Demand generation systems - products to attract and nurture leads before they are turned over to the sales department - are probably the fastest growing type of marketing software. This means there is a good chance you will be asked to help select such a system in the near future. If that happens, what’s the best way to proceed?

 

First, recognize that many demand generation products are offered on a software as a service (SaaS) basis. This means you won’t be installing, managing, upgrading or customizing the software, so you can skip many of the usual technical considerations. Of course, you’ll still need to assess security, reliability and scalability. You may even add some new technical issues, such as integrating with the system as a Web service or via its application program interface (API). And there are always business issues, including vendor stability, pricing, contract terms, implementation and support.

 

But you will mostly focus on user requirements. This can be exceptionally difficult for demand generation systems because they are new to an organization. Without previous experience, users find it difficult to define their needs. One thing you don’t want to do is just pick the system with the most features. Features you don’t need add complexity without increasing value. A better approach is to steal a page from the developers’ book and define business use cases. Most demand generation systems are used for a few common applications. It’s easy enough to list these and have your users pick the ones that are most important. The requirements for these applications are the requirements for your system. A set of demand generation applications for your marketers to consider could include the following.

 

Lead generation campaigns attract new names to your prospect database and reactivate old ones. They send messages through list-based promotions such as email, direct mail and telephone calls, as well as anonymous media such as print and Web advertising, search engine listings and trade shows. Responses are captured and reacted to appropriately.

 

Functional requirements for lead generation include campaign setup with costs and tracking codes; list segmentation and selection; creation and delivery of email, direct mail and telemarketing scripts; landing pages and surveys to capture responses; autoreply mechanisms to react to inquiries; and reporting on results, including sales data from customer relationship management (CRM) or accounting systems.

 

Specific requirements depend on your business. If your marketers execute many programs simultaneously or produce localized versions, they’ll need features to share standardized content. If they offer many different products or gather detailed prospect information, look for the ability to tailor messages by list segment. If they work in channels beyond email and Web pages, the system must support these. If they import leads and sales data from external sources, they need customer data integration (CDI) and extensible data models. Demand generation products vary greatly in all of these areas.

 

Lead nurturing is maintaining continuous contact with leads until they are ready to buy. It involves sending messages to inform leads about the company and gathering information about the leads so you can understand them better. Functional requirements include multistep, cross-channel campaign flows; visitor identification through cookies, URL strings and Internet protocol lookup; offer selection based on lead attributes and observed behavior; generation of email and newsletters; response capture via surveys and landing pages; and results measurement. Because lead-nurturing programs seek to enrich existing relationships, capturing detailed data is especially important. So is the ability to use this data in complex program flows, offer selection logic and message personalization rules. Many lead-nurturing programs also need a continuous supply of content to keep the messages fresh, which implies requirements to manage content libraries and Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds. Companies vary greatly in how sophisticated they need their lead-nurturing programs to be. In general, companies with many products or complex sales cycles will want more advanced lead-nurturing capabilities.

 

Lead scoring and distribution manage the actual transfer of leads to sales. Key functions include gathering data through surveys, data enhancement and activity tracking; lead-scoring calculations to identify when the leads are ready to send; lead assignment rules to determine which salesperson should receive the lead; and CRM system integration to make the actual transfer, synchronize marketing and CRM data, and coordinate future contacts. Demand generation systems vary widely in all these areas. In particular, don’t assume a system can meet your needs if you must: integrate with a CRM system other than Salesforce.com, assign leads within the demand generation system rather than relying on the CRM system, use a Web services interface to interrogate external sources such as D&B or Jigsaw, or perform sophisticated lead scoring calculations. Also, look closely to see if your salespeople expect true real-time integration, such as alerts when a prospect visits the Web site or requests a chat.

 

The list of common demand generation applications also includes marketing performance measurement, managing events such as Web seminars and coordination of local marketing efforts. Each has specific requirements that you can identify by working with your marketers to define the necessary process and data flows. Once you’ve done this, it’s easy enough to look for the required capabilities in the systems you evaluate. The trick is making sure the requirements are based on specific business needs. It’s the only way to get the system that’s right for you.

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