Last night I had the opportunity moderate a panel of some of the smartest people I’ve met in the marketing world. It was at the monthly dinner meeting of the SDMA, www.sdma.org, on whose board I sit. The topic was Where Art & Technology Meet: SaaS for Marketers and the panel included Kathleen Brush, CMO of WebTrends, Bill Patterson, Director of Product Management at Microsoft, responsible for the upcoming launch of Microsoft Dynamics CRM Live, Steve Gershik, Director of Marketing Innovation for Eloqua and Blake Matheny, CTO for Compendium Blogware.
Kathleen opened the discussion with the point that the SaaS, software as a service, or on-demand, has democratized marketing technology and made it available to a far broader class of marketing organizations than the Fortune 500 type enterprise with a lot of resources, larger budgets and deep IT support. Bill added that it wasn’t just the SaaS model, but the expansion of the business applications offered to today’s marketers, regardless of whether it is delivered in a hosted, on-premise or completely outsourced manner.
When I asked the panel what advice they would give marketers evaluating various technologies, service providers and professional services companies, Steve cautioned that buyers should ask for references, make sure what service and support is offered and understand what the true cost of ownership is. On that theme, Blake reminded all of us that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Even those companies advertising low monthly service fees, no contracts and no set up charges, do not allow you to get away without spending some serious money and making a real business commitment.
Once you’ve chosen a provider and a business application platform there are definite costs associated with training, support, customization and potentially significant costs to switch to a different platform down the line, when your business needs change. Always factor in not only what your business requirements are today, but what happens if you grow, contract or move in a different direction.
Finally, the panel tackled the question of how or if you should try to integrate multiple “best-of-breed” solutions or go with a single vendor and their “integrated” solution. The consensus was that first, look under the hood to make sure claims of integration are real. Often companies enhance their offerings by buying other companies and then claiming that simply because two products share the same logo, they can now claim to be integrated.
I am of course biased in this regard, because my company Ascentium, has made its mark by being both a marketing and a technology company. We can help our clients tackle the issue on several fronts, by integrating best of breed solutions like Microsoft CRM, WebTrends for analytics, Exact Target for email, SharePoint for content management and Performance Point as the robust BI tool that brings them all together and delivers on the promise of closed loop marketing. Or if the client wants a simple, easy to deploy, Swiss army knife solution, we fully embrace Eloqua and the best marketing solution available. And for those clients who don’t want to take on anything themselves, we can provide the above solutions as a fully outsourced service.
In the end, we got great feedback from the 100 some attendees of the event and I want to personally thank all of the panelists and invite them to join this discussion, either to add any points I left out, correct any mistakes I may have made or simply continue the discussion for a larger audience.