Vtrenz shines at campaign capability

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Sales and marketing organizations have been enthusiastic adopters of hosted software (also known as on-demand, software as a service or application service providers), which lets companies use systems run for them by an external vendor. This is particularly true at smaller firms, where sales and marketing systems do not need extensive customization or integration with other 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, reviewed here in May, and Vtrenz iMarketing Automation, reviewed below.

Designed mainly for lead generation and nurturing, they combine campaign management, e-mail 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 abilities of a full 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 e-mail, that is applied to people who reach it.

Users also can define criteria to move prospects from their current track to the start of another track or campaign. This lets the system react to prospect behavior or profile changes after the campaign begins. Other 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 also can set the timing, data elements and an accompanying message.

None of this is glitzy: Tracks and steps are listed in sequence rather than displayed on a graphical flow chart. But it lets non-technical users define complicated treatment processes that adjust to a 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 e-mail, 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 e-mail. 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.

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

Contacts for a one-shot campaign can be selected by creating a list, while ongoing campaigns can execute their entry criteria on a user-defined schedule. Ongoing 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 times of the day or the week during which the campaign is active.

Campaign actions are associated with resources including e-mail, direct mail, 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. E-mails also can contain links to personalized Web pages.

Survey and 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 an Application Program Interface to accept such data. 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 as needed.

The system provides basic e-mail 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 serves 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 setup and implementation.

David M. Raab is president of Client X Client, a Chappaqua, NY, consulting and technology firm specializing in customer value optimization. Reach him at draab@clientxclient.com.

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