So you’ve decided to invest in marketing automation for your business, and have begun researching which companies provide the software and what product features your business will require for optimal functionality and strategy. Then there’s comparing software products, more research, discussions with sales reps, and–you guessed it–probably some more research. The good news? You’re not the only one who has traveled down the research path, and reports can be an excellent source of information to tap into when making your marketing automation decision. The bad news? A report shouldn’t be taken at face-value, and it’s important to understand the behind-the-scenes of each to determine just how big a grain of salt you should take.
While there are a multitude of report types, let’s categorize them at the highest level. On one end of the spectrum, there are the analyst POV reports that are based off industry analyst expertise and in-depth research. On the other end, we have crowd-sourced reports in which rankings are driven by the quality and quantity of user reviews. Somewhere in the middle of these two extremes, you’ll find reports that provide a balanced weight of both analyst expertise and user experiences.
Is one type of report better than the other? No. Could one have conflicting information with another, and both still be credible? Absolutely. Is the information overload going to make your head spin? Let’s hope not as we dive a little deeper into these three types of reports, outlining the value each brings as well as what to look out for.
Analyst POV Reports
Pros: The research and evaluation processes cannot be understated for these reports–the “Tier One” industry analysts who publish these reports are experts in their field and seriously know their stuff. Analysts do not subjectively favor vendors; their rankings are determined by product demonstrations and discussions, feedback from referenced customers, and understanding of the vendor’s strategy and vision. Hundreds, if not thousands, of hours go into these annual or even bi-annual reports, and conclusions are carefully and thoughtfully crafted.
Cons: In most cases, these reports are accessible through the host research group, like Gartner, Forrester, or SiriusDecisions, and not readily available to the general public. Vendors must purchase the licensing rights (and it’s not cheap, folks), in which you can download the report through one of them. It’s important to note these analyst POV reports can have varying grading and eligibility scales, even between the same annual reports, so read the criteria and evaluation processes carefully to understand the full context.
Insight Takeaways: This is the heart of where you’ll find objective expert rankings based on product functionality, innovative strategy, and vision execution. The report results are based off extensive research among all the top vendors, and they are designed to help businesses figure out which one is best suited for their unique marketing needs.
Crowd Sourced Reports
Pros: As a potential user of this product, it’s extremely helpful to seek out feedback from other users–our peers share the good, bad, and everything in between about their experiences with vendors. Common patterns among recent reviews are golden nuggets of insight, like whether the software is advanced enough to grow with a company’s marketing maturity, or how user-friendly its email marketing capabilities are, or the usefulness of the onboarding support.
Cons: Have you ever looked up your favorite restaurant on Yelp, noticed a few one-star reviews, and wondered how they could come to such contrasting conclusions? A single review (good or bad) shouldn’t dictate your software-buying decision, just like with any other product. Remember: User opinions will have varying levels of actual marketing automation understanding–that is to say, just because someone writes a review does not make them an expert in the field.
Additionally, I mentioned earlier these report rankings are driven by the quality and quantity of user reviews. If a company has a few hundred reviews with a high rating average, and another has a few thousand reviews with above-average ratings, it is likely the latter will position better in the report due to the sheer number of reviews. This is a huge advantage for larger software companies that have been on the market for a long time, and it’s likely they have review incentive programs to boost their ranking.
Insight Takeaway: When you’re looking at the user reviews that curate the report, identify both positive and negative patterns in their experiences to recognize common themes. Keep your business objectives top of mind, to refrain from getting caught in the whirlwind of what others are doing and saying–their business strategies and goals that drive their marketing automation vendor experience are specific to their needs, not yours.
Analyst Conducted User Experience Reports
Pros: The Goldilocks of vendor reports, this type provides curated customer views paired with analyst expertise for a well-rounded perspective. Conducted by independent industry analysts who are very knowledgeable in their space (and may well be veterans of established research giants), these reports heavily incorporate user surveys, interviews, and/or review findings, in addition to extensive vendor research by the analyst, including in-depth presentations and meetings with the vendors.
Cons: Just because this type of report is in the middle of the two ends of the spectrum, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the “winner” of the three. Each type of report has varying focuses and the rankings are determined by different audiences, so it’s not in your best interest to solely focus on the Goldilocks. Similar to the analyst POV reports, these are often licensed and not for widespread distribution, which means you probably have to access it via one of the report’s participating vendors.
(Luckily, we are happy to help you access one of these reports–download it here to see why Act-On was ranked the global leader in Marketing Lead Management!)
Insight Takeaways: An analyst doesn’t have to work under the Gartners or Forresters of research firms to have credible, informed opinions and dedicated research (with both the vendors and the users). With that said, do your research on the principal analyst(s) to verify their credentials, and find out the weight distributed between user experiences and their expert insight. Overall, this is the type of report that helps bring all the vendor feedback together, providing a well-rounded scope of strategy and execution, along with customer success.
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There’s no doubt it takes time and research to decide on the marketing automation platform that is the right fit for your business, team, and marketing objectives. Understanding your company size, rate of growth, other software integration necessities, and functionality must-haves when you’re in the research phase will help guide your decision-making, as well as help you maintain clear direction when so much information begins to get overwhelming. It’s great to find at least one report in each of these three categories and, instead of focusing only on the rankings, pay particular attention to the vendor summaries where the most helpful information is.