious.

And while we’re on the subject – don’t think social media queries replace reference checking. What comes back is typically a “yes, we love it” from highly motivated fans. Apart from dedicated grudge-holders, few businesspeople will volunteer negative feedback in social media: they can only get in trouble and there’s nothing in it for them. If you do rely on the social media, contact the people who respond and have an in-depth conversation asking the same questions you would ask the vendor’s own references.

Back to our story. The hero still hasn’t chosen on a single companion, and now the group faces the final test: it must cross the desert, storm the castle, and find the treasure. Who will stay and who will run away? Who will is a good long-term partner? The only way to find out is to move ahead.

In marketing automation terms, this means setting up a trial so you can understand the day-to-day details of working with a system. Most vendors will give you a trial license if they know you’re seriously considering their product. The trick to an effective trial is to test the system thoroughly: this means setting up programs are as demanding as those you’ll actually run once you own it and then running them from start to finish.

Here’s where all that early planning and goal-setting comes in handy, since you’ll have defined those programs already. If that sounds like too much work, bear in mind that you’ll need those programs after deployment anyway. So you might as well do the work a bit sooner and have the programs available to help make the right selection.

Triumph and Return

The group now wins the final battle and finds the treasure, only to meet a new crisis: there’s only enough water for two people to recross the desert. The hero must finally choose. In our story, this is easy because everyone else has failed or died nobly – oh, and it turns out that the remaining companion is really a disguised princess, with whom the hero has fallen in love. Didn’t see that coming, did you? Even better, she’s a pirate princess. Disney’s gonna love it.

But the real world isn’t a fairy tale. You may actually find several qualified vendors. Do what you can to make a rational choice – the Workbook provides a list of criteria to consider. But even if there is no clear winner, make a choice and get on with it. Remember your real goal is to get value from using the system, not to run the world’s finest selection project.


The story doesn’t end with the hero’s triumphant return. Treasure is only valuable if you spend it wisely; relationships don’t end with the wedding. It’s hard work to live happily ever after. So we have an epilogue showing how the happy couple used their riches to improve the lives of the villagers for years to come.

In marketing automation terms, this means avoiding the final mistake of underinvesting in deployment. Be prepared to spend money training your staff, developing content, cleansing data, and measuring results. Expect to spend time on organizational changes and coordinating with sales, finance, and IT departments. Hire consultants and agencies if you don’t have the necessary skills in-house – which few firms do when they start. And don’t get stuck in a rut: make a long-term plan to steadily expand use of your system after your initial deployment.

The End

I have to admit this isn’t exactly what I presented at DemandCon, although I wish it had been. The one thing I’d still want to change is to give more emphasis to the section on deployment. It’s problems with process, content, data quality and staffing that cause most marketing automation train wrecks, not the technology.

Do I smell a sequel?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

DIGIDAY:TARGET, or, Yogi Berra Meets Data in the Online World.

I was scheduled to attend the DIGIDAY:TARGET conference on May 4 but wasn't able to be there. (Download the conference agenda and presentations.) Happily, my colleague and big-data guru Matt Doering was able to take my place. Here are Matt's thoughts:

Yogi Berra meets data in the online world.

At the recent Digiday:Target conference (Park Central Hotel, NYC, May 4 2011) a moderator posed the question “Which is better: More Data, Consistent Data or Data Expertise”. Not surprisingly there was a wide variety of opinions both from the panel as well as from many attendees I talked to later in the day. Many I listened to were really intrigued and conflicted by this question. To understand the real answer let us first review the pros and cons of the three possible answers.


More Data – Large volumes of data from varied sources.
• Richer data content from any given data source.
• Data sources tend to enrich each other, if properly managed.
• More likely to find the outliers that many times can be the real profit makers.

• Many companies don’t have the resources to handle very large volumes of data.
• Lack of Metadata about data sources.
• No real experience with merging multiple data sources with different element codes and timeframes.
• Data hygiene can be an issue if you are working with a data set that is new to your organization.

Consistent Data – All data conforms to some industry standard. Any data not conforming to the model is discarded or reduced.
• All data is easily understood and documented in a Metadata stack.
• Data hygiene is easy to define and enforce.
• Data processing performance profiles are well understood. This makes it very easy to scope a system or project.

• Let’s admit it; all homogenized milk tastes the same. Where is the differentiation potential?
• In the process of conforming to a standard more detailed data is lost. For example if the industry standard requires that age elements be bucketed into 10 year breaks what happens if for your product offering you need 6.5 year breaks?

Data Expertise – Deep experience with very large data sets.
• Small data, large data, inconsistent data are not a problem. Expertise can handle all these issues.
• These resources understand the role that standardized data plays in data analysis (like a good coat of primer on a wall) but also know that the real value is in what is different.
• Most data experts love to teach so the entire data IQ of you organization increases.
• Able to distinguish between dirty data and gold nuggets.

• These resources can be hard to find. It’s not a matter of having the right degree its more of who they are. Just as simply having a degree in fine arts doesn’t make you an artist a degree in stats doesn’t make you a good data scientist. In fact one of the best data scientists I know never took a stats course.

“Its déjà vu all over again”

Yogi had it right. If, as I strongly believe, data expertise is of critical importance for the media world it’s not the first industry where this is true. A number of industries over the past 25 years have had to deal with the “big data” problem. Early examples of this are the classic CPG scanner data, pharmaceutical detailing data and financial services direct marketing data sets. All these industries faced large and diverse data issues and they all succeeded in overcoming the problem with technique not CPU.

Now it might be tempting to claim that our space generates significantly higher volumes of data or more diverse data, but is that really true? At first this appears to be true, but when you factor in the computing power available at the times it is not that far fetched to say the adjusted data volumes are actually very similar. Keep in mind that the data scientists of those days were working with computers with less horse power and memory then the average iPad used by the majority of attendees at Digiday:Target.

So where do you find this expertise? Look to the industries named above. Membership of the Direct Marketing Association and those who attended the NCDM (National Center for Database Marketing) is a good place to start. Look for people from the telecommunications industry who helped build systems to analyze Call Detail Records (CDRs). Experience in genome sequencing and pairing should grab your attention. Do these people know clicks from conversions? Probably not, but on the other hand for them more data is the breath of life. We need to recruit the talent that is out there into the industry and avoid having to reinvent it “all over again”.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Silverpop's Latest Release Targets Sophisticated Marketing Automation Buyers

Summary: Silverpop has continued to extend the marketing automation capabilities of its Engage platform. The latest release adds features that are most important to enterprise marketers.

More than a year has passed since Silverpop merged its email and marketing automation systems into a single product, Engage 8. The combined product offered advanced email but was missing some capabilities available in the previous marketing automation product. These included revenue reporting, anonymous visitor lookups, marketing calendars, and advanced scoring features such as caps on points from one event type. Clients who needed those features had to remain on the previous system (Engage B2B). Prospects who wanted them had to look elsewhere.

Silverpop has been steadily enhancing its new product since that time. The latest version, Engage 8.3, was released last month. It still doesn’t offer all the features of the oldl B2B product because Silverpop decided that some were not worth duplicating. But it does offer other capabilities that are improvements. Here are some highlights from the latest set of additions:

- multiple scores per lead. This is important in large companies that need to score leads against multiple products. It also allows different scoring rules for different customer segments. Scoring models can now include data values, such as a score that was calculated externally and imported.

- progressive profiling. Online forms can automatically remove questions a visitor has already answered and replace them with new questions in a user-specified sequence. Silverpop's form builder handles this quite elegantly, without requiring the user to embed rules or a scripting language.

- social sharing. The system can publish directly to Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn accounts. Content can include sharing buttons for a wide range of other systems. The system can track the number of shares and reshares for each message and identify traffic from those shares. It also captures the identity of the original sharer although this is not currently exposed.

- revenue tracking. Engage still relies on to produce revenue reports. But it now feeds Salesforce all campaigns that touched the lead and flags both the original source and the campaign that generated contact information. This will allow advanced attribution analysis.

- integration. Users can now embed campaign codes within a URL link, making them easier to capture. They can have the system create tasks when a new lead is created, use opportunity stages within campaign rules, and add leads to a campaign at any step in a marketing automation program.

- enhanced security. Silverpop suffered a widely-publicized security breach in December 2010. The new release tightens access in several ways, including user-specific IP restrictions, challenges to log-ins from new IP addresses, two-factor authentication, and narrower restrictions on administrative rights. Given subsequent breaches at other firms, most recently Epsilon and Sony, it's possible that vendors and marketers will start paying more attention to security issues.

- email controls. Merging the email and marketing automation systems does have the advantage of giving B2B marketers access to features developed for Silverpop’s advanced email business. These include send-time optimization, which automatically sends campaign emails at the most effective time of day, and a “snooze” option that lets recipients halt email messages for a specified time period instead of opting out completely.

These are all valuable additions to Silverpop’s B2B capabilities. But Silverpop faces an uphill battle in regaining lost momentum and competing with the advanced analytics now touted by several competitors. Silverpop may be positioning itself to serve the upper end of the market, where companies with multiple products and world-wide organizations need advanced features like multiple scores, dynamic content, enhanced security, and high scalability. That’s a plausible strategy, although it means competing against both high-end B2B marketing automation vendors and B2C products like Neolane and Teradata/Aprimo. Given the costs of product development, it would be tough to remain a first-tier system by selling to large enterprises alone.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Intuit / Alliance Is No April Fool's Joke

Am I the only one who missed the April 1 announcement of a strategic alliance between and Intuit? Given our industry's endless nattering about whether will move into marketing automation, this should have attracted more attention (or, at least, enough attention that I would hear about it sooner than I did).

In case you too missed the news, it comes down to this: will be available on Intuit’s App Center and be deployed so that the Intuit and databases are synchronized. For those of us used to thinking of as the 900 pound gorilla, it’s disorienting to see Salesforce on the Intuit App Center, rather than the other way around.

But it does make sense. Intuit has more than 4 million customers, compared with 90,000 for The revenue differential isn’t as large ($3.5 billion for Intuit vs. $1.7 billion for Salesforce) and actually has a slightly higher market cap ($17.5 billion for vs. $16.5 billion for Intuit). But Intuit represents a gateway to the small business market for, so it’s clear who needs whom.

What has this to do with marketing automation? Pretty much everything, I’d argue, at least for companies like Infusionsoft, OfficeAutoPilot, and Genoo, who target “micro-businesses” at the lowest end of the market. Those vendors base much of their appeal on the convenience of using one system for marketing, Web pages, CRM, and even order processing. The one thing they don’t offer is accounting, in good part because Intuit’s QuickBooks has such a dominant position.

The lack of accounting data is an important gap, because the accounting system is the ultimate source for information on customer identities and transactions. That data is important for effective marketing. Having it automatically available to makes Salesforce a much more attractive marketing option for small businesses.

I suppose I should backtrack a bit here and acknowledge that I’m talking about marketing to customers – that is, people who have already made a purchase – rather than marketing to prospects or leads. Business-to-consumer marketing automation systems manage relationships with both groups, while B2B marketing automation is concerned primarily with just prospects and leads. The “micro-business” marketing automation vendors are more like B2C systemsbecause they do deal with customers as well as leads and prospects.

In other words, the Intuit / alliance poses a very large threat to the “micro-business” marketing automation vendors but doesn’t have much impact on the rest of the B2B marketing automation industry, which sells to larger companies. Indeed, those larger firms are typically not QuickBooks clients at all.

But here’s the thing: let’s say that does succeed in selling to a lot of Intuit clients, and in the process adds marketing automation features to serve them better. Those marketing automation features will be available to all sizes of clients, including the larger ones who currently purchase marketing automation systems. Even if those firms continue to use marketing automation just to target leads and prospects, they’ll suddenly have a stronger reason to adopt as their marketing platform. So marketing automation vendors who thought the / Intuit deal didn’t apply to them, might want to think again.