Tuesday, September 16, 2014

HubSpot Jumps into the CRM Marketplace

Hell probably didn’t freeze over today but there might have been a light frost: after years of rejecting the option, HubSpot today announced it will offer a CRM system.

The news was the climax of the founders’ keynote at the company’s annual Inbound Conference, which has yet again doubled to reach 10,000 attendees. Audience response was predictably enthusiastic, since CRM features have been much desired by HubSpot users and resellers for years. The system itself offers standard CRM features – contacts and company records, calendar management, emails, activity logging, tasks, deal tracking – combined with automated population of company and prospect information from Web sources and Twitter activity. There’s also a neat feature that finds existing relationships between a company and email accounts within the user’s own address book and other address books (presumably of co-workers) who have granted access. Another feature goes a step further and provides finds data on other companies that are similar to a current prospect. The goal of all these features is to find useful relationships and information while minimizing manual research and data entry by sales reps.  HubSpot hopes this will encourage adoption of CRM by sales reps who have rejected it because it took too much work for too little value.

The product looked quite nice, although I think most of the features are already available in other CRM systems or add-ons. Having them easily available in a single product is convenient, but what’s really interesting is the integration of CRM with HubSpot’s marketing features and underlying database. This provides a combined sales and marketing system that’s quite unusual for mid-market companies. The approach is standard in systems for very small businesses, such as Infusionsoft and Ontraport.  But that’s a different market, and one which HubSpot managers make clear they don’t want to target (although I’m sure HubSpot has many such businesses in its current customer base).

Even more unusual for the mid-market, HubSpot is offering the system for free: initially to its current customers, and to the rest of the world some time next year. The free version will have some limits, likely related to features and database size, although the company hasn’t decided on the details. This follows the model of HubSpot’s current sales enablement system, Signals, which provided some behavior tracking and itself is being expanded and renamed Sidekick. HubSpot said it already has 100,000 Signals users, who greatly outnumber the 11,500 customers of its flagship marketing system.

The business strategy behind the new system is fascinating if you’re interested in that sort of thing. It’s a continuation of HubSpot’s transition from a purely marketer-focused focused company (remember that started as a tool to attract search traffic) to one that serves all customer-facing departments. This gives it access to the CRM market, which is much larger than marketing automation and would get even bigger if HubSpot succeeds where existing mid-market CRMs have failed. For a company that wants to keep growing, movement from marketing into the adjacent CRM space is probably irresistible. Can a HubSpot service offering be far behind?

Of course, there’s an obvious risk of HubSpot losing focus as it shifts to serving a broader range of users. But the alternative is being stuck in a marketing system space that is itself adding new requirements well beyond the current standard marketing automation features, such as integration with paid advertising and Web experience management. It might soon be easier to stay competitive with other CRM systems than to meet the full needs of omni-channel, integrated marketers.

It’s hard to imagine HubSpot actually abandoning its marketing users, but that might be an option that company’s managers are keeping open by developing a new base in the CRM industry. The analogy that HubSpot leaders used more than once was Apple creating the iPod as a separate business serving a much larger audience than the MacIntosh computer. Their intent seems to be that the broader business would introduce the brand to new companies who would then buy the original product. But it has surely occurred to them that if the new business is hugely successful then it will be much less painful should the original business shrivel away.

(Just to clarify: HubSpot will continue to integrate with Salesforce.com and other CRM systems; in fact, it announced several new integrations during the same keynote.  HubSpot managers said only one-third of their clients currently integrate with a CRM system and about two-thirds of those, or 20% of the total, integrate with Salesforce.com.  HubSpot's goal is to serve people not currently using CRM, not to take sales away from existing CRM vendors.)

Update - September 17

I’ve now had a bit more time to digest this news. My basic opinion hasn’t changed but some doubts have crept in. Freemium hasn’t worked well in either the marketing automation or CRM markets, probably because succeeding with both types of system take serious commitment from a client, whereas the whole point of freemium is to allow casual trials. CRM also takes some serious customer support, as HubSpot managers are fully aware, which makes it harder to justify economically. Perhaps HubSpot could convince its partners to handle some of the support for freemium customers in exchange for access to potential new customers. Tom Sawyer would approve.

Nor, now that I think about it, is the combination of marketing automation and CRM so uncommon among small to mid market marketing automation systems. It’s true that most of those products are more like basic contact management than true CRM, with the specific distinction being whether they track opportunities (deals) as an independent object: HubSpot CRM does this while I think most of the other CRM-within-marketing automation options don’t. The distinction is probably important because it means there’s a good chance of people starting to use HubSpot CRM without HubSpot marketing automation, which of course is exactly HubSpot’s goal. But, again, the risk here is that HubSpot CRM will attract smaller businesses than HubSpot really wants as it tries to move closer to the middle of the market.

I’m also reconsidering my fundamental premise that the CRM business is fundamentally more attractive than selling to marketers. If memory serves, CRM software revenues are estimated at $3 to $4 billion, which is bigger than the $1 billion for marketing automation but not by such a huge margin. Nor is CRM especially profitable: like marketing automation, it suffers from a glut of competitors because it is fundamentally easy to enter. So it’s a good thing that HubSpot sees CRM as the gateway drug to marketing systems, not a profit center of its own.

Or, perhaps more cleverly, they see CRM as a gateway to establishing themselves as a platform vendor at new clients. HubSpot hasn’t used that term very much, but they did stress that the CRM and marketing system use the same database and are accessed through the same APIs. In this view, HubSpot CRM would build a database that allows HubSpot to sell other, future applications at the companies that install it. These could be HubSpot’s own applications or third party apps sold through its marketplace. That might be a better long-term strategy, since the explosion of marketing technology will make it increasingly unlikely that HubSpot alone can provide a full range of marketing and sales functions – even though HubSpot so far has been more aggressive than most at trying to provide core capabilities (marketing automation, Web content management, and now CRM) all by itself. Repeat after me: the suite is dead.

However things play out, the new CRM product gives HubSpot several options it lacked before.  For that reason alone, it still strikes me as a good move.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Marketing Foundations Analysis Tool: Gap Analysis, Recommendations, and Benchmark for Your Marketing Systems

Way back in January, I began working with SAP on a set of worksheets to help marketers assess their customer management systems. The much-evolved fruits of that effort were released today as the Marketing Foundations Analysis Tool, a fully automated system that asks users a series of questions about their current systems, marketing programs, and company background, and returns recommendations for system changes and how to manage the transition. Survey-takers will also be shown how their current systems compare with everyone else who answered the questions.

https://www.marketingtechgap.com/

The key insight powering this project was that there are relatively few types of marketing programs and systems.  That may not sound very important (or surprising), but it means the problem is simple enough to address with a relatively small amount of user input and business logic.  Specifically, it's practical for a survey to ask marketers which programs they want and what their current systems look like.  From there, it's fairly easy to specify the system capabilities required to run each program, to aggregate these into a consolidated set of requirements, and to compare the requirements with existing capabilities for a gap analysis.  This can be combined with information about the company to generate recommendations for what to do next.

In fact, if anything surprised me during this project, it was how much information could be derived from a relatively small amount of user input. The Analysis Tool asks about:
- nine types of marketing programs, ranging from customer profiling to real time interactions to loyalty programs to marketing measurement.  Users specify whether they currently run each program, want to run it in the future, or have no interest.

- thirteen types of customer-facing systems, ranging from email and Web sites to display ads, retail point of sale, and customer account management. These are rated on a spectrum of integration capabilities, from being totally isolated to allowing real time interactions.

- seven types of shared customer data processes, ranging from single customer view to predictive modeling to treatment selection to advanced analytics. Each process is rated on different capabilities, such as calculating scores for predictive modeling and handling unstructured data within the single customer view.

That's it -- just 29 items, although some do have subitems.  Based on those inputs, the Analysis Tool produces recommendations covering:

- general architecture (integrated suite, shared customer data platform, or application-based) and change strategy
- industry-specific issues to address, such as regulatory concerns
- opportunities to improve business results by running more marketing programs
- coordinating changes to marketing programs with changes to systems
- changes to customer-facing systems (over-all and whether to keep, enhance, or replace individual systems)
- changes to shared customer data processes (over-all and process-by-process)

That's a lot of information, and it doesn't even include the benchmark comparing your answers to everyone else's.  Not bad for free.  Thanks, SAP!


So how does this all work?  To peel back the covers just a bit, the recommendations are made by first classifying results into general categories such as “few active applications” or “mostly simple systems”, and then applying rules to select pre-written answers.  For example, a company with "few active applications" and "many desired applications" is told:

Assessment: Your company is running relatively few current marketing applications but wants to add many more. This could be a challenge given your relatively limited experience.

Recommendation: Prioritize the new applications so you don’t make too many changes at once. Start with applications that require relatively little change but also offer significant rewards. These should add capabilities that will also be used for subsequent new applications. Measure results carefully and prove success before moving on to make more changes.

Obviously I’m biased, but I think that level of advice is specific enough to be useful. It can’t replace the insight of a human analyst who can assess the situation in more detail and may see connections that simple rules will miss. But it certainly provides a starting point for discussions and a base of data to work with. Well worth a ten minute investment of your time.

Again, you can try the tool here.  You can take it anonymously and view the results on screen, or give SAP your email and have them send you a copy of the report.  Either way, give it a shot and let me know what you think.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

6Sense Finds B2B Prospects Using Web Site Activities

I mentioned 6Sense briefly in a recent post about vendors who help companies find prospects on the Web. Since then, I’ve had a more detailed briefing, which clarified that their scope extends well beyond prospect lists to predictive models applied across all stages of the purchase cycle. We also clarified that users can extract company-level profiles including attributes (industry, revenue, etc.) and key activities (Web site visits, topics researched) and scores at both company and individual levels.

The extraction features are important – at least to me – because they determine whether 6Sense qualifies as a “customer data platform” (CDP), a type of system I see as fundamental for future marketing. As a quick refresher, CDP is defined as “a marketer-controlled system that supports external marketing execution based on persistent, cross-channel customer data.” The part about “supports external marketing execution” is where data extraction comes in: it means that external systems can access data within the CDP for their own use. 6Sense wouldn't be a CDP if it merely displayed its data on a CRM screen without letting the CRM system import it.  If 6Sense exposed model scores but no other data, it would qualify as a CDP by the thinnest margin possible.

Of course, there are more important things about 6Sense than whether I consider it a CDP. Starting at the beginning, the system imports a list of each client’s customers and sales opportunities from CRM and marketing automation systems. Standard integrations are available for Salesforce.com, Oracle Eloqua and Marketo.  APIs can load data from other sources, potentially including other CRM marketing automation products, Web logs and tags, order processing, bookings, call centers, media impressions, and pretty much anything else.

The system standardizes and deduplicates this data at the individual and company levels. It then matches against company profiles that 6Sense itself has gathered from the usual Web sources – public social media, Web sites, job boards, directories, etc. – and from a network of third-party Web sites. The Web site network is unusual if not unique among B2B data providers; the most similar offerings I can think of are audience profiles from B2C site networks, from owners of large B2B sites, and based on other B2B activity such as email response. The advantage of Web site activity is it finds companies early in the buying cycle, when they are most open to considering new vendors. The system can map known individuals to individuals on partner Web sites, using hashing techniques to avoid passing personally identifiable information.  .

The result of all this is a database with deep company and individual profiles including both attributes and activities. 6Sense uses this to build company and individual-level predictive models.  Company models score each company’s likelihood to buy from the client.  Individual models predict the individual’s likelihood to be the best sales contact. Models are built by 6Sense staff using automated techniques and take about three weeks to complete.

The system can also estimate what product each company is most likely to purchase, when it will buy, and what stage it has reached in the buying process. Stages are defined in consultation with the client. Assignment rules might use purchase likelihood or a predictive model trained against a sample of companies in each buying stage.

Outputs from 6Sense can include lists of likely new prospect companies (not in the client’s existing database), contacts at those companies, current prospects organized by purchase stage and ranked by purchase likelihood, current contacts within each company, and key indicators that drive each company’s score. The key indicators can be very specific, such as searches for competitors’ names, visits to product detail pages, or activity by known leads.

Users can define segments based on these or other attributes and export their related data to CRM, marketing automation, ad targeting, or Web personalization systems via file transfers or API calls. 6Sense can also display the information on screen to help guide sales conversations and is now testing an extension to recommend specific talking points.  

Pricing for 6Sense starts at more than $100,000 and is based on factors including the number of models created and volume of new net contacts provided.  The company was founded in 2013 and released early versions of its product that same year. Formal release was in May 2014. It has ten current customers and more in the pipeline.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

HubSpot Files for IPO: Solid Financials for a Young Company

HubSpot filed its much-anticipated S-1 for a public stock offering  yesterday. Since the company has been admirably transparent all along about its finances, there were no big surprises: they lose considerable money, as expected, but their expenses seem about in line. A comparison with the S-1 figures of Eloqua and Marketo, plus Marketo’s most recent six months, shows:

- loss equal to 35% of revenue, compared with 11% for Eloqua (which was run very conservatively) and 55% for Marketo (which was highly aggressive).

- high absolute revenue level (well on track to exceed $100 million for the year, about 20% higher than Eloqua and 60% higher than Marketo at the time of S-1).

- subscription and support costs are 25% of subscription revenue, in between Eloqua and Marketo. (This ratio is important because it hints at the profitability of on-going operations regardless of sales costs. Marketo has made great strides in bringing it down since their S-1.   Marketo’s R&D costs are also now more in line, at 21% of revenue. In fact, Marketo today looks a lot like the HubSpot S-1.)

- sales and marketing costs at 64% of revenue, well above Eloqua (which was growing much more slowly) and similar to Marketo (which was growing slightly faster).


The basic picture, then, is a disciplined company that has grown quickly while keeping costs in line. As I say, pretty much what we suspected.

The S-1 does provide some other insights – in particular, highlighting HubSpot’s shift in focus from  very small businesses to mid-size business. The following table, taken directly from the S-1, shows this clearly: revenue per customer has climbed steadily from $5,395 in 2011 to $8,823 in the first half of 2014 – a 64% increase. Still, the average revenue per client is nowhere near Marketo, which is in the $30,000 to $40,000 range. 
 
The table also shows that customer acquisition cost has increased by 76%, which is even more than average revenue.  This makes sense: it’s harder to sell bigger accounts. The increased cost might be worrisome – it means HubSpot is losing more money on each new account – but the higher lifetime revenue means the difference will be made up fairly quickly. Even more important, the "subscription dollar retention rate" has improved sharply, from 71.6% to 90.3%, probably reflecting a combinatino of better customer retention, higher revenue from existing customers, and an increase average revenue from new customers.

The S-1 also reveals that agencies and agency referrals accounted for 42% of customers and 33% of revenue for the six months ended June 30, 2014 – meaning that agency clients tend to be smaller than average. I’d expect HubSpot to have more direct sales as it engages larger clients, but that doesn’t seem to be the case, at least yet: compensation to agency partners grew by $1.2 million for all of 2013 and by $0.9 million for the first half of 2014, suggesting a 50% or better increase for the year as a whole. This is roughly in line with over-all revenue growth.

In fact, the only thing that struck me as a bit odd in the prospectus was HubSpot’s frequent description of itself as an “all in one” marketing and sales solution – a term more usually applied to micro-business specialists like Infusionsoft and Ontraport, which combine marketing automation with CRM. HubSpot does make several references to supporting sales departments in its document, which a casual reader might interpret to mean it also provides CRM features. But this is something the company has adamantly refused to do for years, despite pressure from its original small business clients and the partners who serve them. It makes even less sense when selling to the mid-market.  The prospectus does eventually state that its sales features are designed to integrate with CRM, but the ambiguity is atypically off-message for a firm that is usually so clear about its position.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

MarTech Conference: Chief Marketing Technology Officers Come Out and Play

I got home late last night from the inaugural two-day MarTech conference in Boston, which was simply terrific. Conference chair Scott Brinker assembled an all-star cast of presenters and, more important, a finely balanced mix of topics from industry trends to practical issues of planning, hiring, organization, and technology choices.  (I guess I should note that I also presented and contributed a few thoughts on the agenda, but credit for the success goes elsewhere.)

While the formal topic of the conference was “marketing technology”, its real theme was “marketing technology leadership”, and in particular emergence of the “chief marketing technology officer” as a critical role. Many attendees held that job, either in title or de facto responsibilities. Most were clearly delighted to find so many other people sharing the same opportunities and challenges. They had probably developed a secret handshake by the time the conference was over, although as a mere consultant I wasn’t told what it was.

The presentations were consistently excellent, which in itself is close to amazing: I guess Scott had checked everyone out carefully before extending his invitations.  Different attendees probably had their own favorites depending on their own interests. That being the case, I think it doesn't insult anyone to say that the two that most resonated with me personally were by Laura McLellan of Gartner – source of the famous “marketing will spend more than IT by 2017” forecast, which she reported has already come true -- and Clorox Director of Marketing Technology Shawn Goodin.

The factoid I recall from McLellan’s presentation was the 81% of large companies already have someone in the chief marketing technologist role – so that particular future had already arrived. My favorite part of Goodin’s talk was a marketing technology capability heat map that displayed all of a company’s tech strengths and weaknesses on one page.

I was also immensely impressed with SapientNitro CTO Sheldon Monteiro’s description of their in-house training program to grow their own chief marketing technology officers – and in particular his response to the objection that people they train might then leave: “What if we don’t train them and they stay?”

The next edition of MarTech is already planned for March 31- April 1 in San Francisco, presumably to be followed by another Boston edition next year. I’m sure they’ll make the obvious extensions like more tracks and pre/post-conference intensive trainings. But why stop there? This is basically summer camp for marketing tech geeks, so I’ve already suggested to Scott that he add audience participation including:

  • role-playing: if marketers ran tech and techies ran marketing; if buyers acted like vendors and vendors acted like buyers
  • TV show knockoffs: CMTO Shark Tank business plans for marketing technology investments; The Vendor Selection Dating Game; Martech Recruiting Bachelorette; CSI MarTech Unit analyzing project failures; and of course Survivor: CMTO
  • board games: CMTO versions of Monopoly, Snakes and Ladders, and Dungeons and Dragons
  • scavenger hunt: find the best short list of products via Web research in a fixed period of time, without ever talking to a salesperson
  • camp fire stories: vendors share their scariest client experiences, while wearing paper bag masks to protect their jobs
  • tall tale telling contest: who can make the most ludicrous claim with a straight face (note: separate divisions for buyers and vendors).
  • not to mention a hackathon, talent show, and, karaoke.

Seriously, Scott – who would not pay good money to attend?

-

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Lots of Vendors Can Help You Find Leads on the Web

Few people would suggest you learn salesmanship from the play Glengarry Glen Ross,* but its central message rings true: good leads are the lifeblood of a sales organization.** That’s why scanning the Internet to find new  prospects is such an exciting opportunity. At least a dozen firms are now following that path.

These firms scan company Web sites, social media, news sites, directories, and other sources to identify companies, extract attributes like revenue, growth rates, and technologies used, and flag events that might indicate a sales opportunity, such as opening a new office, launching a new product, or hiring new management. Of course, there are plenty of important differences which impact which might make sense for you.  Some of the more important ones include:

• Specific data sources, scanning techniques, and analytical methods. Evaluating these in the abstract is interesting, but what works well for one purpose in one industry might work poorly for something else. So buyers really need to run their own tests to see what works for them.

• Types of predictive models available.  Some vendors only rank leads while others build multiple models for different purposes.

• Use of the client's internal data for model scoring, and whether this extends to sources beyond CRM.

• Whether the vendor sells prospect lists or only enhance names provided by the client.

• Whether the vendor provides lists of individuals as well as companies.  Since Web scanning is usually at the company level, the individual names usually come from other sources.

• Coverage outside the United States

• Information returned beyond names and lead scores, such as recommended treatments and social profiles.

• Whether the company maintains a permanent database on all businesses or only scans when clients request information about specified businesses or segments.  The permanent database costs more to maintain but stores history and trend information that is otherwise unavailable.

Here are brief profiles of the vendors I’ve identified in or near this space. There are probably others.  I’ve grouped them based on how much information I have available.  This correlates to some degree with market presence.

Vendors I’ve Reviewed

Mintigo both returns new prospects and applies scores to prospect lists provided by the client. It is currently stressing uses of predictive modeling beyond traditional lead scoring and making it easier for clients to set up new models on their own. I last reviewed them in June 2013.

Lattice Engines runs different types of models against names provided by the client. It provides recommendations for customer treatments in addition to scores. I wrote about them in April 2013.

Infer runs multiple models against leads provided by the client. It originally returned only lead scores, although they are now adding multiple applications that create different scores for different purposes. I wrote about them in August 2013.

Fliptop returns scores and some summary data on names provided by the client. It stresses quick model building. I reviewed them in June 2014.

LeadSpace scans for data on demand, rather than maintaining its own master database.  It can find new prospects in specified segments and enhance names provided by the client.  It returns individual names as well as companies. I wrote about them in June 2013.

Vendors I’ve Spoken with But Not Reviewed

Growth Intelligence is a relatively recent UK-based startup that provides lists of companies and associated contacts that are likely to become customers.  It draws from Web information, government lists, and similarity to the client’s current customer base.

Kemvi is just emerging from stealth and plans to launch formally late this year or early 2015. It expects to focus on finding trigger events and advising salespeople about the best ways to approach each prospect.

6Sense finds new prospects using behavioral data gathered from a network of "several thousand" Web publishers rather scanning public sources like others in this list. So it doesn’t quite belong here, but it’s interesting nevertheless.

Radius finds small business prospects that resemble current customers and deploys them to Salesforce.com, along with key profile information and lead scores.


Vendors I’ve Only Seen on the Web

Avention (formerly OneSource) scans an eclectic collection of data sources to find prospect companies based on attributes and signals. It can rank companies with scoring but the scoring formulas are built manually.

Gagein sends alerts on trigger events in media, social or public Web sites. It can track companies named by the client or build prospects lists for client-specified segments. It’s primarily a sales tool, with other features such as social selling and apparently without any predictive modeling.

RealSociable is another sales-oriented product that tracks social media for trigger events related to target accounts. It appears to let users decide which events are important without using predictive models.  But it seems to have some clever technology to extract the trigger events from unstructured social streams. That (presumed) semantic filtering is the only reason to include it on this list -- otherwise, the limit to social sources and lack of predictive models would rule it out.

_______________________________________________________________________


*and the one person who admitted to it now makes his living as an arts critic.

** Also, coffee really is for closers.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

The Biggest Gap in Marketing Software Selection Isn't Product Information

There’s a reason I’m not a professional copy writer, which is that I’m bad at it. But, as with the press release I described yesterday, each new edition of the VEST report also requires me to write a promotional email for my house list. My solution today was:

Dear [First Name],

A friend of mine who is building one of those "wisdom of the crowd" software review sites tells me her research shows that what buyers want most is "apples to apples" comparisons of product features.

Duh.

I'll spare you my rant on why crowd sourced recommendations are a bad idea (hint: when you're sick, do you go to a doctor or ask a bunch of random strangers which treatments worked for them?) Suffice it to say that Raab Associates' B2B Marketing Automation Vendor Selection Tool (VEST) is written by a professional analyst (me) who has assembled 200 rigorously defined points of comparison on 25 marketing automation systems, allowing buyers to quickly find vendors who meet their needs. At a time when the marketing automation industry is more confusing than ever -- and when 25% of marketing automation buyers are unhappy with their results*-- it's essential to have solid, detailed information to make a sound decision.


That’s not terrible, at least by my pitifully low personal standards.  But it did leave me feeling a bit uncomfortable about bashing the crowd-sourced software review sites. The problem was the doctor analogy: although it does express my fundamental objection accurately, it doesn’t tell quite the whole story. It’s true that random strangers can’t accurately diagnose you or prescribe a treatment. But random strangers can indeed provide useful information about whether a doctor is good to deal with and how well they their recommendations worked out. Similarly, crowd-sourced sites can provide valid information on how easy it is to use a piece of software and how well the company does at customer support. This is much closer with the kind of information you’d get from consumer view sites like Yelp.  Customers don’t need to be technical experts to tell you whether they’re happy.

You’ll note that I haven’t criticized the crowd-sourced sites for the typical review site problems of fake reviews and biased reviewers. Companies like g2crowd (my main point of reference here, although not my friend’s business) do a reasonably good job at controlling for these by requiring users to verify their identity by logging in through LinkedIn. Of course, smart vendors will still game the system by encouraging satisfied users to post reviews, so the relative rankings will reflect the vendors’ marketing skills at least as much as their actual product quality. There’s nothing unethical about that, but it does undermine the notion that the resulting ranking accurately reflect the relative quality of the products and not just the relative skills of each company’s marketers.

On the other hand, good crowd sourcing sites let users see reviews from companies similar to their own in terms of size, industry, etc., and ask specific enough questions to get meaningful answers. And even the general comments they gather are somewhat useful as indicators of what a (highly biased) sample of users think.

But, now that I’m on the subject, I’ll let you know what I really think: which is that feature comparisons, whether prepared by a not-so-wise crowd or a professional analyst like Yours Truly, are not really the problem. What stops marketers from choosing the right software isn’t a lack of information about product features.  It's a lack of understanding which features each marketer needs. Figuring out their feature needs requires crossing the gap between their business objectives, which most marketers do understand, and the features needed to support those objectives, which most marketers do not.  Making that translation is where industry experts really add value, even more than in familiarity with the details of individual products. I’ve recently been working on a very interesting project to close that gap…but that’s a topic for another day.