IlinkONE Not All Things to All People

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One of the most important things to learn about a software product is its origin. Many systems start as custom projects for one client, then add features as new clients request them. The result can be a seemingly random mix of strengths, weaknesses and common features that are missing altogether. This doesn't make the system bad. It may be very well suited for a particular set of clients. But it does make the system hard to evaluate on any terms except its own.


IlinkONE (interlinkONE, 978/694-9992, www.interlink1.com) is a suite of marketing tools that evolved from numerous client projects. Unlike some systems with this background, it is well integrated at the data, process and user interface levels. It also provides an unusually broad set of capabilities, nearly all of which are impressively sophisticated. But it does have gaps that might not be expected.


IlinkONE covers roughly the set of activities performed by traditional business-to-business marketing departments. It supports lead generation, collateral fulfillment, list management and distribution of leads to field sales people. Most marketing departments today are also responsible for Web-based lead generation and response gathering, and ilinkONE does that as well. It further supports internal marketing operations including project management, collaboration, content management, budgeting and analysis, though these features are less mature.


Less typically, ilinkONE also provides sales force automation. This is usually separate from a marketing system because each has different users and technical requirements. Most exceptions are either sales automation and customer relationship management vendors extending their products by adding marketing functions, or marketing products offering lightweight contact management for clients who otherwise would be unable to make good use of marketing-generated leads. IlinkONE's sales automation features, though quite respectable, fall into the second group.


Let's start with core marketing functions. The system maintains a central contact database built by importing names from external sources, capturing leads generated within the system or typing data directly. It provides some duplicate identification but, like most business marketing products, relies heavily on manual review. The database has separate records for companies and individuals, another business marketing standard.


The same contact database stores system users along with customers and prospects. This is unusual, but makes sense for business marketing, where dealers and agents may both use some system functions and be targets of internal marketing campaigns.


The system also stores messages sent, responses, contact notes and sales opportunities. It captures a reasonable amount of detail in standard structures and lets users create more fields as required. One intriguing feature assigns points for different interactions. These are accumulated for each customer to allow selections by activity level.


Marketing activities are organized around campaigns. These are set up in a graphical tree with multiple programs, each having separate boxes for medium, source list and response definitions. Users track budgets and costs at the campaign level, along with operational details such as whether to accept anonymous responses. Most other details are defined separately for each program, by drilling into the appropriate box on the tree. Project management is separate from campaigns, but does include basic functions for teams, tasks, notification of overdue items, approvals and document versioning.


Campaigns are executed through a list management function, which draws on external files or the contact database. Database selections are made by filling in values on a field list. This is easy, but limits query complexity. Outputs include several file formats and e-mails from user-built templates.


When responses are received, the system can execute a telephone script or Web form to capture further information. A sophisticated form generator lets non-technical users develop these forms, which also can be integrated with a corporate Web site. Completed forms can trigger collateral fulfillment, lead distribution and other actions.


Lead distribution ties into sales automations. This is functional, but not fancy. Users can review account history, schedule calls, record results, track sales opportunities and generate pipeline reports.


Collateral fulfillment connects with a rich set of functions for collateral development, order processing, warehouse management and print management. These can be used with the marketing system or independently, for applications such as letting dealers order customized sales materials. This is one of the places where heritage shows: interlinkONE's clients include several large fulfillment operations, and the system reflects their needs in features such as inventory control down to bins in multiple warehouses, separate picking and packing slips, multi-item kits and precise management of shipping methods and costs.


A similarly detailed print management function lets users maintain repositories of graphic elements and job specifications, set up lists of qualified printers, submit design and quote requests, receive bids, select vendors and track jobs to completion. Electronic collateral fulfillment lets users send materials to prospects and track when they are downloaded.


So what doesn't ilinkONE do?


Consumer marketers will miss automated multi-step campaigns, complex segmentation trees, integrated predictive modeling and advanced analytics. Marketing administrators may want strategic planning, detailed financial information, better-integrated project management, formal workflow and approvals, additional collaboration features and more sophisticated content management.


Customer relationship managers will look for customer service, help desk and advanced telemarketing.


This is not a complaint: ilinkONE never claimed to be all things to all people. Its natural users are demanding BTB marketers, especially those with multi-layered sales and distribution channels. It won't work for all of them, either, but it's worth a close look.


IlinkONE is divided into marketing and order fulfillment modules. These can be purchased separately or together. The combined price is $150,000 for a perpetual license allowing any number of users. Hosted plans start at $3,000 monthly. The system runs on a Windows server and requires only Web browsers for end users. It can run in-house or hosted by the vendor or third parties. Earlier versions of the system have about 20 installations. IlinkONE itself, the first formally packaged product, was released this month and has three initial clients.


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