Marketing in the Cloud is Doing Just Fine

Quite a big deal was made recently about salesforce.com’s 38 minute outage last week. I have to say I agree with Paul Greenberg, when he said calling “the cloud into question because their servers were down for 38 minutes is a little bit of an emotional overload.” 

People are quick to blame the cloud when there is more than a few minutes of downtime, calling its reliability into question. What most people do not consider is that internally hosting an application does not give any better guarantee of uptime. For many businesses it probably increases the liklihood of an outage. At most companies that I have worked for the Internet, VOIP phones, apps hosted on internal servers, and other services had outages at least a few times a year. Human error, catastrophic failures, and acts of nature can strike even the most ironclad systems. In the grand scheme of things, 38 minutes for salesforce.com to get everything back up is pretty impressive. It is also great they put up an explanation on trust.salesforce.com, which is not something that most vendors would do.

On a personal level, I just recently moved this blog from the installed version of WordPress to the hosted version. Why on earth would I want to spend time installing security patches, managing the hosting for it, or any of the other headaches of installed software. WordPress.com of course has expertise in managing its own software. I also use a SaaS CRM, marketing automation platform, project management tool, and community management system.

Top 5 Ways to Keep Your B2B Web Lead Data Clean

Ardath Albee wrote that you can lift revenues 70% by cleaning up dirty prospect data. I don’t think we need much more of an incentive than that to start keeping our data clean.

CRM systems do many things extremely well. Deduplication of lead/prospect data, however, does not often seem to be one of them. The following are my four favorite things you can do to keep your CRM clean (at least in terms of the leads that come in from your site):

1. Automatic deduplication at the web form level — the same person filling out the form multiple times only creates one lead/prospect (but you still capture the activity).

2. Data validation at the form level — at the minimum, ensure that email addresses are in a valid format (blank@site.com, etc.). Even better is setting up your form to ping the domain in real-time and ensure that it has an actual mail exchange record. The latter method prevents people from entering things like abcdef@abcdef.com (which would pass the first test). At my company we take this one step further and actually do not accept free/ISP email addresses. We do not want our sales reps following up with Yahoo! or Gmail addresses.

If the visitor’s email address fails validation, be sure to provide a soft error (see below) message as soon as they tab off of the field as opposed to having them click the submit button, only to be surprised by a glaring error notification. 

Soft error message.

(soft error example)

3. Limiting choices via drop downs instead of free-form text — this makes fields like industry, job title, etc. much more usable later as you will not get permutations of the same title (e.g. VP, Vice President, etc.). This also makes things easier for the visitor as he or she can typically fill the form out faster than with free text fields. 

Predefined Field Values = Better Data

Predefined Field Values = Better Data

4. Keep bots away with built in spam prevention. If left unchecked, bots can quickly fill a company’s database with gibberish. Many companies (including Google) do this via captchas (an additional field where you enter a string of text or a number to prove that you are indeed a human). I prefer to instead use a hidden spam trap that humans never need to see or deal with. Captchas, while effective in term of spam prevention, can frustrate visitors and drive down your conversion rate.

So how do you do all of this?

Each of the techniques above can be accomplished with either some custom programming or via a marketing automation solution. Either way, the technology is out there and it will make your life easier and your data cleaner.

Marketing Sherpa: Never Send Unqualified Leads into your CRM

In Marketing Sherpa’s recap of their B2B Lead Generation Summit, they designate one point as the summit’s key takeaway. The “most scribbled-down-tip” was when Jackie Kiley of Sybase explained the importance of passing only qualified leads into your company’s CRM. Marketing Sherpa’s article highlights this point reinforcing that your firm should “*never* put suspects, inquiries, or unqualified leads into [your CRM]”.

By not filtering your leads, you send the good and the bad onto your sales team, and create an immense amount of “noise” which the sales people must sort through to be successful. Rejection and lost time results in a less-than-motivated sales team, that will begin to distrust leads sent to them from the marketing department.

A lead qualifying tool can improve the relationship between your sales and marketing departments by allowing for a more seamless interaction between the two. Marketing automation software allows only qualified leads to make it to the sales pipeline, allowing both departments to more effectively accomplish their goals.

Also key in aligning sales and marketing is providing scheduled feedback on leads by having sales report on the status of leads (good, bad, accepted, rejected, etc.) Doing so is the final step in closing the loop between the two functions by further refining the filter for the next sales cycle.

Not to be Outdone…

Less than a week after Salesforce.com announced it’s partnership with GoogleApps, increasing the offerings of it’s on-demand CRM suite, Microsoft announced Dynamics CRM Online, a full marketing, sales and service suite on an Internet-based model.

“At Microsoft, we’re revolutionizing how companies deploy marketing, sales and service solutions to users within their organization,” said Brad Wilson, general manager of Microsoft Dynamics CRM at Microsoft. “Microsoft Dynamics CRM delivers the power of choice to customers, with a familiar and productive user experience and a multitenant platform that enables fast on-premise implementations or ‘instant-on’ deployments over the Internet.”

Targeted toward small-to-mid-sized businesses, Dynamic CRM Online integrates with Microsoft Office and boasts a $59 per user per month price point, slightly lower than Salesforce.com. Focused on creating a flexible and affordable tool, Dynamics CRM has performed well with 500 participants in the Microsoft Early Access Program, offering more storage capacity and configurable entities than Salesforce.com, as well as incorporating workflows.

Learn more about Dynamics CRM Online here.

 

Salesforce.com Partners with Google Apps

This week, CRM giant Salesforce.com announced a partnership with Google Apps.

The convenient new platform allows communication through popular Google tools Gmail and Google Talk. Sales teams will also have access to applications such as Google Docs and shared calendars. The partnership aims to create an efficient way to manage schedules and maintain up-to-date versions of documents and sales tools.

This partnership embodies the trend of technology moving away from installation-based softwares, as two of the largest advocates of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) join forces.

“Salesforce.com is thrilled to be offering Google Apps integrated with our Salesforce applications and Force.com Platform-as-a-Service to the millions of businesses looking to manage their entire office in the cloud,” said Marc Benioff, chairman and CEO of salesforce.com. “The combination of our leading CRM applications and Google’s business productivity applications pushes forward the transformation of the industry to cloud computing. The end of software is here.”

SFDC CEO Benioff Named Top Business Leader

As SalesforceWatch.com points out, salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff has been named a 2007 Agenda Setter and Top Ten Business Leader by Silicon.com. Benioff has led salesforce.com to be not only the leading on-demand CRM (by far) but also the poster-child for the massive shift to the software as a service (SaaS) model.

10 years ago, few executives would have believed in the end of installed software. Five years ago, companies were still very reluctant to put sensitive data into a hosted platform. Now we are in the age where on-demand applications are actually the preferred platform for marketing solutions. It is only a matter of time before finance/account, ERP, and other typical enterprise platforms follow suit.

As Google has been for many companies, salesforce.com’s platform has been a key enabler to many SaaS vendors, giving them access to  a massive number of potential clients via their AppExchange ecosystem. Salesforce.com users have instant access to roughly 700 AppExchange partners, each with a solution designed to integrate seamlessly with the CRM platform. It remains to be seen how lucrative the ecosystem will be for salesforce.com in terms of direct revenue but it certainly does lend its own services a certain amount of stickiness that rivals Microsoft (on-demand CRM due out in the near future) and NetSuite (who has a similar but much smaller ecosystem) may find difficult to emulate.

The entire list of 2007 Agenda Setters is available atsiliconagendasetters.com

 

The end of installations?

Seth Godin predicts the end of installed software in a recent post and really hits the nail on the head.

Salesforce.com popularized this craze in the CRM world and rivals soon emerged (see Netsuite’s impending IPO). You know they are on to something when Microsoft, king of the installed software world, enters the space. Microsoft has announced an on-demand version of it’s CRM offering, Dynamics. Not only will it have functionality mirroring salesforce’s, but they will price it at roughly 40% less in a bid to capture market share.

The success of these solutions is no surprise. There are many compelling reasons for B2B marketers to turn to hosted solutions, and indeed most email, analytics, and ad serving solutions are on-demand. Obvious benefits include:

  • no (or lower) capital outlay
  • less (or no) IT involvement needed
  • more likely to work out of the box
  • seamless upgrade process as everything is done on the provider’s end

A common theme to the above mentioned benefits is that the marketer is put in control of the marketing software. This is a simple idea, but it is not always the case with heavier, server installed applications where budget and IT approval often kill any hope of integration. By lessening IT involvement, and splitting payments into monthly fees, a marketer is much more likely to be able to implement a new solution without jumping through hoops for approval.

If only I could find an on-demand operating system before Vista crashes my computer again. Service Pack 2… where are you?