a man scratching his head in confusion
Some Marketo customers are unclear if performance issues are from Project Orion or because the rollout has yet to hit their instance. PHOTO: Jesse Acosta

Marketo made some big promises to its users during its annual customer conference last May.

However, nearly 10 months after the San Mateo, Calif.-based marketing automation provider revealed plans for a major platform re-architecture project, customers and partners are still reporting performance problems.

Code named Project Orion, the re-architecture aimed to provide big data scalability and give the vendor an in with business-to-consumer (B2C) companies. Instead it has been met with complaints, confusion and the occasional success story.

CMSWire caught up with Marketo stakeholders in advance of the company's planned March 1 update to the platform.

Lack of transparency appears to lie at the root of many customer complaints.

The Marketo performance issues we reported last spring persist for many customers: slow-loading Smart Lists that “take forever to run," email template changes which take 10 to 20 minutes to approve, and complex campaign flows requiring built-in delays to allow activity data the time to synchronize across the platform before it can be leveraged for further personalization.

Unfortunately, customers don't know if the bottlenecks are a result of Project Orion or because the rollout has yet to hit their instance.

Is It Me or Project Orion?

Marketo user Jessica Cross, head of customer lifecycle for San Francisco-based AdRoll, told CMSWire her team uses Marketo for qualification, nurturing, producing landing pages, webinars and triggering direct mailers.

“While Marketo is still the best-in-class marketing automation platform, we still struggle with speed and data processing power,” Cross said. “Perhaps our instance simply isn't on Orion yet. I'm not sure as no real announcement went out from the product team outlining what changed.”

People “love Marketo,” noted Rajesh Talele, Marketo champion and marketing strategy and technology consultant for Fremont, Calif.-based TechAspect.

"But sometimes," he added in an interview with CMSWire, "large imports/exports, Smart Lists and reports take forever to run. That frustrates people. Hopefully, Orion reduces these issues.”

Mark Townsend, Marketo practice director and Marketo champion for New York City-based Bluewolf, an IBM company, is optimistic about the potential of Project Orion to address these issues.

“Onboarding data has not been necessarily as fast as customers wanted,” Townsend said in an interview with CMSWire. But, he continued, “Orion is out in the wild," and the results "are very, very positive."

He cited success stories of "one of biggest retailers in the world being able to manage their complete business in ... Marketo to the top five political sites in the world on election night being able to handle all of the web visitors that they’re getting without any issues.”

'Too Early to Tell?'

The jury is out for others, as well.

Marketing operations practitioner Rob Gurley told CMSWire he’s managing two enterprise-scale Marketo implementations (over 500,000 lead records) and has seen “no noticeable difference in speed or ability to run complex lists or calculations.”

(Editor's note: CMSWire is a customer of Marketo’s and has been told it is on Orion, but still notices a slowdown in performance.)

Joe Reitz, a Marketo certified expert and Marketo champion at Valley View, Ohio-based Fathom Marketing, told CMSWire he, too, hasn’t seen any real impact but believes it’s "too early to tell."

Reitz clients range from big enterprises with 15 million-plus leads to smaller B2C clients with just a couple hundred thousand leads. He's eager to hear what news and announcements Marketo executives will share at their Marketing Nation Summit, which runs April 23 to 26 in San Francisco.

“Overall I'm optimistic about the people and process changes we've been seeing recently,” he said.

“The way Orion was best explained to me was that it's kind of like a memory upgrade to the system. Ultimately, I think this will make the user experience with some of Marketo's more advanced tools that much more robust, and continue to bolster customer loyalty.”

Marketo: Speed Has Been Addressed

Told about customers’ speed performance issues, Cheryl Chavez, group vice president for product management and user experience at Marketo, said Orion will solve those problems.

Chavez told CMSWire that in terms of data processing, importing Marketo Smart Lists and other performance bottlenecks, “these are all things that have been addressed as part of this new big data architecture.”

“It goes back to the earlier story where these large amounts of data are coming in and there’s a need for us to continue to move the platform forward with new technology,” Chavez said. “As these new technologies are being put into place, customers who were experiencing any of that slowness, or delays or any performance issues, those will all be taken care of with this new platform. This does solve those problems for those customers.”

Chavez noted that some customers have larger sets of data than others, which could lead to the performance issues reported to CMSWire. Marketo rolled out Orion in multiple stages, which could hinder performance as well, she noted.

Customers will feel the “full benefits” of the re-architecture project as it’s fully rolled out for each organization, Chavez added.

TechAspect’s Talele noted Orion is also purported to:

  • Ingest large amounts of Munchkin and web activities (benchmark: 10 million actives per hour). Marketo's custom JavaScript tracking code, Munchkin, tracks all individuals who visit websites and helps target automated marketing campaigns
  • Create fast trigger campaigns (benchmark: reduce latency to less than five seconds for a trigger)
  • Produce lightning fast batch email campaigns (Benchmark: first send in less than 60 seconds.

The company is expected to reveal more about the rollouts in tomorrow's release announcement.

Orion Buzz Followed By ... Silence

Momentum for Project Orion began in May at the 2016 Marketo Marketing Nation Summit. Marketo officials told CMSWire then Orion would deliver the kind of high volume transactional support necessary for B2C use cases, which are generally higher than Marketo's traditional bread-and-butter B2B use cases.

Soon after the initial announcement, former CEO Phil Fernandez called Orion the company’s biggest technology advancement to date and promised its release “very soon.” He claimed the back-end architecture would have the capacity to handle 40 million events per customer per hour, store quadrillions of customer events within a few years and handle 90 percent of analytics queries within five seconds.

But following the initial excitement, Marketo officials have remained mostly silent, aside from the occasional media report or reference in the Marketo Community forum.

In December, an employee tweeted:

The quiet period has added to confusion among customers. Some, when contacted in the last month by CMSWire, were still unaware if their Marketo instance was supported by the platform re-architecture.

Tomorrow's announcement is expected to break the silence and hopefully bring some of its customers out of the dark.