2006 Nov 01

Vtrenz Inc. iMarketing Automation
by David M. Raab
DM News
November, pill 2006

Sales and marketing organizations have been among the most enthusiastic adopters of hosted software (also known as on-demand, software as a service, or application service providers), which allows companies to use systems that are run for them by an external vendor. This is particularly true at smaller firms, where technical resources tend to be stretched thin and where sales and marketing systems can be effective without extensive customization or integration with the other company processes.

Many hosted sales and marketing systems resemble their on-premise counterparts: they provide sales force automation, customer service, marketing management, or several of these combined. But some don’t fit into those standard categories. Consider Eloqua Conversion Suite (www.eloqua.com), reviewed here in May 2006, and Vtrenz iMarketing Automation (www.vtrenz.com), reviewed below. Designed primarily for lead generation and nurturing, they combine campaign management, email, and Web execution with links to external sales and service software. They differ from conventional “enterprise marketing management” in using a simple database structure—typically a contact profile supplemented by interaction history—rather than a complete marketing database with extensive transaction details. They also lack advanced budgeting, project management, and analytics capabilities of a full-fledged enterprise marketing system.

Vtrenz iMarketing Automation (Vtrenz Inc., 701-478-7704, www.vtrenz.com) is particularly impressive for its campaign capability. Campaigns can include multiple tracks, each with a sequence of steps. Entry criteria determine which contacts move into each track and each step. Each step has its own execution schedule, which can be a fixed date or relative to the time a participant reached the preceding step. Each step also has an action, such as receiving a particular email message, that is applied to the people who reach it.

Users can also define criteria to move prospects from their current track to the start of another track or campaign. This allows the system to react to prospect behavior or profile changes after the campaign begins. Additional criteria at the campaign, track, and step levels can send prospects to an external destination such as a sales automation system. Users can define business logic to choose the recipient of the exported records. They can also set the timing, data elements and an accompanying message.

None of this is particularly glitzy: the tracks and steps are simply listed in sequence rather than displayed on a graphical flow chart. But it does let non-technical users define complicated treatment processes that adjust to each prospect’s behavior. Since the system can automatically migrate customers from one campaign to another, it could in theory execute a completely automated set of contact programs throughout the customer life cycle.

All types of selection criteria are created with the same user interface. Users define one or more rules, each having one or more statements. The statements are built by selecting from a list of categories including database tables and campaign resources such as email, direct mail, surveys and Web sites. Users then select from a list of statements appropriate to the category, such as having recently clicked on a link in an email. Finally, they apply parameters such as the specific link and time period to check. Statements can draw on profile data, campaign participation, or contact behavior. Statements are linked with ‘and’ or ‘or’ conditions.

This approach allows non-technical users to build complicated statements and presents the result in an English-like format. But it is limited to the 250+ statements that the vendor has predefined: even technical users cannot add their own.

Contacts for a one-shot campaign can be selected by creating a list, while on-going campaigns can execute their entry criteria on a user-defined schedule. On-going campaigns also have start and end dates and rules for whether the same person can receive the campaign more than once. Users can specify the hours of the day and days of the week during which the campaign is active, typically to limit responses to normal business hours.

Campaign actions are associated with resources including email, direct mail, fax messages, and Web pages, surveys and forms. Users can create these with the system’s HTML generator, which has an interface similar to Microsoft Word, or they can import HTML created elsewhere. Messages can be personalized and forms pre-populated by pulling information from the underlying database. Emails can also contain links to personalized Web pages. By the end of 2006, system-generated pages will be able to include business logic to display different message blocks based on contact profiles or behavior.

Survey and other form results can be posted to the contact database—which is limited to 40 standard fields and 40 user-assigned fields—or a separate survey response table. Users can publish or disable campaign resources and see which campaigns use them. A separate “assets manager” catalogs elements such as graphics files.

Contact names enter the Vtrenz database through file imports, system-generated Web forms, or automated data exchange with sales automation systems. Vtrenz has a Application Program Interface (API) to accept such data, plus a specialized API tailored to Salesforce.com. Another API is planned for Microsoft CRM. Duplicate identification is limited to exact matches on full or partial strings.

The Vtrenz database contains the 80-field contact table, survey table, and history of campaigns, messages, and responses. Vtrenz assumes more detailed information, such as account data and purchase history, will reside in other company systems and be imported in summary form as needed. “Extension tables” can store more data within Vtrenz, but take custom set-up by Vtrenz staff.

The system provides basic email delivery, bounce and click-through statistics. It tracks survey and microsite visits to measure response, but lacks integrated campaign analysis or A/B split testing. Vtrenz offers a Web tracking service based on first party cookies and code snippets embedded in a Web page.

Vtrenz was founded in 1999 and currently serves more than 250 clients. Most are business to business marketers. Pricing is based on the number of profile names, users and system features. The simplest version starts at $10,000 per year plus $5,000 for set-up and implementation, although most clients spend more to include additional options.

* * *

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.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.