Marketers look to network in SaaS boom

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Marketers look to network in SaaS boom
Marketers look to network in SaaS boom

Since the '90s the software-as-a-service (SaaS) model has been applied to many categories of software, including customer relationship management and marketing automation tools. But applications are just part of the story for a new ‘"network-empowered" direct marketing industry. Beyond software, marketing data and lists can also be delivered using an on-demand model.

The approach has a number of advantages. Instead of buying entire files, and incurring the costs of installing, managing, and updating large data sets, marketers can get the precise data they need when they need it. In addition, real-time data feeds help ensure the freshest and most current data is used.

The on-demand data revolution has spawned numerous products. For example, marketers can now access and buy prospect lists from many data sources online. Examples include D&B's Zapdata.com, infoUSA's SalesGenie.com, and Firmagraphix.com. List owners can deploy their data through online storefronts offered by a several vendors.

Using a Web browser, precise selection criteria can be obtained in seconds. Direct mail, telemarketing, or full demographic records can then be purchased online and downloaded from the site. Behind the scenes, these sites can support the needs of the list owner's internal staff, drive-by credit card buyers sourcing a single list, or corporate buyers accessing specially created data products with discounted pricing.

Such self-service sites provide tremendous convenience for clients, while simultaneously reducing the cost and turnaround time associated with service bureau count requests. Both the client and the list owner/reseller win.

Beyond list fulfillment sites, custom Web sites can be developed to integrate the selection of a creative treatment and delivery of the list to a letter shop or call center. A common application is to empower geographically disbursed salespeople or franchisees to conduct targeted mailings. Consider an insurance company with thousands of agents nationwide. The insurance company provides a Web site with pre-approved creative templates, and an ideal prospect profile specified with pre-defined list selection criteria. The agent logs in to the site, creates a list of local prospects, and extracts and delivers the list to a lettershop for mailing.

But these examples are just the first wave of “data on demand.” In the above examples, the data and list fulfillment sites are tightly integrated. Data pipes are a recent development that allow the Web ‘front-end' implementing the business application to be separated from the underlying data. Data pipes offer a simple way for application developers to embed and integrate data into their applications, by providing a Web-accessible application programmatic interface (API). The application makes calls through the API, to count or extract a list, perform data enhancement, run reports and more.

This approach allows ‘just-in-time' delivery of data into third party sales force automation, contact management, and marketing automation applications. For example, we recently used a data pipe to integrate a multi-source marketing universe into its on-demand marketing automation suite. Marketers can seamlessly access scored prospect lists or run a customer profile analysis to quickly implement sophisticated campaigns.

In coming years, continued innovation in on-demand software and data promise to remake the direct marketing industry. Marketers and vendors alike will benefit from new capabilities, lower costs and more efficient operations, all accessed through a Web browser.

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