In 2011 I spent a significant amount of time with the DNN Corp Marketing and Sales teams to assist them with their content marketing and sales campaigns. As part of that process I had learned a great deal about how marketing auotmation tools such as Marketo and Salesforce actually functioned from a technical perspective. I had also learned some of the challenges and frustrations of integrating these solutions with DotNetNuke at that time.
That same year our former VP of Engineering, Bob Kruger, hosted an internal event for the DNN Corp internal engineering team that he called DotNetNuke Unleashed Day. The goal was to provide an opportunity for employees to share their own product ideas on how to make DotNetNuke better. People were given a limited amount of time to explore an idea and everyone who participated was expected to do a presentation for the group at the end to showcase the results of their efforts. My idea was to create a proof of concept that demonstrated a native marketing automation solution for DotNetNuke.
The fundamental concept I wanted to explore was the tracking of website visitors. DNN had always focused much more on the tooling for authenticated users and really offered nothing in regards to anonymous visitors. The fundamentals of any marketing automation solution are based upon comprehensive web analytics so I built an integrated module which was able to record all web traffic - both anonymous and authenticated. It utilized the age old technique of creating a cookie in a visitors browser so that it could uniquely identify the source of the web traffic for determining whether it was a new visitor or returning visitor. Once I had the fundamentals working I layered on some additional marketing automation capabilities including a gated form which could capture a visitors email address in response to some type of call to action such as an offer to download a whitepaper or other form of asset that was perceived to be valuable. Once someone shared an email address they became a registered sales lead and started to receive marketing emails. The marketing emails were obviously tracked as well through the use of a basic "invisible gif" which could record whether someone opened an email and read the content or not. All of these activities were associated back to the visitor and I created a simple rules engine that allowed you to assign points to each activity. Over time it was then possible to aggregate the points to produce a report of those registered sames leads who were the most active or most focused on a particular product or service. These were of course the top prospects which you would want your sales team to engage with as they were the most likely to become customers.
The proof of concept worked well and people were impressed when I presented it at DotNetNuke Unleashed Day. Later I also demonstrated it to some members of our DNN Partner program and to our management team.... and this is unfortunately where it lost momentum. Some members of the management team felt that there were already enough best of breed marketing automation solutions available in the market so it did not make sense for us to pursue a native solution for DNN. Unfortunately, I was also unable to get approval to release the POC as an open source solution for the community. So I kept it to myself and continued to tinker with it in my spare time over the next few years. I added additional capabilities for tracking a wider range of user activities, modules to allow people to contribute content as a means to encourage more engagement on a site, and content personalization features similar to the capabilities you get in enteprise CMS's like Sitecore. And I used the entire suite of these tools in production on some of my personal websites to prove that they were viable.
When I left DNN Corp in 2014 I was presented with some questions about my future plans for these tools. I remember having a conference call with Bob Kruger where he reminded me that they were developed during my employement with the company and requested that I send him all of the related IP. I happily obliged as I was actually hopeful that they might eventually see the light of day. In fact I advocated quite strongly that these tools should be used on dnnsoftware.com as it would help increase engagement in the DNN community. My suggestions were clearly not appreciated by everyone and after receiving a formal letter from DNN Corp to this effect, I decided it was better to focus my efforts elsewhere. So I resigned from the DNN MVP program and stepped away from the DNN community. This also meant that the tools I had developed were not utilized and continued to remain on the shelf.
In 2016 my new employer, Arrow Digital, decided to release a DNN e-commerce product it had developed named Hotcakes as an open source project. As part of that effort it needed a community website so I spent quite a bit of time recreating a variety of the tools that I had previously developed while at DNN. The tools were very useful for the Hotcakes community website and Scott Willhite, Will Strohl and I discussed the idea of possibly releasing them as open source modules for the DNN community. The leadership at Arrow was receptive to this idea however we all soon got consumed with other high priority billable projects so the modules remained internal.
In 2017 DNN Corp was acquired by ESW Capital. I was asked to do the keynote at the DNN Summit conference in Denver, Colorado that year and my presentation was focused on how to get the ecosystem more engaged and encourage community growth. I have always been a big believer in leveraging automation tools to achieve these types of goals and I announced at the conference that Arrow Digital wanted to contribute the tools we had developed for Hotcakes to assist the DNN community with its efforts. After the conference I met with the DNN community leadership and did a demonstration of the tools. Unfortunately it turned out that the DNN community was not yet empowered to make decisions on how to evolve the dnnsoftware.com website and as a result they were not able to take advantage of the offer at the time.
In 2019 a decision was finally made to launch a dedicated community site for DNN at dnnsoftware.org. At the DNN Connect event in Switzerland I spoke to the new website project team led by Will Strohl and reminded them of the offer that had been made a few years earlier. Following the conference I did a demo of the tools and the team was very interested in using them as they aligned well with many of their community website goals. However one of the policies of the new community website was that it should only use open source modules. The Hotcakes tools had never been released as open source so there was some time and effort involved cleaning them up so they could be published to Github. I sent the current version of the code to the team and Jay Mathis did an exceptional job of preparing them for release - modernizing the look and feel of the modules in the process.
The tools were implemented on the DNN community site when it was launched earlier this year and you can see that they are being utilized extensively to increase engagement and visibility:
It's surprising that it took 8 years for these tools to see the light of day but I am very happy that they are now being utilized and creating value for the DNN community.