Behind the Report: Why the RIA ABM “Vendor Selection Matrix” Is Different and How Demandbase Fared

When comparing vendors (particularly when it comes to SaaS), analyst reports are a staple resource. Buyers and decision makers love them because they help make sense of complex categories and focus on decision making. But do you ever wonder how those vendor comparison matrices take shape? And how one vendor makes it to the top right, while others cluster somewhere in the middle or straggle at the bottom?

We sat down with Peter O’Neill, the author behind Research In Action’s 2021 Account-Based Marketing Vendor Selection Matrix™ report to understand what went into creating it and why he believes marketers can trust it. (Full disclosure: Demandbase is featured, and we are proud to say, got top marks.)

This report offers a unique point of view. Prior to Research in Action, O’Neill spent 12 years at the analyst firm Forrester where he found himself beguiled by this question: But what about the buyer’s point of view? Most analyst reports did an excellent job of explaining the category. But they were missing insights from actual buyers. He wondered, how might buyers have affected the results had they been consulted more directly?

These questions inspired O’Neill to create a research methodology that software buyers could rely on for a comprehensive picture of the vendor landscape. Here is Peter O’Neill in his own words:

What makes this method unique?

My colleagues at Research In Action have been using our method for some six years. I am in my third year. We wanted to do something different. We wanted to get the market point of view and include that, without it feeling like a TripAdvisor type of site. We wanted something that comprises the market point of view along with the considered point of view of an analyst who knows the topic.

We maintain a panel of 90,000 decision-makers on marketing automation software. For the ABM matrix, we asked 1,500 professionals from that larger audience about trends and challenges and which vendors they knew well enough to give us a rating for. That became our list, and those buyers’ ratings account for 62.5 percent of each vendor’s position on the matrix. Then, I came in as the analyst and asked very deep questions of the top 15-20 vendors, provided my input and scoring, and put the package together.

The result, I am convinced, is very much the market’s point of view, with expert guidance.

What is the biggest challenge reported by this year’s practitioners?

I’m still surprised that the number one issue and challenge is the absence of deep account insight. After all, if you’re doing ABM, isn’t that one of the primary objectives? But it’s something many respondents struggle with throughout the project.

If you have deep account data and insights, you are able to personalize, and if you are able to personalize, you’ve cemented a relationship. You’ve developed a customer experience that delights that visitor, that customer, that potential buyer, in such a way that they want to work with your company.

How did Demandbase fare?

Demandbase did great in our top criteria. For the strategy evaluation criteria, we ask respondents, “What do you think of the vendor’s vision, as they present it? What do you think of their innovation?” And then there’s a very important question — the recommendation index: “Would you recommend this vendor to a peer for similar projects?”

Demandbase had great scores for each of those questions, and that’s very important. Very often, vendors fall on their vision reputation. They’re great at presenting products but don’t necessarily talk about where they’re going or where their customers will go with their solution. But Demandbase does a great job of that and received great scores on vision, innovation, and the recommendation index. My contribution to the strategy evaluation criteria is viability, and I had no problems scoring Demandbase highly on that.

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What about in terms of customer satisfaction?

Demandbase had the number one score in the survey for customer satisfaction. There’s a special callout badge in the report to highlight that. Then, the other question we ask is, “How do you consider the price versus the value ratio?” And Demandbase scored very high in terms of value for money. There again, my contribution to that criterion was market share and growth. And I think it’s common knowledge that Demandbase has one of the largest ABM customer bases across different industries.

“Demandbase had the number one score in the survey for customer satisfaction.”

How are you seeing the ABM market evolving?

Buyers are becoming very selective. You’ve got this cliche that there are 8,000 different vendors all peddling products, and I think actually there’s a general distrust of vendors among marketers because 1) there are too many of them to choose from and 2) many of them are famous for over-promising in the past.

One thing I encourage buyers to look at is how the vendor presents themselves. How competent does that vendor seem to be in their industry, and more importantly, their customer’s industry? Do they understand the implications there? All that comes across in the vendors’ vision presentations and statements, and it’s factored into the report. I think that’s a very important criterion for organizations these days, and I’d always advise people to pay particular attention to that.

Your report says that most vendors are squarely focused on the tech vertical, and few are on others like finance, manufacturing, and healthcare. Why is that?

Technology buyers are eager and willing adopters of technology, so most sell into there. Demandbase is one that gets high marks for selling outside of just technology, and I think that’s been a clear decision at Demandbase to move into those sectors. There is an opportunity there to help marketers in sectors that are not so advanced in marketing, and ABM helps those marketers, especially to work closer with their sales colleagues. I guess that Demandbase does its own ABM very well, and that’s responsible for a lot of the growth Demandbase has been enjoying over the last 12 months — in those new industries and sectors.

Any predictions for ABM as a category?

There’s a normalization that’s starting to happen across these different sectors. I have some cheeky comments in the report, but it’s partly a question of whether ABM is going to exist as a term because it’s increasingly just how companies do B2B marketing.

Companies will also mature their marketing. ABM will become less aspirational and more tangible. When I hear Demandbase talk about “Account-based experience,” it’s that same concept and I think the direction is quite clear. In a few years’ time, most companies will be doing data-driven B2B marketing on a platform — one like Demandbase.
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Read the full report: Vendor Selection Matrix: Account-Based Marketing

Vice President of Product Marketing, Demandbase

I'm responsible for go-to-market initiatives and product strategy at Demandbase. I thrive on customer interaction and engagement and love to build and mentor teams. I act as a coach and make sure my team members shine on their own merits while making sure they have the support they need for that success.