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The state of marketing automation software in the channel has never been anything to write home about. Most vendors don’t really have any and the few vendors that do have something in place are typically using a relatively rudimentary module that is part of some larger CRM (customer relationship management) suite.

But as we’ve seen in other categories, the advent of software-as-a-service offerings opens up the possibility of doing things a little more efficiently. For example, companies such as VMware and Serena Software are now turning to a new on-demand service for managing prospects from a company called Marketbright.

Normally the particular backend system that is being used by any vendor to manage leads might not be of much interest to the channel, but what is interesting about the Marketbright platform is that it includes a module for not only managing channel partners but also allows the vendor to set up a space on the site that allows a partner to directly manage the leads they get from that vendor.

From a vendor perspective, this gives them a lot more visibility into what is happening with the leads they share with the channel. From the perspective of the solution providers that typically can afford to invest in marketing automation tools, the Marketbright platform creates an opportunity for vendors to boost the marketing capabilities of their partners without requiring them to build their own systems.

As a discipline, marketing automation is still a relatively new field. The systems tend to be overly complex and difficult to manage. For the most part, these issues mean that most solution providers will never be able to leverage this technology on their own because they don’t have the internal resources to support it.

That’s what makes an on-demand approach to the problem interesting because the cost of setting up and managing the software is essentially shared across all the vendors using the service. From a solution providers perspective, this means that the difference between deciding to work with one vendor over another might come down more to the quality of the tools the vendor provides to help sell the product more than just the quality of the product itself.

In this day and age the difference between working with one vendor selling a product and another vendor selling a similar product in the same category can have a lot more to do with intangibles than the actual qualities of the product. Given that solution providers may want to start putting more weight on how much pre- and post-sales support they are getting from vendors as opposed to which one may have a temporary but albeit fleeting technological advantage of the moment.

Michael Vizard is Strategic Content Expert for Ziff Davis Enterprise. He can be reached at