Friday, November 15, 2013

ReachLocal Provides Turn-Key Lead Management for Small Business

There are about 3 million companies with revenue between $1 million and $5 million in the U.S., according to Manta. This is an enticingly huge market for marketing automation vendors, and one that seems largely untapped. The largest marketing automation vendor in the segment, Infusionsoft, has under 20,000 clients. This is barely scratching the surface.

But this perspective is misleading. Many small businesses do their marketing through CRM, email, and search advertising. Search marketing is particularly important as online searches replace newspapers and telephone directories. Companies that provide small businesses with online directories and ratings, search engine optimization, Web sites, and paid search marketing all have client bases that dwarf the small business marketing automation industry.

Those other vendors could easily see marketing automation as a natural line extension, since it would help their clients make better use of the traffic those vendors generate. Last month ReachLocal – a $450 million public company that purchases online ads for more than 23,000 local businesses -- moved in exactly this direction.

ReachLocal’s new service, called ReachEdge, provides clients with a custom Web site, contact database, automated email streams to leads and customers, and automated alerts to company staff.  All the Web and advertising design is done for the client. There’s no automated lead scoring or branching campaign flows: when a new lead enters the system via a Web form or phone call, the user receives an alert, reviews whatever information was provided on the form or voice mail message, and manually classifies the lead as active, long term, new customer, or existing customer. Each category kicks off its own stream of messages (to the leads) and alerts (to company users), which can be spaced over time. Messages are sent by email; alerts can be sent by text, email, or a mobile app. Users can enter notes, add tags, and record revenue on contact records, providing a very light CRM option, or they can manually export the contact list to an external CRM system. Revenue can be used in campaign Return on Investment reports.

And that’s it, features-wise. If you’re used to looking at all-in-one small business marketing automation systems like Infusionsoft, Ontraport, or Venntive, the list may seem laughably primitive. But it’s a safe bet that many ReachLocal advertising clients have no interest in anything more complicated. The stumbling block facing all of marketing automation – that it takes more training, skills, and effort than most potential users can invest – is higher for very small businesses than anyone else. ReachLocal has reduced its clients' preparation to a minimum, and then left it up to them to pursue each new lead individually.

When a vendor does this much of the work, the key questions are less about the system than quality of the marketing.  ReachLocal said that each Web site is custom designed, based on interviews with each client by U.S.-based industry specialists. I looked at a samples for three different plumbers (here, here, and here) and found they were indeed different and detailed enough to be effective. I’ll assume that advertising and email are similar. ReachLocal’s service includes one hour of customization per month and a completely new Web site every two years. The price is $299 per month, which is comparable to low-end marketing automation systems although higher than simple auto-responders.

Let me be clear: ReachEdge doesn’t provide the process automation or even email segmentation of a conventional marketing automation system, let alone serious CRM, ecommerce, or external integration. So small businesses that want to market aggressively will probably find it insufficient. But small businesses that just want to generate a stream of new leads while they focus their energies elsewhere may well find ReachEdge an appealing alternative.

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