Wednesday, February 23, 2011

MarketingPilot Offers Integrated Marketing Management for Mid-Size Companies

Yesterday's acquisition of AssetLink by SAS has prompted me to finally write about MarketingPilot, a vendor I've been following since its launch nearly ten years ago.

MarketingPilot started as an operations management tool for mid-size direct marketers, with features for project management, list and media buying, source code tracking, expense capture, and vendor management. Since then it has expanded steadily to encompass the full range of marketing resource management and then gone ahead to add marketing database management and campaign execution. The technology has evolved from Windows-based client server systems – using the Borland Interbase engine, if you want a real whiff from the memory jar – to a mix of on-premise and hosted options.

Average price and client size have also increased steadily, although the focus has remained on mid-size rather than enterprise clients. The company also created special editions for ad agencies, which now provide about 40% of its business. MarketingPilot has about 40 employees and 400 installations with over 15,000 end-users.

With AssetLink (60 employees) now owned by SAS, MarketingPilot also may be the largest remaining independent MRM vendor. I can’t say for sure because there are several companies in the field that I’ve never researched. But it doesn’t really matter, because MarketingPilot is now positioned as an integrated marketing management product. That puts it into roughly the same class as much larger firms including Neolane (200 employees) and Alterian (370 employees).

I say “roughly” because Neolane and Alterian are rooted in the campaign management side of marketing automation, while MarketingPilot is based on marketing resource management. Although the overlap between these products is growing, they are still quite different.

To give you an idea of the scope of MarketingPilot, here is a set of headings from its Web site:

Alerts - Analytics/Performance Measurement - Approvals - Budgets - Calendars - Campaign Management - Collateral Management - Contract Management - CRM - Digital Asset/Document Management - Direct Marketing - Direct Response - Editions - Email Marketing - Enterprise Edition - Enterprise Marketing Management - Estimates - Event Management - Expense Management - Financial Management - Internet/Online Marketing - Inventory Management - Lead Management - List Management - Marketing Automation - Marketing Database - Marketing Plans - Marketing Resource Management - Media Buying and Planning - Multi-currency - Purchasing - Print Production - Reports - Scheduling - Social Media - Solutions - Strategic Planning - Supply Chain/Vendor Management - Time Slips - Trade Shows - Web Portal

This is broader list than you'll see from most marketing automation vendors – a group not known for modest product claims. But even MarketingPilot isn’t all things to all people (yet). Here's a quick inventory of strengths and weaknesses:

- just about any MRM feature you can imagine: planning, budgeting, project management, vendor management, media buying, content management, creative mark-up, approval workflows, etc.
- email, landing page and Web form creation
- high volume email delivery
- social media execution and tracking
- lead distribution and lead scoring based on attributes, but not behaviors
- integrated CRM, with an future option to synchronize with external CRM systems
- marketing database management with separate company and contact levels
- a highly tailorable interface that shows each user only the features they can access (critical in a system with so many options)
- multiple languages, currencies and time zones
- segmentation on contact and company data, with plans for a visual query builder that allows more complex queries against additional tables
- single-step campaign execution, with multi-step campaign flows due later this year
- response reporting, with plans to add ROI calculations
- Google Analytics integration, with expanded Web visitor tracking and analytics using MarketingPilot’s own tags due later this year.

That’s an impressive list, even after recognizing that key marketing automation features are not yet available, including multi-step campaigns, advanced segmentation, Web behavior tracking, behavior-based lead scoring, and ROI calculations. But they’re all promised fairly soon. Once they’re delivered, MarketingPilot will be a viable mid-market option for integrated marketing management.

If somebody doesn’t buy them first.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

SAS Acquires AssetLink: Great for Enterprises, But What About the Rest of Us?

Summary: SAS's purchase of AssetLink ensures it's a viable alternative to IBM/Unica and Teradata/Aprimo for integrated marketing management. The real question is whether mid-size firms will be able to afford those systems.

SAS today announced its acquisition of marketing resource management vendor AssetLink. The move makes perfect sense: the other big MRM vendor was Aprimo, and once they were acquired by Teradata, SAS and AssetLink had no alternative partners in the enterprise marketing space.

Let me make clear that when I say “enterprise”, I mean “enterprise”, as in big business. Our friends at Gartner have recently proposed replacing “enterprise marketing management” with “integrated marketing management” as the general term for, um, integrated marketing management. Makes sense. But AssetLink told me their 50+ clients are all big companies. SAS’s marketing systems are also sold mostly to big firms. So we’re really talking about the “enterprise” market here. Once you starting considering mid-size businesses, there are other players, most notably MarketingPilot for MRM and Alterian and Neolane for business-to-consumer marketing automation.

Naturally, SAS and AssetLink don’t intend to limit themselves to enterprise buyers. Like IBM/Unica and Teradata/Aprimo, they hope to sell integrated marketing systems to mid-size firms too. This may be easier for the other two vendors: IBM and Unica certainly have more mid-size marketing clients than SAS and AssetLink, and although Teradata is mostly a big-company vendor, Aprimo has a broader client mix and a relatively new “Marketing Studio On Demand” product that was designed for smaller buyers. Still, we can expect SAS to try.

I'll admit to being skeptical that enterprise-oriented firms like IBM, Teradata, and SAS can successfully sell their products for the mid-market. The transition faces some technical roadblocks, mostly about hiding complexity and reducing the need for customization. But those can be solved. The larger challenges are rooted in corporate culture and require changes in areas like pricing and sales compensation. To put it more bluntly, enterprise firms like to sell big deals.

In fact, I think big deals are exactly what have attracted IBM, Teradata, and SAS to focus on marketing systems. They all seem to have adopted the grand vision of integrated marketing automation as a centrally-managed, analytically-driven process to coordinate customer contacts across all touchpoints. This requires integrating the marketing system with sales, customer service and Web systems. While I also love that vision, I suspect that only a few large firms will have the resources to implement it. This could mean that, in practice, integrated marketing management is limited to enterprise buyers.

This leads to another question: What are Oracle and SAP up to? They’re the other big enterprise software vendors and they’re surely interested in offering integrated marketing automation to their own clients, both to increase revenue and to block account penetration by competitors. Both vendors do have some marketing automation products but these don’t have much of a public presence. If integrated marketing automation really takes off at enterprise accounts, I suspect we’ll see Oracle and SAP pay more attention to this market, either through acquisition or enhancement of existing products.

You’ll notice I haven’t said much here about the SAS/AssetLink deal itself. That’s not due to any lack of enthusiasm: it’s just that the pairing was so obvious that it doesn’t require much explanation. It ensures that SAS’s marketing automation suite remains a viable alternative to IBM and Teradata, by giving it the scope that those other vendors possess. Of course, there are still substantial differences among the products, so buyers who are free to choose any of them will need to dig into the details and match them against their requirements. But I suspect that many companies will have a strong predisposition towards one vendor or another, depending on what other systems they have in place. In that case, there may be fewer truly competitive deals than we saw in the past, when marketing could choose its system without the rest of the company really caring all that much.

My bottom line, then, is that this deal doesn’t reshape the market, but it does clarify its structure and ensure that SAS continues to compete. My real concern is whether mid-size companies will be able to participate or integrated marketing automation will remain the preserve of enterprise marketers.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Constant Contact Adds Social CRM: Should Marketing Automation Vendors Be Worried?

Small-business email provider Constant Contact yesterday announced the acquisition of "social CRM"* vendor Bantam Live. This is a major expansion for Constant Contact, placing it more squarely into competition with CRM and marketing automation vendors. As I've noted previously, small businesses are particularly likely to adopt a single platform for all of their marketing and customer management needs because the inefficiencies of multiple platforms are so obvious and painful in a small organization.

Email vendors like Constant Contact are especially well positioned to grab this business because they are one of first technologies that businesses adopt. (Other entry points: accounting software like Intuit Quickbooks, email clients like Microsoft Outlook, personal productivity suites like Microsoft Office, Web hosting companies like GoDaddy, and of course CRM like As a point of reference, Constant Contact says it is used by more than 400,000 organizations, compared with maybe 10,000 for all marketing automation systems combined. The company expects more than $200 million in revenue in 2011, which about equals my estimate for 2010 revenues for all B2B marketing automation. And Constant Contact is just one of many small business email providers.

I've been meaning for some time to write a post about the small business sector of the marketing automation industry, because I really see it as very distinct from marketing automation for mid-size and large businesses. But this Constant Contact announcement underscores one the major points I had in mind: that the low number of current marketing automation installations in this field doesn't mean it's a wide open market. Rather, it means that there are plenty of other partial solutions in place at most firms. Expanding the solutions to offer reasonably complete marketing automation just isn't that hard, technically. And any vendor who does this has a major advantage because they can sell marketing automation as a product extension to their existing clients.

Finding a way to displace these existing vendors is the real challenge for small business marketing automation systems, since small businesses are not likely to add a new system without getting rid of an old one. The other big issue is that the existing solutions often cost only a few dollars per month (for example, Constant Contact averages under $50 per month per client). This means the $300 per month of even the cheapest marketing automation systems is a big increase that many small businesses will not be willing to pay.

* I put "social CRM" in quotation marks because I personally am not quite sure what it really means. According to their Web site, Bantam Live offers the usual sales automation functions (contact management, profile management, pipeline management, sales analytics, calendar sharing, file sharing, workgroups) plus a bucket of social media capabilities including social search, network feeds, messaging, discussions and collaborative workflow.

Monday, February 14, 2011

ClickDimensions Offers Marketing Automation as a Microsoft CRM Add-on

Now that I’m more or less finished launching the B2B Marketing Automation Vendor Selection Tool (VEST), I can start catching up on the other topics.

Let’s start with ClickDimensions, a system I explored last September but never wrote about. ClickDimensions does pretty much the standard marketing automation activities: email, landing pages, Web visitor tracking, drip marketing campaigns, and lead scoring.

What’s missing from the list is CRM integration. That's no accident: ClickDimensions doesn’t integrate with CRM in the regular sense of synchronizing data. Rather, it works directly from Microsoft Dynamics CRM files. In other words, ClickDimensions is a Microsoft CRM add-on.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. In fact, I (and many others) have long argued that marketing automation makes more sense as an integrated component of a CRM system than a stand-alone product. After all, separate systems must synchronize databases, campaigns, users, content libraries, activity histories, and other things, adding cost and complexity. Small business systems like Infusionsoft and OfficeAutoPilot solve this problem by bundling their own CRM features. This isn't an option at bigger companies, where one or more CRM systems are often deeply embedded. So it makes more sense to extend CRM to include marketing automation than the other way around.

This potential expansion has always been the biggest cloud hovering over B2B marketing automation, which has arguably been allowed to develop only because the business remained too small for the major CRM vendors to care about. Of course, another way to look at this is that the CRM vendors already do marketing automation – certainly Oracle/Siebel does, and plenty of folks would argue that has adequate marketing automation capabilities for most purposes, although most experts (and I) would disagree. Still, a slow incremental expansion of CRM vendors’ marketing automation features is all it would take to squeeze the dedicated marketing automation vendors into an ever-smaller corner of the market, leaving them to serve only companies with specialized needs.

But I digress. ClickDimensions illustrates the advantages of a combined CRM/marketing automation platform. It works off the Dynamics CRM database, so sales and marketing have access to the same, complete data without synchronization. Perhaps more important, ClickDimensions use the Dynamics CRM platform to handle data management, campaign workflows, and user rights. This has freed ClickDimensions to concentrate on the building features that are absent (at least for now) in Dynamics and other CRM systems: advanced email campaigns and Web activity tracking.

ClickDimensions has its own email engine, replacing the product’s original reliance on ExactTarget. The engine supports dynamic content, which is unusual for lower-to-mid-tier marketing automation products. I did find the implementation rather basic: users must write rules in a scripting language and the content is embedded in the email templates rather than read from a shared library.

On the other hand, ClickDimensions has an advanced Outlook email integration that I’ve never seen anywhere else. An administrator can assign an email address to a mailing list; then, end-users send a personalized email to that address and the system delivers it to everyone on the list. ClickDimensions calls this “Outlookcasting.” The advantage is that salespeople can use their familiar Outlook email to send mass emails which are tracked through the marketing automation system.

The system's other major extension beyond standard CRM capabilities is Web activity tracking. This is pretty straightforward: users tag their Web pages with ClickDimensions tracking codes and the system stores activities in custom data objects within the Dynamics data structure. Like many marketing automation systems, ClickDimensions can use the IP address of anonymous visitors to identify their company (if they are using a corporate IP address). It also lets users manually label IP addresses that might belong to a generic ISP but the user knows are linked to a specific company. The system tracks the usual Web information: visits, page views, posted forms, posted fields, and so on.

Email and Web activity data, as well as any activities captured by Dynamics itself, are available for lead scoring and event triggers. Multi-step campaign flows are built using the Dynamics workflow engine. I haven't examined the Dynamics workflow in detail but it seems comparable to most marketing automation campaign engines.

ClickDimensions pricing ranges from $4,000 to $12,000 per year based on email volume. That’s considerably cheaper than standard mid-tier marketing automation products, although some small business systems are cheaper. The initial version of ClickDimensions was released in September 2010, although the company’s own email engine wasn’t added until December. The vendor reports more than 50 current clients, including a few big companies. It sells the product directly in the U.S. and through resellers in Europe. ClickDimensions is also part of Microsoft’s BizSpark program, an initiative to form close relationships with high-potential start-ups.

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.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

B2B Marfketing Automation Vendor Selection Tool: What’s Inside and Why

Summary: Our new B2B Marketing Automation Vendor Selection Tool (VEST) has been carefully crafted to help marketers at every step of the selection process. I think it’s worth walking through the main components to explain why they’re there.

Here's a screen-by-screen look at the components of the VEST. For more information or to order, please click here.


What It Is: This is basic information for people who are just starting to explore marketing automation. It includes a general introduction suggesting how to use the VEST and then provides explanations of what marketing automation means and why it’s important, an overview of the state of the industry, advice on running a selection project, and details on the vendor scoring.

Why It’s There: Many buyers are new to marketing automation. They need a coherent explanation of what it is, why it matters, how it fits into the larger scheme of marketing technology, and how to go about selecting a tool. I think the industry veterans will also find these materials interesting, but they’re really aimed at bringing the newbies up to speed.

Sector Charts

What It Is: This is the vendor landscape chart that users love and analysts are apparently obligated to produce. It uses our vendor scores to plot the relative positions of products in terms of how well they fit buyer needs. This lets us place “leaders” in the upper right quadrant. There are four versions: one each based on weights for small, mid-size and large businesses, plus a custom chart with the user’s own weights. Sliders make it easy adjust the weights assigned to broad categories within product and vendor fit.

Why It’s There: The chart makes it easy for each user to identify the most likely candidates, quickly reducing the consideration set to something manageable. More important, having alternative sets of weights, allowing custom weights, and making easy to adjust category weights all encourage buyers to recognize that there’s no "one true leader" and therefore to think about what weights are really relevant to their own needs.

Vendor Profiles

What It Is: This gives concise descriptions of the strengths, weaknesses, market position, and most suitable clients for each vendor. These are accompanied by charts displaying key factoids, such as the number of clients, number of employees and year founded; the position of the vendor in each of the three sector charts; and the relative strength of specific categories within the product and vendor fit scores.

Why It’s There: Now that buyers have tentatively identified their best candidates, they can look here to get a better sense of the products. The descriptions are based on Raab Associates’ detailed product research, and thus highlight information not captured in the numeric scores. For the first time in the VEST, this section introduces the category details within the score totals. This provides the next level of detail and lets buyers to see how vendor strengths actually line up with their priorities.

Item Detail

What It Is: This shows the nearly 200 specific items used in scoring the vendors. It provides the detailed definitions used in rating each item for each vendor (typically on a scale of 0 to 2) and shows the weights assigned to each item in the small, mid-size and large scoring schemes. It also gives users another opportunity to view and adjust the category weights.

Why It’s There: This introduces the actual items used in the scoring, encouraging them to look even deeper below the surface. The definitions include explanations of when and why each item matters, helping to further the users’ understanding of important-but-subtle product differences. Showing the variation of weights for the same item in the different scoring schemes implicitly encourages users to consider what weight makes the most sense for them.

Compare Vendors

What It Is: This lets users select any three vendors and compare them side-by-side. Screens start with a summary view that shows the product and vendor fit totals and the sum of both raw and weighted values for the categories. Users can then drill into each category to see the item-level ratings and weighted scores for all three vendors.

Why It’s There: This lets users drill into the vendor details at the finest possible level, seeing exactly what is driving the category scores and exactly how the vendors differ. Showing the sum of the raw values along with the weighted values graphically illustrates the impact of the category weights on the summary scores, encouraging users to ensure that the category weights reflect their own priorities. By this point in the process, users should understand which items they care about most.

Custom Weights

What It Is: This lets users set the item and category weights they’ll use in their custom scoring. They can apply the standard small, mid-size or large weights as a starting point. They can also save their weights as a scenario to use in another session. They can save any number of those scenarios.

Why It’s There: This lets users create their own custom scores, based by now on a deep understanding of their own needs and the information embedded within the VEST. Custom scoring won’t make the selection decision for anyone, but it will facilitate comparisons between vendors and highlight key items to research in detail.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Picking Your Best Marketing Automation Vendor: One Size Won't Fit All

Summary: Vendor scores from our new B2B Marketing Automation Vendor Selection Tool offer new proof of an old truth: there's no one best system for everyone.

The one point I make every time I discuss software selection is that you have to find a vendor that matches your own business needs. No one ever denies this, of course, but the typical next question is still, Who are industry leaders? – with the unstated but obvious intention of limiting consideration to whomever gets named.

It’s not that these people didn’t listen: they certainly want a system to meet their needs. But I think they’re assuming that most systems are pretty much the same, and therefore the industry leaders are the most likely meet their requirements. The assumption is wrong but it’s hard to shake. My reluctance to contribute to this error is the main reason I’ve carefully avoided any formal ranking of vendors over the years.

But of course you know that I’ve now abandoned that position with the new B2B Marketing Automation Vendor Selection Tool (VEST) – which I’ll remind you is both totally awesome and available for sale on this very nice Web page. I’ll admit my change is partly about giving the market what it wants. But I also believe the new VEST can help to educate people about product differences, leading them to look more deeply than they would otherwise. Certainly the VEST gives them fingertip access to vastly more information about more products than they are likely to gather on their own. So, in that sense at least, it will surely help them to consider more options.

Back to the education part. Even someone as wise as you, a Regular Reader Of This Blog, may wonder whether those Important Differences really exist. After all, wouldn’t it be safe to assume that the industry leaders are in fact the strongest products across the board?


In fact, the best thing about the new VEST may be that I finally have hard data to prove this point. The graphic below may not be very legible, but it’s really intended to illustrate patterns rather than show a lot of detailed information.

Before you squint too hard, here’s what you’re looking at:

- left to right, I’ve listed the 18 VEST vendors (nice alliteration) in order of their percentage of small business clients. So vendors with mostly small clients are at the left, and vendors with mostly large clients are at the right.

- reading down, there are three big blocks relating to vendor scores for small, mid-size and large businesses. (In case you missed a class, the VEST has different scoring schemes for those three client groups because their needs are different.)

- within the three big blocks, there are blocks for product categories (lead generation, campaign management, scoring and distribution, reporting, technology, usability and pricing) and for vendorcategories (company strength and sector presence [sectors are another term for the small, mid-size and large businesses]). Each category has its own row.

- the bright green cells represent the highest-ranked vendors for each category. Specifically, I took the vendor scores (based on the weighted sum of vendor scores on the individual items—as many as 60 items in some categories) and normalized on a scale of 0 to 1. In the product categories, green cells represent a normalized score of .9 or higher (that is, the vendor’s score was within 10% of the highest score). In the vendor categories, where the top vendor sometimes scores much higher than the rest, green cells represent a normalized score of .75 or better.

- the dark green cells show the highest combined scores across all product and vendor categories. The combined scores reflect the weights applied to the individual categories, as I explained in my earlier posts. Again, the scores are normalized and the green indicates scores higher than .9 for product fit and .75 for vendor fit.

Ok then. Now that you know what you’re looking at, here are a few observations:

- colored cells are concentrated at the left in the upper blocks, spread pretty widely in the middle, and to the right in the lower blocks. In concrete terms, this means that vendors with the most small business clients are rated most highly on small business features, vendors with a mix of clients dominate the middle, and vendors with large clients have the strongest big-client features. Not at all surprising but good validation that the scores are realistic.

- there are no solid columns of cells. That is, no single vendor is best at everything, even within a single buyer type. The nearest exception is at the bottom right, where Neolane has five green product cells out of seven for large clients. Good for them, of course, but note there are five dark green cells on the large-company product fit row: that is, several other vendors have combined product scores within 10% of Neolane’s.

- light green cells are spread widely across the rows. This means that most vendors are among the best at something. In fact, only Genius lacks at least one green cell somewhere on the diagram. (And this isn’t fair to Genius, which has some unique features that are very important to certain users.)

- dark green cells aren’t necessarily below the most light green cells. The most glaring example is in the center row, where True Influence has a dark green cell (among the best over-all) without any light green cells (not the best in any category). This reflects the range in scores within each vendor: that is, vendors are often very good at some things and not so good at others.

All these observations lead back to the same central point: different vendors are good at different things and no one vendor is best at everything. This is exactly what buyers need to recognize to understand why it isn’t safe to look only at the market leaders. Nor can they simply decide based on the category rankings: there’s plenty of variation among individual items within those rankings too. In other words, there’s truly no substitute for understanding your requirements and researching the vendors in detail. The new VEST will help, but whether you buy it or not, you still have to do the work to make a good choice.