Lauraramos [Posted by Laura Ramos]

In a recent survey of over 2100 IT professionals who buy or recommend telecom and networking solutions, we found buyers turn to peers and colleagues first, followed by vendor, industry trade, or professional Web sites, to inform their purchase decisions. In fact, 88% said Web sites were important in helping them decide what to buy. However, many tech buyers visit vendor Web sites many times to learn about and compare products, yet few register or leave evidence of their activity.

B2B marketers looking for ways to turn their Web sites into demand generation tools have some new solutions to consider.  Yesterday, Demandbase announced a new software suite to help marketers harvest passive traffic visiting Web sites. As part of a broader lead generation, on-demand platform, Demandbase offers a free, downloadable Web application built on Adobe AIR (one of 3 investors in an $8M round they also announced.) Demand Stream™ includes a Web widget that shows sales and marketing the names of companies visiting the Web site in near real-time.  Users can query this widget to find out more about these visitors and decide if they want to purchase full business contact information. I think the idea of an iTunes™ -like interface — and pay-as-you-go pricing structure — for viewing, sorting, and selecting B2B contacts is intriguing.  I worry that this tool only ends up helping sales pick out cold calls to make, and is not used by marketers enough to segment, collect, and improve their prospecting databases. The technology appears useful at both ends of this spectrum.

The lead management automation market, about which I blogged previously, continues to attract new players at a rapid rate. The main problems targeted are keeping the pipeline full of marketing-qualified leads and automating the process of nurturing demand not yet ready to buy.  One side of the supply helps firms generate demand — acquire leads in a sales-led “push” model, one that feels more focused on outbound communication. I would put Demandbase here along with firms like Active Conversion, Hubspot, iHance, Leadlander, Sales Genius, and Zoominfo. (I’m sure I forgot a few. Feel free to chime in if I did. Or disagree with the list…) 

On the other side, I see solutions more oriented toward marketing and enabling a “pull” model, one focused on letting prospects engage at their own pace.  I would put the lead management automation crop here: Eloqua, Loopfuse, Manticore Technologies, Market2Lead, Marketo, and Vtrenz.  I would also put another group — one more focused on helping marketing align with, support, and enable sales: firms like BrightMarket, einsof, Longwood Software, and with their Saleforce Content offering, to name a few. 

When evaluating any technology to help manage demand, the short list of features should look something like:

1) Prospect data acquisition — helps with targeting, list building, list management, and data quality. Starting to see providers team up with data aggregators (Jigsaw’s name comes up here) to provide new sources of business contacts. Reverse IP look up appears to be the new thing here.

2) Online lead generation — provides or connects with email delivery, online advertising, search marketing adword tools, landing pages, registration/information capture, and offer testing. Among other stuff.

3) Online activity analytics — rather than examine overall site traffic and usage patterns like Omniture and WebTrends, these tools focus more on tracking what one individual or opportunity is doing.  Analytics include Web site visits, return visits, email opens, and click-throughs with an emphasis on letting marketing, insides sales, or account managers know when these activities happen.

4) Lead scoring — in a prior post, I make the case for quantitative scoring. And for including explicit (words) and implicit (deeds) information in the algorithm. I believe this is a key capability.

5) Routing/reporting — automation to help close the loop with sales and give marketing visibility into the sales pipeline. Must include some sort of dashboard for everyone to access internally.

6) SFA integration — ditto the above. Synchronizing prospect and opportunity databases is key. The data has to flow back and forth and not dirty up the pipeline with raw leads.

7) Lead nurturing —  automates follow up communication, is drip or event-triggered, and allows marketing to educate, persuade, and accelerate buyers as they move through the purchase process to the point where they become “sales ready.”

For those needing more capabilities to help with sales enablement or account-based communication, I would add:

8) Sales/marketing portal or workspace — includes account spaces/threaded discussions, sales call/activity prep, libraries for marketing content, task lists.

9) Collaboration — capabilities like wikis, sales-contributed content, voting and tagging.  Just makes it easier to manage all the stuff. Social networking stuff fits here too.

10) eLearning — checklists, directed sales tools, self-serve courses, quizzes, certifications, etc.  Stuff to help sales management get the new guys/gals up to speed.

Ok, that’s enough for now. I’m sure this post will generate its fair share of comments, outrage, and controversy. All thoughts are welcome!  I’m gearing up to write a market overview about this space, so hearing from you early in the process will help to shape that research.

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