B2B marketers who are recognizing the limitations of today's email-marketing and Web-analytics applications for generating qualified sales leads are switching to a lead- or demand-generation solution to ensure a continuous stream of qualified leads.

In addition to providing the reporting that legacy email and Web analytics products provide, demand-generation solutions automate the progression of leads through the pipeline so that sales can focus on only the most qualified leads.

When evaluating demand-generation solutions, keep these five points in mind to ensure that you make a purchase that meets your expectations and the needs of your company:

1. Look out for hidden consultants

When purchasing a demand-generation solution, marketers are typically looking for a solution that their internal team can quickly and easily implement to improve their lead-generation capabilities.

Various solutions on the market fail to live up to that expectation. Marketers have found that once these solutions have been purchased, they are extremely difficult to implement and maintain; and, often, the software provider will be more than happy to offer consulting services to operate the software it sold. These consulting services can double or triple the cost of the original purchase price.

Before you choose a demand-generation platform, be sure to choose a solution that your internal team will be able to implement and use on a daily basis. Ask the provider what percent of their revenue is from software vs. consulting services. If more than 20% of their revenue is from consulting, there's a good chance you'll be contributing to the software AND consulting portion of their top line. If you choose to go this route, be sure to set aside significant budget to cover such incremental costs.

2. Ensure ease of use

Some demand-generation solutions can be extremely cumbersome and difficult to use. After being implemented, they are often rendered useless because no one can figure out how they work.

Make sure that the demand-generation solution you select is easy to use. Doing so will speed internal adoption and ensure that the application is used to its fullest potential. Evaluate the system's user interface—is it intuitive? Are you able to get the information you need with minimal clicks?

3. Try before you buy

Would you buy a car before taking it for a test drive? Probably not. The beauty of hosted software applications is that you are able to take them for a test drive with minimal effort and no cost before you actually make a purchase.

When looking at a demand-generation solution, take full advantage of this opportunity. Execute a marketing campaign—does the system work as promised? Does your team find the application easy to use? Does it fit the needs of your organization?

Free trials are a great opportunity to make sure that you're getting the solution that's right for you before spending any of your limited marketing budget. If you're unable to test an application before you buy, be sure to perform extra due-diligence to ensure that you're purchasing the solution that's right for you and that all hidden costs have been exposed.

4. Get a handle on training and implementation costs

Some demand-generation solutions may look ideal from the outside, but be sure to look at associated costs and effort for training your team on how to use the new application. Consider how difficult the solution will be to implement. Is it a solution that can be up and running in a few minutes, or will it require weeks of customization and implementation?

Also, be sure that training costs are included in the cost of the software. If they're not, find out up front how much training will cost so that you can set aside the appropriate funds from your budget.

5. Seek strong customer service

With any software product, during trial, implementation, and day-to-day use there are going to be bumps along the way. When choosing a demand-generation solution, look for a company that will work side by side with you—even after the contract has been signed.

Does the provider provide you with a dedicated sales rep who works with you even after you've signed on the dotted line? Or are you going to be passed on to a call center that has no idea what you've been promised during the initial engagement or what your needs are?

Look for a solution provider that includes customer service in your contract and provides a dedicated sales and customer service team that will work with your team to ensure success.

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Christopher Doran is vice-president of marketing for Manticore Technology (www.manticoretechnology.com). He can be reached at Christopher@manticoretechnology.com.