• March 3, 2009
  • By Jessica Tsai, Assistant Editor, CRM magazine

Marketo Strikes Up a Conversation

Marketing automation vendor Marketo will be launching the next edition of its Lead Management solution tomorrow-an updated product that boasts targeting enhancements, real-time alerts, progressive profiling, and deeper integration with Salesforce CRM, according to the company. The level of growth Marketo and its competitors are experiencing has been what Phil Fernandez, president and chief executive officer of Marketo, describes as "phenomenal." If the economy's going poorly, these vendors certainly aren't complaining, which shouldn't be too surprising. With less to spend, marketers are finding that there are certain investments that are worth the squeeze.

Marketo Lead Management 3.0 includes more than 200 substantial new features, which Fernandez explains are largely based on customer feedback and insight garnered from its customer discussion boards. The overall guiding theme, however, tied the company back to its roots-helping marketers build "conversations" with their customers. While marketing has long been a more backend process and sales is considered more customer-facing, Fernandez says that this solution aims at facilitates an environment where the "online and human intermixes."

"Buying has completely changed...the buyer is totally in control," Fernandez says. Today, consumers are reading reviews on Amazon.com or Twittering their friends. Most solutions, he claims, has been focused on "scripting out interactions with the buyer." Diverging from what he calls the "flow chart" model, Fernandez explains that Marketo aims to avoid the linear "they do this, we do that" mentality. The solution seeks to listens to the buyer-on the Web site, in a Webinar, on a blog, Twitter, or even at a physical trade show-and with that information, provide marketers with the ability to be more agile with their campaigns.

Fernandez highlights that the "human" component enters in a literal sense, beyond just personalized marketing messages, to connect companies and their customers through phone conversations, live chats, or even Twitter. In this world, he says, "It's important that we don't forget the human touch." Through complex algorithms, the solution determines the maturity of a consumer in the buying cycle, and can send a real-time alert to salesperson the minute the customer is ready. If the call doesn't complete, lead nurturing tools like follow-up emails keep the company top-of-mind.

The concept of a two-way conversation-this "marketing dialog"-is not new, nor is Marketo really "redefining" this space, notes David Raab, a principal at consultancy Raab Associates. "It's really about reacting to the customer-based on what the customer does and answering the right thing back," he says. Competitors like Silverpop, Genius.com, and Marketbright are also positioned around building a conversation with the customer.

 "The release was very much an evolution of their existing product," Raab says. "I didn't see any radical changes, but I didn't see any need for radical changes. It's a good product to begin with." Raab, who is currently conducting research around product usability, recognizes Marketo as one of the highest rated solutions in terms of usability, particularly for less complex functionalities.

"The challenge right now is...how do you keep it simple while adding the additional capabilities?" he asks. While Marketo has a reputation for being highly conscious of promoting usability as its major selling point, it also has additional capabilities that "hide the complexity" until customers are ready to advance. For the most part, however, its focus is on the simpler applications that fit the needs of most customers.

What Marketo also uses to its advantage is the fact that, like the customers it's trying to help, the company is a skilled marketer, Raab says. "They do a great job getting the message out-packaging it, broadcasting it," he says. "It's part of success as a vendor, and it's okay as long as you have the product to back it up, which they do."

With 200-plus new features, Marketo leaves it up to the customer to discover what's needed for the business. "Our user experience is about discovery," Fernandez says. The overall product, he says, is clean and simple, but includes "discoverable ways to find depth and richness." At the basic level, Marketo's solution opens up to a homepage that includes links to descriptions of new products and features, as well as documentations of everything in the self-help forum. Upon subscribing to the solution, Marketo offers a two-week quick start service that helps customers learn the basic mechanics of the product, including assistance to launch their first campaign. Going forward, Fernandez anticipates that the company will be offering expert paid services. Raab concurs with the approach, given that most customers don't necessarily want to learn about every possible option available.

Where Raab hopes to see Marketo advance is around event marketing-a topic he sees growing very rapidly. On the less sophisticated side, event marketing can boil down to a typical email campaign, but Raab is seeing high demand for features catered specifically for event marketing solutions that address details around coordinating a physical versus virtual event, from capacity to setup to location.

The marketing automation solutions market is booming at this time, Raab says. One software company he's encountered is targeting small businesses even smaller than Marketo's clients, and is thriving on referrals alone. Unlike enterprise-level companies who have been struggling with heavy overhead costs, small businesses haven't had to cut back as much, Raab says. Therefore, they're more willing to pay the small expense for solutions that have clear value, and continue to rapidly enhance in functionality. "There's some interesting activity right now," he says. "We're pleased to see it."

News relevant to the customer relationship management industry is posted several times a day on destinationCRM.com, in addition to the news section Insight that appears every month in the pages of CRM magazine. You may leave a public comment regarding this article by clicking on "Comments" at the top; to contact the editors, please email editor@destinationCRM.com.

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