Everyone -- especially technology vendors -- agrees that personalized, contextually relevant marketing is the most effective way to attract, engage and convert buyers. Do it right and you’ll break through the noise and spur your buyer into action. Excel and you’ll build a positive, persistent relationship with your customers.

The vision is alluring. If only the reality delivered.

For real time marketing to deliver on the promised ROI, marketers must be able to decipher, understand and act on the buyers’ intent. Intent is not some macro action but a very specific action coupled with the emotions and beliefs the buyer holds about the outcome of that action.

Despite all the rhetoric, the reality is that technology is not mature enough to fully deliver on the real time marketing vision. Vendors are able to detect intent at a macro level, such as an imminent purchase, but not at the micro level, such as a buyer evaluating vendors on a specific feature based on prior customer feedback because they had a frustrating experience with a competitive product. Andrew Dixon, senior vice president of Sales and Marketing for Igloo Software, sums it up well with “vendors are pretending to be listening to buyers but aren’t really. They are play acting.”

What Two Companies Promise and Deliver

Thunderhead.com claims to listen to all buyers and can understand intent at an actionable level. Its “One” solution, which Glen Manchester, CEO of Thunderhead.com, admits should be called their “Engagement Cloud,” orchestrates “CRM insights to transform interactions by making conversations relevant to the customer.” The solution determines what is relevant to customers and how to treat them based on the contextual history of interactions, SF/CRM history and the customer’s pattern of engagement.

Using predictive analytics based on past behaviors and outcomes, One can identify where that buyer’s journey is and the level of the buyer's engagement in their journey. Based on the path the buyer is on and how this behavior matches to previous patterns, Thunderhead.com guides the agent in real time on how to handle the relationship.

Thunderhead.com does tear down internal silos and provide a more holistic view of the customer, but I continue to challenge that they do not know the buyer’s intent at each step in the journey.

SDL gets closer. They combine social, campaign management, web content management and analytics into a robust global customer experience platform that “automates and makes sense of the whole customer journey and what buyers are thinking” says Mark Lancaster, CEO and founder of SDL.