This series of columns has presented a detailed look at the capabilities of high-end campaign management software. To summarize very briefly, the key requirements are an efficient interface for handling hundreds of segments, ability for nontechnical users to generate complex selection statements and support for practical needs such as test/control splits, key codes, seed lists, promotion history, response definition, budgets and reports. Optional, but increasingly common, functions include: execution of e-mail, real-time and multistep communications; integrated statistical modeling and optimization; and marketing administration including project management, content management, work flow, calendars and portals.

The goal of this series has been to give you enough information to jumpstart the process of building your own list of system requirements. A solid requirement definition is the foundation of any successful system project. It is often the only way to ensure a project is driven by your needs rather than a vendor's capabilities.

Of course, no generic list of functions will exactly describe your organization's needs. The information presented in this series is no more than a basis for discussion with the marketers and other users. One of the few benefits of the current economic slump is that companies are no longer willing to buy new systems without understanding exactly how they will benefit from owning them. Buyers are now much more interested in defining their precise requirements in advance.

The common result of such an assessment is to discover that you need a high-end campaign manager the way I need a Ferrari: not at all, although it would still be fun to have one. Most firms need only some of the features of a high-end system and may have other special needs that most high-end systems lack. These special needs often relate to the peculiarities of their industry. For example, retailers often require response measures based on sales within a specified date range. Every industry has similar quirks. Yours will not necessarily be supported by high-end campaign managers, most of which were originally designed for financial services marketers.

The most common alternatives to high-end campaign managers are the campaign managers built into operational customer management systems, such as call centers and sales automation tools. Traditionally, these were simple list generators; but they have become much more sophisticated in recent years. Today, the campaign managers provided by Siebel and PeopleSoft are arguably competitive with standalone high-end campaign managers, although most of those vendors' sales are still made to customers who use other portions of their systems. The features of a high-end campaign manager have now been widely understood – at least within the vendor community – for several years. This means that vendors of other types of customer management systems have had time to add whatever high-end features seemed worth the investment. Because the vendors' primary criterion is the number of customers requesting a feature, their campaign managers should now meet most marketers' needs.

With near parity in features across many products, marketers can look at other requirements such as ease of integration with corporate systems. The campaign manager from an incumbent call center or sales automation vendor has an obvious advantage in this area. However, most large firms actually run several different customer contact systems; and campaign managers also exchange data with finance, project management, corporate reporting and other noncustomer systems. Therefore, even an incumbent vendor will have to integrate with external products.

Nonfunctional requirements also extend to vendor support and future product enhancements. These can be critical to a successful implementation and long-term return on investment. In a consolidating software market, the continued survival of many campaign management vendors is far from certain. Even vendors who avoid outright failure may be acquired or may cut back staff in ways that hurt their customers. Ironically, some of the small, privately held firms are now more stable than larger firms that issued stock, over-expanded and are now retrenching. Therefore, as with other parts of the selection process, there is no shortcut that lets you avoid case-by-case analysis of each vendor's situation.

Viability is a particular concern for developers of standalone high-end campaign managers. As broader-based competitors adopt more high-end features, standalone vendors that try to remain still more sophisticated find themselves adding features that appeal to an ever-smaller number of super-advanced marketers. This might permit survival, but it is unlikely to yield much growth. It is why most standalone vendors have instead sought to broaden the appeal of their products by adding noncampaign functions such as e-mail and project management.

This movement toward broader product scope is the final reason that high-end campaign managers were worth nearly a year of writing. It represents one possible future – where campaign management systems are not specialized tools for outbound marketing, but the hub of the entire enterprise customer management process. Whether that future will become a reality remains to be seen, but it is worth understanding the systems that do it today in case you are asked to provide one tomorrow.

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