Case Study: RightNow Technologies/ MarketFirst

Blake Rohrbacher

Updated · Aug 09, 2002


RightNow® Technologies is a CRM provider headquartered in Bozeman, Montana. Founded in 1995, RightNow offers tools designed to assist companies deliver superior online customer service. RightNow's premier product, RightNow® eService Center, automates customer service through self-service tools, email response management, live chat, and a self-learning knowledge engine.
Its sales team spread across the map–more than 200 employees in four offices worldwide–RightNow cannot allow dropped leads or loose threads in its marketing efforts. RightNow has seen success so far. More than 1,100 companies use its applications for online customer service, and RightNow has seen 14 consecutive quarters of growth.

Knowing the power of meeting customer needs effectively, RightNow realized it needed to continue pushing the envelope on finding, attracting, and serving its customers. Its own expertise pushes it to demand the best possible reporting and customer knowledge, while using the power of automation to streamline its efforts.


RightNow already had a marketing automation software package in place. Jason Mittelstaedt, RightNow's relationship marketing manager, recognized the need for a different solution. RightNow needed something robust and flexible, an application that could scale with them and make their processes more efficient. They had a solution, but “it wasn't the right solution,” remembers Mittelstaedt.

Meanwhile, potential revenue was being lost. Leads were getting lost in the shuffle, due to RightNow's inability to track every lead. The number of lost leads was not measurable, but the fact was evident. Many tasks were still being done by hand and were keeping the process from being streamlined. In short, RightNow saw an opportunity to bring its marketing efforts and lead generation to a higher level in one fell swoop. Many tasks were being handled one at a time, while golden opportunities were being lost.


Accordingly, RightNow began an intensive evaluation of marketing automation vendors. RightNow outlined its prime objectives: automating the manual tasks involved in the lead generation process, maximizing its database marketing potential, and bolstering advertising ROI. The field of a dozen was quickly narrowed to two.

Mittelstaedt brought several members of the RightNow team together to sign off on the final decision. The evaluation team included VPs of sales and marketing, advertising managers, IS personnel, and Web development. RightNow also asked the vendors to bring its implementation services group, to test the fit and attitude of the people who would be at ground zero in the implementation.

After some intensive consideration, RightNow chose MarketFirst to handle the job. Founded in 1996, MarketFirst has become a serious player in the field of marketing automation. One of the first players in that market, MarketFirst provides a suite of products designed to increase marketing effectiveness and simplify the logistics behind marketing campaigns. These products link together disparate steps in the marketing process, allowing for a full view of a company's marketing efforts and detailed reporting on each stage of the process.

MarketFirst has many satisfied customers, including Exodus Communications and Standard & Poor's. What convinced RightNow to sign with MarketFirst was a number of factors. Mittelstaedt pointed first to MarketFirst's strong competency in lead management, the crucial area for RightNow, and its demonstrated knowledge of a B2B “considered purchase.” MarketFirst allows for the flexibility needed by business-to-business clients. RightNow's sales cycle is long and complex; “Business clients looking to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars can't do much with a ‘Click here to buy button',” jokes Mittelstaedt.

Another key to the decision was MarketFirst's attitude. RightNow has a sales force automation tool powered by Onyx and needed its new solution to integrate perfectly. MarketFirst was willing to “share the risk” and work with RightNow in creating a seamless method of trading data in real time. MarketFirst's cooperative attitude and willingness to figure it out scored high points with Mittelstaedt and RightNow's evaluation team.


The search for a new marketing automation solution started in March 2001. By mid-July, RightNow had made its decision and purchased the software. With diligent work on both sides and an aggressive schedule, RightNow rolled out its first email campaign in August, only three weeks later. By October, the software was fully operational. “In a little over two months we were running on all cylinders. The implementation really went off without any major hitches,” says Mittelstaedt.

RightNow uses the software to track advertising, acquire leads, and generate email marketing campaigns. The software also interfaces with the sales force automation software to filter leads to ensure they meet qualifications, route the leads to the correct sales rep, deliver the lead after populating the SFA system with the correct data, and follow up to see what action has been taken. All these components include detailed reporting on advertising ROI, lead generation, and email marketing. Later, RightNow added online and offline event registration functionality to its application, covering every angle of its marketing efforts.

While the implementation went smoothly, it did not come with little effort. RightNow's technical expertise allowed it to take a very active role in the implementation. The interface between MarketFirst's product and Onyx's sales force product took much planning and coding work from both sides. “MarketFirst architected the implementation, but RightNow certainly made a significant contribution,” says Mittelstaedt, “It went very well. There were few ‘we should have done it like this' moments.”

The continual process of optimization, both in speed and functionality, might have been made easier. One key, according to Mittelstaedt, would be to “build it in a modular fashion. If something's already in one location, build it once and point to it if you want to use it again. If you're dealing with thousands of database transactions per hour, a few lines of code can really make a difference.”

The human side of the implementation went smoothly. The cross-functional nature of the evaluation team helped. With signatures from many different departments heads, it became much easier for employees to believe in the solution. When employees believed in the solution, they became more willing to try it and less likely to go back. Keeping everyone involved in the process also helped. “You can't let people distance themselves from the project. You have to keep them in it,” says Mittelstaedt.


Due to the nature of RightNow's business, it can be very difficult to come up with an exact measure of revenue derived from use of the product. Still, there is little argument that the product has been a success. Already, RightNow has seen a gain of roughly 20 percent in efficiency. The man-hours previously dedicated to logistics are now available for other tasks.

The superior personalization and reporting capabilities of the email marketing component allow RightNow to perform detailed testing of content and subject lines. A test on one email helped RightNow almost double its registration rate. Spreading this ability across several campaigns helps RightNow squeeze more results from each dollar it spends on advertising. Also, RightNow's lost leads problem is solved, keeping track of 99.5 percent of leads and ensuring that no money or opportunity gets left on the table.
As important as the quantifiable results, though, is the improved ability to serve customers. The tight integration between the marketing and sales applications gives RightNow powerful cooperation between the two efforts. Sean Forbes, VP of marketing and business development at RightNow, said that the interaction has brought great change to their way of making sales calls. “Rather than approaching a prospective customer with some vague understanding of their interests, RightNow can call a prospect and say ‘I saw you responded to an ad about call center solutions yesterday afternoon, downloaded a white paper, and requested a sales call…how can I be of service to you?' That is so powerful! To come into a sales situation with that level of detail is just phenomenal in developing a value-driven customer relationship.”


Mr. Mittelstaedt feels that RightNow did several things right during the process. Probably the most important, to his mind, was the involvement and approval of company leaders from different departments. This fact kept pressure on the implementation from every angle, helped overcome internal skepticism, and kept the company invested in the product's success.

He also cautions those in similar situations not to expect a magic solution. The marketing automation software does not make a miracle, but may even create extra work. The added capability expands the ability and opportunity of the marketing department, which can mean extra work in terms of creativity and campaign volume and complexity. “It is still incredibly resource intensive,” Mittelstaedt says, “the system takes your content demands and multiplies it, so the man hours are still significant. You just get more done with those hours.”

RightNow also saw a huge benefit from deploying a full system. The MarketFirst solution handles every aspect of their marketing process, which has helped the time savings and the results. Using multiple solutions or part-automated/part-manual solutions decreases efficiency, decreases flexibility, and creates more system work. The end-to-end solution ensures that items are tracked at every stage and lessens the potential for problems when applications “hand off” information back and forth.

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