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.
Leaders of competitive and market intelligence teams know that something is wrong. They tell Forrester this every day. They describe it as being similar to when your car doesn’t drive quite right, but the mechanic can’t find a problem, or when you feel sick, but the doctor gives you a clean bill of health.
You know that something needs to change, but can’t seem to find a point of view to guide you toward the right way to change.
The most frequently used word to describe this problem is “credibility” — and is usually couched in questions such as “how can we build credibility with sales?” or “why isn’t our content credible with sales teams?” Forrester’s practice serving sales enablement professionals will discuss the challenge of building CMI credibility with sales during our February teleconference.
Across the tech industry, marketing and portfolio teams place massive amounts of content into sales portals and measure their success from the usage data — views, downloads, prints — from these repositories. During a recent research interview, one sales rep at a leading software company said, “I know that a lot of materials are supposed to be on our sales portals, but in my nine years, I haven’t ever taken the time to look.”
Your supply chain is broken if a sales rep can succeed for a decade without ever using your materials or even visiting the primary site holding your content!
Now here is some “earned media” for Cisco. In the context of full disclosure, let me first say that Cisco invited me to its Partner Velocity conference in Barcelona last week, full expenses paid. I stopped by for two nights and one day while traveling home to Stuttgart after a client workshop and meetings in Paris. But this is earned, not paid, media because I was truly excited by what I saw and heard. I’d like to share it with all of you tech marketers; whether you are at Cisco, or a competitor, or a partner-player in one or more of the ecosystems in our industry, you need to sit up and take notice of this event. To close my first point — a trip to Barcelona may sound attractive, enough to merit a “reward” for any organization that took me there. But I actually turn down more than 60% of my briefing and event invitations: I have to produce work as well (and who wants to go to Las Vegas eight times a year). And I certainly do not promise anybody that I will write any type of reports in return.
This was Cisco’s third Partner Velocity conference, and I’d heard great things about it from its partners, so I was eager to see what would happen. This is a conference for partners worldwide (first held in the US, last year’s was in Paris) and here’s the reason I was excited: Its focus was purely on MARKETING. Nobody presented about Cisco products, the sessions had titles such as:
Stand out and move up while your competition fails.
Effective paid search strategies.
How to build engaging customer relationships through CRM.
How to design a lead nurturing program that drives sales.
I am writing this blog sitting comfortably in an ICE express train travelling from Berlin, where I have just spoken and, more importantly, listened at the B2B Marketing Europe conference, where the conference motto was “Next Generation Marketing.” This two-day conference offered a truly inspirational mixture of presentations by:
B2B marketing gurus Chris Brogan and Rick Segal. Chris, who is president of New Marketing Labs, stood up front for 45 minutes with neither notes nor slides and casually threw out dozens of valuable comments, tips, and examples taken from his latest marketing 2.0 tome, Trust Agents. Rick is the founder and chief practice officer of GyroHSR, a firm that has won 20 Agency of the Year awards over the past 15 years from Advertising Age, BtoB magazine, and the Business Marketing Association, and he is the exact opposite of any of the characters in Mad Men. Rick explained how work and private activities are now really mixed up — people no longer go to work physically; they switch on the work state of mind anywhere and at any time, which means that marketing to this audience must change. It is one of Rick’s insights that I’ve cited in the title of this post, and his concept of “the new @work state of mind” makes Forrester’s data on tech buyer Social Technographics® so obvious and logical (I presented the European data at the conference). From now on, I will be using his concept whenever tech vendor clients doubt our numbers on how socially active their customers are.
Competitive & marketing intelligence (CMI) leaders are currently being torn between two points of view. But, these two views cannot be reconciled, and CMI leaders cannot sit on the fence! I know because I tried!
As a CMI leader, I participated on a team to restructure the company's approach to pricing. On one side of the table sat the "corporate" team who wanted to simplify the product catalog, making it easier to manage. On the other side sat the "field" team, who wanted to simplify pricing when talking with customers. I wanted to find an "elegant negotiable" that would achieve both objectives.
A talented sales engineer put me in my right mind! One day, she came into my office, closed the door, and proceeded to "school" me. She rightly pointed out that there could not be two different design points - we needed to decide whether the company would design around back-office operations or frontline conversations with customers.
CMI leaders across the tech industry face a similar choice, albeit with less drama!
Earlier today, the CEO of a sales-tool provider made this point: "In the past, salespeople for tech vendors had to educate customers on what a product could do, how it worked, and process orders. In today's Internet economy, customers already know what your products do from your web site, have already compared it to your competitors, and probably spoken to some of your existing customers through social media links. What is the role of a salesperson?"
CMI leaders need to reposition their organizations back to the place where competition matters - the frontline.
Cloud computing has arrived on the market in a big way, with virtually every tech vendor, regardless of size, geography, or solution, vying for a cloud position. But in the race to the cloud, many tech vendors have forgotten that ever-critical customer relationship vehicle: the channel. Or, if they haven’t forgotten it, they’ve coaxed channel partners with the pat mantra, “Do more consulting” (“… while we take care of delivery”). To get channel partners’ perspectives on how the technology value chain is changing in an as-a-service delivery model world, Forrester recently teamed with Outsource Channel Executives (OCE) to survey executives of channel companies across 39 countries, from the local level to the global.
The results of the survey are in, and they tell quite a story: that there is a good deal of angst and confusion among channel partners over their role/value in the cloud services technology value chain; that they aren’t sitting on their hands, waiting for tech vendors to tell them what to do; and that they need a lot of help in transforming their marketing and business models in this new era of cloud computing.
Now, not all channel companies are going to be able to make that transformation (nor should they – after all, cloud computing will never represent 100% of the technology market). But there are going to be many that will try and fail, ultimately resulting in a 12%-15% channel company washout. So think about it – supply (the number of channel companies) goes down; demand (for channel partner assets) remains high. It’s those tech vendors that amp their channel game to enable their partners’ cloud aspirations that are going to come away as the new “channel chiefs.”
A few years ago, I took the helm of customer & market intelligence (CMI) for a large vendor. Executives wanted analysis that was more relevant — intelligence that was “deeper,” “more actionable,” and provided “knock-out punches.”
As a CMI leader, you likely hear the same thing. But, as you try to improve, you get feedback such as “the material is not helpful,” “looks the same as before,” or “isn’t specific enough.”
In hindsight, if I were to join a CMI team again, I would take a completely different approach — instead of trying to refine the research itself, I would change the design point.
CMI’s sales-oriented purpose is to prepare sales teams for customer conversations!
Earlier this week, during an interview with Forrester, a CMI leader commented, “CMI can make a strategic impact on sales because it prepares sales teams about important topics and potential surprises in customer conversations.”
But across the tech industry, CMI is not succeeding:
A Forrester survey of technology buyers shows that only 38% of sales “reps understand the customer’s issues and are able to identify how the vendor can help.”
Preliminary data from a Forrester study of marketing executives shows that 65% claim that one of their biggest strengths is “knowledge of the markets and customers we serve.”[i]
We are currently cranking the data collected in our 2010 Marketing Organization and Investment survey, and the results already look spectacularly significant. So, over the next months, we’ll be reporting and commenting on how tech marketing organizations are assigning priorities and allocating their budgets for 2011. We have even designed a benchmark framework where we can compare various tech vendors’ marketing spends against each other (small versus large, country versus country, market versus market, previous year versus next year) and make some calls for you. And this year’s survey includes vendors headquartered in Europe as well!
For me, the most important data point in last year’s survey was the background of tech vendor CMOs, especially product vendors. Twenty-eight percent of those CMOs have an engineering background, and another 15% are from sales. With all respect, neither background is an optimal preparation to be running marketing in today’s tech industry — where IT is now BT, customers care less about speeds and feeds and more about business outcomes, and brand and multichannel experience count as much as in other industries. I’ll be talking about this at Forrester’s Marketing & Strategy Forum EMEA in London on November 18–19 in my “Marketing Is the New Differentiation in the Tech Industry” presentation.
Here is a short anecdote to explain that question. As you’d expect, I’m an intense user of email, and here at Forrester, our IT department provides us with Microsoft Outlook. They also regularly slap my wrist because my email storage requirements are “excessive,” which is mainly due to the fact that I retain all my sent mails on file and Outlook has no facility to detach and delete attachments when filing. So, in order to save myself the relatively nonsensical task of manually detaching all attachments, I have found a nice utility tool called EZDetach from a firm called TechHit to do this in an automated manner. It probably saves me a couple of hours per month, and TechHit also provides other useful tools for filing and folder management in Outlook. I found it myself, downloaded and installed it myself, and even paid for the software myself (though I might try to sneak that invoice into an expense report some time). I don’t feel guilty at having bypassed IT, only relieved that I can disappear from their evident blacklist of individuals overusing their storage. I feel even more secure after my analyst colleague Stefan Ried, who knows much more about these things, raved enthusiastically about the same software in a recent tweet. I suppose that makes me an empowered user; though I did not help a customer directly though my action, I certainly freed up more time to interact with clients.