Lauraramos [Posted by Laura Ramos]

Since the start of this year, I’ve been receiving a boatload of briefing requests from companies wanting to show me their lead generation and management solutions.  Most recently, Marketo just announced their lead management solution. While honored, I also find reviewing these solutions confusing because there is a lot of variation in the product presentations and overlap between categories.  And it’s not clear to me if lead management automation deserves to be a separate category or to be subsumed as part of the broader marketing platform. (I know Suresh Vittal includes lead management as a component of his enterprise marketing platform. But does the B2B need the same platform components as B2C?) Here’s how I see it and I’d like to hear your views as well.

There are four primary buckets of technology solutions aimed at solving the “how do I make lead generation activities more effective?” problem:

1) Web analytics – typically the stronghold of companies like Coremetrics, Omniture, and WebTrends, the analytics area bleeds over into lead management as companies go online to generate demand.  Many of the marketing automation companies have added some fairly sophisticated analytics to monitor prospect’s online behavior and help marketers qualify and score them based on Web site visits, registrations, and downloads.

2) Database services – powerhouses like Dun&Bradstreet, Harte-Hanks, Acxiom, Equifax, infoUSA, and Merkle dominate this category, but B2B marketers tend to think of them more as list generators than providers of a broad spectrum of strategic data management to direct mail execution. My point: B2B marketers are looking elsewhere for help generating demand.

3) Marketing automation – lead by firms like Aprimo, Unica, Oracle/Siebel and SAS, this category is at the core of what Forrester calls the Marketing Technology Backbone.  The problem is: these platforms are heavy on campaign design, execution, and reporting and light on lead management.

4) “Pure play” lead management – this group is lead by Eloqua, but there are a LOT of firms throwing their hat into this ring including Vtrenz, Hubspot, Manticore, Market2Lead, Marketo, LoopFuse, einsof, iHance, Precience, among many others. (That I’m sure to hear about them since I know I’ve missed adding many to this list.)

Here’s the problem. There are at least 4 amorphous groups of solution providers also setting their sights on this space:

1) Lead generation services or tools – Because this category contains both service providers (that look more like agencies or telesales outsourcers) and software as a service vendors, there are probably more than I could possibly name.  Recently, I’ve heard from companies like Bulldog Solutions, InsideView, Jigsaw, netFactor, Reachforce, PointClear, Genius, Leads360, among others. Folks, at less than 20 employees, many of you look more like boutique agencies than true technology providers. Positioning yourselves as “lead management” does not help differentiate what you REALLY do.

2) Email services – Julie Katz at Forrester writes about this group.  The lead management vendors are developing one-to-one email capabilities that help sales people be more consistent and productive.  In B2B, it’s not about batch-and-blast acquisition as much as it is about using email to continue a conversation.

3) Search engine marketing services providers – Shar VanBoskirk covers this market, but I’ve found companies like Reprise Media, IMPAQT, iCrossing and iProspect doing a lot more to help B2B marketers understand how to turn search optimization or paid clicks into qualified leads. Tools that analyze who’s clicking – and help B2B marketers make heads or tails out of Google’s analytics – are bleeding over into the lead management space.

4) Online portals – I know, this is a broad category.  But I’m thinking about firms like, TechTarget, Buyerzone, and a ton of others who syndicate content, host catalogs, attract eyeballs, and offer to “sell” these leads.

Whew!  Lots of stuff, huh? So here’s the two big questions:  When do you use which? (or a combination of the choices?) And will the lead management market continue to grow in addition to – or despite – the plethora of offerings hovering around it?

My bet is on lead management growth because B2B marketers need to fully embrace online marketing as their primary way to engage and educate buyers. They need a platform that fits together with their CRM/SFA systems but separately helps them to identify and sort the best leads from the rest and to nurture those not yet ready to buy.  B2B marketers also need systems that help them align sales activity and marketing messages, monitor marketing’s impact on the pipeline, and close the loop on closed deals.  I think the lead management platforms hit directly on these problems and will shift marketing’s role from filling the pipeline to managing the customer lifecycle.

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