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November 6, 2012


Marketing Automation vendors: revealing strengths and weaknesses

by Tom De Baere


Long sales cycles and complex purchase decision-making challenge B2B marketers to find the most qualified prospects and to build relationships long before the first sales call.

In this environment, automation is essential to achieving a high level of demand generation maturity, and many marketers turn to lead management or marketing automation providers to meet this need.

The clear benefits of lead management automation should have B2B marketers jumping to purchase it.

However, back in 2009 this Forrester study reviewed a number of vendors in this area, they saw an underachieving space. Market penetration was low (between 2% and 5% of B2B firms have invested selling to <25M$ companies).

Forrester named some reasons for the slow market adoption:

  • Heated competition battling to grab share: because of the “big CRM players” beginning to play in this field, buyers hold back their investments because they believe they have the functionality already in house through their CRM system
  • A massive amount of new players entering the playfield all with different backgrounds claiming to have similar functionality. These claims keep B2B buyers running from demo to demo and scratching their heads over which offering will best meet their needs.
marketing automation vendors come from different markets

MAS vendors come from different market. Image source : Forrester


Today, looking at the recent Gartner report of June 2012 the CRM market as a whole, of which this industry is very much part, enjoyed a strong rebound in 2011 with revenue reaching $11.9 billion in 2011, a 12.7% growth from 2010.

Marketing automation software, a $2.8 billion market in 2011, is expected to have year-over-year double-digit growth for the next three years. It represents the largest growth area in CRM, compared with sales and customer service software revenue forecasts.

The marketing automation landscape, or lead management, according to Gartner, missing out on some important innovative players

The marketing automation landscape according to Gartner, missing out on some important innovative players

This is proof that these systems actually are in demand, and that they seem to do what they are designed for: more than 67% of the Gartner report respondents identified lead management as having a critical or major impact on achieving sales and revenue objectives, and more than 69% were completely satisfied with their vendor and with application functionality.

In many cases the major vendors are still very much linked to a CRM system. Marketo and Eloqua are linked to, SAP to SAP, Microsoft to Microsoft and Oracle to Oracle.

On the other hand, the market is still getting more crowed with new startups regularly entering this space.

A difficult choice due to Vendor Clutter and Content Marketing

Marketing and sales organizations looking to invest in this technology are often confronted with an abundance of information ranging from whitepapers, ebooks, blogs, studies, webinars and buyer guides.

Almost all of these vendors go for a content marketing or inbound marketing strategy.

I’m always amazed how all these marketing automation vendors are able to “scan” the internet, and respond to everything which is related to marketing automation. So when critical questions are asked on Quora or other forums, niche and market leaders are bound to give their opinion that favors them as supplier.

How to reveal core strengths and weaknesses?

Even with studies like Gartner or Forrester at hand, you cannot make a descent choice because you do not know the real strengths of these companies. They all come from different markets, and have gradually added more functionality.

But their core strengths, and weaknesses are often difficult to reveal.

I also find it hard to see that SAP, Oracle or Microsoft are mentioned in the Magic Quadrant, while players like Silverpop or Hubspot are not mentioned. That’s because Gartner has some inclusion criteria to have only have vendors that have revenues > 20 M$. This is because they feel the needs of the enterprise and midenterprise companies require strong financial viability and extensive corporate resources. They also state that by excluding them is not a reflection on the potential value of these vendors’ products.

Obviously you’ll need to go through the usual benchmarking exercise in which you match your functional requirements with the capabilities of the software, and you’ll need to do the usual due diligence on the companies.

A model to reveal strengths and weaknesses

The model that I am proposing is to let the vendors themselves decide on their own strengths.

The idea is that you ask vendors to complete their own scoring, ranging from 1 .. 20, and they can only use each number only once. That will method will have them automatically disclose on how they see their own strengths. Important is to also have them motivate the scores they are giving to the different scoring criteria.

The first block are positioning criteria, the second block of criteria are more about functionality.

Criteria Score by the vendor Why do you want to know this?
Positioning criteria
Total Cost of Ownership   What will it cost you to ramp-up the solution, and use it. The higher the vendor score, the lower the cost.
Broad range of features   If this score is high, usually the depth of the functionality will be lower. If you seek an all-in-one, this is an important score.
Depth of features   If this score is high, it means you’ll have a more sophisticated system, but the complexity of the solution will go up.
Ease of use    
Scalability   Higher scores indicate that this solution is a fit for larger organizations.
Viability   Large corporations need a stable vendor.
B2B focus   Obvious.
B2C focus   Obvious.
Sales enablement   If the system needs to give strong insight to customer-facing employees into which conversation a customer is having with your company, then this score is important.
Lead management   Important when you need to fill the sales pipeline with qualified demand.
Inbound demand generation   A high score here indicates the vendor sees itself strongly linked with content marketing demand generation techniques.
Social media   How important is social media to the vendor? If it is also important to you, you’ll want a high score on this one.
Customer Service   Local presence and fast customer service is important.
Functional Criteria
Campaign design   Creating and running campaigns (e-mails, forms, landing pages, etc…)
Campaign management   Workflows to execute your campaigns and reporting
E-mail marketing functionality   How strong are they in e-mail?
Lead capture & scoring   A higher score means sophistication in capturing and scoring leads.
Routing/SFA   If integration with your sales organisation is important.
Lead nurturing   Event-triggered communication to advance buyers through the sales cycle.
Integration   Integration with CRM
Analytics   How strong are they in reporting and analytics?

Feel free to add more categories, and have the vendors use the model.

I hope this helps you in breaking through the vendor clutter, and that it helps you in selecting the right vendor.

Let’s see which of the vendors responds first to this blog post ;-)

Warm regards,

Tom De Baere


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