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The InflectionPoint 2008 Conference

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I just returned from the InflectionPont 2008 Conference down in San Diego.  What’s InflectionPoint? It’s Covario’s (until this week SemDirector) User Conference. Covario has a solution set for SEO and PPC reporting that is particularly appropriate to large enterprises trying to manage programs that are spread across divisions, engines, channels, countries, etc. It’s a high-end solution that provides a level of enterprise-wide search reporting (Paid and SEO) and online channel management that just isn’t available elsewhere.

This last week was a big one for Covario. They had their annual conference. They changed their name. They announced a 16M funding round. They rolled out some cool new products. And, drum-roll please, they announced a partnership with Semphonic.

Well, maybe that wasn’t the lead. But the partnership is an interesting one – especially since some people might think we are competitors. Fortunately, neither they nor I really see it that way. Here’s the thinking behind the partnership.

Covario’s solution requires companies to feed information about online success back into their reporting solution from the web analytics tools. Makes sense, right? But a lot of their clients (and keep in mind these are mostly very complex multi-channel enterprises) have a hard time doing this: not only do they struggle with getting the web analytics set up right, they struggle with figuring out what the proper optimization goals need to be.

That’s our bread-and-butter, of course. In addition, Covario’s clientele heavily overlaps our areas of focus. They have more technology and probably less Financial Services and Media than Semphonic, but the types of clients (multi-channel, international, complex) and the focus on sites without traditional eCommerce events is very similar. So we’ll be providing these implementation services to Covario clients to make sure they get the best advantage out of all that slick enterprise reporting!

And while Semphonic does have a SEM reporting tool, it’s nothing like Covario’s. CampaignTracker isn’t an enterprise data integration tool – it doesn’t even remotely tackle that function. It isn’t an Enterprise tool at all, and it isn’t for PPC or SEO channel management. It has a fundamentally different purpose, different price-point and different set of users. These two products may live in the same galaxy, but they don’t co-exist in the same solar system. And let’s face it, Semphonic is a consulting company – that’s the heart, soul, core (and revenue) of our business. So when we started talking together, I think both sides quickly realized a partnership was possible.

Best of all, I really like the people there. They are very easy to talk to and do business with. They are smart. And their customers obviously like them a lot. I think the whole corporate culture was apparent in InflectionPoint; it’s a culture that I like and suspect most clients will too.

Their similarity in style to Semphonic was very obvious at InflectionPoint. In fact, there were many aspects of the conference that reminded me of X Change. Since we started X Change, I’ve developed a whole new interest in and (grudging) appreciation of Conferences. I notice lots of things I never thought about before.

This increased attention is a bit ironic, because I mostly don’t like Conferences. I’m not much of a schmoozer; I don’t really enjoy speaking (funny, because I love talking!); and I’ll be honest and admit that I find most conference presentations a bit tedious. Then, after a long day of being kind of bored, I’ll return home to the obligatory mountain of emails we all get and have to do my work.

This complaining is mostly a way of getting to the fact that I thought InflectionPoint was pretty damn good. A couple of notable wins:

    * Extremely limited self-promotion

    * No speakers over breakfast, lunch, dinner

    * Very polite involvement by sponsors (no time-wasting fluff)

    * Outstanding attendees

Unlike most company conferences, the chest-beating was amazingly minimal – they let their customers do almost all the talking. A great strategy since the customers had really good things to say. This reminded me of X Change – but since X Change isn’t designed as a Semphonic customer-only event I think their restraint is even more surprising.

Like X Change, they didn’t pollute breakfast and lunch with speakers. I hate having to speak while people eat. And I hate having to eat while people speak. They served good food, too. Major kudos!

They gave partners sponsorship slots but didn’t waste everybody’s time with long-winded sponsor plugs. We don’t do any sponsor slots at X Change, but this was as nicely handled as I’ve seen. Good job by the sponsors as well.

Most important – they brought together a really good group of people. Part of this is the fact that their products play mostly to very large efforts in very large companies. So they get really serious people involved. The panel I was on included truly senior interactive marketing folks from iVillage, Lenovo and Siemens plus David Falls from DoubleClick. And that’s pretty typical of the whole Conference make-up. Outstanding.

I was deeply impressed by the sophistication of that group. Not something you hear me saying every day. I especially enjoyed chatting with Barry Kresch – whose particular challenges at iVillage are very common in our media client-base. It seemed like we’ve done a lot of similar work and come to similar conclusions about how to effectively measure media sites.

I’m still not that big a fan of panel presentations. They feel a bit like political debates – more sound-bites than real discussion. That’s why I love X Change’s Huddle format. But I’m glad X Change is special that way – we need some kind of special sauce!

Ultimately, what impressed me most about the conference was the emphasis on providing value to their customers. As a consulting company, that makes me feel very comfortable with Covario. Not every software company spends more time listening to their customers than talking at them. Not every? Not many.

It must have been an amazing, exciting, draining week for the people at Covario – with so much news plus a big conference.  Congratulations guys. I hope this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

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