1999 Jul 01
Responsys Interact
David M. Raab
DM News
July, 1999

Marketers today face two conflicting imperatives: to build comprehensive, integrated systems that coordinate customer interactions across all channels, and to meet specific needs quickly. Building an integrated system is the theoretically correct approach, but it takes a long time in a world where customers–and bosses–have very little patience. Yet the quickest way to add a new service is often to build a system that is not connected to anything else, even though this will cause problems later on. The conceptually elegant solution is to install an integrated system in phases so the most pressing problems are handled first. But this may still be too slow where the immediate need is urgent. And the integrated system may offer tools for a particular problem that are less than first rate.

One alternative is to install a temporary immediate solution. If this is easy and cheap enough, it lets the user solve the problem at hand without an investment that would financially and politically painful to discard in favor of a more comprehensive solution in the future. Of course, temporary solutions have a way of becoming permanent, which is something the marketers must worry about and the vendors hope for. Still, it’s much more pleasant to have a solution in place, with option to upgrade to an integrated system at leisure, than face an immediate, unresolved crisis. So a quick solution, whether or not it is truly temporary, is extremely attractive.

This means that vendors who offer non-integrated solutions must compete in two areas: functionality, so their product is clearly superior to the offerings of the integrated system vendors, and ease of deployment. Perhaps the best way to simplify deployment is Internet hosting, where the system runs on computers run by an outside vendor and is accessed directly via the Internet. This direct access distinguishes Internet hosting from a traditional service bureau configuration, where the systems are mostly operated by the service bureau staff rather than the marketers themselves. Because the software remains on the hosting vendor’s own system, a new client can be set up in days, rather than weeks or months to install an internal system. And because a hosted system can usually be treated as an operating expense, marketers can usually avoid the delay needed for approval of capital investments.

Given these deployment advantages, it’s no surprise that Internet hosting is suddenly popular among new marketing system vendors. Nor is it surprising that hosting is most often applied to Internet-related marketing tasks, which have a natural affinity for Internet-based approaches and face overwhelming pressures to execute quickly.

Responsys Interact (Responsys.com, 650-858-7400; www.responsys.com) provides Internet-hosted e-mail campaign managment. Designed from the start for remotely hosting, Interact provides users with a browser-based interface that looks more like a well-designed Web site than a traditional, interactive client-server system. That is, users work mostly by filling out forms to define data elements, marketing documents, rules and campaigns. When more than one form is needed to set up a particular process, users move among them with standard “back” and “next” buttons. This is about as easy as it gets.

The system provides both outbound e-mail campaigns and inbound response management. Contact lists can be imported from flat files, relational databases, spreadsheets, Palm Pilots, or e-mail servers. These lists can include any data elements defined by the user, and can be updated with information gathered through responses to Interact campaigns. This allows the system to either maintain a permanent marketing database or work from disconnected mailing lists. One campaign can include multiple lists and will eliminate duplicates that match exactly on a key such as e-mail address. But Interact queries can only access a single data level and are limited to fairly simple logic. Users with adequate technical skills could write Structured Query Language (SQL) statements for more complicated selections.

Special functions do let users send a campaign to an Nth sample of the distribution list and to limit the total sample size. This enables conventional direct-mail-style testing. Users can specify the messages sent in a campaign, which can be plain text or rich text e-mail, attachments containing personalized HTML forms, or the address of a prefilled form that is stored on a Web server. The data can be pulled from multi-level data structures and external databases. Because the HTML forms and Web forms can be filled with known customer information before they are sent, customers need only add new data before replying, allowing “one-click” response. The messages would be created outside of the system, using standard e-mail and Web page authoring tools.

Interact lets users define logical rules to specify how responses will be treated. Rules can read existing and incoming data and can reference the outcome of another rule, which allows them to be nested to any number of levels. A rule can trigger the system to add data to an existing database, send a reply message, redirect the message to another Web page such as an order processing system, enter the user in a new campaign, or send an e-mail alert to a third-party such as a sales manager. Each campaign can hold only one cycle of messages and replies.

Campaign reports are generated by queries against the underlying database, so they are always current. The system includes a scheduler that controls the campaign start date and stop date, execution interval, and time of day. The system can list all currently active campaigns, although there are no functions for campaign budgeting, forecasting or staff scheduling.

Interact can be run either at an Internet service bureau or on a server that resides at the client. Either way, vendor staff handles all system maintenance. After a set-up charge of $5,000 to $20,000, charges run from $2,000 to $10,000 per month depending on the number of messages sent. The system was launched in March 1999 and reports nearly two dozen clients.

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David M. Raab is a Principal at Raab Associates Inc., a consultancy specializing in marketing technology and analytics. He can be reached at draab@raabassociates.com.

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