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.
Unfortunately, he never returned, so the only evidence of the journey is the strange “Welshness” of certain Native American tribes in Alabama (musical voices, continuous searching for coal, and trying to get around in circular boats).
Prince Madog actually challenged the Native Americans there to the first Ryder Cup, but that contest was declared null and void after one Native American replaced his ball with a fresh one because it had “gotten wet and dirty.” Nowadays, the American team are given a better chance – last Saturday, Ricky Fowler was only penalized one hole when he did the same. This kept the contest alive for a few more days (the TV networks rule). In fact, the Europe team even contrived to keep the contest going until the last pairing, which may have been leaving it too tight. I must say, the Americans were better dressed then, and their rainproofs did keep out the rain.
I have an exciting engagement next week; I will moderate a session during an annual review meeting of a leading tech distributor with its leading vendor. The topic we’ll discuss is the cloudy future of our industry and what that could mean for the roles and responsibilities of vendors, distributors, and resellers. I’ll have a presentation prepared, of course, but all analysts operate under the principle of “two ears, one mouth,” so I’ll also expect to hear much insight from both distributor and vendor on this topic — and both parties will be represented by their top executives.
My colleague Tim Harmon and I have just submitted a report that explores this topic, based on a recent survey of 165 executives of channel companies across the world (only 52% in North America). We talked to resellers, distributors, systems integrators, managed service providers, and other channel players — in fact, no single executive was prepared to say that just one of these titles applied 100% to their company. We did the survey in collaboration with the organization Outsource Channel Executives. Interesting facts that we gathered in the survey include the fact that nearly two-thirds of these firms employ applications developers; most resellers are attracted to becoming managed services providers to their client base. Tim also went into some of these findings in his recent Forrester teleconference.
So, here are the title and agenda of my session next week:
The Coming Upheaval In Tech Industry Channels
Diverse forces align to change the business of IT.
Successful sales enablement reaches beyond just sales. Marketing functions such as customer and market intelligence (CMI) supply materials to your direct sales teams. This content can significantly improve sales impact if it is timely, relevant, and in-context, which for CMI means:
Timely - the right information available to sales teams at the right time.
Relevant - content that sales teams can easily adapt into customer content.
In-context - framed by the business outcomes that customers use to make purchasing decisions.
The words of "War," Edwin Starr's 1969 Motown classic, began ringing in my head this morning. It was brought on by a Harvard Business Review blog post by Steve W. Martin, "Why Sales and Marketing Are at Odds — or Even War." Within tech vendors, sales and marketing teams often fail to communicate or align go-to-market strategies. Forrester's sales enablement visionary Scott Santucci discussed the different languages of sales and marketing in his blog over two years ago. As for my own experience with sales and marketing:
A few years ago, I sat with the chief marketing officer and chief sales officer of a Fortune 100 tech vendor. The conversation didn't focus on customer problems, which should be the starting point for sales enablement professionals. The conversation didn't focus on sales efficiency issues such as sales cycle duration or win rates, which should be critical imperatives for all sales and marketing professionals. Each of these executives controlled massive budgets but neither one sincerely trusted the other. Their words were about aligning sales and marketing programs, but the real conversation, when read between the lines, was about control, boundaries, and politics. They were at war!
Our internal deadlines are looming for Forrester’s Marketing And Strategy Forum EMEA 2010, to be held in London on November 18 and 19. Pretty soon, all of our presentations have to be reviewed, content-edited and fact-checked, and then submitted. In case you hadn’t noticed, we have put together a special track at this event for marketing professionals in the tech industry; this runs on the Friday from 11:40 till 15:30. I will kick off and moderate this “conference within a conference,” where we will explore the idea that tech industry marketing should no longer be communicating product differentiation; it should be the difference. As technology becomes commoditized, customers take control of the vendor-user interaction, and social media becomes a standard interaction channel, marketing must move its contribution from just educating customers and persuading them to accept the product to a more strategic role of enabling interactions with customers to solve their problems -- an engagement model that Forrester calls "customer enablement."
We will also be talking about community marketing, marketing in a global economy, and aligning sales and marketing. Some of the presentations are based on our previous Marketing Forum held in Los Angeles back in March. But I have cajoled my colleagues into making sure that they illustrate their presentations with EMEA-based case studies and examples. I have been particularly energized to do this in the past few weeks as I have been looking forward to attending the bi-annual Ryder Cup golf contest between the USA and Europe, held this weekend in my home town in Wales.
Technology vendors are disconnected from their customers. If the problem were simple, such as changing message themes, tech vendors could easily adapt.
When looking at tech vendors, the "problem" is long-standing, entrenched behaviors about how products and solutions go to market. The "problem" includes customers that now want to buy "business outcomes" rather than traditional products. The "problem" includes sales organizations that fail to learn about the customer's business or requirements. The "problem" includes marketing organizations that fail to recognize that while they get to aim the gun, only sales can pull the trigger. Across these three processes, companies are trying to shoot faster, shoot bigger bullets, or even aim at different targets when the real problem is eye-hand coordination - or aligning methods and messages.
Selling technology requires three processes to align: (1) the customer problem solving process; (2) the vendor selling process; and (3) the marketing processes for communicating solutions. Gaps in these processes will cause finger-pointing within the vendor, raise the average cost of sales, lengthen the sales cycle, increase turnover of sales and marketing employees, confuse customers, etc. Few tech vendors are changing their internal methodologies to align these processes.
How are these gaps in your organization? How is your company addressing these gaps? We'd love to hear your experience!
(Next in this series, Forrester will introduce "portfolio management" as framework to help sales enablement professionals align these silos.)