Marketing Automation: Coming of Age Slowly


The debate about the future of the marketing automation and management market, as a stand-alone sub segment of the entire customer relationship management (CRM) market, continues, partly owing to mixed signals coming from relevant point solutions providers. On one hand, recent demise, and buyout of Xchange by Amdocs (see Xchange Adds To The List Of CRM Point Solutions' Casualties) was the last in the array of less-fortunate point players. At the time prior to Xchange's assets auction, allegedly over twenty companies expressed interest in buying Xchange's assets, and in maintaining its products and supporting its customers, including much better-performing direct competitors Chordiant Software, DoubleClick, SAS, and especially Unica Corporation. While the upbeat marketing management software vendor Unica ( was initially marked as a very likely buyer of Xchange, the vendor, however, slightly surprisingly elected not to make a bid for the Xchange's assets. Rather, Unica has since announced a migration plan from Xchange's solutions to its Affinium platform, given it has already migrated approximately 15 percent of Xchange's customer base to Affinium, and the vendor touts that regardless of which company has taken ultimate ownership of Xchange's remaining assets, converting to Affinium will be the most attractive solution for Xchange customers.

The CRM market as well as its marketing automation sub-segment remains both the land of opportunity albeit with many sinister patches of quicksand traps for those with small footprint breadth in the field. While the biggest or the richest packaged suite CRM or enterprise resource planning (ERP) providers have been able to hang onto flat new sales, possibly modest declines, or in more rare cases possibly modest growth, only a lucky and more probably the most apt few with a true differentiation in a selected number of markets have even bucked the trend and have shown some enviable growth.

Every business cycle begins with the attraction of the customer through sales and marketing. This hopefully results in an order management and fulfillment process and ends with a customer service, which can involve anything from field installations through to enquiry and complaint management. All of these steps have to be executed well without exception, since otherwise, the customer will end up on a competitor's list of customers. The "64,000-dollar" question is how all business processes work together. In the electronic world, the degree of flexibility and efficiency of collaborative processes relating to the customer life cycle, product life cycle, and service life cycle, to name but a few, will be a big determinant of losers and winners. To that end, there seems to be a dichotomy between the marketing automation promise of benefits enterprise-wide and the way it has often been misused.

Appeal of Marketing Automation

The importance of finding and keeping customers has only increased lately amid diminishing new sales opportunities. The appeal of marketing automation has come from its ability to tailor marketing campaigns and to track their effectiveness and control marketing costs and to perform better-targeted, finer-grained, multi-stage and multi-channel campaigns. These applications thus aim at helping organizations segment their customer bases, identify specific customer needs that are not that obvious to a naked eye, and build promotions and personalized campaigns designed to meet those needs and thereby create additional revenue.

This is all done by analyzing large volumes of scattered data, and then by identifying patterns or trends that would not otherwise be apparent (particularly if one is to notice an opportunity from a non-event, such as a customer has not used the ATM in the last month). With this information in hand, enterprises can create custom campaigns and track their effectiveness, and they can also leverage it to drive other processes, such as real time, customer service interactions or cross-sell opportunities (for example, customer service agents recommend products ad hoc upon customer needs over the phone, or real time offers and promotions personalized to customers navigating a web site).

In a nutshell, marketing automation software should be able to capture, blend, mine, and analyze large amounts of customer data from multiple sources, including online registries or directories, customer databases, flat files, billing systems, and external customer lists. That data is then used to target a consistent message across multiple channels to specific segmented (profiled) customer sets. Theoretically, these applications may justify the ROI rationale through

  • A more effective customer acquisition, owing to extremely focused campaigns that are personalized and tailored to specific customer segments

  • Increased customer retention, owing to improved value for existing customers by continually presenting personalized product and service marketing messages to more profitable customers, and through effective cross-selling opportunities that leverages purchasing histories and increases the likelihood of repeat business

  • Improved marketing strategies in almost real time, via the ability to examine many indicators such as customer response rates, conversion rates, web site metrics, abandon rates and general demographic data to continually fine-tune customer segments and profiles, and discontinue marketing approaches that are futile if not even counterproductive

  • Cost reduction, via the ability to evaluate the effectiveness of campaigns and to identify successful strategies, to readdress ineffective campaigns and to manage the costs of all campaigns within the organization

Analysis of the Marketing Automation Market

The marketing automation market has been fragmented since its advent, and one could discern three major sub-categories of solutions:

1) marketing operations,

2) marketing analytics, and

3) campaign management solutions. Marketing operations software aims at managing and tracking the costs, resources and goals of multiple marketing programs, and campaigns across multiple lines of business (LOBs). Marketing analytics solutions, as the name suggests, were designed to capture customer data from various channels and data sources, and to analyze (i.e., "slice and dice") that data in different angles for customer segmentation, profiling and personalization purposes. Finally, campaign management software attempts to design, schedule, execute,and measure the effectiveness of multichannel (including direct mail, telemarketing, customer service centers, computer-telephony-interaction (CTI), the web pages, e-mail, etc.) marketing campaigns that leverage the input from marketing analytics.

The other way to segment these applications would be to discern whether they are designed to primarily improve the use of marketing resources or to improve the value proposition to customers, or both. The focus of the first is on designing and creating a marketing strategy, determining the best allocation of marketing budgets, managing marketing staff skills, and effectively tracking and supporting marketing processes. On the other hand, the latter applications define and communicate the value proposition of the organization to the customer, ensuring the profitable creation, development and maintenance of the customer relationship. All three previously identified categories of applications would contribute to both purposes, particularly marketing analytics, although marketing operations will seemingly be more associated with the use of marketing resources, and campaign management would conversely be aligned with customer relationship optimization.

However, despite cited benefits of the applications, many marketing automation specialists have, for various reasons, been a far cry from success or, at least, not had an easy time. Most of pure-play providers have been either acquired or gone bust during the past few years including Xchange, Prime Response, BroadBase, Protagona, and MarketFirst, and those that remain independent (such as Aprimo, SAS, NCR Teradata, Blue Martini Software, DoubleClick, and Unica) are apparently creating broader marketing suites to cover all the above-mentioned bases.

One reason for this is the ability of large packaged ERP or CRM suite providers to slow or even stall enterprise applications buying decisions even well before their serious market entry. As a result, the niche vendors have to battle to maintain their market dominance despite strong solutions. Meanwhile the large vendors are still developing astute solutions and market credibility, and attempting to sell these based primarily on the integration of their limited functionality with the rest of their suites and a promise of deeper and complete functionality some time in the future. This category would include the likes Siebel Systems, Chordiant Software, Pivotal, E.piphany, Kana, Onyx, Amdocs, PeopleSoft, SAP, and Oracle.

Incidentally, Applix, with its recent exit from the CRM market (see Will A Big Fish's Splash Cause Minnows' Flush Out Of The CRM Pond?), may exemplify the dark side of the CRM medal nowadays, as droves of smaller pure-play CRM vendors have been hard pressed to survive owing to the combined effect of CRM users' disenchantment with the products' hardly ever materialized benefits, compounded with the tight IT budgets due to the delay of the worldwide economic recovery and with Microsoft's entry into already crowded place. Although many mid-market pure-CRM solutions have been maturing and improving, they must continue to facilitate integration with back-end systems, given the increasing awareness of this need for full-fledged benefits of CRM. Further, they must also provide the differentiation through verifiable ROI metrics, and indispensable features and functions germane to selected industry verticals.

Larger CRM vendors have, on their side, been weathering the storm by relying on cross-selling broader CRM application suites to their existing and potential customers, involving also components such as sales force automation (SFA), employee relationship management (ERM) or call centers. Marketing automation point solution providers have also fallen prey to pessimistic investors and diminishing global corporations' appetites for technology. They have taken the impact of the slowdown because of a more budding market yet to create the market awareness of its true value proposition, and because of the slower adoption of information technology (IT) in marketing departments (such as a cultural resistance to software automation, which is perceived as restrictive to the art of marketing, with an oversight that automation might actually eliminate the low-value activity to release more time for true creative work).

The fact is that most CRM deployments so far have focused on operational aspects like automating tasks in processing interactions with customers, whether that is registering a complaint in call center, closing a sale, or responding to a customer or prospect's query. The irony is that these transactions are often left to languish in multiple database islands dispersed around the organization, and not used to refine marketing campaigns or to improve customer service. Marketing is possibly the only remaining major business function yet to revise its core processes so it can take advantage of IT that can cut time, costs, and improve the quality of its operations.

Moreover, unlike SFA or customer service, marketing has an effect on customers throughout the entire relationship tenure, since, for example focus groups, marketing campaigns, sales collaterals, and even aftermarket activities (such as warranty registration and service calls) present opportunities for companies to ascertain and control how their products are perceived in the market. With information being disseminated and gathered from many diverse sources, a unified marketing platform could be an instrumental to improve enterprises' demand and revenue management strategies.


Yet, these applications are often perceived either as luxury (a "nice to have" but not show-stopping) applications in these days of anyone hardly having any customers at all, or, in cases of customers valuing the proposition, they might be much more inclined to obtain it only as a part of a broader CRM suite (if not even from an ERP provider) rather than as a point solution. Thus, the need for providing a full, comprehensive CRM suite rather than an individual solution or a bundle of point solutions for each distinct CRM area remains firm, and will urge further CRM (and overall enterprise applications for that matter) market consolidation.

The gravity of these narrow product footprint vendors' predicament might be well illustrated by the Applix' exit, given the vendor had a solid CRM product breadth and technology foundation, a good implementation track record with nearly 1,000 satisfied customers, and some notable endorsements from ERP vendors that have been remiss in delivering their own CRM (i.e., SSA GT and Geac Computers Corporation). Many pure-play CRM players that cannot even come close to the above traits should do their own math and analyze the justification of their independent existence within the CRM battleground.

Not surprisingly, marketing automation-only providers have long been falling away to the extent of only a few possibly also endangered remaining providers like Unica, Aprimo, MarketSwitch, and MarketSoft. PeopleSoft's acquisition of Annuncio (see PeopleSoft Annuncio-es Continuation Of Its Shopping Spree), Kana and Broadbase merger (see The Mid-Market Is Consolidating, Lo And Behold), Pivotal's recent acquisition of MarketFirst, DoubleClick's acquisition of Protagona, S1 Corporation's acquisition of Point Information Systems, Vignette Corporation's acquisition of DataSage, SAS' acquisition of Intrinsic and Verbind, and Chordiant's acquisition of Prime Response all should indicate diminishing life expectancy of independent CRM point solutions providers.

The good news nevertheless is that there are huge untapped opportunities for business improvement, given marketing has a unique vantage point in any enterprise to understand the customer needs, buying behavior, and value perception. Increasingly, marketing automation solutions are being adopted by large enterprises with multilevel, multi-LOB marketing departments. Those organizations need to coordinate their marketing programs and campaigns and are creating increased demand for holistic marketing-automation suites that include marketing operations, analytics and management functionality. Thus, we expect to see more marketing-automation suites that offer marketing analytics and campaign management in a single product offering. However, the large packaged enterprise suite vendors still have it as a mere afterthought to the product blueprint rather than a strategic enhancement to their product offering.

User Recommendations

Prospective marketing automation customers should start by scrutinizing closely their major motivators for marketing automation and to determine whether they align with the overall CRM and corporate strategies. To select the right solution, one must first identify the marketing automation priorities and match them to a specific solution that best covers the requirements. Some marketing automation and management solutions still focus on marketing operations, analytics, or on campaign management, and only a few cover reasonably well all of these.

While evaluating the marketing-automation product options, in addition to criteria that are common to any enterprise application selection, the following few pertinent tough questions should be asked:

  • Can the evaluated products run our own models and proprietary algorithms?

  • Can they integrate with our back-office data sources to drive effective marketing campaigns?

  • Can they integrate and interface with other systems we might be using for data analytics, data-warehousing, content-management, and personalization?

  • Do they offer an embedded e-mail server as part of the package, or are they compatible with commonly accepted e-mail servers like Microsoft Exchange or IBM Lotus Domino?

  • Does the vendor have implementation experience in our industry, and does it provide an industry-specific data model and templates?

  • Can the product help us manage and coordinate multiple marketing campaigns across the multiple LOBs?

  • Does the solution support most common channels of data capture and customer communication?

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