Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Nimble Adds Social Data to CRM

I had an intriguing demonstration yesterday from social CRM vendor Nimble. Since “social CRM” could mean just about anything, it’s important to explain what Nimble actually does: it combines traditional contact management with automated access to social media information about those contacts.

That might not sound like much, but in practice it’s pretty darn slick.

Here’s how it works. Say you’re selling a product related to, oh, circuit boards. You can do a Twitter search for messages on that keyword, scan the Twitter profiles and Klout scores of people sending those messages, and push a button to add the interesting people to your contact list. Once you’ve added a contact, Nimble will automatically display their most recent Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn activity every time you call up their record and let you send them messages through any of those products or by email. This is all done in the same system as traditional contact management activities: tagging contacts, assigning tasks and events, sending and receiving emails, tracking deals, building lists, searching your database, and managing your calendar.

Seamless combination of contact management with social media is a big deal: when I showed Nimble to a colleague who runs a public relations agency, her eyes lit up. From her perspective, having an immediate view of each contact’s social activity saved time, made it easier to tailor conversations to their interests, and let her reach them through their preferred medium.  From a corporate perspective, it means the system contains data that salespeople didn’t enter manually – helping to overcome their perpetual complaint that salespeople enter data into corporate CRM systems without getting anything in return.

For the users themselves, Nimble has one more advantage: its lets them stick with familiar communication tools. Integrations are currently available for Outlook, Gmail, Google Calendar, MailChimp email, Wufoo web forms, and HubSpot marketing automation.  An open API to import contacts from other sources is due by the end of February.

The email integrations copy messages from the external email systems into the Nimble activity history, where they're available for searches and list selection. The social media and HubSpot integrations also import contacts from those systems, but display messages and other data without storing them. Users do have the option to manually save individual social comments or assign tasks based on them.

Nimble plans to add more functions, including automated processes that could support multi-step nurture campaigns. But the company is focused on combining information from other systems, not replacing them. The relationship with HubSpot is especially intriguing, since HubSpot itself lacks a CRM component, making the two products highly complementary, and both companies target small-to-mid-size businesses. It’s also worth noting that Nimble recently announced $1 million investment  whose participants included Google Ventures, which is also a HubSpot investor, and HubSpot Co-Founder and CTO Dharmesh Shah.

A beta version of Nimble was released early last year. The system is currently available in a free personal edition limited to 3,000 contacts and a $15 per user per month multi-user edition allowing up to 30,000 contacts and some other advanced features. Nimble already has more than 25,000 users across all versions and has a network of more than 250 solution partners.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Genoo Adds SEO To Web Site Management and Marketing Automation

I had an earful last week from Genoo president Kim Albee, who told me that I’ve misclassified her target customers as “micro businesses” (under $5 million revenue) for the past two years. She tells me nearly all of her clients are larger than that. I’ve revised my big list of demand generation vendors to reflect this.

The main cause of my misunderstanding was Genoo’s starting price of $199 per month, which is below any small or mid-size business system. But the lowest price for Genoo with CRM integration is $599 per month, and I consider CRM integration a required feature in a B2B marketing automation product. This is still low for small-to-mid systems but not wholly out of line. On the other hand, I should have been warned by the fact that Genoo doesn’t provide a built-in CRM system, which is pretty much the key defining characteristic of a micro business system.

The good news is the error doesn’t seem to have crimped Genoo’s growth, although Albee tells me it was used against them in several competitive situations. The company now has about 75 clients, compared with around 35 at the time of my initial review nearly eighteen months ago.

The system itself has also grown although the general approach remains consistent. This approach extends beyond most marketing automation products to incorporate full Web content management and marketing services. The most interesting recent enhancements are products for search engine optimization (SEO): “competitive intelligence” runs a multivariate analysis to identify factors that contribute to competitive pages’ ranking; and “content relevancy analyzer” scans high-ranking pages find theme words that search engines will use to determine relevance. The goal in both cases is to recommend changes that will improve search marketing results.

Other enhancements allow deeper visitor tracking, including tracking tags on Web pages not hosted at Genoo; improved customer scoring; progressive profiling; unlimited custom fields on the lead table (Albee said no client has ever asked for custom fields anywhere else); and an expanded Application Program Interface (API) to accept leads from other systems. The February release will add features to capture social media activities and encourage social book-marking. These join a respectable set of social media features already in place, including sharing buttons, share tracking, and traffic reporting.

Albee said the company has also developed anonymous visitor look-up, based on IP address. But internal tests found additional filtering is needed to avoid wasting users’ time, so full deployment is on hold until this can be added.

This concern about users’ time reflects Genoo’s unusually deep involvement with its clients’ marketing programs. Professional services have always been a major part of the company’s offering and constitute its fastest growing line of business. The company is setting up alliances with external consultants to help meet the demand.

Albee also pointed to Genoo’s pricing as a reaction to customer requirements. The model is more complicated than many small business oriented marketing automation systems.  It has three product levels and gives users within each level the choice to pay either for emails (with unlimited leads in the database) or by database size (with unlimited emails). The two lower price levels also require additional charges for the SEO tools, which are licensed from an external developer.  Free phone support is always included and professional services are always billed separately. There’s also a salesperson access tool billed at $9.95 per month per user. Clients can change their plans each month and are billed for overages on a cost per thousand basis. While conventional wisdom among marketing automation vendors is that buyers prefer a fixed fee and no surprises, Albee said her clients appreciate the flexibility of Genoo’s approach.

Albee said her clients are a mix of small and mid-size businesses, including some divisions of large enterprises.  Genoo's low price may have scared off a few buyers who felt a system that cheap simply couldn't be adequate.  It's an easy mistake to make, but companies of all sizes who want to combine conventional marketing automation with Web site and SEO should still take a look.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

What Really Creates Marketing Automation Success: Data from Gleanster

Research firm Gleanster released its free “Gleansight” report on marketing automation late last month. I was principal author for much of the document and drafted the survey questions, although I didn’t write the individual vendor profiles or administer the survey. (I’ll also share in the revenues, which come when vendors pay for the names of people who download the report.) Although I’m obviously biased, I do think it’s an excellent product and highly recommend it.

Many readers of the report will be most interested in the vendor profiles and survey-based rankings. But I have my own data on those, so I’m more interested in the answers to the general survey questions. These asked why people implement marketing automation, what challenges they face, and what contributes to success. The survey compared answers from top-performing marketing automation users with answers from everyone else. This gives especially interesting insights (or should I say...GLEANSIGHTS) into the differences between sophisticated users and their less experienced brethren.

Here are some highlights – please look in the report itself for details.

Reasons to Implement: top performing companies listed higher revenue, better leads, and more leads as the most important reasons to use marketing automation. All other companies also listed revenue and more leads in their top three, but their most common answer was decreased marketing costs. By contrast, marketing efficiency ranked fourth among top performers and much lower among all others.

My interpretation is that top performers have learned that marketing automation might make you more efficient but won’t actually reduce your total marketing budget.  Other, less experienced companies that expect cost savings will probably be disappointed.  If anything, marketing automation will probably increase their marketing spend – hopefully with an even larger improvement in the revenues and leads to compensate.

Value Drivers: Both groups agreed that the two most important predictors of marketing automation success are cooperation with sales and ability to measure return on investment. But the top performers' third item was easy-to-use system while the others chose adequate staff training. This is a really interesting divergence.

The Gleanster people tell me that many of the top performers are now using their second marketing automation system because their first was too hard to use.  In other words, this is the voice of experience, and that voice is saying that training by itself can’t overcome a difficult system. Less-experienced companies who are relying so heavily on training may find it's not enough. But let’s not overstate this point: training is certainly necessary for success even if it’s not sufficient. Perhaps the top performers discounted training in part because they already had a lot of it.

Back to the data.  Both groups rated having an analytical culture as the fourth-most important value driver, while listing outside help, change management, and organizational resources as the least important.

These answers shed important light on the on-going debates about how marketers should approach their automation deployments. The message is clear: success depends on a marketing department’s own skill level, not on outside resources. A marketing department that pays attention to sales needs, carefully measures ROI, and makes fact-based decisions will succeed with marketing automation just as it probably succeeded without it.. A group that hasn’t mastered those basics won’t succeed at marketing automation no matter how much training, change management, and external assistance it brings to bear.

Challenges: Gleanster didn’t send me responses to this question broken out by top performers vs. all others. For the combined group, the top two challenges cited were data quality and creating content; the next three were poor marketing processes, lack of staff, and selecting metrics. These are all factors controlled by the marketing group. The lowest ranking factors were all the external ones: organizational culture, senior management mindset, lack of IT support, and lack of funding.

This is consistent with the previous answer: marketers create their own success. Marketing automation is just a tool.  It will help a well-run department work better but can’t save a poorly-run department from itself. Massive re-engineering isn't necessarily required to deploy marketing automation, but departments that lack a solid foundation need to build one before automation can do them any good.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

The Easiest Way to Get Started with Marketing Automation? Answers in the Pictures.

Here’s more proof that the apocalypse is near: I’ve discovered the “remove background” feature in Powerpoint. This makes it even easier for me to doctor photographs for my presentations. The fabric of reality cannot long survive so much stress.

The immediate subject of my attentions is next Tuesday’s Webinar “Marketing Automation: One Step at a Time”, sponsored by Act-On Software.

The dominant image of this Webinar, and the eponymous white paper (available on the RaabGuide web site), is a high stone wall representing the effort required to deploy a marketing automation system. More specifically, the wall represents the effort of a traditional best-practice approach, which requires reviewing all marketing processes, designing new programs, creating new content, and working out alignment with sales. It’s a high wall indeed, and many companies just can’t climb it.

As I wrote in a post last December, several strategies have emerged to deal with this challenge. Now I’m delighted to be able to illustrate them.

Training: The wall is high but marketers can learn to jump higher. What they need is training in the pole vault.

Ease of use: Let’s lower the wall so marketing automation is easier. Apply a jackhammer to knock it down a few feet.

Incremental deployment: Break the deployment process into small, manageable stages. Let’s add a staircase with someone taking baby steps.

Service: Marketers should let specialists do the heavy lifting. The experts can carry them over the wall with a crane.

You’ll be pleased to know that the focus of the Webinar isn’t my new-found graphic capabilities. It’s how to succeed at incremental deployment, the strategy recommended by Act-On. Without giving too much away, the key is starting with the right tasks so you get some immediate benefit and build a foundation for future growth but don’t take on too much at once. Yes, I have some specific suggestions…but you’ll have to tune in to hear them.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

CallidusCloud Buys LeadFormix Marketing Automation for $9 Million Cash

The list of independent marketing automation systems shrank by one yesterday when Leadformix  was purchased by sales enablement vendor CallidusCloud for $9 million.

The price is surprisingly low for an established marketing automation vendor. In my VEST report from last July, LeadFormix reported 210 clients, concentrated among mid-size firms, and 82 employees. This would translate to around $7 million revenue, for a price of just over 1x revenue, compared with 4 to 5x revenue in other recent acquisitions.  I suspect the actual LeadFormix revenue was considerably lower than $7 million, but, even so, the price may give pause to investors in other marketing automation firms who are hoping for a great payout.  But bear in mind that LeadFormix was largely self-financed, so they may have sold at a bargain price because they couldn’t afford to compete with better-funded competitors.

Or maybe these comparisons are irrelevant because LeadFormix was never a standard marketing automation system to begin with. While its feature list covers all the usual marketing automation categories, the company's real focus was always on providing the most useful information to sales people. In particular, LeadFormix infers visitors' “intent” (i.e., interests) and sales stage from the Web contents they choose to view. This is a clever and largely unique approach, although Right-On Interactive does something broadly similar.

LeadFormix combines its behavior analysis with anonymous visitor identification (inferring their company from the IP address), access to external prospect lists and enhancement data, and collaboration with partners and affiliates to share lead access. Indeed, the LeadFormix tag line is “aligning marketing with sales” – something that’s important to all marketing automation vendors, but never their primary benefit statement.

This is why Callidus is a good buyer. Callidus isn’t a sales automation system like, but it does provide a range of other systems that help sales departments. These include products for hiring, training, collaboration, content distribution, proposals, incentives, quota management, and analysis. LeadFormix will give Callidus another offering for its existing 900+ customers and access to 200 more companies now using LeadFormix.  I don’t know whether Callidus will also try to expand LeadFormix sales among "pure" marketers.  But even if they back away completely from “marketing automation”, the deal makes sense.

A bit of background on Callidus: it’s a public company with about $80 million annual revenue, no profits, and a $200 million market value. It made at least five acquisitions last year, all software-as-a-service companies selling some type of sales enablement. These include:
  • Salesforce Assessments (salesperson hiring /assessment) 03/28/11
  • Litmos (learning management) 06/10/2011
  • iCentera (on-demand portal software for sales enablement) 07/06/2011
  • Rapid Intake (collaborative rapid e-learning authoring) 09/08/2011
  • Webcom Inc. (product configuration, pricing, quoting, and proposals management) 10/04/2011

In short, LeadFormix fits nicely with Callidus from strategic, financial and operational perspectives.  Because this is such a unique match,  I don’t think the acquisition says much about larger trends in the marketing automation industry.  At most, it could be part of the long-expected shakeout as the industry consolidates around a small number of winners. But, while that consolidation is inevitable, it will take more than one deal to show it has started in earnest.