• Brand Content Management,  DAM,  News,  Vendor Selection

    Can’t Digitally Market without Great Digital Asset Management

    I am working on an update to our Vendor Selection Matrixtm on Digital Asset Management (DAM) – the survey results are in and I’m now talking to the vendors named and scored in the survey over the next weeks before completing the report. The link above shows the 2021 report, and the list of vendors is quite consistent, just three out and three new ones in. 

    DAM is a backroom process that most marketers do not concern themselves with. Cynics used to say, “A DAM is where our creative assets are sent to die”. That is because, historically, it was a repository for photographs and other static images. And the people managing this process were the ultimate geeks. I well remember getting a client inquiry two weeks after I had made a speech at a Content Management Summit in Cleveland about getting more creative about tagging content assets with informative units like sales phase, customer pain point and other stuff. The client said that what I was proposing was impossible, he had tried and “my DAM coordinator told me “No way”, he uses the date and time stamp and that is all”. 

    But things have changed. Now modern DAM administrators know they are no longer just storing assets, they are supporting the delivery of compelling experiences across the whole customer journey. DAM systems are being used to store and manage rich media assets like video, even virtual reality (VR), and augmented reality (AR) images, as well as text and documents. DAM is a cornerstone of digital marketing, just like Digital Experience Management (my next report project, survey is in the field). 

    Which means that the DAM process is now a high priority for the whole marketing organization. This was confirmed in our survey of 1500 business professionals familiar with their DAM projects where 55% confirmed “We are now very focused on optimizing the customer experience and this requires change in the DAM process” as Very True. 

    The survey scored these three objectives as their top benefits desired from their DAM system: 

    • Better system performance and responsiveness
    • Brand management capabilities
    • Delivering an elegant and intuitive customer experience. 

    Nearly three quarters of the companies confirmed they were planning to consolidate their DAM, PIM, and other content management systems (up from 51% in 2021). So, this is an exciting (or precarious?) time for the DAM vendors, an interesting mix of marketing suite and point solution vendors.   

    Watch out for the report in a few weeks’ time. 

    Always keeping you informed!  Peter

  • Uncategorized

    Propensity to Switch Vendors

    This year, I have collected several new Recommendation Index (RI) values from the Vendor Selection MatrixTM reports we have published. I see the RI as a significant leading indicator of long-term customer satisfaction but also, more importantly, of the propensity to switch indicated by customers. It is for that reason that we have included the points earned through the RI score in our Strategy axis on the matrix and give it a significant 25% weighting.

    In our surveys, we actually ask about two items directly related to customer retention: the current satisfaction, and the “would you recommend this vendor?” question. Customer satisfaction is defined as a measurement that determines how happy customers are right now with the solution being evaluated and flows into the Execution axis of the matrix. The RI (the simple percentage of respondents who answer “yes”) encapsulates a longer- term, more strategic element of customer satisfaction – essentially it is a measurement of customer loyalty.

    Vendors. I think that any RI 95% or over is satisfactory but an RI twixt 90 and 94% should raise some alarm signals about your customers’ emerging propensity to switch, while below 90% is already a state of alarm.

    Buyers. You should interpret the numbers in a similar manner.  

    The data below shows that the vendors listed in our Marketing Automation Platforms (MAP) landscape include several that should feel threatened by a propensity to switch. Our survey also showed that 49% of the respondents were planning to replace their MAP with something more suitable while another 24% said that was under consideration – always a moment of truth for a supplier if your client is not really satisfied with their overall experience. And remember, these are the 15 or so vendors with the top scores – there are many others with lower numbers. 

    The next survey in 2022 was around Marketing Resource Management (MRM). Again, there are some vendors that should feel threatened by a propensity to switch. 

    We have also published our report on the top Sales Engagement Management (SEM) vendors as rated by our global survey of 1,500 practitioners. There is already a lot of churn in this market as businesses race to replace their older SEM platforms with a more capable and holistic solutions for more digital selling and marketing. However, there were not that many vendors at 94% or below.  

    This month we published our report on Customer Data Management. The table shows an impressive scoring of all Recommendation Index values in the high 90s with just two below the 95% number that I would set as an alert.

    Overall, the numbers are good for these leading vendors. We’ll see how this analysis progresses in the 2023 surveys we have planned. 

    Always keeping you informed! Peter 

  • News,  Vendor Selection

    Customer Data is Problem #1

    Everybody is making predictions for the next year. Well, I see two certainties in marketing organizations for 2023. 

    1. In response to both the recession and overspending over the last years, most marketing execs. will be culling their martech spend by shrinking user licenses and even cancelling some point solutions altogether.
    2. The one area they will NOT hold back spending is on Customer Data Management.

    Marketing and sales professionals alike are saying inaccurate customer data is the biggest impediment to succeeding with data-driven marketing. According to a recent survey among 600 sales and marketing decision-makers in B2B or B2B-B2C hybrid firms by Dun & Bradstreet, some 34% of respondents cite accuracy of customer data as an obstacle to succeeding with data-driven marketing, and 30% cite the cost of third party data and lack of analytic capabilities as obstacles.

    Which means that my new Vendor Selection Matrixtm research on Customer Data Management (CDM) is going to be more useful than ever for potential buyers of CDM software. Especially as the report reflects the view of the market, 1500 business decision-makers reported their opinions and ratings for the CDM vendors they know. That is quite different than the standard research reports from my old colleagues (remember, I am ex- Gartner and ex-Forrester) that focus on an analyst’s rating of the product. Buyers much prefer to hear what their peers are saying about a solution, I would suggest. 

    Depending on how much you believe the claims, there are over 140 vendors with CDM solutions, often calling their software Customer Data Platforms (CDP). The vendor landscape is actually quite stable with several well-established independent CDP vendors out there. These are now being challenged not only by the expanded sales efforts of enterprise software vendors like Salesforce, Adobe, and Oracle, but also through increased competition from tools that enable in-house IT teams to build their own CDP equivalent. We estimate that 40-45% of companies have automated, or will be automating, parts of the CDM process in 2022.

    Providing an optimal customer experience is impossible without having a unified Customer Data Management (CDM) process in place: a process that includes the consolidation and aggregation of all data collected in separate systems across the company. This is not an IT-centric data warehouse or data lakes approach, ideally it should be a Marketing-led CDM initiative, helping to ensure the data unification project is focused directly on marketing requirements. 

    These are the 11 vendors that qualified as Market Leader (having both a Strategy and an Execution score of over 4 out of 5) in the Vendor Selection Matrix™ – Customer Data Management 2022 due to their scores in the survey and me (listed alphabetically):

    ACTIONIQ, BLUECONIC, CROSSENGAGE, EULERIAN, EVERGAGE, LYTICS, NGDATA, REDPOINT GLOBAL, SALESFORCE, TEALIUM, and TWILIO

    These are the vendor brands named spontaneously by the survey respondents. Some of the brands are part of larger vendor organizations (such as Evergage being part of Salesforce).

    The overall Global Leader, as they were in the 2020 report, was Tealium.  

    The link above connects you to the public version of the report, with the alphabetical list of market leaders and shorter vendor profiles. Watch out for several versions of report in full detail over the next months as several vendors distribute their licensed reprints.

    Always keeping you informed! Peter O’Neill

  • News,  Vendor Selection

    Customer Data Management Projects Vary by Company Type and Geography

    We are almost there. I’ve done my 2022 Vendor Selection Matrix research on Customer Data Management, the survey has been analyzed, insights and trends have been written up and the vendor scorecards/profiles completed. The report is now with those vendors for fact checking and we expect to publish later in November.  

    Providing an optimal customer experience is impossible without having a unified Customer Data Management (CDM) process in place: a process that includes the consolidation and aggregation of all data collected in separate systems across the company. This is not an IT-centric data warehouse or data lakes approach, ideally it should be a Marketing-led CDM initiative, to ensure the data unification project is focused directly on marketing requirements. 

    The global market for customer data management platform software is rising dramatically as companies invest in their CDM process to ensure success in their digital marketing and digital selling. IDC has sized the CDP software market at $ 2.2 billion in 2021 with an annual growth of 62%. The vendor landscape is quite stable with several well-established independent CDP vendors who are now challenged not only by the expanded sales efforts of enterprise software vendors like Salesforce, Adobe, and Oracle, but also through increased competition from tools that enable in-house IT teams to build their own CDP equivalent.

    Our survey of 1500 business professionals included this question, “Which of the following processes do you automate, or plan to, with your CDM platform?”. The top six processes named were:     

    • Customer profile resolution
    • Digital experience personalization
    • Business reporting and analytics
    • Mkt. execution testing/optimization
    • Market segmentation
    • Cust. lifetime revenue calculation
    • Channel optimization analysis

    When asked, “Which anticipated top 3 benefits are driving your investment in customer data management automation in 2022?”, well over one third of companies cited content personalization. But that varies across the regions. Real-time personalization and measurement of intent are more important in North America while European respondents are still focused on getting to a single customer database and/or single source of truth, a more basic CDM initiative.

    These are the 15 vendors that qualified for the Vendor Selection Matrix™ – Customer Data Management 2022 due to their scores in the survey and me (listed alphabetically):

    ACTIONIQ, BLUECONIC, CALIBER MIND, CROSSENGAGE, EULERIAN, EVERGAGE, LEADSPACE, LYTICS, NGDATA, REDPOINT GLOBAL, SALESFORCE, SITECORE, TEALIUM, TERMINUS, and TWILIO

    Although Evergage was acquired by Salesforce back in 2020, a significant number of respondents named and rated that brand unprompted. Indeed, the list above is a broad mix of vendors with a wide variety of claims: data consolidation, collecting entire clickstreams, creating a “golden record” through identity resolution, enabling intelligent engagement, and identity tagging, even ABM predictive analytics this time. The CDM challenge is different across the B2C and B2B spectrum. It also varies according to whether you are a medium-sized company or a large international enterprise. 

    Watch out for the final version of the report in full detail next month. 

    Always keeping you informed! Peter O’Neill

  • News,  Sales Enablement Management,  Vendor Selection

    Seismic Top Again in SEM

    Sales Engagement Management (SEM) processes are transforming in most companies. B2B buyer behavior has evolved to become primarily digital, so traditional in-person selling is no longer the norm with 70% of business decision-makers now open to fully self-serve or remote purchases even if more than $ 50,000, according to McKinsey.

    I’ve just published my 2022 Vendor Selection Matrixtm research on Sales Engagement  Management which shows that increasing digital marketing and sales means that automated sales strategies and analytics have now joined the SEM process family. Indeed, in many companies, the sales organization includes a new generation of customer success managers, with different informational needs to the traditional salesperson. We estimate that 40-45% of companies have automated, or will be automating, parts of the SEM process in 2022. 

    Great SEM is now more important than ever.  

    The COVID-19 pandemic has set off a period of head-spinning change in many companies, even industries. Digital transformations are being realized faster than ever thought possible. Firms go digital in a matter of days, not years, and offer new services almost overnight. And one of the most drastic consequences of the move to digital marketing, selling, and buying, is on the role of that traditional salesperson (note that I co-wrote the Forrester report “Death of the B2B Salesman” back in 2015). Some of us analysts and vendors are starting to propose the broader descriptor Revenue Enablement or Revenue Management, where Revenue is an aggregation of sales and retention rate, most of which is automated and digital.

    We asked why marketers need SEM. 

    We asked, “Which of the following processes do you plan to automate with your SEM system?”, providing a list of 17 possible processes. The highest NEW interest is in improving Guided Selling and Pipeline Management, followed by support for Video Selling (aka remote selling). The next two priorities are being able to provide data and analytics (including alerts and recommendations) to salespeople. 

    SEM investment drivers depend on geography. 

    Overall, nearly one half of companies are focused on sales content management while 29% cite integrating to other marketing asset systems as important. One quarter value the opportunity to support social selling. However, these priorities vary across the regions. Social selling seems to be more important in Europe, as is Content control. More American companies are still working on providing relevant content assets to salespeople and to integrate to other systems while the more strategic benefit of improving revenue operations is recognized by four times as many European executives compared to North American.

    SEM improvement has a “sense of urgency” due to eCommerce. 

    As cited above, eCommerce has affected the sales process in almost all B2B companies. A resounding 98% of respondents expect the share of their products/services sold online to increase dramatically, reducing the dependency on a field sales force. But the Inside Sales (BusDev) function requires more, but also different, SEM functions.

    Pure-play SEM vendors may not be able to keep up.

    As part of an overall trend towards adopting more capable revenue management technology, SEM vendors will be challenged by existing Account-Based Marketing and Customer Data Management vendors. Many of these vendors will already have a strategic supplier relationship and can provide “just-enough” SEM capabilities to lock out a pure-play SEM vendor.

    But what is the market saying?

    The clear #1 Global Leader, as scored by the survey and me, is the vendor Seismic, who have won this leadership position for three surveys now.  

    This is the full list of all Market Leaders (having both a Strategy and an Execution score of over 4 out of 5) in the Vendor Selection Matrix™ – Sales Engagement Management 2022 (listed alphabetically):

    APPAROUND, BIGTINCAN, BRAINSHARK (now BIGTINCAN), CLEARSLIDE (now BIGTINCAN), HIGHSPOT, MEDIAFLY, PITCHER, SALESLOFT, SEISMIC, and SHOWPAD.

    Note that the vendors BRAINSHARK and CLEARSLIDE were acquired by BIGTINCAN this year. However, the brands were named and scored, unprompted, in the survey. 

    The full list of vendor brands in the Top 15 vendors scored in the survey is completed by: 

    ACCENT TECHNOLOGIES, CLIENTPOINT, SALESPHERE, SAP, and PROLIFIQ  

    The link above connects you to the public version of the report, with the alphabetical list of market leaders and shorter vendor profiles. Watch out for several versions of report in full detail over the next months as several vendors distribute their licensed reprints.

    Always keeping you informed! Peter O’Neill

  • News,  Sales Enablement Management,  Vendor Selection

    Sales is different now, so Sales Engagement Management must change too

    We are almost there. I have now completed my 2022 Vendor Selection Matrix research on Sales Engagement Management, the survey has been analyzed, insights and trends have been written up and the vendor scorecards/profiles completed. The report is now with those vendors for fact checking and we expect to publish in October. 

    The need to automate elements of sales engagement management (SEM) was proposed many years ago (I would claim to be that analyst in question) but not readily adopted in all companies, especially those dominated by a Chief Sales Officer. But the COVID-19 pandemic has set off a period of head-spinning change in many companies, even industries. Digital transformations are being realized faster than ever thought possible. Firms go digital in a matter of days, not years, and offer new services almost overnight. 

    And one of the most drastic consequences of the move to digital marketing, selling, and buying, is on the role of that traditional salesperson (again, let me note that I co-wrote the Forrester report “Death of the B2B Salesman” back in 2015).  

    Our survey of 1500 business professionals on this topic shows the highest NEW interest in improving Guided Selling and Pipeline Management, followed by support for Video Selling.    

    The next two priorities are being able to provide data and analytics (including alerts and recommendations) to salespeople. SEM projects are mostly executed by more mature companies and based on our conversations with users and vendors, we estimate that 40-45% of companies have automated, or will be, their SEM process in 2022-23.

    When we asked them about their 2022 SEM projects, nearly half of the companies were still focused on sales content management, the earliest implementation phase of SEM. Nearly a third say that integrating to other marketing asset systems is important, and a quarter value the opportunity to support social selling.  However, these priorities vary across the regions which we explore in the report in more detail. The project drivers have also changed dramatically since our last survey in late 2020.

    These are the 15 vendors that qualify for the Vendor Selection Matrix™ – Sales Engagement Management 2022 due to their scores in the survey and me (listed alphabetically):

    ACCENT TECHNOLOGIES, APPAROUND, BIGTINCAN, BRAINSHARK, CLEARSLIDE, CLIENTPOINT, HIGHSPOT, MEDIAFLY, PITCHER, PROLIFIQ, SALESLOFT, SALESPHERE, SAP, SEISMIC, and SHOWPAD

    Watch out for the final version of the report in full detail next month. 

    Always keeping you informed! Peter O’Neill

  • Brand Content Management,  DAM,  News,  Vendor Selection

    MRM Earns a Boost of Interest, but is About to Change

    I hope you had a great summer break. I was away for a few weeks myself and have returned to my desk refreshed and ready for more work as Research Director for Research In Action, Lead Analyst at B2B Marketing, as well as several individual client projects.

    Earlier this month, I completed my 2022 Vendor Selection Matrix research on Marketing Resource Management and can report that there is clear increased interest in establishing a such a system to help marketing executives to plan, monitor, and control the usage of their most important resources: money, people, content assets, projects, and brand. 

    Marketing financials and calendars are the most popular processes being automated, closely followed by marketing performance management. Based on our conversations with users and vendors, we estimate that 55-60% of companies have automated, or will be automating, parts of the MRM process in 2022.

    When we asked 1500 business professionals about their 2022 MRM projects, well-over one third of companies cited the need for data on marketing performance or return-on-investment as their major reason for MRM investment. Just over one third see it as a method to reduce overall costs and a significant 26% consider improved brand management as a priority.

    The need for such a Marketing Resource Management process was proposed some years ago (I could probably claim to be that analyst) but not readily accepted by the user community. Now, the need for MRM is perhaps clearer, but the modern marketing executive wants more than just an asset management system. 

    They need a more dynamic solution that enables them to forecast, measure, model, analyze and even predict all their business numbers – to be fully empowered with control over their marketing processes and outcomes. 

    I anticipate the process name itself to mature in the next years. It will be interesting to see what thought leadership campaigns come out of the vendors and how quickly the user community can tune in to the new terminology. 

    These are the Market Leaders (having both a Strategy and an Execution score of over 4 out of 5) in the Vendor Selection Matrix™ – Marketing Resource Management 2022 as scored by the survey and myself (listed alphabetically):

    ALLOCADIA, APRIMO, BRANDMAKER, BRANDSYSTEMS, CONTENTSERV, LYTHO, MARMIND, PERCOLATE, SITECORE, WEDIA, OPTIMIZELY (WELCOME), and WORKFRONT (ADOBE)

    These are the vendor brands named spontaneously by the survey respondents. Some of the brands are part of larger vendor organizations (such as Welcome being part of Optimizely and Workfront part of Adobe). Also, BrandMaker acquired Allocadia earlier this year and have now rebranded completely to Uptempo.  

    Some of the marketers we surveyed saw MRM as just content or even digital asset management and so named and scored their vendors. Both Contentserv and Percolate (Seismic) have stated that they appreciate the great feedback from the survey but no longer promote their solution as an MRM solution and should be applauded for their honesty.

    The link above connects you to the public version of the report, with the alphabetical list of market leaders and shorter vendor profiles. Watch out for several versions of report in full detail over the next months as several vendors distribute their licensed reprints.

    Always keeping you informed! Peter

  • News,  Vendor Selection

    The Future of Marketing Events

    We are about to publish my next B2B Marketing Propolis Premium Report, titled The Future of B2B events: Strategic Importance of Events Elevated by Two Years of Crisis

    I enjoyed working with Steve Kimish, Propolis Hive expert, Execution & Campaigns, while the interviews were with senior executives in/around the B2B marketing event industry, to collect an appropriately deep insight into the topic.

    Within the report I also cite from my Vendor Selection Matrix research on the same topic and list out the most significant Marketing Event Management platforms that we discovered in the survey.  

    Here is my final chapter entitled simply; “Recommendations”. 

    “Planning a marketing event calendar for fiscal or calendar 2023 is probably going to be one of the more strategic programmes for many B2B CMOs and marketing directors over the next months. Many in marketing used to see events as nice-to-have vanity driven exercises of corporate PR. In future, it will be an integral part of an overall customer engagement strategy.

    Future marketing plans will include both physical and digital events as standard in customer engagement programs; to collect market/customer insights at scale and to maintain a buyer/customer relationship over a longer period than just a buying cycle. A B2B CMO I’ve met recently talked about plans as more of a ‘media strategy’ than a marketing strategy.

    I know of several large tech vendors that already have concrete plans into 2024 for large scale, multi-media, highly branded events accommodating thousands of delegates and providing an outstanding conference, networking and banqueting experience for business partners and customers alike.

    Virtual marketing events will become part of a new marketing channel, scheduled, and atomised across the whole calendar and much more numerous, impactful, and measurable than before.

    The interviews documented in the body of this report contain a series of recommendations for you to take note of, but I would like to add a couple more strategic thoughts as a recommendation. You may not need to do it this year, or even next, but I suggest that you should be at least considering the following initiatives over the next two to five years:

    • Recruiting media talent. The largest B2B companies will be creating their own ‘Netflix’ websites with full presentations and atomised videos of the speakers who have featured in recent marketing events, plus further thought leadership and educational content. Over time, the expectation among all B2B buyers will be to enjoy the same type of experience. So, when further recruiting content marketing staff, you should be looking for people with video management and editing skills or providing training for these capabilities.
    • Configure event data into your customer data management strategy. As you extend your customer data management (CDM) processes and strategy, ensure that the CDM team can collect and collate event engagement data as well. This requires process design and ensuring that the selection criteria for new event platform software include this requirement.
    • Don’t neglect the content expectations of your ecosystem members. While the intent to provide an entertainment and memorable experience in future marketing events is understandable, savvy marketing executives will also continue to generate content that provides deeper information to technical buyers and product or service user/consumer-personas.

    The report will publish to B2B Marketing Propolis clients next month and a shortened version to the non-premium members later in the year. Contact me if you would like to get more details.

    Always keeping you informed! Peter

  • Brand Content Management,  DAM,  News,  Vendor Selection

    Marketers Need to Manage All Their Resources

    You may have noticed: when I do market research on software vendors and products, I always approach my topics from the business point of view – not a technology category/label only familiar to product managers in software companies, or analysts at Gartner or Forrester. I name a business process (or family of processes) that I know marketers are thinking about. After all, marketing executives don’t buy software because they are collectors, they want to make their processes more efficient and expect an automation project will help. 

    Over the years, their list of processes to be automated has become longer but also more business centric. Way back when, marketing was only about sales support, lead generation and literature. Now, thankfully, modern CMOs or Marketing Directors are now responsible for a more extensive operation, some of them even measured on revenue contribution. And so, as with any business executive, they have full responsibility for the planning and effectiveness of all their business resources.

    For a marketing executive, those resources fall into these categories: money, people, content assets and brand. And the process to manage these resources is therefore being called “Marketing Resource Management” (MRM). 

    I would propose that now the time has come for many more CMOs and Marketing Directors to acquire their own “ERP system” and implement a serious MRM project, taking full control over what can make a marketing organization successful – especially the financials.

    Content and brand resources are already marketing-specific and many CMS and Brand Content Management systems include resource management for those resource types. Digital assets are managed in DAM and PIM systems.  But using the corporate ERP software to manage people resources is not good enough as a typical CMO-led organization increasingly includes external contributors (agencies, freelancers, analysts), all to be accounted for as an ongoing marketing-people resource. Lastly, the spending of marketing budgets is now so dynamic and digital that executives can no longer rely on monthly or quarterly batched financial reports with historical data – if anything, they need a dashboard that forecasts, predicts and recommends.  

    By definition, the MRM system should be marketing-centric – one that has the right language or terminology, reporting structure and cadence. Marketers think in terms of campaigns, not financial quarters, and they need a planning calendar. It should provide marketing professionals at all levels in the hierarchy with an ideal experience and support decisions about marketing investments. For that reason, the ideal solution would often be one that is grown out of an existing management system used within marketing. 

    But a relevant MRM must be more than just a planning/budgeting system: database plus reporting. It needs to able to be state of the art in that it can:

    • Take inputs from all players in the marketing ecosystem – for many companies this can include geographic entities or subsidiaries and even business partners
    • Collect live data in real-time to support decision-making
    • Provide recommendations and insights based on AI.

    MRM is still in its adoption infancy. Capterra has some 50 MRM Software offerings in its directory. And my esteemed ex-colleagues at Forrester produced a NowTech report on MRM in Q1 this year that focused on the needs of enterprise B2C organizations above $1 billion in revenue and identified 28 vendors.  

    But what is the market saying?

    Well, I have now fielded my 2022 global survey of marketers’ experience with MRM solutions and am talking to the vendors to complete my research. This is the list of the Top 15 vendors from the survey (in alphabetical order).

    ALLOCADIA, APRIMO, BRANDMAKER, BRANDMASTER, BRANDSYSTEMS, CONTENTSERV, ELATERAL, INFOR, LYTHO, MARMIND, PERCOLATE, SITECORE, WEDIA, WELCOME, WORKFRONT

    Curiously, a significant number of vendors who marketers cite as their MRM solution are telling me that they do not want to “position the offering as MRM”.  Who says that the customer is always right?  

    Always keeping you informed! Peter O’Neill

  • Design Thinking,  News,  Vendor Selection

    Design Thinking in The Vendor Selection Process

    Many years ago, working at HP, I quickly learned to schedule my vacations according to the marketplace. Common practice was, when customers (well, prospects) went on their vacation, they first dumped some work on my colleagues and myself, sending us a thick envelope (no Email in those days) containing a “Request for Proposal” or even worse (sounds so uncommitted!) a “Request for Information” — long, detailed documents laying out a series of specifications and functions that they wanted to see in our product.

    We’d be expected to process/answer many detailed questions and submit a response when they came back from vacation. Most RFPs were issued, especially here in Germany, during the summer and just before Christmas. 

    I got the impression that creating these RFP documents, and then processing the vendor replies, was the main event for many buyers. It wasn’t necessarily about picking the right solution. The later stages (presentation, demo, negotiation, sales) seemed to happen very quickly afterwards.

    Further work experience also taught me that the famous adage that “70% of IT projects fail” is very true and continues to be so. I would suggest that one reason for this is the above process. Many companies assume that the most important component of any process automation project is the Vendor Selection Process (VSP). Once that’s done, it is easy sailing – just install it, configure it, (perhaps) train the users and run the system. 

    Well, I’ve now assisted many a client through their VSP and sat in on their meetings with potential suppliers to provide my input as “an outsider”. I trust that my assessment of the vendors’ offerings and potential to fit into their planned technical architecture was useful. But still, I’ve often left the meetings with the feeling that the client wasn’t really prepared for the full project.  I would notice that many aspects of the project were not yet thought through. There were often: 

    • No sample business workflows (much of which is outside the software they’ll buy)
    • No profile of their potential users (devices, competencies, preferences)  
    • No sample reports or dashboards designed
    • No prioritization in their list of requirements – all was equally important.   

    Process automation projects fail because of a bad fit between project solution and requirements. And when I say “project” I mean much more than the software product. The solution must cover the complete business scenario to be improved, which is usually only partly through technology – process and organization always needs to be tuned as well. 

    I suggest that it is now time to reconsider the role of the VSP – it should not be “the means to an end” – better to turn it into the kick-off for a process transformation project. 

    In 2009, the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford came up with the concept of “design thinking” which has been adopted by many IT organizations and software vendors as the basis for their development projects. The associated meeting/communications method, SCRUM, has now even been adopted by modern marketing departments. The Stanford School process proposes these steps in a project: 

    Empathize – Define – Ideate – Prototype – Test.

    So here is what I envisage in a modern marketing process automation project:

    Empathize. Collect and describe the requirements based not on technical specifications but by describing real business scenarios – improved workflows that marketers care about. Include persona profiles and the desired “usage tone” (marketing- or IT-centric, advanced or casual user, terminology known or not, device preferred, location of task, reporting requirements, millennials!). A scenario documentation should resemble the briefings given to marketing agencies – not an RFP spreadsheet. 

    Define. Based on the make-up of the user-team and other requirements such as integrations and services, you should be able to easily segment the vendors and arrive at a shortlist.  Provide the scenario documentation to those vendors and gather their responses as a first selection phase. Allow them to be creative – they may even be able to propose process improvements that you had not yet identified.

    Ideate. Invest time here to engage with three to five vendors to explore how they would help you to automate the scenarios. If you want to restrict this phase, limit how many scenarios each vendor works on – one will probably suffice for you to form an impression of the vendor’s suitability as a business partner.  

    Prototype. The people at Stanford would love you to be putting Post-It notes on the wall in this phase, but you should probably expect your vendors to be able to demonstrate how they would support your scenarios with their software. You should now be down to one or perhaps two vendors.  As well as checking whether they have realistic expectations, also use this phase to observe how the project members will work together – vendor people with your colleagues but perhaps you are also bringing together colleagues who are strange to each other. Create a conflict situation by changing a scenario and see how all players react. 

    Test. After selecting your technology provider, you now move into the project roll-out phase, which is usually focused on just one team, location, or business area to generate success and then a more expansive roll-out. Continue to expect the vendor to treat you as a business partner and working to ensure your success. 

    The test phase should never end. Wise project managers will maintain a running, live doc of the business requirements, because they’ll change over time. Display it in a flexible and editable spot to allow you to constantly re-check what you need, and the costs associated with it.  Also, ask yourself periodically what can you cut? Or what hasn’t been used in months? Who is now using the software – is that different than initially assumed? 

    Something to think about the next time you plan an automation project.

    Always keeping you informed! Peter O’Neill