Adobe Business Catalyst - Website Platform Review by a UK Partner

Hi there my name is Fraser McCulloch and I run Platonik and this is a review about the Adobe Business Catalyst Platform; but purely from a business perspective.

So this is going to be a warts and all review of Adobe Business Catalyst written from a purely business perspective by a non designer and non developer who has used the platform day in day out for the last 6 years.

We’ve been using and specifying Adobe Business Catalyst for clients for over 6 years; myself as project manager and my team of web designers and web developers.

Quite possibly I’ve logged in and managed over 150 clients and their business web activity every single day for over 6 years even before Adobe acquired Business Catalyst.

I know this system more than the wrinkles on the back of my hands.

How I discovered Adobe Business Catalyst.

I was working with a web development company doing a combination of managing the development of client sites and doing prospecting and sales. 

The web development firm has their own web platform built on PHP and MYSQL and my client’s experience of this solution was that it was buggy and took forever to develop on.

One particular project was fraught with issues and the client was giving me feedback that was not very complimentary of the company.

With the client’s interests at heart I had to unearth the problem and get the client and project back on track.

It turned out the developer on the project was on a final warning from the company and a couple of other developers explained the platform was buggy and not modularised - i.e.: quick to build repeatable parts of work.

The web firm owner and myself eventually clashed when his cashflow was damaged as a result of the client delaying payment for delayed coding and development.

Then, as a result of pure coincidence, an old university friend who had invested in a sports company approached me.

He needed someone with a good solid marketing and sales background but who also had practical web business experience.

And so we had a few meetings to discuss his investment’s problems and opportunities.

Did we consider Wordpress or Salesforce or any other Adobe BC competitor?

Now bear in mind this was 2008 and the sports industry, regardless of your perception of it, isn’t the most technologically advanced industry.

Here are a few things we discussed about the business.

They still faxed USA product enquiries from the UK to their USA sales team.

We analysed the customer web journey and discovered the consumer was forced to take too many steps to find out product information and considerably more hoops to jump through just to purchase.

We discovered the web site was separate from the online shop. And there were in fact 3 online shops; one for UK, one for USA and one for Europe.

We discovered that shipping costs were exorbitant and the number one barrier to improved sales.

We discovered the client did infrequent email marketing and when they did email they only emailed sales offers.

We discovered that the average length of time from product awareness to purchase was 18 to 24 months but the client had no education process in place.

So the bottom line was to increase business. 

But we needed the right tools for the job.

These discovery sessions were conducted with the Managing Director of the business, who wasn’t really a technical chap.

Very much old school, meet and greet, people person.

So my conversations about web technologies were held with the board director/investor friend of mine.

First off, the CRM. Why don’t we go with Salesforce?

It made sense to focus on existing prospects and customers in our efforts to improve sales and revenues.

When we learned more about Salesforce we discovered that bespoke customisation of their CRM was going to cost us a lot of money.

Plus the staff that had interactions with prospects and customers were not the most tech savvy and or have expert product knowledge.

So we looked from a different perspective.

What if we could combine a website that educated and could address questions prospects had about the products without as much 'phone time', a shop that sold product, a CRM that passed web enquiries by email to the right sales staff and an email marketing system aimed at 2 groups; prospects and customers ?

The Managing Director’s relationship with the web designer

Realising we needed a complete overhaul of how business was done, I started exploring the work the current web company did.

All my fears were realised when I met the web designer.

  • No basic on page optimisation of web pages.

  • Not one single page description on any page except the home page.

  • No content management system to edit or add pages.

  • All changes to the website required me to speak to the web designer who then briefed another web developer.

The MD was spending his web budget on maintenance and menial tasks instead of proactive marketing effort spend.

All enquiries that did come into the website were sent to the office administrator who, when she had time, added the enquiries to an excel spreadsheet only after she had faxed to the correct sales rep.

So the tricky part was trying to severe the relationship between the web designer and the MD.

  • I had to blunt.

  • I was brought into improve the business.

  • The cost of these changes plus my monthly consultancy fee would be more than realised by making wholesales changes.

I knew I had the backing of the board so really it wasn’t an issue making the change.

All Features Under One Roof Plus Plenty of Flexibility

I never once looked at Wordpress or Magento because quite simply we were looking at the business needs and business goals.

I was focused on questions like:

  • How do I present the products on the website that informs and educates the website visitor?

  • If they do enquire, where do we place the enquiry form, where does the enquiry form information go? 

  • What if we need to change the enquiry form?

  • How I add page content in a search engine friendly format?

  • When people do decide to buy, how do I make the shopping experience as easy and simple as process?

  • How do I add new products?

  • How do I add free shipping or offers?

  • How do I sell in 3 different currencies without the expense of 3 shops?

  • When I do get an enquiry or sale, where does that information go?

  • How can I leverage product enquiries or customers who have purchased?

  • How do I email to a group of prospects that will require different information from people who have previously purchased?

  • What if I decide to run some educational events or seminars? 

  • What if I want to connect customers with other customers online?

  • I maybe need a forum but I sure as hell don’t want to spend money on another solution or someone managing it.

  • What are my hosting costs going to be for the website and shop?

I looked at Aweber for email but it had no CRM

I looked at Shopify for a shop but we needed more than a just a shop plus financially the idea of giving away margin didn’t agree with the board or accountant.

Places like eBay and Amazon were no go areas as we were a serious and professional brand and credibility came from having control of the brand identity.

I looked at Infusionsoft but, as I said, we were all business people, and from my recollection, it just seemed too technical in nature and not geared towards running the different aspects of a business.

Having worked with a web development company I knew that the cost of developing a solution we required was going to cost at least £100,000.

And I found Goodbarry after various web searches. (Which is what Adobe Business Catalyst used to be called)

A company and a solution in Australia.

What attracted me was their business language.

You know when someone new is speaking with you and you are internally nodding your head at what they are saying.

Well that’s how these guys spoke to me (with the content on their website).

They get us.

They offered a free trial so ahead I went.

I played around with the web forms.

Adobe Business Catalyst web forms

I could make custom web forms myself.

I could add the web form to a page.

I could control the thank you page.

I could see the enquiry details added to their CRM.

I could manage and see the email the prospect received and that I, as business owner, received.

So I thought that this was pretty impressive.

Then I discovered the email marketing function.

Adobe Business Catalyst email marketing

After a bit more product research, I then discovered that I could import previous contacts to a separate list.

And then email them.

Bingo, I solved my email-marketing problem.

Separate emails to prospects and customers.

Adobe Business Catalyst have a step by step process that guides you through running an email marketing campaign.

If you are familiar with Mailchimp for email marketing, then this is similar and the cost of 10,000 emails sent per month is included in the monthly licence fee that start at $39 a month for the e-commerce plan.

You can send automated follow up campaigns like you do with MailChimp, although I would like to see the additional feature where you can remove a user from one list if they join another email list.

Creating an email design template within Adobe Business Catalyst

This is a fairly technical screencast outlining how to hack together a responsive email marketing template you can build with some basic html and css knowledge; it works great on mobiles, tablets and big screen devices. 

I've tested in Apple Mail and Outlook on about 6 client campaigns.

I don't suggest to be technically savvy and I've taken and extended an idea for Joe Watkins so the template can be re-used again and again.

Now you can focus on content to turn prospects into buyers and existing customers into repeat customers with Adobe's great built in targeting and segmentation tools.

How to create an email campaign in Adobe Business Catalyst from start to finish

Here's a screencast video where I outline how to create an email marketing campaign from start to finish using the Adobe Business Catalyst platform from start to finish.

Whilst the process only takes 10 or so minutes, it did take me an hour preparation and 4 years experience of Adobe Business Catalyst to get to this stage.

If you recall I had 5 problems to solve

  1. Email Marketing
  2. Customer system
  3. Enquiries
  4. Web site content
  5. Online Sales

So then I started experimenting with the CRM system.

CRM from Adobe Business Catalyst

Having submitted an enquiry via a web form, I logged into the business dashboard and did a search for my name under the Customer (CRM section).

I was then greeted with a panel of tabs.

  • Details

  • Activity

  • Cases

  • Orders

  • Events

  • Subscriptions

  • Campaigns Received

What I then realised is that I could have a snapshot of one person’s activity.

  • I could see their details.

  • I could change their details.

  • I could see if they made multiple enquiries under the cases tab.

  • I could see and edit the subscription lists they were joined to; prospects or customers. 

  • I could look at orders they placed.

  • And after sending out some test email campaigns I could see which emails they had been sent, how many times they open the emails, which links they clicked and if they took any action such as making an enquiry or making a purchase.

At this stage I was starting to see some progress in my research and evaluation process.

I had the ability to manage enquiry forms, what happened to them, I had the ability to manage people or contacts on an individual basis and I had the ability to send and manage email campaigns.

Add Web Pages and manage the website

Adobe Business Catalyst Content Management System

During the trial period, I was able to experiment with the content management system.

Although I was only using a basic website framework as part of my testing, I was able to:

  • Add a page.

  • Control the page optimisation elements such as the URL, page header, and page title and page description.

  • Change the menu links easily.

  • And then the really impressive feature.

  • Add modules to pages.

SEO Expert's Review of Adobe Business Catalyst

Here are some thoughts from Search Engine Optimisation expert, Craig Bradford, on what he thinks about Platonik, alternatives systems and getting ranked highly on Google.

"I first came across the Platonik CMS when working on a client's website. 

As our company specialise in SEO, the platform on which a site is built can make my job very easy or very difficult. 

When I started digging around the back end of this clients website I straight away found it a relief to see the high level of functionality. 

It's built in such a way that you can update your own website just as easy as using something like Microsoft word and adding pages is extremely easy. 

I always find it frustrating when I decide to add content to a client site only to find that their web designer charges them £50 every time they want a new page, the Platonik CMS makes adding content easy and free.

To my delight Google and other search engines seemed to love the platform as well since the site started to rank quickly in all the major search engines with very little work.


Over all I couldn't recommend the Platonik platform more, for the amount of functionality you get from the back end of the site it's well worth the money. Needless to say shortly after working with that clients website I got my entire site changed over to the same Platonik online business software."

Craig provides Search Engine Optimisation services.

Let’s take an example

I had a product information sheet supplied to me in PDF format.

So I went to Modules > Media Downloads and I uploaded the PDF with the intention of adding it to a web page.

Then I placed that PDF on a web page as a module insertion.

So then I had an updated and changed version of the PDF.

So I didn’t have to hunt around the website looking for the PDF.

I know where it was stored.

I updated the PDF and it then updated wherever it was placed on the website as it had been inserted as a module rather than a raw PDF.

Exploring modules in more depth I discovered that I could similarly manage other assets such as photos, events and faqs in this way.

That one PDF turned out being added to 50 web pages. 

So I only had to update the PDF once instead of updating 50 web pages.

Adobe BC Media Downloads module

Now to solve the online sales problem with Adobe Business Catalyst

The client effectively sold 3 main physical products along with a few add-ons and extras but they were losing a lot of business because of their online sales process.

The process needed to be simplified and Adobe shop functionality seemed to offer that.

Again I was able to trial the shop functionality.

I could add a catalog, products, prices, vat levels, shipping rates, product photos, product descriptions and related products.

Although we had no requirement we were able to sell gift vouchers and downloadable products.

One major difficulty and problem was having 3 online shops for 3 different markets.

A company at this turnover level did not need the cost and hassle of managing 3 separate shops.

Plus the order abandonment has a problem.

I asked Adobe about multi currency functionality, it could be done under the one system with extensive JavaScript programming.

But looking now back at 2008, this functionality was and still is weak. 

But more on that later.

Online shops we've built with Adobe Business Catalyst

We have since built multi currency online shops mainly for fashion companies such as watch and clothing brands and Adobe Business Catalyst is ideal for this type and size of business. 

In fact we managed to acquire two Magento built store and moved them over to Business Catalyst as that system was too sophisticated and expensive for their needs.

British Watch Store

An online shop website for the Kennett Timepieces brand to grow online sales.

Ladies Fashion Online Shop

We moved the website from Magento to Adobe Business Catalyst.

Swiss Watch Online Shop

We re-developed this specialist Swiss watch shop which specialises in golf themed watches.

US Online Store for Swiss Watch Company

Design and development of US online store for a Swiss watch company heralded as the Watch For Presidents.

Two reasons we chose Adobe Business Catalyst

By offering multiple solutions all under one roof we knew that we would have less development costs, lower running costs and have the back up of the Adobe Business Catalyst technical team (that's what you pay your $39 a month for) who managed the hosting of the website; as opposed to some bloke near Northampton in a garden shed office.

Secondly

We know these tools could solve our business problem.

Enquiries.
Sales.

To put costs into perspective, the customisation of Salesforce alone was more than the design and re-development and annual hosting fee for Adobe Business Catalyst.

My consulting fees were recouped within 3 months from additional online sales and improving lost and abandoned orders.

An Interview with an Adobe Business Catalyst customer

We did a little question and answer with one of clients, United Sports USA, a sports scholarship consultancy who act as the conduit between kids looking for sports scholarships in the USA and coaches looking for potential athletes.

Here's the q and a with their Managing Director; also called Fraser.

Fraser, you had a website before we met and discussed your business.

Q. What made you change from the old website? 

A. The old website was not as user friendly, and had no onsite optimisation.

 Q. What has happened as a result of the new website ? 

A. We have had more enquiries and we are now able to be found by google, and we are ranking higher every week with google.

  Q. What specific feature did you like most about Business Catalyst ? 

A. The fact that we can see which coach logs into the site and follow up with them straight away.

 Q. What would be three other benefits about using Business Catalyst ? 

A. BC send me a weekly report on enquiries, site visits etc, this makes it easy for us to see what is working. We have email and text alerts when somebody fills out the enquiry form online. Also, the fact that we can send out a group email from the back end to all of the coaches on our database.

 

Q. Would you recommend Business Catalyst? If so, why? 

A. Yes, definitely. It makes your business more simple and you are able to track things effectively.

 

Q. Is there anything you’d like to add? 

A. Nothing that I can think of right now.

 

Business Dashboard and Analytics

If you are going to run a business online, whether you are seeking enquiries to services you offer or you are going to sell you are going to be focused on results.

One business benefit of Business Catalyst is the business dashboard you are presented with upon logging into the admin area.

As you can see from the screenshot below, you immediately view a graph of web visits along with a summary of online sales and enquiries.

Adjust the dashboard with the plus and minus button and you can view different timeframes.

This provides a business owner or marketer with answers to those questions others within the business will ask them “how are we doing this week ?”

If you want more advanced analytical information, BC have a analytics module where you are drill down into keyword searches, referral traffic, drill down to which country or area people are visiting the websites.

Adobe BC Dashboard

Most marketers are reared on Google Analytics.

Adobe Business Catalyst reports are not at the level of Google’s reporting tools and they have had issues over the years with robots and spam visits being included in the visit report results.

In addition, Adobe say they measure visits differently from Google but, from experience, there’s generally a huge gap between these 2 reporting methods.

So my advice would be to invest in a little custom development and use the new Apps solution and have your Google Analytics account added to your dashboard.

Forward Wind to 2015. Adobe Business Catalyst is not for web designers

Goodbarry and Business Catalyst were purchased by Adobe in 2008 and that was heralded as great news by the Business Catalyst partners.

Goodbarry, the direct-to-end-user brand name, was phased out and the only way to work with Adobe Business Catalyst was through their partner network.

My own business model changed from consulting to consulting and implementation as a result of my BC experience for my client.

I became a business partner and expected the might of Adobe to make Business Catalyst a powerhouse in the web world.

“Great, I can tap into other Adobe sub brands and get referrals” was my business rationale at the time.

But what has transpired over the past 6 years is that Adobe Business Catalyst now has technologists running a product that was originally created “by business owners for business owners”.

When you login into the admin console, the features you see now remain mainly unchanged from 2008; from a business perspective that is.

Technically the platform has changed, but like a car owner, I don't care what's under the bonnet or hood, I want look and feel and performance.

The core modules largely remain untouched from 2008.

So from Platonik's perspective of developing lead generation and e-commerce site it is nice to have some consistency.

One area that BC excels in is web apps.

Web Apps allow us to create custom functionality for clients on top of the core platform.

It has allowed us to develop a complete, bespoke recruitment website where the client runs their entire vacancy application process and vacancy marketing process from.

Web Apps have allowed us to solve problems we never thought we could solve for clients.

But that’s only because we have some very experienced web developers.

On the home page Adobe Business Catalyst proclaim “everything you need to build an online business”

And then “built for web designers like you”.

Even if you are reasonably competent with html and css, you are still going to struggle with Business Catalyst.

You are going to need some advanced jquery and coding skills and, in the future, Liquid language experience.

Adobe’s technical team have over the years gradually retreated to hide away not only from their core clients, partners, but also from the overall web community.

They say they are working on something called BC: Next; which from a business perspective I can’t see any tangible benefits as of yet.

Sadly, Adobe doesn’t offer everything you need to run an online business.

There are serious issues with EU and VAT functionality if you intent to sell online to businesses.

There are new EU VAT laws relating to selling digital products and services such as hosting, software and digital goods.

Even after 4 years of shouting, Adobe ignores.

They say once BC:Next is implemented then they will start to focus on core module development like e-commerce, customers and email marketing.

However despite their neglect and understanding of what business owners’ want, they fortunately inherited a platform that stands heads above most others out there.

Why I’ve stuck with Adobe Business Catalyst

And here’s why we have largely stayed with Adobe Business Catalyst.

I don’t have to hire an IT guy just to maintain your website.

I don’t have huge development costs when clients want extra work or additional functionality.

I can concentrate on the business side and my web developers can solve mostly any technical challenge as a result of their skills in spite of the platform limitations.

Bespoke web development we’ve created using Adobe Business Catalyst

Here are just some bespoke solutions we’ve need able to create with web apps in Adobe Business Catalyst.

  • Search, Sort, Renew Job Listing on a Web App.

  • Custom Pay a Deposit Payment Page where the client can add different prices and different vat levels.

  • A EU/VAT downloadable reports web business.

  • For a travel company, functionality to add regions, countries and areas to enable the user to select an area on a map and learn about that area.

  • Use the online shop feature to sell membership access to online fitness training.

  • Custom golf tour package pages with detailed merchandising of related golf courses and hotels.

Adobe Business Catalyst partner portal does contain some pre built templates

One of the benefits of running and managing my business is the partner portal Adobe offered upon agreeing to be a business partner of theirs.

My team can access all client sites from one portal area.

This saves time and I can switch from site to site with relevant ease.

In addition there are some nice responsive pre built templates that I can offer to business users during their evaluation of the platform.

Of course a web developer will say don’t use a template

After discussing with a client their business problems, challenges and goals, we have to get around to the subject of budget.

Not everyone has the budget to start with a blank sheet of paper anymore.

So if we can shave off 50 development hours by using a pre built template and it’s a good fit for the client and their brand then we will do so.

Again it’s all budget dependent but we have transformed templates to match the exact brand guidelines of a client without you ever recognising the original template.

Adobe Business Catalyst Support and Training

Being a partner, live support chat is good; I generally get issues fixed straight away.

To be fair Adobe’s support has improved over the years.

If only they invested in core module development the way they invested in support I’d be a lot happier.

Adobe Business Catalyst in summary

I am sure every solution has its limitations but where Adobe Business Catalyst excels is in the ability to develop custom application on top of a hosted platform without any hosting or server maintenance costs or issues.

If you are looking for an out of the box solution, BC is probably not your best solution as it does require the help of good web developers with strong jquery and advanced css experience in order to deliver bespoke business solutions.

  • You have to customise to sell online.

  • You have to customise if you want to sell digital products.

  • You have to customise if you want to sell membership sites.

So Adobe BC is ideally suited to growing and mid size companies that are prepared to invest in marketing and web development budget.

Business Catalyst still hasn’t found it’s place in the marketplace yet and will always play second fiddle to Wordpress, Shopify and Magento but maybe with the acquisition of a good product marketing team who come out and talk to real business owners instead of being led by faceless developers Adobe Business Catalyst may find it’s way again in the business world.

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