Tuesday, October 18, 2011

B2B and B2C Marketing Automation: Understanding the Differences

As you might have guessed from my recent list of B2C marketing automation systems, I’ve recently been spending some time helping consumer marketers to select vendors. This is more a return than a departure: although I’ve written mostly about B2B systems for the past few years, my earlier work was largely in consumer marketing. Like any traveler, I’ve returned home with some new perspectives. Here are some observations

- consumer marketers have to build databases; B2B marketers don’t. You can file this under “things so obvious that it feels stupid to even mention them”, but it’s still an important difference. In setting up a consumer marketing system, the primary discussion is always around where the data will come from and how it will be managed. This accounts for most of the work and most of the cost. By very sharp contrast, B2B marketers rely primarily on their CRM system (that is, Salesforce.com or a competitor) as the primary data source, and complement that with information captured directly by the marketing automation systems’ own landing pages and Web tracking tags. The CRM integration can be set up in days, if not minutes, and next to no time is spent worrying about the marketing database design or update processes.

On the whole, this situation is an advantage for B2B marketers, since they can direct their attention to other issues and can start using their systems almost immediately (for simple tasks, at least). But it also means that B2B systems are much less flexible than B2C marketing automation systems, since the B2B systems are built around a fixed data structure that is derived from the CRM data model. Only a few B2B vendors can add custom tables to systems and I doubt any could accommodate a fundamental departure from the core CRM data structure.

The main practical implication of this is that consumer marketers would have a hard time using a B2B system. (So do the largest B2B marketers, who also need specialized data structures and update processes.) This is frustrating for consumer marketers, who see the huge variety, slick features, and attractive pricing of the B2B systems. Some B2C systems offer similar features and pricing with the same Software-as-a-Service business model. But the total costs are still higher because someone has to build and maintain the underlying database.

- B2B systems include landing pages and web behavior tracking; most B2C systems don’t. It’s technically possible for B2C systems to offer these features, and some do. But many B2C products leave them out. I’d guess the reason is B2C marketers more often have the capabilities available from other sources, such as a Web content management system or Web analytics product. We can probably expect more B2C systems to add them as vendors see that marketers like having them integrated with their primary system.

- B2B systems are cheaper. B2B marketing automation systems start around $750 per month, or under $9,000 per year, and a typical B2B installation probably runs under $30,000 per year. By contrast, it’s pretty much impossible to imagine a B2C system that costs less than $50,000 per year. As I mentioned earlier, that’s really frustrating for B2C marketers.

- B2C deployments are easier. This might spark some debate. But B2C marketers don’t have to deal with marketing-sales alignment, can usually measure results directly, and are often already running the same types of campaigns they expect to run with marketing automation. This means there’s less need for process reengineering, program design, content development, and the other changes that often trip up B2B marketing automation projects. Of course, the exception is building that new marketing database, which I’ve already noticed is much harder for B2C. But the need for the database is obvious from the start and plenty of experts are available to help. So I’d say the risks of a failed deployment are much lower for B2C.

These are simply the differences that pop out as I look at consumer marketing systems with fresh eyes. Further thought might reveal others.  What’s intriguing is that B2B marketers, often considered less sophisticated than their B2C cousins, may actually be more advanced in some ways. It’s worth putting aside the old attitudes and considering what each group can learn from the other.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Marketo Spark Targets Small Business Marketing Automation

Marketo today announced the launch of Spark, a new brand aimed at small and mid-size business. Functionally, Spark is pretty much identical to the standard Marketo system. Exceptions are advanced features including revenue cycle reporting, email deliverability assistance, API access, fine-grained user rights management, and the Sales Insight salesperson application. Most of these aren’t of interest to small business, and several involve additional charges even for Marketo’s regular packages.

So the news here is price. Spark starts at $750 per month with no annual contract, compared with Marketo’s $2,000 per month minimum and annual contract for its full-featured Professional Edition. Marketo has discontinued its $1,200 per month Small Business Edition, which lacked some features now included with Spark.

In other words, this is a price cut. To me, it looks like a reaction to the success of other low cost small business systems, including HubSpot, Act-On Software, and Pardot. (HubSpot and Act-On have similar pricing to Spark, while Pardot runs a bit higher.)  Some of those firms are actually growing at a faster rate than Marketo, although on a smaller base.  Spark should help to blunt their momentum while increasing Marketo's own client total -- a closely watched metric, regardless of the associated revenue per client.

Whether Marketo actually makes any money at Spark's price is questionable. It really depends on the sales and support costs, and Marketo doesn’t appear to have changed how those are delivered to keep them down. Other small business specialists have designed sales and support models that are not as staff-intensive as traditional approaches. By contrast, Marketo is stressing that Spark includes services to help clients take advantage of their systems.

Of course, Marketo could have lowered its entry price without creating a new brand.  So why bother to launch Spark?

One reason may be to avoid cannibalizing sales of its other, higher-priced editions.  But, let’s face it, any sentient buyer will notice that Spark is out there. I think the more important reason is that Spark lets Marketo address small businesses separately from larger companies.  The two groups do have different needs and neither wants a system designed for the other.  Spark lets Marketo position itself as a small business specialist when selling to small businesses, without alienating big-business marketers who would consider a small business system an unsuitable toy. 

This is a delicate game.  For one thing, "small business" means different things to different people.  Small business specialists like Infusionsoft and OfficeAutoPilot actually serve a different market -- one that I label "microbusiness" and put at under $5 million revenue.  Those products have a different configuration from Spark, HubSpot, Pardot, or Act-On.  Specifically, Infusionsoft and OfficeAutoPilot have starting prices around $300 per month and offer built-in shopping carts and CRM.  (Other micro-business specialists like Genoo and MakesBridge also have a sub-$500 monthly price, but no CRM or shopping.)  Although Spark is not aimed at the micro-business market, some people may not recognize the distinction.

Nor it is clear that the Spark brand will be enough let Marketo play in both the small and mid-size business segments ($5 to $500 million revenue, by my definition) and the big business segment (more than $500 million revenue.)   Nearly every other marketing automation vendor focuses on one or the other.  The main exception is HubSpot, which is also trying to add larger clients without losing its small business base -- and facing some positioning challenges of its own.  

Spark also poses a financial challenge.  Marketo has said it will earn around $30 million revenue in 2011, and will have an average of around 1,100 clients.  That comes to about $2,500 per client per month, a figure Marketo has been striving to increase.  A large number of Spark clients at $750 per month would dramatically reduce its average.  The profit margins, if any, will surely be lower as well, again dragging down the corporate average.

Now, this is all interesting stuff, but does it matter to anyone who isn't a Marketo investor?  Probably not.  Spark may push prices a little lower and may put a small crimp in some competitors' growth rates.  It may also give small business marketers another fine set of resource materials to complement those from HubSpot and others.  But the bottom line is that similar capabilities were already available at a similar price point from Marketo and others. Spark just doesn't change much.


Monday, October 10, 2011

Beanstalk Data Adds Service to the Marketing Automation Recipe

Exploring a new marketing automation system is like biting into a bonbon: part of the fun is you never know what you’ll find inside.

Thinking in those terms, Beanstalk Data  is a tasty morsel. It provides all the basic B2B marketing automation functions: mass email, landing pages and surveys, behavior tracking, lead scoring, nurture campaigns, and CRM integration. And it adds just enough spice to leave a pleasingly distinctive flavor.

Regarding the basic features: email, landing pages, surveys, and behavior tracking do indeed seem pretty basic. Nothing wrong with that; Beanstalk is targeted at small to mid-size businesses for whom basic is just fine.

Lead scoring is also done the usual way: by assigning points to lead attributes and behaviors. But unlike most vendors, Beanstalk typically builds the scoring rules for its clients rather than leaving the clients on their own. The company starts with a standard set of rules that it has found work well for most clients.  It then modifies them and changes the thresholds that trigger actions such as sending a lead to sales. It can also combine the scoring rules with custom database queries to further refine how they trigger system activities.

Nurture campaigns are laid out on an unusual Excel-like interface with one row per step. That's fun, but the actual functionality is again pretty basic: each step executes in sequence, with no branching or filters to treat different leads differently.  Leads enter a campaign by meeting conditions defined in a filter, which can be built within the system interface or written in SQL. The campaigns can run once, repeat automatically at user-specified intervals, or be triggered by standard events or custom SQL queries.

Campaign steps do support an unusual variety of output formats, including email, list exports, text messages, Facebook posts, digital printing, call center, and Web posts to external systems. Steps can also change data within the Beanstalk database and schedule calls in the CRM system.

Speaking of CRM, Beanstalk has existing connectors for Salesforce.com, NetSuite and Leads360. It can synchronize data with other systems using batch imports and exports or via Web services. Beanstalk itself provides basic CRM features including call notes, task reminders, opportunity tracking, and drill-down to a lead’s contact history, behavior history, score history, campaign history, and link history. But the company stresses that these features are only intended for clients with a couple of CRM users; it does not intend to provide a comprehensive CRM solution for larger organizations.

The system also provides above-average flexibility in the data model, allowing unlimited custom fields and supporting multiple values within a single field. The multi-value feature is a way of storing data that would otherwise need a separate table.  

If you’re a true connoisseur of marketing automation systems, references to multi-value fields, SQL triggers, export via Web posts, and import via Web services may have you thinking that Beanstalk is more technically advanced than your average marketing automation product.  This is probably true, but with one big caveat: most of those capabilities are not directly exposed to clients.  Instead, the Beanstalk staff does much of the program set-up and database customization. 

This is partly the result of the system’s heritage – it was originally built by printing and marketing services company – and partly because Beanstalk has found that most clients lack the skills or inclination to do the work for themselves.

Beanstalk sees its marketing services as a major point of differentiation. The company is not exactly a marketing agency, but will help its clients to define strategies and develop creative in addition to setting up marketing automation programs. But clients aren't required to use Beanstalk services.  They are welcome to work with outside agencies or do this work for themselves.

This approach places Beanstalk firmly in what I’m coming to see as one of three camps for dealing with the shortage of marketing automation skills among marketers. The Beanstalk camp argues that marketers should build substantial marketing automation plans in advance, either by themselves or with help from a marketing automation vendor, agency, or consultant. I’d say most marketing automation vendors take this view.

The second-most common approach is to make marketing automation systems so easy to use that marketers can start by doing simple things with little advance preparation. The theory is that marketers will later advance to more sophisticated features in their own good time. 

The third camp argues that automation can let marketers run advanced programs without ever learning how to manage the details.

I pretty much agree with the first camp but am not dogmatic about it. It’s possible that each approach may work for some companies. It’s also true that the approaches are not incompatible: vendors who stress the need for planning still aim to make their systems easy to use and to introduce automation where possible. So it’s more a difference of philosophy and positioning than technology. But I'd still say that difference is significant, particularly in the expectations it sets for clients and in the likelihood of long-term client success.

Anyway, back to BeanStalk. Although it just hit my personal radar, the company was founded in 2007 and launched its product in 2009. It has somewhere between 50 and 100 clients, mostly small to mid-size B2B marketers and some in higher education. Pricing is starts at $1,500 per month for a complete marketing automation system, although clients who want just email and lead scoring can start for as little as $600 per month. Agency services are extra.

The company also has a loyalty system marketed under the Beanstalk Loyalty  label. This uses the same core technologies but integrates with retail Point of Sale systems to capture purchase information about individual customers. It then uses that information to deliver targeted offers and coupons via email, text messages, and direct mail. It also supports social media check-in at the retailers via Facebook or FourSquare.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

More Systems for Business-to-Consumer Marketing Automation

I spent yesterday prowling the exhibit hall at the Direct Marketing Association annual conference in Boston. This uncovered several additional candidates for mid-tier business-to-consumer marketing automation. I’ll list them here and also add them to my previous list of mid-tier marketing automation systems so that future visitors will find the complete set in one place.

This products below are a somewhat arbitrary selection, since pretty much every printer, service bureau, and email provider has a list selection tool. I’ve tried to include only products that can connect to a “real” marketing database, meaning it supports separate tables for customers, transactions, and contact history, and that allow multi-step campaign flows. 

RedPoint – a suite of tools for database building, campaign management, and analytics. Can be hosted by a service provider or run on-premise by the client. Highly scalable and mature – the company has been growing quietly for six years and has some very large clients.

BullsEye Marketing Systems – generates sophisticated outbound campaigns. The company’s major clients are cable TV systems but it also serves education and other areas. The system lacks an end-user interface for building campaigns; instead, these are built by the vendor based on client instructions.

Consolidated Technologies Group – a hosted system offering data hygiene, CRM, campaign management, digital asset management, and analytics. Sister company offers printing, direct mail and physical fulfillment. Cleveland-based with mostly local clients.

BFC – a hosted system tailored for central control over local marketers, such as franchisees. Provides multi-step, event-triggered campaigns, content creation, asset management, and multi-media output including Web-to-print.

Direxxis – also hosted, also designed for central control over local marketing.  Supports multi-channel campaigns, asset management, fulfillment, and performance measurement.

Of all these products, you'll note that only RedPoint is a general purpose marketing system.  BullsEye, BFC and Direxxis are specialized by vertical, and Consolidated Technologies is a regional player. Of course, if you happen to be in the market any of them serve, that’s an advantage.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

HubSpot's Strategy for Winning the Marketing Automation Horserace

Back on September 20, I posted various tips from the Inbound Marketing Summit and HubSpot User Group. Naturally, the conference also included public and private discussions of HubSpot itself, but I thought those were best shared in a separate post. Here goes.

The conference yielded a clear picture of HubSpot’s business strategy for the coming year. This strategy has two main elements, which were set out by CEO Brian Halligan in his keynote:

- expansion to “middle of funnel” marketing. HubSpot originally focused on “top of funnel” or “inbound” marketing, which boils down to helping marketers to attract Web traffic. In concrete terms, it involves blogging, search engine optimization of Websites, and social media messages. The company is now doing more to help marketers nurture the leads its attracts.  This involves strengthening its “middle of the funnel” tools for more powerful email, better segmentation and content selection, and enhancing lead profiles with data from social media.

“Mid funnel" is the territory of standard B2B marketing automation, although HubSpot largely avoids the term. Indeed, CTO Dharmesh Shah said their goal is to “leapfrog” current marketing automation vendors by replacing their focus on email marketing with a focus on social media. HubSpot also plans to automate functions that are simply too hard for most marketers to do manually. These include segmentation, building lead scoring models, and content selection. To be clear, this isn't about building a simpler interface.  It's about having the system perform tasks without any user effort.

- allowing other companies to offer functions and services to HubSpot customers. This lets HubSpot extend its scope without developing all the features or delivering all the services itself. The key initiatives here are a “platform” program and app store that allow HubSpot partners to sell products that integrate directly with HubSpot’s data and user interface, and a “services marketplace” that makes it easy to find vendors for marketing tasks such as program design and content creation. Shah said the marketplace will rate vendor performance by looking at results captured within HubSpot.  For example, it might report how much traffic is generated by content from different providers. That’s an intriguing concept, although I’m not sure how vendors will feel about that sort of measurement.

Benchmarking in general is another aspect of HubSpot’s strategy. Like automation and use of external resources, benchmarking is aimed at helping marketers become more effective without consuming HubSpot resources. The company already provides benchmark reports that compare a client’s key metrics with averages for all HubSpot clients, for top 10% clients, and for similar companies. Shah said it is working on additional programs to help marketers measure their progress, such as comparisons among companies who start using the system at the same time.

- Halligan’s keynote also listed a third theme for the coming year: application maturity. He gave current HubSpot applications a C+ on his report card for the previous year and said blogging and Web content management are targeted for improvement. He also cited previous enhancements including custom fields in list imports, custom lists and segments, increased email limit from 5,000 to 50,000 messages, better email templates, optimized email for mobile and social platforms, and improved Salesforce.com integration. HubSpot's purchase of Performable  will also improve its Web analytics, event tracking, and email campaign capabilities. Performable is still largely separate from the main HubSpot application but is expected to be fully integrated by the end of this year.

Maybe it’s just me, but I see application maturity as table stakes, not a major strategy. HubSpot is quite clear that it isn’t aiming to serve the most demanding users, but remains focused on small businesses who want a single, simple solution to their basic marketing needs. (Well, they do sometimes admit they plan to creep upmarket over time.)  I appreciate the company’s candor in admitting that its applications could use improvement and hasten to point out that I haven’t heard  more complaints about HubSpot than anyone else. But it’s clear their goal will continue to be making simple things easy, not complex things possible.

What Does It Mean? As I’ve written before, HubSpot is one of those very well-run start-ups that define a sound, long-term strategy and execute intelligently and relentlessly. The top of the funnel, where there was less competition, was a good place to start.  Extending from there to mid-funnel makes perfect sense as a way to add value and to preempt or displace other marketing systems. Adding the platform and services marketplace both enable further growth with minimal investment, and (perhaps more important) make it easier to recruit allies in the sales process.

But, smart as those strategies are, they’re fairly standard. Much more intriguing are HubSpot’s bets that it can radically simplify marketing tasks through automation and that the primary marketing channel will be social media instead of email.

Although I’m a great fan of automation, it’s not at all clear to me that it can be more than a productivity enhancement tool for skilled marketers, as opposed to actually making skills unnecessary. Okay, I can already hear the rebuttal: “We’re not saying skill isn’t needed but that we can reduce the level of training and effort required.” Well, sure. But the question remains: can automation reduce those requirements enough to matter? For what it’s worth, the amount of work remaining for users was also my original criticism  of HubSpot’s SEO tools. Those do seem have pleased many users, so I’ll certainly entertain the possibility that HubSpot is on the right track.

Similarly, HubSpot would surely point out that they’re not abandoning email, but simply adding social media as an increasingly important alternative. Again, granted. But all other marketing automation vendors are also adding social media capabilities. So I think it’s legitimate to ask whether there is anything fundamentally different about HubSpot’s approach, or, setting a slightly lower bar, whether a mindset that sees social media as primary actually leads in a different direction. I haven’t seen anything so far to suggest either is true*, and think there’s a pretty compelling counter-argument that it’s more important to take an integrated view than try to treat any channel as primary. But the jury’s out on this one too – we’ll see where HubSpot goes with it.

Bottom line: like every marketing automation vendor, HubSpot is wrestling with the fundamental challenge of enabling marketers to do all the new things their system makes possible.  Expanding the product scope and its surrounding ecosystem will help, but others are doing the same.  HubSpot's hope that automation can close the skills gap is a fundamentally different approach -- and while the company isn't betting everything on that one horse, it will certainly win big if it's right.

*For a good overview of HubSpot’s social media features and an explanation of why they bought social media marketing software company oneforty in August, see their blog post announcing the oneforty acquisition.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Coupons and Offers Slowly Shifting to Digital: Notes from LEADS Marketing Conference

My colleague Michael Darviche covered the LEAD Marketing Conference in Chicago last week. Here’s his report.

One fascinating area for the past few years has been the coupon and offers space. In a traditionally a paper-based medium, Groupon (and its controversial IPO) have stimulated the question of whether digital couponing can take hold, and in what form. The Shopper Technology Institute's LEAD Marketing Conference offered telling insights to where it all goes next.

Coupons are a $4 billion industry and daily (local) deals are another $2 to $4 billion. The promise of the Web here is in targeting consumers with the right offers and improving the interactivity with consumers to make a buying transaction happen from start to finish.

Here are top 10 insights that might be worth considering.

1) Advertisers and retailers really want digital offers to replace paper. Their paper free-standing inserts (FSIs), mailed coupons, newspaper ads are all too expensive and going away. Worse yet, they are mass distributed. Digital provides a promise of finding new consumers to bring into their brands, and avoid the “extreme couponers”.

2) The conversation seems to be shifting from “it’s all about sending the right offer” to “it’s all about knowing the consumer”. This is great news, and the logical next step as direct marketing principles continue to work their way into the couponing/offers and Web advertising spaces. It is essential for targeting. But it also reflects that brands and retailers may not feel they are being heard these days, and want to anticipate a consumer’s buying needs, shopping moments and better pricing (higher when a consumer is actively searching for product).

3) The offers industry is still very much in the early stages of conversion to digital. All brands and retailers know about mobile and the Web, but don’t know how to get there. The world of Web advertising hasn’t really merged with offers yet.

4) The reason why: It is complex. Digital offers are literally a whole new world in terms of media channels, creative that work, consumer behavior, consumer reader technologies, campaign strategies and designs, data involved, feedback loops, players, substitute offers, and more. To get all the parts into place takes the same kind of hard work that the offline direct marketing world had to try years ago, and in most cases the technologies to get there are not even invented yet.

5) The reason why #2: The economics are tough. Historically, non-targeted mass offers have been worth $.50 to $2.00 per redemption. That’s pretty low and the targeted offers industry needs to push prices up to make it work. It is possible, as brands and retailers really want new consumers who are more likely worth $10-$50-$200 each over their lifetimes.

6) Some providers are successfully doing digital offers. We saw some innovative “mash-ups” of Groupon with brands, and broader retailer FSIs with banners. Then there are mobile phone apps and games with offers too. No shortage of innovation and trials!

7) ROI can be 7x. We saw some industry consultants creating targeted campaigns social (Facebook especially), where the economics are impressive (some are obscenely profitable). Another data provider created a big display offers program with 7x ROI across 1MM users. These are real data points that can be the starting point for broader targeting systems. But it takes some real expertise to design, integrate and execute the programs to work.

8) The big hope is for mobile. Many of the speakers talked about mobile couponing and offers as the ultimate solution, with consumers using phones to scan products, buy in aisles, share with friends, pay with mobile wallets, etc. This is surely technically possible. But there is a lot of consumer participation needed (and business integration issues) to make that happen en masse in the next year or two.

9) Technologies overall are evolving fast. There are a lot of new products and tools out there every 6 months. These are everything from campaign targeting tools, to consumer devices, to in-store technologies, to cards where consumers can store offers and get value back. Brands and retailers absolutely need consulting help to understand all these.

10) The future is here. Well, actually it has been here for the past 4-5 years in lead generation, and in banner advertising too. But then again this targeted offers future will take another 3-4 years to get to mainstream status, and will likely change in form and function a lot before then too. So while there is a lot to like, there is still time.

Bottom line: Big bucks at stake, but a lot of moving parts. Still early stages and a big opportunity for small startups, big marketing providers, and huge brands and retailers.