Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Marketing Automation System Trends: What We Found in the Raab Guide

Summary: Social media and access for sales people were the two big trends among demand generation vendors last year. But enhanced reporting was the most common improvement of all. Could marketers finally be ready to spend on measurement?

I’m pleased to report that the 2010 edition of the Raab Guide to Demand Generation Systems is officially available today, with updated entries on all vendors (alphabetically: Eloqua, Manticore Technology, Market2Lead, Marketbright, Marketo, Neolane and Silverpop Engage B2B).

Preparing the updates gave me a good review of where developers focused their efforts last year. Even though this is limited to the vendors in the Guide, it's a pretty representative sample of the industry as a whole. Here’s a quick look at what I found.

- Social media. At least three vendors (Eloqua, Marketo and Silverpop) introduced new features aimed at improving marketers’ ability to use social media. What’s most interesting is that no standard approach has yet emerged. Eloqua focused on making it easier to embed sharable links within conventional marketing assets. Marketo added features to capture Twitter posts and Helpstream customer support interactions within a lead’s activity history. Silverpop made it easier to add social media handles to lead records so these could be used to send messages.

- Sales access. The same three vendors also added new tools to give salespeople better access to information the marketing automation system has captured about their leads. But in contrast to social media applications, the sales access modules were remarkably similar. All aimed at showing the activities of selected leads, typically by showing overviews and trends, and then letting users drill into details. The vendors also charged additional per-user fees for these modules. This contrasts with traditional demand generation pricing on database size and/or activity volume, but is the way sales automation systems like Salesforce.com are usually sold. These modules open up a major new revenue stream for the demand generation systems while simultaneously giving sales departments a greater reason to support marketing's purchase of the systems. Even though the modules clearly trespasses on the CRM vendors turf – inviting a potentially devastating counter-invasion – the opportunity seems irresistible.

- Upgraded reporting. You already knew that vendors were adding features for social media and sales access, but did you realize that nearly everyone (five of my seven vendors: Eloqua, Market2Lead, Marketo, Manticore Technology and Marketbright) also made substantial improvements in their business intelligence and reporting capabilities? Popular new features included user-customizable dashboards, better user-defined reports and more extensive standard reports. I take this as evidence that marketers are demanding more sophisticated reporting from their vendors, and suspect further improvements are on the way.

- New user interfaces. Market2Lead, Manticore Technology and Silverpop all introduced major interface upgrades. The focus was less on adding new capabilities than on making existing functions more accessible. I don’t need to remind you that usability is a critical point of competition among industry vendors. But as older vendors revamp their interfaces, it will become harder for buyers to differentiate along those lines. This might lead vendors to highlight the structural differences in their campaign engines, which are ultimately more important for usability than the visual interface. But, the structural issues are much harder for buyers to grasp, so this might not be an effective marketing approach. Could this lead vendors to compete on other grounds entirely?

- Anonymous user look-up and data enhancement. At least three vendors added or enhanced features to use IP address to identify the company of anonymous Web visitors, and/or to look up prospect names and other data about those companies in directories such as Jigsaw and Hoovers. I won’t name those three because the other vendors may have similar capabilities. In fact, anonymous visitor identification and enhancement have become pretty much standard features: today, it would be an exceptional vendor who did NOT make them available. These features also tie into both social media and sales access modules. They illustrate how the role of marketing has changed from simply gathering leads and handing them to sales, to building and managing prospect relationships.

So much for 2009. Many of these trends will surely continue in 2010, but I think we can expect some new directions as well. I'll talk about those in my next post.

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