Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Venntive Adds Communities to Small Business Marketing Automation and CRM

It has taken me some time to form a clear picture of Venntive. It is clearly “all-in-one” sales and marketing software for small business, combining marketing automation, CRM, and ecommerce along the lines of Infusionsoft and Ontraport (formerly OfficeAutoPilot). It also includes full Web site management and social media monitoring and posting, but those are natural extensions for sales and marketing.  More puzzling was Venntive’s decision to include a full accounting system and a community management features such as private discussion forums, Wikis, events, and custom fields for groups within its database. The other micro-business systems have avoided accounting, presumably because they saw little value in trying to displace Intuit QuickBooks. And community management – well, that just doesn’t have much to do with how most small businesses operate.

The hint at an answer – a giant flashing neon sign, actually – was in Venntive CEO Lydia Sugarman’s description of its client base, which my notes recorded as “chambers of commerce, schools, Boy Scout troops, coaches, law firms, financial advisors and associations”.

You can be certain that this is the first time “Boy Scout troops” has come up as a category of marketing automation users. But Venntive makes perfect sense once you consider their needs.  A scout troop has many subgroups that need to communicate among themselves: how better to manage that field trip to the National Duck Stamp Museum?  They also have simple finances and simple Web sites. Venntive’s pricing model – starting at $25 per month for up to 1,000 contacts, with unlimited email – also fits a small organization without a big prospect list, since it would pay about that amount for basic email and Web hosting.

In fact, Sugarman said the custom fields for groups were originally added to track Boy Scout merit badges – although they’re now used more often for things like dealer certifications.

Venntive's scouting heritage notwithstanding, I want to make clear that it is suited for much larger organizations.  Venntive offers the full set of “all-in-one” system features, meaning it can serve the full set of “all-in-one” clients: those coaches, law firms, financial advisors, and others that Sugarman mentioned, plus online retailers, service companies, and small manufacturers. In fact, Sugarman said most of the company’s clients are B2B not B2C marketers.

One problem with writing about a system like Venntive is evaluating its huge number of features.  In some alternate universe where sleep is optional, I would have explored each function in depth before writing about it. But things don’t work that way on my little corner of planet Earth.  The best I could do was take a whirlwind tour of the system and capture some screenshots. Based on that limited research, I came away impressed with the sophistication of the features as well as their scope.

Let’s start with the group functions, since groups are such a key component of Venntive. At the simplest level, a group is just a list. People enter groups in the usual ways: email or form response, user-defined filters, conversion events, list import, or manual assignment. Entry can trigger an email, assignment to a drip campaign, or sales agent notification. So far pretty normal. But groups also support those community and collaboration features.  Members can share discussion forums and Wikis and be assigned rights such as access to specified information about each other. Each group can also have a parent organization, member log-in, physical location, custom fields, and its own settings for email, event, and drip campaign practices. Beyond membership organizations, those group functions could support all sorts of peer-to-peer communications, arguably making Venntive just the thing for cutting-edge, community-driven marketing.

Looking at the other functions:

- emails can be built on user-customizable system-provided templates, on imported templates, or from scratch.  They can include social sharing buttons, surveys, event links, contact data, or dynamic content selected by embedded if-then rules. Completed email can be previewed and spam scored. The system can automatically assign recipients to different groups based on their response (read, click, forward, or take a survey).

- surveys are built from a list of independent questions.  This means all answers to the same question are automatically placed in the same data field, regardless of where the question is asked. That’s the right way to do it, at least in my opinion.

- events can be either physical or on-line. The system stores details about the location, captures registrations, collects fees, offers multiple options for reminder emails and text messages, and reports on actual attendance after the fact.

- CRM goes beyond the basics (contact attributes, activity history, calendar reminders) to track opportunities and sales quotes, allow searchable tags for segmentation, and store files associated with a contact. Standard integration with RapLeaf let users add demographic, interest, and purchase data from external sources by matching on email address.

- lead scores are created in two ways: conventional user-created scoring rules, and automated predictive modeling. There are two conventional scores, one for activities and one for demographics.  The demographic score is based on contact attributes, while the activity score incorporates contact activities (email, Web, event, survey, purchase, and social behaviors) plus salesperson activities (sent an email, left a messages, etc.).  Activity values can be set to decay as time passes, which is one hallmarks of advanced lead scoring. While there's just one pair of conventional lead scores, users can have as many predictive model scores as they want.  Each score predicts visits to a different Web page, typically representing a stage in the purchase process. The system automatically looks at the demographic, activity, and CRM data to build a model formula and score the contact records.

- campaign features in Venntive are uncharacteristically limited.  Users can set up a sequence of emails, but there is no branching based on response and emails are the only action a campaign can control directly.  Users gain a bit more power from the ability of email response rules to assign contacts to different categories.  But this is still far from the process automation that adds great value to other micro-business systems. 

- Social media support includes keyword searches and alerts; real-time or scheduled posting to multiple Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook accounts; and detailed tracking of results. This is a reasonable set of features for a small business system.

- The Web site builder is much more robust.  It supports pages, blogs, member sign-in, stores, coupons, advertising, support tickets, and tracking via Google Analytics. Users can assign point values to specific pages for use in lead scoring and can see a list of who visited each page. Venntive hosts the Web site for its clients, but clients can assign their own Web address to hide this.

- Financials include account tracking, journal entries, receivables management, and reporting. Invoices are automatically added from CRM and Web orders and funds can be collected via PayPal. The system can also integrate with QuickBooks.

- There’s also project management, a media library, SMS messaging, and print integration. And probably other things I haven’t mentioned.

Given the depth of its features, Venntive’s interface is reasonably straightforward. But there's a lot to learn and users will need help.  Each screen include buttons for on-demand videos explaining individual functions. There are also video tutorials and non-video explanations (using a technology called "text") for users over age 30.

Pricing of Venntive is based primarily on the number of contacts in the system, starting at $25 per month for 1,000 contacts. A system with up to 25,000 contacts would be $200 per month. There are some additional fees for extra users, Web analytics, SMS messaging, and external data. Users can send unlimited emails.

Venntive was launched in 2006 and is nearing its 1,000th client.

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