Direct and database marketers tend not to make much of a distinction between sales and marketing functions. But in industries that sell through a sales force, the line is razor sharp. Marketers are in charge of advertising, public relations and lead generation; salespeople deal with individual prospects and customers.
There is no shortage of software to help salespeople do their jobs — they can use anything from a $49 contact manager to a $5,000 “seat” on an enterprise-wide customer management system. Nor is there any lack of database marketing software.
But (nondatabase) marketing departments have typically made do with a combination of spreadsheets, PC databases and specialized systems for such tasks as media buying, lead fulfillment and event planning. Some have tried to use products built primarily for salespeople, but the “campaign management” functions of these systems are little more than reports tying customers back to lead generation programs.
This situation had been acceptable because most marketing departments managed a fairly small number of interactions. At most, they had to send information to inquirers and pass the resulting leads to sales for follow-up. They certainly were not managing relationships with large numbers of prospects and customers. By definition, that was the job of the sales organization.
Enter the Internet. Suddenly, marketers are indeed interacting with large numbers of individuals — because response must be immediate and because the sales force cannot service so many people of unknown potential. Now marketers really do need a system of their own.
This system must automatically execute complex, multistep contact sequences, reacting in real time to inputs from the Internet and other online systems. It is a unique combination of requirements. Sales force systems rely on human sales reps to execute contact programs; database marketing systems rely on batch updates rather than real-time interactions; Web-site personalization software applies customer preferences to building customized catalog pages, for example, rather than executing predefined contact sequences.
For companies whose marketing and sales departments choose their systems independently, these differences often will be important enough to justify purchase of a new product for marketing, even though sales already may have one of the other systems in place. In the longer run, vendors of the other systems probably will add the features needed to serve marketing. This will make selling a stand-alone marketing system — which must still communicate with the company's other systems — much more difficult.
MarketFirst (MarketFirst Software, 408/261-6950, www.marketfirst.com) is designed to meet marketing department requirements today and simplify integration with sales systems.
The product maintains its own customer/prospect files, complete with profile information and a history of system-generated marketing contacts. It provides tools to export this data to external systems, such as sales management tools, and to import data from such systems. But MarketFirst cannot read other systems' data directly and has rudimentary tools to match external records with people or companies already on its own files.
This means that although MarketFirst can send data to other systems relatively easily, it will be harder to get back results such as the dispositions of leads sent to the sales force. Such information is essential to measuring the ultimate value of marketing programs.
What MarketFirst does make easy is setting up campaigns to be executed from within the system itself. Users define a sequence of tasks, which can each generate an action such as sending a document, storing a reply, or forwarding an assignment to someone in the organization. The system comes with several predefined actions and lets users create their new ones. Tasks can execute immediately, at a specified date or time, or at a set interval after the preceding task.
The documents used in MarketFirst campaigns can be deployed across multiple media, including e-mail, Web pages, fax, print and text files. They are built using MarketFirst's own document editor, which lets the user specify which sections of a document will be presented in which media. This feature addresses a problem that will become increasingly important as marketers coordinate communications across the expanding range of media formats.
Web-based documents can incorporate survey questions, navigation buttons and links to other Web documents. The system can define a sequence of Web pages to send to an individual or to act as a telemarketing script, but cannot automatically send different pages depending on responses to questions.
The system maintains a database of documents, including status codes to indicate which documents are approved for use in campaigns. Security defines which users are allowed to change document contents, to use specific documents and to set up marketing campaigns.
Users assign the audience for each campaign by selecting from the MarketForce database. New names can be added manually via file import or from e-mail and Web forms. Selections are limited to standard “and/or” relationships among data elements.
More complicated selection logic, calculations or model scores, could be used by invoking an external process such as a spreadsheet or Visual Basic program, posting the results back to the database and then selecting on that.
The system does not directly create Nth or random samples, limit a selection to a specified quantity or control the number of campaigns a name is included in. Users can export selected customer data when a selection is made but need a separate process to store it in the database for later access. The system does automatically maintain a log of communications with an individual.
MarketFirst runs on Windows NT or Solaris servers and can work with the Oracle or Microsoft SQL Server relational databases. The end-user portion of the system is written in Java and can run on multiple desktop platforms. The end-user portion must be installed on each system: Despite being written in Java, it is not browser-based.
The system was released in March after tests at six beta clients. It is priced upward of $95,000, with a typical installation of 20 clients and four servers costing $195,000.
David M. Raab is a consultant in marketing database systems and analysis. He is based near Philadelphia.