2006 May 01
Eloqua Corporation Eloqua Conversion Suite
by David M. Raab
DM News
May, patient 2006

One of the fundamental challenges in evaluating software is to look beyond the user interface. After all, case this is the only part that most users will see and it’s what does the things they care about. So it’s naturally the focus of their attention.

But a product can have the right features and still be the wrong choice if it can’t handle the required data volume, number of users, or integration with other systems. Unless such factors are carefully examined in advance, buyers can easily purchase a system that fails to meet their needs.

Hosted systems pose a particular risk. Buyers often do not look at the technical details as closely as they would if they were going to run it themselves. At the same time, hosted vendors must avoid customization so they can share one program among many clients. Of course, hosted products do allow some tailoring by individual customers. Although the depth of this tailoring varies considerably across products, it is often limited to relatively superficial alterations such as field labels and screen layouts.

Eloqua Conversion Suite (Elqoua Corporation, 866-327-8764, www.eloqua.com) raises these issues not because it’s a bad product, but precisely because it’s such a good one. Eloqua is a hosted system designed to help companies gather and nurture leads that will ultimately be passed on to a sales force. Its features — including automated multi-step campaigns, personalized email and Web pages, and integrated tracking of email and Web behavior – are so attractive that it’s tempting to consider the system for managing on-going customer relationships as well. But Eloqua is designed to complement an existing customer management system, not replace it. So despite its attractions, it ultimately lacks some of the key capabilities needed to stand by itself.

Let’s look at the good things first. Eloqua’s strongest feature is probably its campaign definition interface, which manages complex, multi-step, cross-channel work flows. This feature, which Eloqua calls Program Builder, lets users create process diagrams and define what happens at each step. Users can pick from a long list of possible actions, such as selecting names from lists, sending different messages, adding or updating data, waiting a specified time period, or reacting to a response. In addition to the start and end dates, actions can be assigned execution periods such as business hours or workdays. This enables the system to respond differently depending on when an activity occurs: for example, only referring leads to the call center when the call center is actually open. Processes can follow alternate paths when a primary activity is unavailable.

The available actions are defined by Eloqua itself. Users who need a new action must ask the vendor to build it for them. The system does adjust automatically to user inputs, such as listing the customer’s own email forms as options for an action to send an email.

Users can import HTML email forms from outside of Eloqua or create reusable email templates within the system. Templates can incorporate contact data stored in Eloqua and can also include links to other Web addresses, images or Eloqua forms. An optional module, called Hypersites, creates Web pages whose contents vary based on user-defined rules. In Eloqua’s example, a travel site displays different offers depending on the viewer’s home city. Each set of offers must be explicitly defined during page set-up. This is more work than automatically pulling offers with a database query and will impose some practical constraints on the sophistication of the Eloqua marketing programs.

Work flows are largely defined in terms of lists. Contacts may be added or excluded from lists based on individual attributes such as title or industry, on system-captured behavior such as Web page views, on explicit actions such as replies to offers, and on previous messages received from the system. List membership can be fixed when a list is first created or be updated automatically as new data appears.

Eloqua uses email address as the primary identifier for individuals. Each email address appears only once on any list to help avoid duplicates. Anonymous Web visitors are tracked based on Internet Protocol (IP) address, which often indicates location or company. Some treatments can be tailored on this basis, such as geographic targeting or excluding competitors from lists. If Web visitors later provide an email address, their previous history will be linked to their new record.

In addition to contacts and anonymous visitors, the Eloqua data structure includes tables for companies and a log of events such as Web site visits and messages sent. But the system lacks tables for purchase transactions and other events that originate outside of Eloqua. Nor can users add such tables. Somewhat similarly, the system does not capture marketing campaign costs or revenues.

These limits reflect both Eloqua’s hosted business model, which makes customer-defined tables difficult to allow, and its role as a lead management system. Eloqua assumes that transaction history and campaign results will be stored in other systems with a comprehensive customer view. Eloqua only needs to integrate with such systems by sending them copies of Eloqua data and of importing data they provide. Existing connectors allow more intimate integration with Salesforce.com and Microsoft CRM.

Eloqua does provide reporting on its own data, including statistics on work flow activity and email measurements such as numbers sent, delivered, read, and replied to. A Chat module uses rules to determine when to offer Web site visitors the opportunity for an on-line chat. This module includes an agent interface that displays the visitor’s history, manages the chat session itself, captures results, and allows follow-up activities such as sending information and adding the visitor to an Eloqua campaign.

Pricing is based on modules purchased, number of Web and email contacts, and number of users. A basic offering, Eloqua Express, provides email and Web activity tracking for $20,000 to $30,000 per year. Most of the firm’s 170 clients pay $30,000 to $80,000 per year. Eloqua began business in 1999 and has offices in U.S., Canada and United Kingdom.

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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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