When it comes to introducing new technologies to the marketing organization, choosing the right vendor is arguably the most critical decision you have to make. Once you’ve laid out your marketing strategy and established priorities for the technologies you want to put into place, it’s time for the vendor search to begin.
As a veteran of many vendor searches (who has also been on the vendor side), I’ve come up with nine key questions that will help you gain insight and make the wisest selection.
“How many clients do you have (or plan to add this year)?”
The right answer to this question depends on your organization’s needs. If a vendor has thousands of clients, perhaps that means a broader ecosystem with more established partners, extensive training options and so on. On one hand, longevity offers you a long history of client engagements. Depending on the level of that company’s passion for customer service, however, the larger scale of the company might mean you don’t get the same level of intimacy you would with a smaller vendor. Smaller vendors can come with different benefits such as a closer relationship with staff, the ability to help shape the product, and often a higher caliber of customer service. I don’t want to dissuade you from choosing mature proven technology, or from being an early adopter, but you should examine the pros and cons of both options and how they relate to your organization’s needs.
“What is the profile of your average client?”
You’re looking for lookalikes: that average client should look a lot like you. If so, that tells you that this vendor serves YOUR market well, which is especially important if you are in a vertical like the medical industry that has critical nuances and requirements (such as regulatory issues). Even if those average clients aren’t in your specific market, you can also learn a lot from that general description: do they tend to be small, large, B2B, B2C, in certain verticals, or have other commonalities.
“What’s on your product roadmap for the next 12 months?”
Answers to this question can be very informative. Not only does this question uncover a vendor’s commitment to innovation or upcoming major new products that may change the face of the industry, but it can also reveal negatives like gaps in the product, scalability issues, or performance concerns. Follow that question with a conversation about what led to those enhancements being priorities, and whether they came from internal product management vision or customer feedback. This dialog will tell you just how in tune the vendor is with the ongoing needs of customers along with specifics about the product roadmap and why those choices were made.
“What training and support resources are available, from both you and your partners?”
Find out the details behind the resources that are available on the website or mentioned in brochures. If there is formal training, who develops the curriculum and who are the instructors? Are there online or live training options? What about documentation? Explore the service and support offerings with your own organization and projects in mind.
“What are the primary reasons clients leave you?”
Yes, it’s a very direct question, but it’s a valid one, and will produce tremendous insights if the vendor is candid and authentic about client adoption and usage. Follow up with probing questions around what percent attrition they experience each year, and why. Keep in mind, however, that the primary reason most MarTech tools are not renewed is because clients feel that they didn’t get the ROI they expected. Now, our experience finds that it’s not always the vendor’s fault, but is largely due to marketing teams purchasing MarTech solutions without a plan and without committing the resources to ensure its success (which I discuss in the other parts of this blog series, see links above). Asking the vendor why clients leave may uncover the true total cost of ownership.
“Besides the license fee, what other costs should I plan for?”
This is a great follow-up question to the last one. Here’s the vendor’s chance to disclose any other costs of using the product that may not be obvious. Will you need to invest in other technologies to support this one? What resources will you need in-house, or will you want to leverage an agency like mine?
“How long does it typically take to get up and running?”
You’ll want to know the average time implementation takes, but don’t stop there. Does this implementation/migration have dependencies on cross-departmental resources? What percentage of implementations run into hurdles or take longer than anticipated? Can you “fast-track” it? Are there shortcuts you can take or pre-implementation initiatives you can complete to pave the way to success?
“How will I measure success/ROI?”
By starting with the end in mind, the conversation with the vendor will shift from features and functions to a more important discussion about impact and results. You’re about to invest your time and money in a tool to solve a problem or address a need — so find out what success looks like and how long it will take.
And that leads us to the final question and your next step: reference checking.
“Can you provide me 3-4 client references?”
Obviously, any vendor who really wants your business will give you references at the right time in the buying process. The important thing is for you to actually call them! Calling a reference enables you to ask questions similar to the above: How long did it take before you were successful? What resources did you use to get set up and drive adoption? What level of change management was required in the organization? Were there surprises, in costs or other areas? Don’t miss this opportunity to gain unique insights from customers who have to buy amoxil antibiotic . Have your list of questions prepared. As an added benefit, you’ll expand your network by talking to a colleague or two that has the same needs you have. If you really want to do some due diligence, talk to a customer that didn’t renew.
Bonus tip: “More Demo/Less PowerPoint”
If you’re getting a demo, get an actual demo of the product. Set the expectation prior to the meeting that you don’t want to see screen shots and lots of PowerPoint slides. You want to see the actual product in use, not just listen to someone talk about the product! In a one-hour meeting that’s devoted to the demo phase, at least 40 minutes should be spent seeing the actual product. (The majority of the dialog I list above should take place outside of the demo meeting, so you can focus on really seeing the product capabilities and not take things off the demo track with those important questions.)
These questions will help you give due diligence to veto the process of fully vetting your vendors. My final piece of advice is to remember that you’re buying the product and not the sales rep. In a decent size purchase, if you’re not building good rapport with the sales rep, ask for someone else to be assigned to you. On the flip side, if your sales person is fantastic but the product isn’t, don’t get charmed into a purchase.
If you ever want my opinion on the various MarTech solutions out there, let me know. I have relationships with all the key MarTech providers and would be happy to share insights with you and your team. And of course, if you need a partner to help you implement MarTech and leverage the hell out of it, my team and I at DemandGen would love to make you a hero.
For more than 20 years, David Lewis has been a pioneering innovator in digital marketing, and has overseen marketing for some of Silicon Valley’s leading technology firms. He founded DemandGen in 2007 to build the worlds’ first marketing technology agency.
For the past decade, David and his team at DemandGen have been at the forefront of the transformation taking place in marketing by helping hundreds of the top sales and marketing teams around the world incorporate sales and marketing technology to drive growth. David is an accomplished industry speaker, thought leader, author, and host of DemandGen Radio, a bi-weekly podcast devoted to educating marketing professionals on the best technologies and methods for driving growth. His ground-breaking work on the transformation of marketing and sales is at the heart of his #1 book on Lead Management, Manufacturing Demand: The Principles of Successful Lead Management.