In the current issue of Harvard Business Review, a team of experts from Bain & Company presents an analysis of B2B client data that offers insights into what matters most to B2B buyers of business products and services. A framework emerged from their research – a pyramid which organizes 40 fundamental “elements of value” within five categories. At the bottom of the pyramid is table stakes, followed by functional value, ease of doing business, individual value and inspirational value.
This got me thinking about the range of concerns that influence the software and services purchase decisions of today’s marketing executives. In our frequent discussions with prospective buyers of marketing resource management systems, the Vya team has learned a lot about what motivates them and what’s important to them.
The things that they value actually provide constructive guidance for anyone going through the marketing software and services buying process. So I’ll share these elements along with some questions prospective buyers might ask as they research and compare solution providers.
Using Bain’s elements of value pyramid as a framework, the concerns we hear most often from marketing execs fall in the middle to lower segments of the pyramid – tables stakes, functional value and ease of doing business.
- System stability. If the system isn’t stable, that leads to down time and loss of productivity. Do your due diligence and research the stability of the product or service – read online reviews, ask for customer references and read product reviews by independent experts if available.
- Addresses marketing objectives. Will the software or system support your core marketing objectives? Don’t be seduced by an elegantly designed system simply because it’s loaded with bells and whistles. There’s little point in investing in a product or service that does not address your objectives.
- Pricing transparency. How is the system priced? Will you be hit with new fees every time you add users? If you want more users on the system in order to increase efficiencies, it could defeat the purpose if incremental cost increases make it cost prohibitive to maximize usage.
- Ease of use. This is among the top requirements we hear from marketing software and services buyers. If a product or system is too complex, users won’t use it, which means you end up paying for something that does not address your objectives.
- Range of offerings in one platform. This is becoming increasingly important as marketing execs look to consolidate martech platforms for efficiency and cost (read more about this trend).
- Scalability. In addition to addressing your immediate needs, will this solution grow with you into the future?
- Development capabilities. What development resources does the technology provider have? Can they handle more than minor enhancements? Developers will always say they can build it. So, you need to know just how robust their capabilities are. There are some complex solutions that have taken years to develop and evolve. While some may try to emulate them, they are unlikely to be able to develop functionality in your timeframes. How much risk are you willing to assume in terms of time, money and reputation?
Ease of Doing Business
- System flexibility and configurability. Particularly for distributed organizations, like franchises and banks, system flexibility and configurability is vital. If a system is not flexible, corporate marketing is likely to be swamped with questions and special requests from the field. Make sure the system adequately addresses the usability needs of end users and system administrators. One of our franchise clients recently commented on how they value the flexibility and configurability of our system, saying, “That’s what I love about Vya – whenever I ask if the system can do something, the answer is always yes.”
- Cultural fit. Does the solution provider fit with the culture and mission of your organization? A good cultural fit is important for collaborating on challenges and in understanding what’s important day to day. Our COO Kandi O’Connor put it this way when we launched Wayback Burgers, “We are excited to be working with Wayback Burgers, a growing franchise business that shares our philosophy of simplifying processes that can help marketers and local businesses succeed.”
- Knowing your business. Is the provider committed to getting to know your specific business? You should be able to detect this in the evaluation process. Are they curious about what you do? How well do they grasp what you do? Knowing your business is important to successfully delivering a solution that will work for you.
- Trusted partner/advisor. This is where knowing your business can really pay dividends. As a solution provider, a software or services company has the potential to provide unbiased recommendations beyond the scope of their product or service. Look for a knowledgeable technology provider with a partnership approach.
- Service after the sale. What can you expect from your service provider after the sale in terms of onboarding and training? For distributed and franchise organizations, will the provider help coach those who are in the field to understand what the solution can do for them? The level of service can make the difference in achieving a successful implementation.
- Support. How is the solution supported? Is it a patchwork of systems that relies on third-party software developers? Or does the solution provider maintain the software or system directly? To avoid time lost due to outsourced tech development and support, it’s important to look under the covers before making a final decision.
- Contact availability/options. Will your solution provider offer multiple ways for users to contact them so they can get answers to questions when they arise? The last thing a marketing exec needs is to be fielding product support questions throughout the day. Make sure users can reach someone with your solution provider who understands your business and can resolve their issue.
- Risk mitigation. How much risk are you willing to assume? If you’re considering whether to contract with a developer to build a new solution or overhaul a basic system, consider the advantages of working with a pre-built, pre-tested system. Vya client Amy Lowers of regional bank WesBanco determined there was less risk in choosing the proven option. She explains, “We could have gone out and asked someone to build a system. In fact, one vendor had some of what we needed and offered to build the rest. But we felt we really needed a partner that already understood the nuances of the banking industry.”
- Organization track record and stability. Is the provider a well-established business with a transparent track record? How are they funded? Are they self-sustaining or do they rely on their next round of funding to hire enough programmers to continue to develop and support their product? Are they ripe for an acquisition that could impact their direction going forward? You don’t want to go through the solution evaluation and buying process, only to have to do it again six months down the road because your provider goes out of business or pivots in a new direction.
There are many questions and requirements that buyers of marketing software and systems bring to the buying process. Inputs range from the tangible to the emotional. And while each buyer emphasizes different values based on their objectives and experience, there are common criteria that can guide the way to a successful decision.
For more advice on how to navigate the marketing software and services buying process, download Vya’s tip sheet: Questions to Ask When Evaluating Marketing Resource Management Vendors.