The Last Vendor Standing – A Heavyweight Sales Event

Andre the Giant - Last Man Standing

Andre the Giant - Last Man Standing - Courtesy of Ethan

Five heavyweight vendors publically vying for the same customer is a rare, riveting event. Selling is a courtship of suitors with competitive sportsmanship that includes incidental contact and ends with only one vendor standing. Last weekend, someone researching marketing automation solutions for their marketing department served up round one.

This buyer anonymously posed a question on Quora that evoked a titillating, intelligent, educational, healthy, and competitive conversation. Quora is an open question and answer internet community.

Five of the top marketing automation vendors proudly presented their solutions and opinions like peacocks, songbirds, bucks with locked horns, and prizefighters. The opportunity to review these unique approaches and methods was irresistible. 

Before my blow-by-blow narrative, let me clearly state this post is not meant to denigrate or endorse any of the vendors or their products. This post is strictly about method. Included are abridged highlights to underscore my perspective on this title bout. That said; something bedeviled me like a picture puzzle with smoke and no chimney.

Let’s Get Ready to Sales Rumble!

The Customer’s Question:

“Can anyone recommend a good, non-bloated, modern, well structured & implemented marketing automation service (SaaS)?

Our marketing department is looking into different services, which can help with retention and other marketing related activities. From the technical side I want to insure I find a service that is not antiquated, has a decent, up-to-date API framework and is overall a well-oiled machine (service). An example of one being pushed my way is Act, but I’d love to get some advice from other technical folks.”

First in the ring was Performable’s Director of Product Development Christopher O’Donnell who went for a first round knockout.

He opened with a story about a new customer “who had snuck out from an Eloqua training session held at a local hotel…and got set up with our solution in about an hour.”

Low BlowChristopher extrapolated seven points, solely from the customer’s original question, and built a case for Performable’s ability to meet those needs. He boldly added, “There is a reason that Performable does not have a services division or a profits-focused training program – we let our product do the hard work for our customers…with a robust, intuitive solution.”

Eloqua’s CTO, Steve Woods eloquently defended with a ‘bob and weave’ response. “Christopher, kudos to you for your product passion – your belief in the Performable product is very apparent, and I’m sure you’ll be able to take it far. However, since it seems you’ve chosen to pick Eloqua as your comparator, I thought it would be fit to weigh in.”

Muhammad Ali BoxingSteve effortlessly displayed Eloqua’s par excellence with 70,000 users whose 3.5 billion daily transactions are served smoothly and quickly. His strong finish addressed Christopher’s “no need for a service division and training program” with:

 “Regardless of how smooth the technology is, people need to understand how to adapt their processes and guide their people so they are not just automating the broken processes of the past. For that reason, we invest heavily in education (the largest university in the space).

Hopefully the passionate debate among vendors that has started on this thread at least provided a few interesting points for the original questioner.”

HubSpot’s, CMO Mike Volpe did the differentiation dance with a comparison of marketing automation systems like Eloqua and Marketo to inbound marketing platforms like HubSpot, which offers a broad set of functionality as an all-in-one marketing solution. He proudly touted HubSpot’s leadership with “I don’t know of anyone that has any real traction here except HubSpot (my company) with 4,500 customers (more than the entire marketing automation market).”

Mike closed with, “Judging purely from your question, it seems like HubSpot is not the right choice for you. However if by “modern” in your question you meant a transformational approach to marketing, then I would check out HubSpot.”

Marketo’s Director of User Experience Glen Lipka leveled the playing field by calling out the sales smack and took a customer centric focus. He listed questions that help navigate needs to match solutions and vendors.

“Really think about what you want to accomplish. What does “marketing” mean to you? Is it just mail blasts? Webinars? Tradeshows? Advertising? Lead Life Cycle? Scoring? What do you want to “automate”? Which parts cause the most pain in the organization? What do you need more than anything else? Let us WOW you. Choose a partner that you will evolve with. Choose a partner for the long haul.”

Although a referee was not needed, a non-competitor in the website optimization space brought some impartiality to the battle of vendors.

Monetate’s Marketing Manager, Peter Borden challenged HubSpot’s opinion that solutions without SEO tools are not modern.

Peter praised Eloqua and Marketo for their specialization and poked at HubSpot for being a jack-of-all-trades with the caveat that he “hopes that HubSpot eventually becomes the go-to solution for all of the above services.”

Peter closed with a simple, mostly unbiased categorization of solutions by features.

The fifth and final contender used a tag team style offence.  Mark MacLeod of Real Ventures introduced their champ with; “We have a portfolio company in this space that you should check out; Whatsnexx.”

Whatsnexx’ Senior State Customer Advisor Jacques Spilka jumped in the ring with “Sounds like you are looking for our product.” His description of their robust, intuitive product that easily integrates with numerous applications like CakeMail, ConstantContact, and Salesforce was closed with “Take a look at our product; it may be just what you are looking for.”

Every week, the top sales writers post dozens of articles, hundreds or thousands of tweets, online conversations and free webinars about what only one of the vendors attempted. Did you get it? If not, I promise you will at the end of my summary.

  1. Performable’s slamming the competition broke a big rule. Albeit a “customer’s story” it was not the customer’s words and merely hearsay. Extrapolating seven points from the original question without further investigation is just an assumption, another no-no.
    Performable’s promise of no need for service and training programs for a highly complex tool is a first. After 30-years of technology use and development, their “ain’t” no such animal – yet.Bottom line: They damaged their credibility with this writer and quelled his curiosity. 

  2. Eloqua’s response to Performable’s affront would be difficult to pass up for the most disciplined of people. Nevertheless, ignoring a competitor’s slam is a best practice. Eloqua’s renowned quality was well expressed by the amount of users, quantity and quality of transactions. After lightly touching on the API, open connectivity, Cloud Connector platform, and modern qualities, the conversation was redirected back to Performable.  “Hopefully the passionate debate among vendors…provided a few interesting points for the original questioner.”Bottom line: Ignore the competition, especially when you are “that good.” and focus on the customer?

  4. HubSpot’s differentiation would have been better served by not mentioning competitor’s names, especially Eloqua and Marketo who participated in this thread. Albeit subtle, it is a jab at the competition. Stating HubSpot’s leading position in this category is a statement of authority that stands on its own. Playing hard to get with Maybe we’re not the right solution or maybe we are, is based on an assumption.Bottom Line: A differentiation statement should speak for itself, and, making assumptions makes “you know what of you and me.”

  6. Marketo’s warm-up about beating David Raab to the punch and calling out the sales smack, before going to work with pertinent questions was fun but distracting, and could have been shorter. Marketo gave the customer some framework to develop a better definition of what they need with a good set of questions and was a good first round approach.Bottom Line: This customer centric response deserved further questioning and relationship development. Digressing from that line of questioning was disappointing.

  8. Whatsnexx was introduced by their venture capital partner with a laissez faire have-a-look- approach. Whatsnexx representative’s “Sounds like you are looking for our product” had the same tone. The me-centric propaganda that followed had a reconstituted, impersonal copied and pasted appearance.  “Take a look at our product; it may be just what you are looking for…Good hunting” was a zestless close.Bottom line: Lazy Selling = Missed Revenue Targets

Pareto’s 80:20 Rule in action. Serendipitously, there were five players, only one of which who got it mostly right.  

Customer centricity begins and ends with the customer. Before we can help a customer, we need to know everything we can about them, including who they are. So who is this masked customer and the company behind him or her? Why didn’t anyone ask for or offer contact information? What happened to the, engaging relationship development questions?

  • What do you sell?
  • What is your target market?
  • Who are your customers?
  • What marketing channels are you currently using?
  • What channels would you like to add?
  • What is working and what isn’t? 
  • What are your goals?
  • Can we set up a time to chat and learn how you can be served best?

It matters not how great your company and products are. Unless you make your customer great, you’ll rarely be the last vendor standing.

Click here to read the entire thread on Quora