Whatsnexx Manages Customer States, Not Campaigns


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Whatsnexx offers itself as a radically easier way to manage customer and prospect interactions than conventional marketing automation. I agree that it’s radically different: it works without a central marketing database and tracks customer states rather than assigning them to campaigns. Whether it’s radically simpler is another question.

Some perspective is in order. Although Whatsnexx was launched just last year, state-based systems have been used in marketing before. Previous products include Verbind (later purchased by SAS), Elity (eventually owned by Unica), and Harte-Hanks Allink Agent (still around in some form). The concept is intriguing: instead of creating campaigns that predefine paths a lead can follow, you define the actions to take when customers are in a particular situation. The advantage is you can think in terms of new customers, loyal customers, disgruntled customers, etc., and specify how to treat each group after common events such as placing an order. Most marketers find this easier to conceptualize than a massive campaign with separate branches for each contingency.

Anyway, that’s the theory. In practice, defining customer treatments in Whatsnexx didn’t look much easier to me than defining them in other systems. (You can judge for yourself by viewing several how to videos on the company’s Web site.) The process is this: users first define “scenarios”, which are customer processes such as acquisition, retention or complaints, and “states”, which are customer types such as new, high value, or disgruntled. They then define the flow of events within each scenario, with the possible responses for each event for each customer state. Terminology aside, I don’t find this much different from assigning customers to segments, assigning the segments to multi-step campaign flows, and assigning treatment rules to each step.

But maybe I’m missing the point. Whatsnexx’s Jacques Spilka says he finds huge time savings in the analysis stage that precedes the campaign set-up: instead of taking a week to understand client needs and processes, he can do it in a few hours using the state-based technique. Most of the time setting up any system is spent on analysis, not the mechanics of the campaign design. So savings of that magnitude would be significant. On the other hand, you still have to create the actual content, which is probably the biggest expense of all.

The other main difference between Whatsnexx and conventional marketing systems is that Whatsnexx doesn’t rely on an independent marketing database. This isn’t an inherent feature of state-based systems: other products do work with a database of their own. Indeed, even Whatsnexx maintains a central database of customers and their states. But Whatsnexx doesn’t import all the events that occur in other systems and it doesn’t send messages by itself. Rather, users configure “Infogates” that let existing systems send alerts to Whatsnexx when specified events occur. These alerts (technically, XML messages via a SOAP protocol) include whatever contextual information is needed for Whatsnexx decisions. Whatsnexx receives the alert, applies its logic, and returns a message telling the external system how to respond. The company has existing Infogates for Salesforce.com, Constant Contact, Deliva and CakeMail. It will add new Infogates as required by customers.

It seems to me that this approach is actually a more important differentiator for Whatsnexx than its state-based logic. As the company points out, it lets marketers continue to do their work in their existing systems. This saves the effort of learning a new tool and potentially needing to rewire their current infrastructure. It also lets them avoid building a central marketing database – although I suspect that many will need one anyway for data consolidation and analysis. Still, even deferring that need could remove a barrier to immediate adoption. This is especially true as marketers add data sources that are not built into standard marketing automation products, which are often limited to Salesforce.com and perhaps a tagged Web site.

Whatsnexx was developed by Montreal-based email company Komunik over several years. It was formally launched in late 2010 and has four current customers. Pricing is based on the client’s activity level and starts at $500 per month for up to 100,000 transactions.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


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