More New Systems Challenge the Marketing Automation Status Quo


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Last week’s post looked at newer marketing automation systems that focused on small businesses. They shared a similar approach of offering limited features in exchange for lower cost: messaging was largely limited to emails (except in Salesformics) and campaign flows were basically linear. The general notion is that small businesses are finding existing marketing automation products too hard to use and would be happy with something simpler, especially if it costs less.

Although this approach is popular, there are others. Here are a few options.

MindFire Studio grew out of MindFire’s original Look Who’s Clicking software, which is used by more than 1,100 printers and other graphics arts vendors to add personalized URLs to print promotions. Studio, released in mid-2012, lets those firms offer full marketing automation capabilities to their clients and is also sold directly to corporate marketers. The system supports email, print, SMS, Twitter, and voice messages, typically delivered via integration with third party systems. It also provides the rest of the standard marketing automation functions, including landing pages and microsites, Web behavior tracking, lead scoring, and integration with The  approach is organized around events, such as an email open or click: there are different events for different channels, and each event can be assigned points for lead scoring, goals for behavior tracking, and costs for reporting. Events also act as triggers for actions within workflows, which begin with contact lists and can be filtered based on attributes and behaviors. One quirk is that the system reacts to all event-based triggers, rather than following a single branch within a workflow. This means that filters must be carefully crafted to avoid sending too many messages to the same person.

MindFire provides prebuilt templates for common marketing programs, to further assist clients who need help using the system. It doesn’t currently provide email or landing page builders, since its graphics arts clients typically had such tools already. It will be adding these as it sells more to corporate marketers, who tend to need them. Studio also provides other features suited to agencies or large corporate marketing departments, including multiple subaccounts, digital asset management, collaboration, and detailed user rights management. Pricing is based on the number of contacts and messages sent; it starts at $500 per month for corporate users with up to 10,000 contacts. Agencies can create their own branded version of the system and have full control over what they charge their customers.

SharpSpring also started as a narrow application – in this case, Web visitor identification and analytics – and evolved into a full marketing automation platform selling through agencies. The current system, launched mid-2013, includes the full set of standard features: email including templates that can be locked down in sections to prevent unauthorized changes; landing pages built and managed within the system or from external vendors including formstack, GravityForms, Wufoo, SugarCRM, or; Web behavior tracking using Javascript tags; lead scoring based on attributes and behaviors; workflow using plain English statements rather than diagrams and supporting basic triggers, filters, actions and multiple steps but no branching; and CRM integration with today and SugarCRM and ZohoCRM soon. The system also offers its own CRM – a useful option for agencies who might need to provide a low cost system to some clients, while accommodating others that have a system in place.

Other advantages include Google Adword integration; tagging leads by search term and Facebook ad; integration with Webex and GoToWebinar for event management; and a partnership with ZoomInfo to add contact names from companies that visit the client’s Web site. SharpSpring has built an exceptionally simple interface, featuring a single “new” button to add any type of object, screen overlays to illustrate available features and link to instructional videos, and real-time display of emails and forms as they are built. It supports agency clients with multi-account sign-on, precise user rights management, and exceptionally low pricing, beginning at $500 per month for up to five agency clients. Non-agency pricing starts at $200 per month for up to 500 contacts and reaches $800 per month for unlimited contacts.

SimplyCast is yet another multi-channel system, although it was designed that way from its start in 2010 and – quite unusually these days -- uses its own messaging tools rather third party systems. In fact, the vendor says it has sold more than one million separate subscriptions for email, auto-response, fax, SMS, voice broadcast, surveys, Web forms, landing pages, Web tracking, events, Twitter, and Facebook marketing, at prices starting from $3.00 to $9.99 per month. The integrated solution, SimplyCast 360, combines many of these with a unified customer database and workflow engine for $99 per month and up. Simple contact management is built into the system, or users can integrate with, vTiger, SecondCRM, Wordpress, and Zoho. Clients who don’t want to use SimplyCast tools for a particular function can integrate with external products via APIs. The only standard marketing automation function that’s missing is lead scoring, which is due for release next month. The workflow engine has a graphical interface, multiple steps and query-based branching, although users must manually ensure branch conditions are mutually exclusive to avoid multiple executions. The vendor says that between 3,000 and 5,000 clients use SimplyCast 360. The $99 per month rate includes the base features and up to 500 active contacts; adding 10,000 active contacts would cost $500 per month more.  There are also some other fees related to advanced features and certain message types.  

Inbox25 began as an email system, used primarily as a module for SugarCRM. It launched its full-scale marketing automation system last fall. This provides reasonably powerful versions of the standard marketing automation features: email, landing pages and forms, Web tracking, lead scoring, workflow, and real-time synchronization with SugarCRM. Integration with other CRM systems is due soon. There is some social behavior tracking and detailed reporting on movement through buyer stages, as defined by score ranges. Workflow supports multiple steps linked to conditions defined by email, Web, and social behaviors, lead scores, and various attributes. Steps can execute actions within the system, including sending emails, updating scores and other data, adding to lists, and sending changes to the CRM system. What’s missing is connecting with other execution systems to send messages or import data, although this could be done via APIs or HTTP posts. The workflow doesn’t do true branching, defined as sending contacts down different paths within a single flow. But it does let users specify how contacts move through each flow, with options that include rechecking the original selection condition each time a step is executed, checking only the condition of the current step before it is executed, and checking all conditions up to the current step before it is executed. Inbox25 also recently added a “contact stream” option, similar to Marketo’s engagement engine, that scans a prioritized list of content at regular intervals and sends each contact the highest-priority item they haven’t seen before. Pricing for the marketing automation system starts at $99 per month for up to 250 active contacts. A more robust 12,500 active contacts costs $615 per month.

To summarize a bit: all these new systems stress low cost and ease of use. Some achieve modest improvements in usability by departing from traditional interfaces, but the real gains come from reducing functionality: the simplest systems avoid branching within multi-step sequences and support only email messaging. The other big difference among systems is whether messaging, CRM, and other functions are handled by the vendor’s own tools or by integrating with third party products. Some systems rely exclusively on internal or external tools, while others include their own tools but add APIs that support external integration as an alternative. Finally, there's a flowering of systems designed to let marketing agencies use the product for multiple clients. This type of specialization is both a sign of industry maturity and recognition that many marketing departments, especially at small companies, lack the resources to run advanced marketing automation by themselves.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


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