Friday, September 05, 2008

More Thoughts on Comparing Demand Generation Systems

I have mostly been focused this week on formats for the new Demand Generation Guide. Since this is of interest to at least some regular readers of this blog, I suppose it’s okay to give you all an update.

The issue I’m wresting with is still how to present vendor summaries. As of last week’s post, I had decided to build a list of applications plus some common issues such as vendor background, technology and pricing. Ease of use was still a nagging issue because ease of use for simple tasks can conflict with ease of use for complex ones.

The only way to resolve this, for me at least, was to actually create a draft entry and see how things played out. This is what I’ve been doing and it has been quite enlightening. What I’ve found is that I can identify a smaller set of applications, and then classify features as applying to simple (basic) forms of those applications, or complex (advanced) ones. I can make a similar basic/advanced distinction for the non-application features (vendor, technology, etc.), which I think I’ll christen as “foundations” for the sake of parallelism. (They also rhyme, in case anybody ever wants to write the song.)

So what I end up with is a two-column matrix that has ‘basic’ and ‘advanced’ as the columns, and horizontal sections for four applications (lead generation, lead nurturing, lead scoring and distribution, and performance measruement) and four foundations (technology, vendor, usability, pricing). Each horizontal section contains multiple rows, where each row lists a specific item such as “import HTML for Web pages” or “a/b testing”. When I looked at the various items of information I have been gathering, it was pretty easy to determine where in this matrix each item belonged. My current version of the matrix has about 140 items altogether, a number that will increase but probably not by much.

Most of these items are pretty close to binary—that is, a system either does it or not. Of course, there are still shades of gray, such as future features or partial implementations. So I’ve chosen a three point scale that boils down to yes, no and kinda. This is precise enough for the purpose at hand.

What I like about this approach is that it gives pretty clear guidance to users who have basic vs. advanced needs for any particular application or foundation. It doesn’t require me to make any particular assumption about who those people are—i.e., that small firms are unsophisticated or big firms have advanced needs. And it lets people mix and match their priorities: somebody might want advanced lead generation but just basic performance measurement.

Careful readers (you know who you are) will have noted that my scheme has transmuted “ease of use” into “usability”. That foundation includes implementation and support services as well as traditional ease of use items of required user skills, steps to complete a process, and marketing asset reusability. These are admittedly more subjective than most of other items in the matrix, but still seem like a step in the right direction. At least I now have a framework that can hold additional, more precise items as I come up with them.

The other big outstanding issue is how to combine the items into summary scores. At present I’m simply adding up the points and calculating a percentage of actual vs. potential points in each category. This doesn’t address the fact that some items are more important than others. Of course, the proper treatment is to assign weights to each item. I may assign those weights myself, or I may just leave that up to Guide readers. Similarly, a single vendor-level score would require assigning weights to the application and foundation categories themselves so their scores can be combined. Here, it’s clearer that each company should assign its own weights—in fact, this weighting is an important part of the decision-making process, so it’s quite important that users do it. But I may assign default weights anyway, because I know people will ask for them, or create different weights for different scenarios. Fortunately, I don’t have to make that decision for a while.

Incidentally, I am not being coy in mentioning the matrix without publishing the details. As much as anything, I’m deterred by the fact that I still haven’t figured out how to load the table into Blogger so it will display properly. (Yes, I do know how to hand code a table in HTML. But I get funky results when I try and haven’t had time to fiddle with it. The HTML that Excel generates automatically won’t work at all.) Once I finalize the matrix itself, I’ll probably include it in a blog post or make it available for download.