Thursday, June 27, 2013

Adobe Buys B2C Marketing Automation Leader Neolane: One Gap Filled, But Where's CRM?

Adobe today announced plans to acquire Neolane, the largest remaining independent B2C marketing automation vendor (excluding email-focused providers like Responsys and Silverpop). Price was $600 million, which is roughly in line with the 8x revenue paid for ExactTarget and Eloqua recently.  (Neolane announced $58 million revenue in 2012 and has been growing around 40% per year, which would yield about $80 million 2013 revenue.)

The deal is not particularly surprising. Adobe was on everyone’s list of potential buyers, and Neolane was ripe for acquisition or an initial public offering. It reinforces suspicions that Adobe was the mystery bidder for ExactTarget mentioned last month by  Indeed, my take on the ExactTarget deal explicitly mentioned an Adobe/Neolane possibility. That frankly didn’t take much insight, but I’ll brag a bit more about having pegged Adobe as needing to add marketing automation as far back as this post in 2009 and again in 2010.

Neolane is more of a mid-tier solution than an enterprise product, which may be a slight mismatch with Adobe.  I’d say that reflects a lack of enterprise systems available for Adobe to purchase, more than any particular desire to target the mid-market.

Predictable or not, this deal does fill a gaping hole in Adobe’s marketing cloud. It still doesn’t put Adobe on equal footing with Oracle, Salesforce, SAP or Microsoft, since they all have major CRM platforms which Adobe does not. Adobe obviously has a leadership position in content creation, although I’ve never felt that does much good in selling customer management systems. (To be more precise, content creation COULD give Adobe an advantage if it very tightly coupled auto-personalized marketing treatments with content creation, but that doesn't seem to be happening.)

More important, Adobe also has an unmatched position in Web analytics, Web advertising, and Web content management. In fact, adding Neolane gives it a profile very similar to IBM, which also has strong Web and marketing automation products but not CRM (and which also shares Adobe’s digital-is-everything mono-vision).

Come to think of it, the contrast still comes down to the dueling strategies I described in 2011: Web-plus-marketing automation (Adobe and IBM) vs. CRM-plus-marketing automation (Oracle, Salesforce, SAP, Microsoft). Everything will eventually converge Web-plus-CRM, with marketing automation baked in so deep you can't see it.  But that’s still some way off, except arguably for Oracle, which has all the pieces but hasn’t fully integrated them. In the meantime, we’ll see which approach is more popular – and what becomes of the stand-alone marketing automation vendors who are caught in between.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

AgilOne Combines Marketing Database, Analytics and Execution: Yep, That's a Customer Data Platform

Well, this is embarrassing.

Here I am, all excited about discovering a new category of Customer Data Platform systems, which combine marketing database management, predictive modeling, and decision engines. Then I bump into Omer Artun, CEO of AgilOne , which he founded seven years ago to combine marketing database management, predictive modeling, and decision engines. It makes me feel much less clever.

But I guess I can’t hold that against AgilOne. As Artun tells the story, the company was created to provide marketers with a packaged, cloud-based version of the advanced data management, analytics, and execution capabilities that are usually available only to the largest and richest firms. The key is a set of 400 standard metrics, which AgilOne derives by mapping each client’s unique data into a standard structure. This, combined with advanced machine learning techniques, lets AgilOne build ten standard predictive models (engagement, next product, lifetime value, etc.) and three standard cluster models (products, behaviors, and brands) with minimal effort. The system builds on these to deliver packages of standard alerts, reports, guided analytics, individual customer profiles, and campaign lists. It also makes its data and predictions accessible to external systems such as call centers and Web sites via real time API calls, so those systems can use them to guide their own customer treatments.

This quick summary doesn’t do justice to the cleverness or sophistication of AgilOne’s approach. Clever, because the standardization allows it to quickly and cheaply deliver a full stack of capabilities, starting with database building and ending with advanced analytics, recommendations, and execution. Sophisticated, because it tailors the standard structures to each client’s business, so what it delivers isn’t some simple, cookie-cutter output.

Some of the tailoring is unavoidably manual, such as mapping client data sources to the standard data model. But much is highly automated, such as predictive models, clusters, and recommendations. I was particularly intrigued by the standard alerts, which look for significant changes in key performance indicators such as churn, margin, or average order value.  That sort of alerting is exactly what I've long felt marketers really wanted from their analytics tools.  AgilOne takes this a step further by automatically listing the data attributes with the greatest statistical impact on each item. The company refers to these items as goals to prioritize, which is a bit of a stretch – the most powerful variable isn’t necessarily the one marketers should focus on the most. But, as Damon Runyon said*, that’s the way to bet.

The system also recommends actions related to each alert, such as certain types of marketing campaigns. Again, there’s a bit less here than meets the eye, since the recommendations are drawn from a knowledgebase that’s the same for all clients. But that’s still better than nothing, and clients can customize their copy of the knowledgebase if they want.

The other especially noteworthy strength of AgilOne is data preparation. My original concept of the Customer Data Platform included customer data integration, which involves standardizing and matching customer records from different systems. I’ve pulled back from that because almost none of the vendors actually do such processing. Most assume it will be done elsewhere, or not at all, and only associate records with an exact match on a key such as a customer ID.  AgilOne does the hard stuff: quality checks, outlier detection, name parsing, address standardization, geocoding, phonetic matching, persistent ID management, and more. This is also highly automated and uses the company’s own technology. The lack of these capabilities prevents many companies from building a truly integrated customer database at many companies, so it’s extremely valuable for AgilOne to provide it.

If AgilOne has a weakness, it's at the execution end of the process.  Users can set up campaigns that generate lists on demand or on a regular schedule.  But I didn't see multi-step campaign flows or sophisticated decision management, such as arbitration across multiple eligible offers.  Some of that can probably be managed through advanced filters and custom models, which the system does provide.  However, making it truly accessible to non-technical users requires a specialized interface that the system apparently lacks.

While AgilOne just recently appeared on my personal radar, plenty of other people had already noticed: the company says nearly 100 brands are using the system. Sales efforts have been concentrated among mid-size B2C organizations, typically with at least 200,000 customers and $15 to $20 million in revenue. Pricing is published on the company Web site and is based on the features used and number of active customers. Entry price for the complete set of features starts around $9,000 per month.

*“The race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong, but that's the way to bet.” Runyon himself credited Chicago journalist Hugh Keough.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Mintigo InterestBase Harvests Web and Social Data for Marketing and Sales

Every marketer recognizes that the Web and social media could be rich sources of information about customers and prospects. But harvesting that data has been frustratingly difficult.  Doing it yourself  takes multiple tools to gather different kinds of information, and then patching the result together into personal profiles. Most tools do little more than keyword searches, which only capture a fraction of the potential information and only cover keywords that marketers know in advance are important.

More advanced technology does exist. Semantic engines can extract information such as executive changes and product announcements from press releases and social media profiles. Sentiment analysis can (with limited reliability) detect the attitudes that individuals express. Identity aggregators can link email, social media, and other addresses for the same individual. Predictive models can show how different attributes correlate with targeted behaviors such as purchasing a product.

Few marketers have the skill or resources to pull all these tools together for themselves. Vendors are another matter: there’s inherent scale economy to scanning the Web and social media once and applying the results to many different clients. I recently wrote about Lattice Engines,  which has assembled these pieces to create prospect lists. Infer starts with your own customer data, enhances it with information mined from the Web, and generates predictive scores.

Mintigo has also been mining Web and social data to build prospect lists, starting in 2011. This week it announced a new platform, InterestBase, that gives clients an interface to define target groups, analyze group members’ interests, push prospect lists to marketing automation and CRM systems, and enhance individual lead records.

The foundation of InterestBase is a central repository of 30 million names and 3 million companies (and growing), built by scanning Web sites and social media for job postings, product and technology names, group memberships, accounts followed, hashtags, Javascript calls, and other information. The system uses this data to assign individuals and companies such attributes as job title, company size, technologies used, hiring plans, and interest scores for products and topics. Marketers can use titles and other attributes to define their own target groups, called personas.

Lists containing members of a persona can be assigned to marketing campaigns and sent to external marketing automation or CRM systems for execution. Connectors are currently available for Marketo and, with an Eloqua connector due soon. A campaign list can include the entire persona universe or a quantity specified by the user. Once the campaign is run, responders are loaded back into Mintigo and the system will identify attributes that distinguish them from non-responders.

Clients can also upload their own lists of customers or campaign respondents.  Mintigo will determine which attributes correlate with group membership, display the most important ones in reports, and use the findings in predictive models that score the entire database on likelihood of purchase or response. Clients can also upload other lists for Mintigo to enhance with its own information. This enhanced data can be used in lead scoring or to help guide salespeople.  External systems like Web sites can also accessed the data in real time via API calls.

The features are interesting, but what really matters about Mintigo is the data: fresh, powerful, and unique information about a large share of the business universe. Richer information lets Mintigo clients identify new prospects they’d otherwise miss, distinguish strong prospects from weak ones, and target messages to each prospect’s interests. The result is substantially more effective marketing and sales operations, finally letting marketers use data the Web has so tantalizingly exposed.

In case you're wondering, I do consider Mintigo a Customer Data Platform: it assembles a persistent customer database, uses predictive models to classify the members, and makes the data available to external systems for marketing execution.  

Pricing for InterestBase is based on the number of names in the client’s prospect pool, based on automated analysis of their actual customers. An average client starts around $3,000 per month.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Salesforce + ExactTarget vs. SAP + hybris: Two Paths to Customer Management

Fresh on the heels of Tuesday's blockbuster ExactTarget / deal, SAP Wednesday announced acquisition of e-commerce vendor hybris software.  Since Salesforce said that other companies also wanted to buy ExactTarget, it seemed possible that SAP had lost the deal and purchased hybris as a second choice. After listening to the analyst conference call (available at (303) 590-3030 passcode 4623918), I still can't say.

The SAP and hybris managers unfairly implied during their call that ExactTarget does nothing but email (without mentioning or ExactTarget by name).  But as made clear in its own call yesterday, they were most attracted by ExactTarget's multi-channel marketing capabilities.  It's possible SAP wanted ExactTarget for the same reasons and would have described it differently had they been the winning bidder.

In any case, SAP did tell a good story: real-time interactions seamlessly presenting customers with consistent information, dialogues, and purchases across all channels, with a central role for the Web.  This is certainly the long term goal for most marketers, although few are close to delivering it.  As SAP pointed out, it's a customer-centric view of the world, quite different from the operational focus of traditional CRM.  SAP does have some unique assets to support this vision, including back-office systems with sales, inventory, costs, and other data needed to fully inform customer treatments, and the in-memory HANA database to make this data immediately available for real-time interactions.  I haven't done enough research to judge whether SAP can effectively combine these pieces, but they're making the right promises.

I still wouldn't be as dismissive of the Salesforce / ExactTarget combination as the SAP managers.  People integrate CRM with back-office systems all the time.  You can also build great customer experiences with little or no back office integration.  ExactTarget does have some Web personalization features (from its iGoDigital acquisition), although I don't know how well they're integrated with the rest of the system.  Similarly, it has claimed to support real-time interactions in its Interactive Marketing Hub, but I don't know how well that works.  What I do know is that Salesforce and ExactTarget have a reasonable idea of what's needed and the resources to build it.  How well and how quickly they execute remains to be seen -- but you can say the same for SAP.

Incidentally, the common thread for these acquisitions is that both vendors are moving into direct B2C marketing.  It's a big new market for each of them, and makes both much more interesting competitors to IBM, Oracle and Adobe.  Perhaps that's the most important news here.

It would be misleading to give the impression that SAP and Salesforce are equivalent.  The two deals highlight some very fundamental differences:

- SAP is a full enterprise system; Salesforce is about CRM. The SAP managers made the point most clearly when they discussed that their appeal is targeted at the boardroom level: they are selling to companies who want to build their entire infrastructure on SAP's system.  Salesforce is now, finally, adding serious marketing to its CRM system (although there are still some gaps such as media buying), but even so its vision is still limited to customer management, and it is selling at the level of sales, service, and marketing departments -- rarely in the boardroom.  Note that the original concept of CRM already encompassed those departments, so this is less an expansion than a filling of gaps.

- SAP is a suite; Salesforce is a platform.  Indeed, SAP is the ultimate suite: every enterprise function running on a single, tightly integrated system.  I've long argued that the fundamental rule of software marketing is that "suites win", meaning most companies will choose an integrated suite over multiple best-of-breed point solutions.  SAP's success is Exhibit A in my evidence for this, but you could argue it's actually so large that companies might be just as happy with several smaller suites instead (e.g., one for CRM and one for back-office).   This would still let them avoid doing most of the integration work, while not forcing them to commit totally to one vendor's system. 

Salesforce is also an integrated suite, although limited to CRM.  But it has also embraced (and I think invented) the idea of an open platform: a foundation system that can be supplemented by attaching other vendors' products.  This provides easy integration without limiting users to capabilities provided by the suite vendor.  The model has been tremendously successful for Salesforce, particularly at letting it offer advanced functions to its clients without having to pay for developing those functions.  ExactTarget has embraced a similar model, incidentally.

- SAP is largely on-premise software; Salesforce is Software as a Service (SaaS).  It's true that SAP now offers SaaS options, but it was built as on-premise software and its large enterprise clients still mostly run it that way.  hybris also offers both options but runs mostly on-premise (typical for Web content management).  Salesforce of course is the granddaddy of all SaaS companies.

- hybris runs Web sites; ExactTarget is still primarily about email.  The obvious point of this is that Salesforce still needs serious Web site management to provide comprehensive customer treatments.

But the difference goes deeper.  Web sites are inherently real-time systems, while email is inherently batch processing.  This was the essence of SAP's comments today, and while they may understate ExactTarget's abilities, there is a kernel of truth.  Web systems are engineered from the start for high-speed processing, and the e-commerce features of hybris also mean it was engineered from the start to interact with individual customers, not just serve generic Web pages.  Email systems were originally engineered for batch processing, not individual interactions.  Mobile and social messages, which ExactTarget also supports, can also be handled quite well in batch.  I don't know to how far ExactTarget has evolved towards supporting real-time interactions, but its heritage lies elsewhere.

- hybris has 500 customers; ExactTarget has 6,000.  The revenue difference is much less: $100 million for hybris and nearly $400 million for ExactTarget.  What this reflects is that hybris' clients are mostly large enterprises, while ExactTarget has a broad mix of large and small companies.  Each each a good match for the core business of its new owner: SAP also focuses on large enterprises, while Salesforce sells to pretty much everyone. The broad reach of ExactTarget was certainly part of the reason that Salesforce wanted it, but Salesforce already has well over 100,000 clients, so the net increase isn't all that important.

What all this means, I think, is that SAP and Salesforce represent very different approaches to customer management: SAP proposes a single, tightly integrated, highly responsive real-time system where everything is connected and optimized.  Salesforce offers a looser set of connections with less control but more room for variety, change, and innovation.  SAP will sell more to the boardroom while Salesforce will sell to sales and marketing departments.  I frankly expect that both will succeed; it's a big market and each approach will appeal to different customers.  What I really hope is that both will show the market how to do integrated, cross-channel customer management: that way, everybody wins.

Circling back to the original question: I still don't know whether SAP tried to buy ExactTarget.  Based on the what I wrote above, hybris was a better fit.  But the SAP managers spent so much time disparaging email in their call that I thought I smelled sour grapes. Or was it just competitive vitriol?

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

My Take: Salesforce Acquires ExactTarget, Continues Marketing Automation Industry Consolidation

I've been in meetings all day and just emerged to hear that purchased ExactTarget.  Having a had a few moments to digest the news (and some lunch), here are some thoughts:

- Good move for Salesforce.  They have been lacking large-scale email capability, which all types of sales and marketing departments require.  So this fills a gap in their core product offerings.  They also get a toe-hold in B2C marketing and in marketing automation (via ExactTarget's Pardot technology).  I'd guess those were bonuses rather than primary drivers of the deal.  Frankly, of the two, entry into B2C marketing seems more important because it's such a large business and needs to know where it will get its next several billion dollars in revenue.

- Price is reasonable by today's standards.  ExactTarget had $300 million revenue in 2012, so the $2.5 billion price is 8.3x trailing revenue.  Marketo's market cap is $800 million on $58 million 2012 revenue, or nearly 14x trailing revenue.  Oracle paid $800 million for Eloqua, which had around $100 million trailing revenue, another 8x ratio.  (Salesforce's press release projects a net revenue impact of $120-$125 million for 2014.  That includes just six months of revenue, but it's still a much lower annualized rate than the ExactTarget figures.  It seems the difference is largely due to adjustments in deferred and unbilled revenue.)

- Not so terrible for marketing automation in the short term.  Sure, Marketo's stock dropped 8% vs. yesterday's close, on a pretty quiet day in the market (S&P down 0.55%, Oracle down 0.67%).  And, yes, more companies will buy Pardot now that it's part of Salesforce than they would have otherwise.  But I doubt Salesforce will suddenly stop integrating with other marketing automation vendors.  Small, independent marketing automation firms already had a tough time selling against big competitors, so this only makes their lives marginally harder.  The smart ones (and that's most of them) already have a strategy in place to differentiate themselves from the big industry leaders.

- Tougher for marketing automation in the long term.  I've long argued that CRM and marketing automation should be part of the same system.  Like a broken clock, the time has come when I'm right.  Marketing automation sits between email and CRM, in the sense that it uses both heavily.  So Salesforce has effectively surrounded the marketing automation vendors with its purchase, even ignoring Pardot.  This means that Salesforce will be in the room with a solution when email and CRM users discuss expanding into marketing automation.  In many cases, clients will extend their Salesforce deployment without considering anyone else..

- Salesforce isn't done, or at least shouldn't be.  Email and CRM are two big customer-facing systems: you get absolutely no prize for knowing that your Web site is the third.  (Ok, social is in there someplace too, but it's still more smoke than fire.)  A truly complete customer-facing solution would encompass Web content management as well.  This is another idea I've long pushed, and its time will come too.  Indeed, I see many Web content management vendors already adding marketing automation-type features.  Salesforce itself might not move into this space quite yet, but it seems inevitable that they'll do it eventually.

- Adobe, where art thou?  Since I'm exercising all my favorite hobby horses, we might as well let this one out of the stable.  (Actually, someone else mentioned it to me earlier today, so at least I'm not alone in my obsessions.)  Of course, Adobe already has a strong presence in Web site management and it keeps making noises about having a "marketing cloud".  Um, excuse me guys, but you really need email and marketing automation for that.  Silverpop -- already a large Adobe partner -- is the obvious acquisition candidate to fill that gap.  Sadly, Adobe has shown no signs of moving in this direction -- but time moves on, whether or not my broken clock is ticking.  (I don't know what that last phrase means, either, but sooner or later Adobe will buy something.)

Addendum: I've now had time to listen to the analyst conference call from this morning (available at 800-585-8367 passcode 89103168).  It doesn't change my analysis above, but clarifies that Salesforce's main goal was finding a single system that would support sophisticated cross channel marketing campaigns, with particular stress on heavy automation and new devices such as mobile.  They do seem more interested in B2C than I would have thought.  

Another comment made twice was that it was a competitive acquisition.  As others have pointed out, this means there's at least one other big company looking to buy a similar integrated marketing system.  There aren't many of those available -- traditional B2B marketing automation vendors are too narrow to fit the bill.  I'll mention Silverpop again as an option, and maybe Responsys and other high-end email products.  B2C marketing automation vendors including Neolane, ClickSquared, and perhaps RedPoint could be candidates but may be too small to be of interest.