2008 Jul 30
What to Look For In Demand Generation Software
David M. Raab
Raab Associates Inc.
July 30, 2008

There is no hotter category in marketing software today than demand generation systems. These products, from vendors such as Eloqua, Vtrenz, Market2Lead and Marketo, generate and nurture leads through a combination of email, Web pages, lead scoring, and integration with sales automation systems. As with any software, it usually matters less which product you choose than whether you use it effectively. But there are certainly differences among the available products, and picking a system that fits your needs is an important step on the road to success.

So, how do you make a sound choice? One thing not to do is to look at somebody else’s list of the “top three” products or “industry leaders”, and refuse to consider anything else. Industry rankings are important to insiders, but they say little about any product’s relationship to your own business situation. If you were buying a car, would you only look at the three best-selling autos?

On the other hand, few marketers have the skills or inclination to perform an in-depth technical analysis of the several dozen demand generation systems on the market today. Nor do they need to. It’s more important that they document their own needs, but even these are often defined broadly because there’s no time for anything more. What’s needed is a shortcut that lets marketers quickly identify a set of vendors that are all fundamentally suitable. Marketers can then choose how much additional effort to put into selecting the best within this group, trading the gains from an incrementally better fit against the costs of gathering more information.

Such a shortcut is available. Basically it requires identifying the few key differences among systems that relate to your critical business requirements. These fall into three major categories.

1. Marketing Scale. Enterprises where dozens of marketers run hundreds of programs have unique needs. Marketing activities in these large enterprises are often managed separately for different regions, products and customer segments, but must still be coordinated to maintain consistent messages and performance metrics. If you work in a large marketing organization, critical features to look for include:

- modular marketing materials, such as templates with standard headers and footers, reusable Web forms, and automated selection of message text within a promotion. Such features allow a single change to be deployed instantly across multiple campaigns, saving time and ensuring consistency. Without them, a large marketing organization quickly descends into chaos.

- fine-grained security that allows different users to control different marketing campaigns or components. This is not a concern in small departments where one or two users do everything, but it becomes critical where responsibilities for execution are divided.

- ability to run on company systems. Large companies are especially prone to insist that the software run on their own servers, rather than the usual approach (for demand generation software) of letting the vendor run it for them. Or, a company may accept external hosting but want Web forms to be embedded within company-hosted Web pages rather than being part of vendor-hosted “microsites”. Unlike the previous two items, this is only important for some large companies—but for them, it can be an absolute requirement.

- support for languages other than English is something you either do or don’t need. Not all systems have it. ‘Nuff said.

2. Channel Scope. All demand generation systems support emails, Web forms, and integration with CRM systems such as Salesforce.com. If those are the only channels you use, any system will do. But if you work in other channels, especially within the same campaign, you’ll want to find a system that can handle those as well.

- direct mail, telephone, mobile (SMS) and fax are easy if all you want to do is send non-real-time messages in periodic batches. Any system can generate the necessary lists. But if you want an immediate response or something highly personalized you’ll need to look more closely at what each vendor can do and what delivery partnerships it has in place.

- events such as Webinars and seminars require specialized features such as waiting lists, reminders, and attendance reports. Only a few demand generation vendors do this well. But there are plenty of specialist vendors for event management, so this may not be a make-or-break requirement.

- RSS feeds are an increasingly popular way to update content automatically. Simply displaying the feeds is no problem, but some demand generation products can actually manage feed creation and track readership in greater detail than standard RSS technology. Few marketers are so dependent on RSS that they would consider this a core need, but it’s definitely something to consider.

3. Functional Scope. The full set marketing automation functions includes planning, project management, content management, campaign management and analysis. Just two of these (content and campaign management) are essential for demand generation. If you have good solutions in place for the rest, stop right here. Otherwise, decide whether you want a demand generation system that can do:

- planning, which includes budgets and campaign schedules. Integration with corporate accounting systems is desirable but hard to find.

- project management, which includes tracking the tasks to complete a campaign and managing workflow such as approvals. These features are also barely present in today’s demand generation systems, although they will become more common.

- analysis, which includes reporting on Web activity, email delivery, campaign response, return on investment, and much else. Demand generation systems vary greatly in this area, so look closely if you have significant unmet needs. In particular, recognize that comprehensive reporting may require the demand generation system to import and merge data from other sources, which some products simply cannot do.

This brief list is not intended as a comprehensive catalog of possible demand generation system features. Nor does it even touch on other important considerations such as ease of use and vendor stability. What it does offer is a quick checklist of items that are easy to judge against two criteria: (a) do you need it? and (b) does a system have it? The answers will tell you which products are worth exploring in depth.

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David M. Raab is a Principal at Raab Associates Inc. www.raabassociatesinc.com, a consultancy specializing in marketing technology and analysis. He can be reached at draab@raabassociates.com. He is currently researching a Guide to Demand Generation Systems scheduled for publication by September 2008. Mr. Raab also blogs at Customer Experience Matrix http://customerexperiencematrix.blogspot.com/ and MPM Toolkit http://mpmtoolkit.blogspot.com/.

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