If the overarching tech marketing theme in the ’90s was all about marketing as branding, and in the ’00s, marketing as lead generation, then the ’teens are shaping up to be about marketing as education. But not about educating customers about your product, per se. No, what I mean is educating customers about the business process/function and best practices that underlay your product, i.e., that your product supports.
In our recent B2B Social Technographics survey, fielded in Q1 2011, we asked customers, “Which are the most important vendor action factors when selecting the best vendor for a technology purchase?” By far, the No. 1 response was “how well the vendor can supplement our knowledge on the business process/function its product/technology supports.” [Other response options included “vendor’s demonstrated ability to communicate the economic benefit of implementing its product/technology” and “vendor salesperson’s demonstrated ability to understand our business problem.”]
An example is called for. I began my career as a programmer analyst (that title ages me!) for an aerospace and defense firm. I had the opportunity to “rotate” through all of the IT groups, including business applications, engineering systems, CAD/CAM, and IT operations. I won’t say I became a wizard in aeronautical engineering (although I know more than I ever wanted to about downwash), but by the time I wrapped up my stint in biz apps, I’m pretty certain I knew more about most of the company’s business processes than anyone other than, perhaps, the COO.
A lot of tech vendors – and channel partners – are struggling over what channel partners’ play in the cloud services demand chain is going to be. Technology is decreasingly delivered/consumed in the form of on-premise installation (a function performed by and the original raison d’être of channel partners), and increasingly delivered as-a-service by a service provider. In the software sector, that service provider is typically (but not always) the software vendor (think: salesforce.com).
And, in most cases, for good reason. Software has bugs. Early versions of software can be unstable and unpredictable. In the classic channel-partner-sells-and-installs-software model, the product (the software) remains in the control of the software vendor, i.e., the vendor assumes the risk of customers’ unmet expectations. The license is between the vendor and the customer, and the vendor is on the hook for providing bug fixes and tier-2 and -3 support.
As much as many channel partners would like to act as application hosters (and many of them do – approximately 15% of software is delivered via a hosting model today, and 20% of channel partners today have a hosting business [see “Channel Models In The Era Of Cloud”]), when it comes to early-version or mission-critical software, vendors simply can’t risk putting the as-a-service service level/performance responsibility in the hands of channel partners. Service failures, over which the vendor would have no control, would result in egg (or worse!) on the vendor’s brand, not the channel partner’s. Until tech vendors’ partner programs mature to the point where they can certify partners’ data centers, those vendors are going to be reticent to hand over the data center reins to partners.
I was in South Africa this week, giving a keynote at a Forrester Sales Enablement event in Johannesburg. As I wrapped up the discussion of overcoming complexity and creating more of an adaptive sales enablement approach in sales organization, someone asked, "How important is the role of the sales manager in supporting the behavior change needed within the sales team?" A great question! As a sales leader, he recognized that communicating value to today’s buyers requires a behavior change by today’s sellers, and that behavior change needs to be supported by an involved manager. My answer to his question was, “Before I answer that question, who owns your sales coaching strategy, and does that strategy provide sales coaches what they need to be successful?" Sales coaching is playing an increasingly important role in helping sellers adapt to change while handing the complexity around them.
With an effective sales coaching strategy, salespeople can expand skills and advance the sales process. Perhaps this is why so many sales trainers and sales enablement professionals are asked to focus on developing sales coaching programs in support of driving more valuable sales conversations with buyers.
As you’d expect from a Forrester analyst, this is Peter O'Neill by the way, I travel a lot— about 40% of my working days. But it is also amazing how a full week spent in the home office can still feel so busy! These days, social media keeps you in the discussion mainstream – perhaps even more so than if you are on the road because you have more time to engage. Bob Apollo, at the UK-based consultancy even tweeted me privately this week with the message, “And you a VP at Forrester, reading my stuff, an 'umble blogger... I'm not worthy...” after I told him that I enjoyed his tweets and found them useful. Well, even as a fully fledged analyst for tech marketers, I continue to be eager to learn from anybody else. And I do this without any fear of appearing to copy others — here in Germany a popular government minister has now resigned because he plagiarized the majority of his doctorate dissertation years ago; bad enough itself, but he initially denied it when discovered.