Thursday, February 10, 2011

Which B2B Marketing Automation Systems Have Hard-to-Find Features? The Answers May Surprise You

Summary: A close look at which vendors have the least common features finds some are widely distributed, while others are concentrated among products for big companies. As always, you need to look at the details to see which products have what you need.

Last week’s post used data from our B2B Marketing Automation Vendor Selection Tool (VEST) to identify leading vendors in categories such as lead generation, campaign management, and technology. The main point, at least as I saw it, was that no single vendor dominates everything. Different firms are best at serving small, mid-size and large marketing organizations, and for each of these buyer types, different vendors lead different categories.

It’s like the awards ceremony at a progressive elementary school: everybody is best at something.

That may sound all warm and fuzzy, but this conclusion also has great practical significance: it means that you can’t assume a sector leader has the best product for your particular needs. You must look at the details to find the best match.

I cautioned in that post that you can’t stop at the category level. Even the vendor with the highest category score won’t necessarily have a feature you need. The chart below takes the analysis to the next level, looking at which vendors meet specific requirements. It lists the 33 least common items of the 190 we captured in our research. The green cells identify vendors who fully match an item (score=2); the orange column at the right shows how many of the 18 vendors had this score. (Yellow cells indicate a score of 1, meaning an item was partly fulfilled. I’ve ignored those cells in the following discussion but show them to make the point that many vendors do have some capabilities in these areas.)

There is an obvious over-all pattern: the green cells cluster heavily towards the right. Since the chart is organized with small business systems to the left and big business systems to the right, this means the rarer features are most often found in products for big marketing departments. That makes intuitive sense – you’d expect bigger organizations to need more special features. (You'd also expect to need more features in general, which the data also confirms although I haven't illustrated it here.) One caveat is that the item list itself was leaned heavily towards the needs of mid-size and large businesses; a list of features tailored to small businesses might have a different pattern.

But while most green cells are on the right, there are plenty of exceptions. This is important: it means that buyers who need an unusual feature might find it any type of system. Indeed, nearly half of these items (14 of the 33) can be found in the small business columns (the first five on the left). Nor is it simply that these items are small business specialties. Twelve of the 14 are also found in five big-business products on the right.

The other pattern clearly visible is the two heavily-populated columns in the center, representing mid-market leaders Eloqua and Marketo. The high number of green cells (seven for Marketo and nine for Eloqua) shows that both products are feature-rich. But they're far from twins: their combined green cells cover 13 different items, and there are just three items which both vendors satisfy fully. Once more, the moral of the story is that even direct competitors are quite different when you start looking at details. The good news is this means that buyers who know exactly what they want should be able to distinguish strong from weak candidates quite easily.

Although the items I've listed are shared across all kinds of systems, the distribution isn't simply random. The chart below illustrates which kinds of features are found where. It summarizes the results for the three groups I’ve been discussing: small-business vendors (the five left-hand columns), big-business vendors (the five right-hand columns), and the Marketo/Eloqua combination. Green cells indicate at least one vendor in the group supports an item. Numbers indicate how many vendors support the item.

I’ve given yellow labels to items that are supported big-business systems only. You'll see that most relate advanced marketing planning and administration, which is something only big companies really need. These include detailed cost calculations, expiration dates on marketing content, project schedules, project task detail, results forecasts, approval workflows, marketing calendars, and plan vs. actual reporting. Several of the remaining items relate to advanced offer selection, another requirement for big programs because they have too many potential offers to manage manually or through simple rules. The rest, including multi-language user interface and on-premise deployment, also deal with needs unique to large enterprises. The only real odd-ball here is online chat. What can I say?

The blue labels are items found in a small-business system. All of these are also available in at least one other category, which basically confirms that all kinds of marketers need them. Half relate to specific output channels: fax, RSS, social media, direct mail, email, external Web sites, and Webinars. My interpretation is that vendors of all sizes see the need to simplify multi-channel integration for their clients. The balance are advanced capabilities used by sophisticated marketers in all sizes of organizations.

The five remaining items, with white labels, are shared by mid-tier and big-business systems. Two relate to channel integration (social media and events) and three are generally big-business concerns (fractional revenue attribution, offer coordination, and user-defined matching rules). It’s interesting that the second group are the items shared by Marketo and Eloqua. Without reading too much into this, it suggests that both vendors are looking to the needs of larger rather than smaller companies.

As you’re surely gathered by now, I find this data inherently intriguing. It's a way to understand the contours of the marketing automation industry. But most buyers just want to pick the right system. For them, this data simply reinforces that same central lesson: you must look at the details to find your best match. Still, that’s a lesson too few people have learned, so I’m perfectly happy to keep repeating it.

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