SDL Buys Marketing Automation Vendor Alterian for $107 Million


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So, it turns out that while I’ve been obsessing over vendor selection workbooks, our friends at marketing automation vendor Alterian up and got bought last week by language technology vendor SDL for about $107 million. Why didn’t somebody tell me?

I’m most familiar with SDL as a Web content management vendor, although their financial statements show that just over 75% of their revenue comes from manual and automated language translation. The company had more than $300 million revenue last year and is nicely profitable.

Alterian hasn’t been doing so well lately, with about $55 million revenue for the past year and cash-basis loss around $6 million. Management has also been in flux: CEO David Eldridge resigned in April, a new CEO Heath Davies was named in July, and president and co-founder Michael Talbot resigned in October. The company was nearing the end of a 100 day restructuring plan that dropped its headcount from 440 to 260.

You math whizzes out there will have already noted that the purchase price is just under 2x revenue, compared with the 5x-ish prices paid a year ago for Unica and Aprimo. Whether this puts a damper on the prospective valuations of other marketing automation vendors is hard to say: Alterian’s main business model was to license its software to marketing service providers, rather than selling it directly or via Software as a Service. On the other hand, Alterian did have some SaaS components to its business, notably SM2 social media monitoring (formerly Techrigy).

Alterian also had a bold vision of extending beyond traditional campaign management and analytics to include marketing resource management and web content management as well as social media. I’d still argue the strategy was correct, but that Alterian didn’t have the financial resources or market clout to execute it. Certainly its costs got ahead of its revenue: at 440 employees on $55 million revenue, it had just $125,000 revenue per employee, compared with the $200,000 I consider standard (see my post from last January on revenue ratios — even at that time, when Alterian had just 370 employees, it was already below par.)

SDL’s chairman is quoted as saying that “The marketing analytics, campaign management and social media were the big attractions” of Alterian, so presumably the company will keep those businesses. The content management piece, about 27% of Alterian sales, will presumably be merged with SDL’s much larger Web content management business.

The big question for the marketing services providers who are Alterian’s primary customer base is how SDL will treat them, since they are not SDL’s current core clients. That’s more than a little scary, especially given the dearth of alternative mid-priced marketing automation systems for consumer marketers. (See my list of B2C vendors from September and my discussion of the differences between B2B and B2C marketing automation from October.)

On the brighter side, I can argue that the Alterian acquisition supports my long-standing contention that marketing automation and Web content management will eventually coalesce into a single system. Any gloating is restrained by the fact that Alterian had already combined the two and didn’t succeed. But this probably just shows that deep pockets will be needed to pull off the combination in a world where the competitors are heavyweights like IBM, Oracle, Adobe, SAS and Teradata.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


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