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IBM Snaps Up Silverpop Amid Marketing Automation Arms Race

Before Getting Acquired By IBM, Silverpop CEO Cast Doubt on Similar Arrangements

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Bill Nussey
Bill Nussey

The arms race in marketing automation continues apace as IBM snapped up Atlanta-based Silverpop Thursday for an undisclosed sum.

With the deal, IBM joins Salesforce, Oracle and Adobe which have all made numerous acquisitions over the past two years as they build out tech infrastructure to service marketers.

IBM has recently acquired a number of marketing-software companies, including Unica and DemandTech, and it will bring Silverpop into its enterprise-marketing-management group. The addition of a true marketing-automation platform should heat up IBM's competition with the other big players.

That escalating competition can be nervewracking for marketers using those marketing-automation systems. The shrinking number of independent platforms means they will need to rely on larger entities to be good stewards of the tech (not to mention data) and less competition could lead to rising prices.

Marketo remains the most significant independent marketing-automation-software company, while "one stop shops" now dominate the market.

Though he hailed the deal on Thursday, Silverpop CEO Bill Nussey recently expressed doubts about the value marketers get out of such arrangements.

Consolidation doubts
"Marketers are going to want to focus their purchases on companies who live, eat and breathe marketing. And not sales automation and not programming platforms and not giant database platforms. They're going to want to buy from someone who does just marketing," Mr. Nussey told Ad Age in an interview on March 14, just 27 days before his company agreed to be acquired by IBM.

"The web and APIs and all this interconnectivity that we see makes it actually pretty darn easy to tie together different systems," said Mr. Nussey. Joining big companies, he added, can cause unanticipated operational problems. "Some of our competitors are famously not connected after the acquisitions because they have so much work to do to tie them together."

In an interview Thursday, Mr. Nussey said getting acquired by IBM was a special case. "Their footprint in marketing, dedicated focus in marketing, is larger than most other companies that focus on just marketing," he said. "They have a massive footprint and so it feels like a pure play to me, but I acknowledge that they are a larger company."

IBM would not comment on whether negotiations were taking place at time of Mr. Nussey's comments. But IBM strategy program director Jay Henderson said the acquisition would help accelerate SilverPop's business and vision.

"His comments when they were a standalone entity are what you would say when you're a standalone entity," Mr. Henderson said.

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