A fast-growing market for marketing software

Contact: Scott Denne

Marketing software M&A is surging through the first half of the year. In the first two quarters of 2016, spending on marketing acquisitions reached $4.2bn, putting this year on pace for a category record, according to 451 Research’s M&A KnowledgeBase. In no small measure, the boom is being fueled by private equity (PE) firms. Already this year, financial sponsors have spent $3bn on vendors in this space. That’s triple last year’s total, a level that itself was more than the cumulative total of the previous seven years.

Uncharacteristically, the PE deals have also carried the highest multiples. Vista Equity Partners’ $1.8bn take-private of Marketo valued the target at 7.9x trailing revenue – higher than any other marketing target with over $10m in sales. EQT’s $1.1bn purchase of Sitecore was the third-highest multiple at 5.2x. (Telenor’s pickup of ad-tech firm Tapad was the second-highest.)

The companies garnering the lowest valuations were those providing marketing software for small businesses. In late June, ReachLocal sold to Gannett for just $156m, or 0.4x, following a painful restructuring to focus on more profitable SMB accounts with a larger suite of products to entice them (the firm was built around search engine marketing software). Its competitor Yodle fared just a bit better, selling for $342m, or 1.6x, as slowing growth set up obstacles to a public offering.

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Pricing out an alternate reality for Salesforce-LinkedIn

Contact: Brenon Daly

An enterprise software giant trumpets its acquisition of an online site that has collected millions of profiles of business professionals that it plans to use to make its applications ‘smarter’ and its users more productive. We’re talking about Microsoft’s blockbuster purchase of LinkedIn this week, right? Actually, we’re not.

Instead, we’re going back about a half-dozen years – and shaving several zeros off the price tag – to look at Salesforce’s $142m pickup of Jigsaw Data in April 2010. Jigsaw, which built a sort of business directory from crowdsourced information, isn’t exactly comparable to LinkedIn because it mostly lacked LinkedIn’s networking component and because the ultimate source of information for the profiles differed at the two sites. However, the rationale for the two deals lines up almost identically, and the division that Salesforce created on the back of the Jigsaw buy (Data.com) runs under the tagline that could be lifted directly from LinkedIn: ‘The right business connection is just a click away.’

We were thinking back on Jigsaw’s acquisition – which, at the time, stood as the largest transaction by Salesforce – as reports emerged that the SaaS giant had been bidding for LinkedIn, but ultimately came up short against Microsoft. Our first reaction: Of course Benioff & Co. had been in the frame. After all, the two high-profile companies have been increasingly going after each other, with Salesforce adding a social network function (The Corner) to the directory business at Data.com and LinkedIn launching its CRM product (Sales Navigator). And, not to be cynical, even if it didn’t want to buy LinkedIn outright, why wouldn’t Salesforce use the due-diligence process to gain a little competitive intelligence about its rival?

As we thought more about Salesforce’s M&A, we started penciling out an alternate scenario from the spring of 2010, one in which the company passed on Jigsaw and instead went right to the top, acquiring LinkedIn. To be clear, this requires us to make a fair number of assumptions as we revise history with a rather broad brush. Further, our ‘what might have been’ look glosses over huge potential snags, such as the fact that Salesforce only had $1.7bn in cash at the time, and leaves out the whole issue of integrating LinkedIn.

Nonetheless, with all of those disclaimers about our bit of blue-sky thinking, here’s the bottom line on the hypothetical Salesforce-LinkedIn pairing at the turn of the decade: It probably could have gotten done at one-third the cost that Microsoft says it will pay. To put a number on it, we calculate that Salesforce could have spent roughly $9bn for LinkedIn back in 2010, rather than the $26bn that Microsoft is handing over.

Our back-of-the envelope math is, admittedly, based on relatively selective metrics. But here are the basics: At the time of the Jigsaw deal (April 2010), fast-growing LinkedIn had about $200m in sales and 150 million total members. If we apply the roughly $60 per member that Microsoft paid for LinkedIn ($26bn/433 million members = $60/member), then LinkedIn’s 150 million members would have been valued at $9bn. (Incidentally, that valuation exactly matches LinkedIn’s closing-day market cap on its IPO a year later, in May 2011.)

On the other hand, if we use a revenue multiple, the hypothetical valuation of a much-smaller LinkedIn drops significantly. Microsoft paid about 8x trailing sales, which would give the 2010-vintage LinkedIn, with its $200m in sales, a valuation of just $1.6bn. (We would add that other valuation metrics using net income or EBITDA don’t make much sense because LinkedIn was basically breaking even at the time, throwing off only a few tens of millions of dollars in cash.)

However, LinkedIn would certainly have commanded a double-digit price-to-sales multiple because it was doubling revenue every year at the time. (LinkedIn finished 2010 with $243m in revenue and 2011 with over $500m in sales, while Salesforce was increasing revenue only about 20%, although it was north of $1bn at the time.) By any metric, LinkedIn would have garnered a platinum bid from Salesforce in our hypothetical pairing, as surely as it got one from Microsoft. But on an absolute basis, the CRM giant would have gotten a bargain compared to Microsoft.

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Vista Equity Partners picks up Marketo for $1.8bn

Contact: Scott Denne

Three years after the peak of marketing software acquisitions, Vista Equity Partners pays $1.8bn in cash for Marketo. The waiting didn’t hurt Marketo. It fetched the second-largest price tag in a marketing automation deal – at $2.5bn, ExactTarget claims first – and at 8x trailing revenue, the valuation lands above the median 5.1x for marketing software transactions worth more than $250m, according to 451 Research’s M&A KnowledgeBase.

Marketo has a claim to that kind of multiple. Its peers – ExactTarget, Responsys and Neolane – all drew valuations in the 8x neighborhood, while Eloqua and Demandforce brought in 10x and 11x, respectively. Those earlier valuations, however, were predicated on synergies with strategic buyers. In hindsight, some of those were imagined synergies. Still, that kind of valuation becomes tougher to justify with a financial acquirer. More so when considering that Marketo has shown little sign of slowing down its spending or reaching profitability: it lost $72m on $224m in revenue over the past 12 months.

Worse still, Marketo has been moving upstream from the medium-sized business market toward the enterprise segment as it seeks continued growth – revenue grew 35% year over year last quarter. As it enters the enterprise arena, it has faced tough competition on pricing from Oracle and other larger software providers that can sustain substantial losses to win market share among CMOs. Valuations have trended much lower in recent months on big-ticket marketing deals than they were in the 2012-13 heyday. Small-business specialists Yodle and Constant Contact were both valued at about 2x, while EQT paid 5x for Sitecore, whose topline and growth are similar to Marketo’s.

That said, Vista Equity will pay slightly less than Marketo’s 52-week high and one could argue that it’s getting a bargain in that respect – it paid the same multiple for Cvent, the event-planning software vendor it took private earlier this year (also below the 52-week high). And it may turn out to be one if there is another wave of marketing software M&A as Marketo is one of only a handful of large, independent players in the sector.

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Content and data form foundation of Adobe’s M&A strategy

Contact: Scott Denne

At its annual marketing user conference, Adobe laid out a strategy to extend throughout and beyond marketing by touching on every part of the customer experience with content and data offerings. The company has accumulated the biggest and broadest suite of marketing software products among any of its enterprise software peers. However, it will take many years for marketing software to become a mature segment. For Adobe to maintain its position, it will need to continue to expand its offerings.

Despite the hyperbole about the level of technology spending among CMOs, marketing software remains in an early – though promising – stage. Spending continues to rise and the landscape is fragmented. It will likely remain so as new forms of media and mobile devices continue to sprout. And with them, new methods of customer engagement and increasingly fragmented audiences and data sets. The exits of enterprise software vendors such as Teradata, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and SDL provide Adobe and other remaining incumbents with an opportunity to gain market share and push into emerging corners of this category.

Adobe began its foray into digital marketing with acquisitions – first website analytics company Omniture (2009), and then website content management vendor Day Software (2010). Those two products currently sit at the core of Adobe’s marketing suite and much of the growth in its Marketing Cloud, which currently generates $1.4bn in trailing revenue, comes through the sale of them or cross-selling other offerings to customers that already use Adobe for analytics or content management.

As Adobe looks beyond marketing and toward becoming the data and content layer that powers the customer experience landscape, it could expand into areas such as e-commerce platforms, cross-channel attribution and customer data platforms. Subscribers to 451 Research’s Market Insight Service can access a full report on Adobe’s strategy, product portfolio, competitive positioning and potential targets in the marketing ecosystem.

Salesforce’s marketing connection

Contact: Scott Denne

Salesforce moved into marketing with its boldest acquisitions, but they’ve generated only modest returns. Despite above-average market success, its Marketing Cloud is the smallest cloud within the company and the second-slowest in growth. As it kicks off its annual marketing conference, the environment is ripe for Salesforce to build on its existing capabilities, as digital marketers are ready to spend.

Salesforce’s Marketing Cloud posted $654m in revenue last year, up 29%. That kind of growth in marketing software would be the envy of several other enterprise software vendors – particularly HP Inc and Teradata, both of which recently fobbed off their low-growth marketing assets. Yet marketing feels malnourished at Salesforce. The CRM giant paid $2.5bn, $689m and $326m to pick up marketing automation provider ExactTarget and social marketing specialists Buddy Media and Radian6, respectively. Today, those businesses are the core of Salesforce’s Marketing Cloud – which accounts for just 10% of total revenue and is the second-slowest cloud in growth behind the legacy, and much larger, Sales Cloud. Compare that with its customer-service software business, which jumped 38% to $1.8bn and has its origins in the $32m acquisition of InStranet in 2008.

As Salesforce kicks off its annual Marketing Cloud conference, Connections, there’s much it could do to bolster this unit. For one, there’s still work to be done in integrating Marketing Cloud into a shared UI across other Salesforce offerings. The company has long pitched the vision of a single view of the customer, although today less than one-third of its clients purchase Salesforce products across multiple categories.

Starting with email marketing, Salesforce has added multiple marketing applications, unified around its Journey Builder offering for designing rules-based campaigns. And although Salesforce’s marketing team hasn’t gone shopping in three years, its Marketing Cloud could benefit greatly from the inclusion of additional identity data to better track online and offline customer interactions. Reaching for LiveIntent would bring these capabilities to Salesforce, as well as enhance its email service with some additional personalization capabilities. Alternatively, it could look to buy an audience management platform vendor such as Lotame or Krux. Both have developed cross-device matching as part of their products. In fact, Salesforce recently expanded its partnership with the latter vendor to enable Marketing Cloud customers to match their data with that from third-party providers.

The environment is ripe for Salesforce to build on its existing capabilities. Although much of the basic functionality of digital marketing – website analytics and email marketing – is maturing, the overall space has plenty of momentum for Salesforce to capitalize on. According to a recent survey by ChangeWave Research, a service of 451 Research, 17% of marketers plan to increase spending on digital marketing in the coming quarter. That’s higher than at any point in the previous two years and a larger anticipated increase in spending than any other category in the January survey.

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Adobe buys Livefyre, strengthening its digital marketing push with social CRM

Contact: Mark Fontecchio

Adobe plans to acquire Livefyre for an undisclosed amount. Livefyre is best known as a commenting platform for sites like CNN and The Huffington Post. More crucially, it provides a social comment aggregation product that businesses can use to better engage with customers. Adobe plans to integrate the technology broadly across its Marketing Cloud to help spur growth in its digital marketing unit, which accounts for about 30% of the company’s total revenue.

The deal highlights the relevance that social media is gaining for digital marketing platforms, but there are still challenges to overcome, such as quantifying the impact of social media on a company’s overall marketing efforts. That uncertainty has led to mostly sporadic M&A. Aside from a brief burst of activity a half-decade ago, highlighted by transactions such as Salesforce’s purchases of Radian6 and Buddy Media, deal flow in the social CRM market has come in dribs and drabs, according to 451 Research’s M&A KnowledgeBase. Most have been smaller transactions, such as Sprinklr’s reach for Get Satisfaction last year (see our estimate for that deal here). Livefyre has 155 employees and had raised $67m in venture funding, so it stands as one of the larger players in the sector.

As we wrote last year, the social media management space is on a growth trajectory that we expect to reach $2.5bn by 2019, more than twice the $1.1bn we saw in 2015. The growth comes as social media management vendors are evolving beyond simple digital marketing toward business functions such as customer service. Livefyre fits the bill, as do recent announcements by Facebook and LINE.

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Oracle crosses device matching off its shopping list

Contact: Scott Denne

Oracle wastes no time matching Adobe’s cross-device announcement last month with one of its own as it acquires Crosswise, an Israel-based startup that sells data to enable advertisers to link disparate devices to a single anonymous profile. As digital advertising moves from its home base in the desktop into phones, tablets and connected televisions, cookies have lost most of their value as a mechanism for targeting and measurement. Any vendor selling marketing and advertising software for targeted campaigns must move beyond the cookie, and cross-device data providers like Crosswise offer the most obvious path to getting there.

Purchasing several marketing SaaS firms in the early part of the decade was Oracle’s initial foray into the world of marketing software. But following its 2014 reach for BlueKai, an audience management platform and data exchange vendor, all of the company’s efforts have been dedicated to building a digital advertising and marketing data offering. In addition to the pickup of BlueKai (see our deal value and revenue estimates for that transaction here), Oracle paid hefty amounts to buy offline retail data provider Datalogix (estimate) and a source of online behavioral data in AddThis (estimate).

The addition of Crosswise gives Oracle a stronger story around identity. The rationale behind its earlier purchase of Datalogix was to give its BlueKai software the data and infrastructure to form a better picture of consumer identity. Datalogix accomplishes this by taking data traditionally associated with direct mail (household demographics) and matching it with information from retail loyalty card programs and online behavior to form consumer identities that cross the online and offline worlds. Crosswise fills a significant gap in this by linking devices and enabling Oracle to offer a single set of data to power targeted ad campaigns and then measure the impact online and offline.

Several acquisitions of cross-device matching providers have left few available targets for the next round of would-be buyers. Most deals have been modest tuck-ins, such as purchases by privately held companies AppNexus, Lotame and Qualia Media. Oracle’s acquisition of Crosswise, a three-year-old startup with just $5m in funding, is likely a bit larger than those, yet far smaller than the most recent transaction in the category – Telenor’s $360m purchase of Tapad in February. Drawbridge, one of the pioneers and largest independent player in this segment, is the most visible target. Others include Adbrain and Augur.

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IBM’s Resource-ful push into the CMO office

Contact: Scott Denne

IBM’s acquisitions of Unica and Silverpop basically bookended a series of deals earlier this decade when enterprise software vendors rushed for marketing applications to push to the CMO suite. That’s what makes today’s reach for digital ad agency Resource/Ammirati surprising: Big Blue shows that its strategy for winning the CMO is shifting toward services and away from software.

Resource/Ammirati is among the largest independent ad agencies to mix creative services with digital marketing. It will join IBM Interactive Experience, the digital marketing services unit that Big Blue created in 2014 by blending its existing digital agency with researchers from its customer experience lab. The addition of Resource/Ammirati brings additional digital marketing expertise and, more importantly, a creative ad agency that develops marketing strategies and ad campaigns across online and offline media, having developed TV campaigns for Labatt Breweries and Birchbox, built mobile apps for Sherwin-Williams and designed Procter & Gamble’s e-commerce platform.

In marketing software, IBM has a set of loosely related marketing apps and seems to have rightly recognized that being half-heartedly committed to building a full marketing stack isn’t going to win the day. In IT, where IBM’s strength lies, buyers have a standard set of needs and a standard set of hardware and applications to fill those needs. Marketing is more complex. New categories and channels of customer engagement appear all the time and the best marketers are constantly making adjustments and running tests to optimize performance. Building a software stack to keep up is challenging – services are more flexible.

IBM’s move into digital marketing and agency services lessens the competition with enterprise software firms, though it invites competition from other IT service providers as well as the incumbents in the CMO suite: large agency holding companies. For its part, the latter group has become more active in nabbing IT-related services. In just the past two days, we’ve seen a couple of ad agencies purchase mobile development shops (WPP’s acquisition of ArcTouch and St. Ives’ reach for The App Business). And let’s not forget Publicis Groupe’s $3.7bn pickup of Web development firm Sapient, among other deals with a technology flare.

While IBM has a massive services business beyond marketing, it hasn’t been a careful steward of those assets of late. Last quarter, continuing a trend from 2015, Big Blue’s services revenue declined 11%, a faster rate than its software business.

Jordan Edmiston Group advised Resource/Ammirati on its sale.

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SMB focus is the only Constant in Endurance’s latest deal

Contact: Scott Denne Liam Eagle

Endurance International pushes its M&A efforts into a new bracket with the $1.1bn purchase of email marketer Constant Contact. Endurance has printed dozens of acquisitions since its founding, though nothing of this magnitude: since 2002, its median deal size was only $44.9m across 13 transactions, according to 451 Research’s M&A KnowledgeBase. It’s not just the size of the deal, though – Endurance is also departing from the past in terms of strategy.

Previously, the company focused exclusively on obtaining customers by bolting on other Web hosting vendors. With Constant Contact, it’s adding a new set of services to sell to its existing base – as well as indicating to the market that there’s a larger universe of acquisitions that it can now consider.

Constant Contact’s sale comes at the tail end of a flurry of email marketing M&A earlier this decade – and at a decidedly lower multiple than most. At the high end of outcomes, ExactTarget and Responsys were able to land enterprise valuations above 7x trailing revenue, whereas Constant Contact is fetching just 2.6x.

Growth accounts for some of the difference in valuations. ExactTarget and Responsys were putting up quarters of 37% and 26% year-over-year growth, respectively, prior to their exits, while Constant Contact is coming off a quarter of 13% growth. Also, SMB-focused firms like Constant Contact tend to garner conservative valuations. In its sale to Vocus in 2012, iContact, a smaller SMB email marketer, landed just 3.5x TTM revenue after a year of 25% topline growth.

Endurance International’s largest deals since 2002

Date announced Target Description Deal value
November 2, 2015 Constant Contact SMB marketing apps $1.1bn
July 13, 2012 HostGator Web hosting $299.8m
September 9, 2013 Directi Web Technology Web hosting $105m
July 22, 2011 Dotster Web hosting $62.9m

Source: 451 Research’s M&A KnowledgeBase

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Selligent turns to HGGC to fund overseas expansion

Contact: Scott Denne Matt Mullen

HGGC buys a majority stake in Selligent as the European marketing automation vendor aims to move into overseas markets. As part of the acquisition, HGGC will add capital to Selligent’s balance sheet, giving the company much-needed ammunition as it enters a crowded US market where it’s virtually unknown.

The company generates less than one-third of the revenue that publicly traded players in this space such as Marketo and HubSpot (which are more B2B-focused vendors) put up. It’s also facing competition from large enterprise software providers such as salesforce.com, Adobe and, most recently, NetSuite (with its acquisition of Bronto Software ), which have all invested hundreds of millions to carve out a lead in marketing automation.

Still, Selligent has several reasons to be optimistic about its expansion. The 25-year-old company has posted profitable growth for several years, it has a product portfolio that’s as deep as any of its competitors’ (as we discussed in a recent report), it has successfully moved into several European markets, and it managed a transition to a SaaS-based business without raising additional outside capital.

Jordan Edmiston Group advised Selligent on its sale.

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