It was to be expected. Last Summer middle-market private equity firm HGGC took a majority stake in marketing automation vendor Selligent. Two months later another company with very similar activities was added to the portfolio: StrongView.
Now both companies are merged into one by HGGC. Coincidence: in a previous life we worked a while for US-based StrongMail (the previous name of StrongView) and for Selligent, before fully focusing on the client side.
Selligent is a Belgian marketing automation vendor with strong roots in CRM. In fact, the company started – under another name – as a pure CRM company (founded by André Lejeune, CEO, and Thierry Téchy, Chief Strategy Officer) and became quite well known when it launched a sales force automation (SFA) and CRM platform for Windows, especially in France and the Benelux. In those days the company also started operations in the US, albeit unsuccessfully.
Selligent: from CRM to marketing automation
CEO André Lejeune was among the many people seeing that CRM was increasingly becoming important in marketing as you can read in our interview. He didn’t need to look far for a company that could help Selligent move in the space of integrated marketing and acting upon the famous single customer view.
With their Messagent platform, Belgians Jan Teerlinck and Ben Vloemans, the latter the tech wizard of the company, had conquered the Benelux marketing automation market. Selligent acquired their company Optizen and rapidly it became clear that the future of Selligent would be in the marketing automation space, with a clear focus on B2C. The CRM platform became decreasingly important, even if there is still an installed base.
Messagent became Selligent Interactive Marketing (many early customers still call it SIM). When we worked with the company it introduced a range of new features such as more connections with other CRM platforms (via Simlink, called CRM connector since V6), a marketing pressure management feature (now Planning and Communications Cadence), MRM features (Marketing Resource Management), Frontoffice (for the front office or agents), dynamic content for conversion optimization, a better campaign tool, mobile (e.g. Litmus integration) and social features, an architecture for faster bulk sending, customer data management, better analytics and reporting etc.
The ‘new’ Selligent launched again in the US a few years ago, this time as a marketing automation vendor. It was just after the launch of these activities we stopped working with Selligent. This time the US focus and increasing presence paid off and Selligent continued to seek growth in new regions while maintaining a strong footprint in its core markets. A big part of that success is Selligent’s focus on agencies of which some are closely involved with the company.
StrongView: a strong name in a though ESP market
StrongMail (since 2013 StrongView) started out as an ESP (Email Service Provider) but was among the first US vendors that moved to a more cross-channel/omni-channel and customer-centric and integrated approach.
When we started working with the company it was, for instance, a first-mover in the integration of social media and email marketing, back in the days we had a blog covering those evolutions and the big discussion that used to rage was ‘will social kill email?’. In fact, now and then the discussion unfortunately still pops up. Customer-centric marketers of course have always known better, as did StrongMail as you can read in this interview with Sam Cece, back then CEO (the current CEO of StrongView, Bill Wagner, becomes an operating partner at HGGC).
A committment to social engagement
Showing that social mattered for StrongMail, the company launched Social Studio in the Spring of 2010, a centralized campaign management application for social media marketers, while at the same time announcing a partnership with Radian6.A year earlier the company had acquired social media marketing firm PopularMedia, powering Social Studio. In those days Selligent had close to zero social capabilities. Also the viral marketing solution of StrongMail was highly popular.
Moving to services, consultancy and an own agency
At the same time StrongMail grew its footprint in email marketing consultancy, starting with the acquisition of The Email Advisor end 2009 in a period more ESPs eyed wanted to move in the direction of services and consulting (Responsys for instance acquired Smith-Harmon in 2009).
In the Summer of 2010 StrongMail bought industry veteran Michael Della Penna’s Conversa Marketing and an agency called Magnetik in order to create its own email and social CRM agency, Threadmarketing, managed by Della Penna. While it stressed the company’s continuing move towards the integration of channels, CRM, social and services, having an own agency was quite a remarkable move.
Five years later, well-known email marketing industry expert Ken Magill reported that StrongView laid off an important portion of its staff due to financial difficulties.
In September 2015, StrongView is added to the portfolio of HGGC, barely two months after Selligent. Selligent seems to have a more stable financial basis, even if the company has been continuously investing in new markets and new features. The fact that StrongView is called a Selligent company since the merger was announced clearly shows where the power sits. And it probably all isn’t a coiincidence either: after having been present at virtually every big event in the US this year and last year, it’s more than probable that Selligent and HGGC want to make a bigger and faster entry into the US market by ‘getting’ StrongView, an established name in the US with a mix of B2C and B2B clients. While financial terms were not disclosed, HGGC stressed that the combined company is a debt-free company, poised for growth, ‘with substantial cash on its balance sheet’.
We expect that, once both companies have merged their operations and launch their new, joined, capabilities, the name StrongView will dissapear. Obviously there will first be a stage when customers from both companies won’t see too much change.
Selligent and StrongView: data-driven marketing
Today, Selligent – as most vendors in the marketing software suite – positions itself in the space of customer engagement and customer experience optimization (calling itself an Omnichannel Engagement Platform), although it remains loyal to its marketing automation and data management solutions message.
Data-driven marketing indeed and it’s in that direction we see Selligent moving more and more. The company was relatively early to embrace predictive analytics and we expect them to strengthen their data and artificial intelligence capabilities that are increasingly gaining traction in today’s context of real-time marketing, hyper-personalization, extraction of actionable meaning and value from big data, decreasing customer loyalty and pro-active data-driven marketing.
We see the same evolutions happening in customer service and the contact center where text analytics, connected data sources and AI also become more important and part of the total marketing and customer experience equation. Although we don’t expect Selligent to become a Customer Experience Management software vendor in the short run it needs to be said that it has some features for customer service agents, has started to focus on customer care (with automatic responses based upon contact history and activity tracking, including a way for agents to be alerted when they need to intervene) and also that some of its customers, such as Kinepolis, have been strong proponents of using typical customer experience and customer service measures such as NPS to drive marketing. We bet that the fact that customer service and customer experience (remember both are not the same) are increasingly dubbed the new marketing is heard at the Selligent HQ as well.
And of course we also see this increasing focus on customer experience, customer engagement and the collision between data-driven and creative happen in leading marketing agencies such as Wunderman (dislaimer: also a customer).
Moving to the enterprise segment with HGGC?
Selligent and StrongView start a new chapter and have now merged. Selligent CEO André Lejeune will lead the new company and HGGC CEO Richard (Rich) Lawson becomes President.
StrongView is among the most recognized email marketing players, despite its integrated focus. Selligent also has strong email marketing roots but has been emphasizing automation and a scenario marketing approach with cross-channel personalization since it acquired Optizen.
It’s an interesting evolution and merger in a market that is dominated by the well-known big marketing suite vendors (SalesForce, Adobe, Oracle…) but where there is certainly room for a player that focuses more on agencies and on somewhat smaller organizations, even if the company has some well-known brands among its customers. Furthermore, StrongView has always been focusing more on the enterprise market, which could make the combined company a contender in a market that has been consolidating for many years now.
HGGC acquired Selligent in July 2015. StrongView, dubbing itself a provider of contextual marketing solutions and named an Email Leader in the Q3 2014 Forrester Wave™ of Email Marketing Vendors, announced a growth investment from HGGC end September 2015.
Prior to the announcement of an acquisition of Selligent by HGGC, Reuters learned that HGGC invested between $150 million to $200 million of equity into the company.