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.
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.
In addition to the sessions mentioned by Brad Holmes and Brian Lambert in their blog entries, we dedicated an entire track to sessions that discussed how the decisions made by portfolio teams relate to the efficiency (or not) of sales teams.
Participants in the portfolio track all consider themselves to be sales enablement professionals, but have job titles that include product management, sales operations, competitive intelligence, and marketing communications.
Despite this wide range of responsibilities, each person shares a common goal of improving their areas of responsibility in ways that improve sales efficiency.
Attendees who look at sales enablement through a portoflio lens expressed the following thoughts about the Forum:
We feel empowered by seeing and hearing so many sales enablement professional come together.
We need to make our company executives aware of the industry changes in sales enablement.
We have entrenched behaviors that we need to overcome (i.e. muscle memory).
We face a complex amount of change and need a way to communicate it clearly.
We need to understand how e can overcome organizational silos that increase complexity.
I was invited to speak at the annual Distree XXL event in Monte Carlo last week. Now in its ninth year, Distree XXL gathers together top executives from tech industry vendors and distributors plus, in recent years, retailers from around EMEA for three days that include a trade show, presentation sessions, and meetings to discuss industry-specific channel topics. The 2011 event drew 950 delegates from 127 tech vendors and over 400 distributors. One of the event highlights for everybody is a process to request and set up formal one-on-one meetings between the various players, similar to our own one-on-one sessions at the Forrester Forums (only their software is better). A total of 5,000 such sessions were scheduled: some at tables in larger rooms around the trade show, many others in private meeting rooms elsewhere in the conference center.
The keynote presentation I gave was a clone of my recent Forrester Teleconference , where I use the word “changes” both as a noun and a verb: I describe what changes we see happening in the channel due to recent industry trends, and I propose how channel resellers and distributors must also change their business model for continued success. The most common comment I heard from attendees after I presented was, “It was good to hear somebody outside our business make these points. We’ve been discussing this for a while now, but not everybody is convinced this is happening or knows what to do about it.” I must say, I have never, ever collected so many business cards after a presentation where I must follow up by sending slides as well as two relevant reports (one on channel resellers and one on distributors) by my esteemed colleague Tim Harmon and myself.
There were two important pieces of Nokia news of interest to mobile platform developer partners leaked today. First, Nokia’s MeeGo platform, designed to replace Symbian, will likely be killed before ever reaching the market. Second, Nokia’s CEO Stephen Elop purportedly sent a 1,300 word memo to all Nokia employees that includes key sections such as: “We poured gasoline on our own burning platform. I believe we have lacked accountability and leadership to align and direct the company through these disruptive times. We had a series of misses. We haven't been delivering innovation fast enough. We're not collaborating internally. Nokia, our platform is burning”; and “The first iPhone shipped in 2007, and we still don't have a product that is close to their experience. Android came on the scene just over 2 years ago, and this week they took our leadership position in smartphone volumes. Unbelievable.”
This dovetails with what we predicted in a November 2010 report, “The Feeding Frenzy Over The Mobile Developer Channel,” in that it would not be the quality of the underlying platform software (Nokia has remained strong there), but the ease of development, viability of the platform, size of the market, and availability of distribution channels that would settle the mobile platform battle. In all of these factors, Nokia has been steadily falling behind its competitors, led by Apple (iOS), Google (Android), and Microsoft (Windows Phone).
It is January, 2015, and technology sales reps Reg, Xerxes, Francis, and Loretta have been to the movies to watch a rerun of Monty Python’s Life of Brian, probably one of the best film comedies of any time. At dinner afterward, they are reliving the scene where the commandos discuss “what did the Romans ever do for us” when one of their marketing colleagues stops by to say hello. After the marketing manager leaves, they continue their discussion.
Now there’s another point. Those people in marketing. What have they ever done for us?!
Well, they give us much better leads now.
Yes. Compared to before, they’re really qualified. I can certainly close my deals much quicker than I used to. To be honest, I didn’t even look at leads five years ago — they were a waste of my time.
Oh. Yeah, yeah. They did give us that. Uh, that's true. Yeah.
And those contact profiles.
Oh, yeah, the contact profiles. Remember what it used to be like? We’d have no idea who we were visiting. Had to ask all those questions about family and hobbies. Now, before I see someone, marketing give me a full profile — I see their Facebook, I know how LinkedIn they are. I even see their last 20 tweets.
Yeah. All right. I'll grant you: Leads and the contact profiles are two things that marketing has done for us.
I hear you! My earlier post about battle cards, and my title in particular, confused some readers. By outlining some of the problems with battle cards that have surfaced in our current research on the topic without providing a clear context of where battle cards are headed, I did not play out my cards effectively. My bad; thanks for the feedback.
Here is what we are up to and why: We are in the process of interviewing competitive intelligence professionals and reviewing a raft of tech industry battle cards. Our research to date shows that the wide range of purposes -- and the inconsistency of content -- in battle cards are undermining the value to sales reps at many tech vendors. This lack of a clear design point and focus on content that will be useful to the buyer -- and thus usable by the rep -- is making many battle cards mushy -- but not all of them!
At companies where battle cards are successful, they are very successful.
Effective battle cards provide valuable talking points that lie at the intersection of buyer expectations and needs and the product advantages and competitive differentiators that satisfy those needs. Great battle cards don’t deluge sales reps with facts out of context, but rather equip reps with usable insights to engage customers about meeting their needs. That is what we are finding so far.
Our purpose in researching battle cards is to identify what makes them successful and to develop a design point and methodology for creating great ones. Our research indicates that as the tech industry moves toward outcome selling, sales battle cards will become one of the important vehicles that portfolio teams will use to enable their sales channels.
We recently interviewed dozens of sales enablement professionals within the tech vendor community. These interviews painted a less-than-ideal picture of how sales teams value and use competitive battle cards – that competitive battle cards are a relic from out-dated selling models.
Battle cards still focus on products – just as they did in the days when customers purchased one product over another based on a side-by-side comparison of their features. In those days, competitive intelligence teams created battle cards about competitors – their company financials, products, sales tactics, and weaknesses – literally for sales reps to keep in their pocket.
A sampling of battle cards that we collected from across the tech industry confirms that battle cards are fashioned from a product point of view and often created because they are among the checklist of items for product managers when creating sales content. Today, portfolio managers also use the term “battle card’ for almost anything prepared for sales teams. In addition to competitive battle cards, we uncovered materials labeled as battle cards that talked about:
Industry overviews. How a vendor’s products can combine into a new solution to meet the needs of customers in an industry that the vendor does not currently service.
Technology profiles. How the capabilities of a new or emerging technology will allow it to displace the products or solutions that customers currently use.