Channel Partner Business Models In The Age Of The Customer

Tim Harmon

I’ve been invited to present at several partner conferences this year on the topic of how channel partners should transform their businesses, specifically in light of declining discount margins and digital transformation.  Yes, you heard me right – declining discount margins.  It’s not happening across the board, but the general trend in the tech industry for the past couple of years is that vendors are reducing the discounts they are offering to partners (but some are rolling out programs that can boost partners’ profitability in other ways). 

To more than compensate for shrinking discount margins, I posted last year that there is a new wide world of value-added services opportunities for channel partners – particularly “away from the box” value-added services (as opposed to “close to the box” services involving installation and configuration), driven largely by the upsurge of line-of-business buyers: planning, adoption services, change management, risk management, multi-vendor management, and benchmarking, to name a few.  For example, we just interviewed a Google partner who is seeing significant growth with its customer success program.

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Planning Your Digital Reboot For A Go-To-Customer Strategy - Upcoming Webinar

Peter O'Neill

There has been quite a response to my comment in the last blog on planning a technology-focused track at our October B2B Marketing Forum. Thanks for your inputs. I am glad you are looking forward to it. I have the luxury of being able to invite many different experts to the Forum, not just the B2B Marketing analysts; so that track in Miami will focus on how to deal with the current marketing-technology offerings as an enterprise: how to architect, compare and procure, and manage the business case – through the full life cycle.

I’ve recently enjoyed Ajay Agarwal’s article in TechCrunch “Marketing Tech’s Bumpy Road”. Ajay talks about the trends from the investor point of view of course; but his comparison of B2C being weighted 10:1 in marketing and sales resources compared to B2B being the other way around is succinct -- that is why sales enablement is so important in our B2B Marketing research portfolio. But that ratio of 1:10 will swing more and more across to marketing each year of the Age of the Customer, as empowered buyers engage with suppliers digitally and redefine their expectations of face to face meetings.  Andy Hoar is just starting his new survey of business buyers, a project he does with eRetailer each year, so expect to see us updating our sales archetypes forecast, as reported here by Mary Shea, later this year.

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Change Is Afoot For The Modern B2B Seller

Mary Shea

Everybody is telling us this: Today's modern B2B buyer is soooo empowered! Well, that’s because they can use digital and mobile channels to get access to competitive, pricing, reference and other information they need. Not only that, they even prefer to transact anywhere, anytime, and anyhow they want. So, the pressure is on for sales people to raise their game. Those who can only communicate in terms of product and service capabilities will see their messages fall flat.

Go-to-market leaders that fail to empower their sellers will see their selling organizations commoditized by those that do and their businesses surpassed by disrupters. While change is clearly afoot - I can’t think of a more exciting time to be in Sales! B2B sellers who embrace change, who are adroit at leveraging new technologies to support more contextual engagements, and who seek out less cluttered channels such as social - will not only remain relevant but will be wildly successful!

To hear and see more, watch the below Animated Interview And Podcast with Chad Quinn, President and Founder of Ecosystems.

Look Forward To The B2B Marketing Forum In October

Peter O'Neill

For the past six years, Forrester has held its Sales Enablement Forum for B2B marketing professionals in March, the first two years in San Francisco and then down in Scottsdale (see here for my debrief from the successful 2015 event). I've already had a few calls and emails asking me about this year’s Forum: What is the agenda? Where and when is it being held?

So, here is a timely reminder that we have reconfigured our events calendar this year and the 2016 B2B Marketing Forum is now scheduled for October 18 and 19 in Miami, Florida. Planning is well underway: We are recruiting guest speakers and planning the track sessions. Without giving too much away, I can report that our current thinking is to set the overall agenda across these five themes:

1.  Go-To-Customer  - How to inform and configure your marketing, channel, content and sales plans so that they are customer obsessed.

2.  Blending Art And Science - Use data to set sales and marketing activity based on the ultimate predictive metric: propensity to buy.

3.  Contact In Context - Use voice-of-the-customer/social listening/predictive analytics to be able to speak to customer issues more directly and authentically.

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Advocate Marketing Turns Goodwill Into Valuable Customer Engagement

Laura Ramos

Ah yes, the obligatory customer logo slide. As an analyst you get to see a lot of these. (Too many, perhaps.) Any more, these slides mean less and less.

What matters in the digital world -- what Forrester calls the "Age of the Customer" -- is not how many companies or organizations you serve, but how much they appreciate working with you -- and whether or not they are willing to tell others that they do. 

In B2B marketing, sharing customer logos is one small way of validating that you are an effective supplier of products and services. References are another. So are referred business and a host of other marketing programs aimed at turning customer goodwill into testimonial gold. In this digital age, where information accessibility and service-oriented business models favor buyers, it is essential to market with and through your advocates because:

  • Social opens up a new world of advocacy opportunities. Most B2B marketers and technology suppliers point to social sharing as the primary driver in making advocate marketing more important and effective today.
  • A subscription-centered economy makes retention essential. B2B firms must continue to demonstrate value to customers long after the ink dries on the contract to retain their business. Keeping the relationship fresh and top of mind is a key way to do that.
  • Operationalizing advocate marketing scales outcomes. B2B marketers are investing in advocacy to expand reference programs and encompass other aspects of the customer relationship beyond sales support. For little investment, many are seeing bigger returns.
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How Self-Service Research Will Change B2B Marketing

Steven Casey

Greetings! This is week three in my journey as a Forrester analyst serving you, B2B marketing professionals, after nearly as many decades as a practitioner like you. I'd like to start our conversation by sharing an idea I had the opportunity to explore during the interview process for this position.

It was a process I enjoyed tremendously by the way, because it allowed me to connect the dots between several trends I had observed in my most recent role, where I led marketing for a digital engagement platform vendor, and some recent research from Forrester, most notably the Death Of A (B2B) Salesman report that struck such a nerve in the Forrester client base and beyond.

One of the conclusions of that and other Forrester reports that resonated most with me is that B2B buyers now prefer do-it-yourself options for researching products and services prior to purchase. And it’s not even a close call!  The survey conducted for the Death of a Salesman report showed that by a factor of three to one, B2B buyers want to self-educate rather than talk to sales representatives to learn about products and services.

Ironically, we B2B marketers have only ourselves to blame for this dramatic shift. By creating, publishing, and promoting a wealth of content to maximize the results from our SEO, PPC, and marketing automation campaigns, we’ve also made it possible (but not yet easy) for prospects to learn much of what they need to know prior to purchase. This has enabled more than half of all B2B buyers to now develop a set of selection criteria or finalize a list of potential vendors — based on digital content alone — without ever speaking to anyone at those organizations.

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B2B Marketers: Mind The Content Credibility Gap

Daniel Klein

Delivering credible, objective, and engaging content is a must for today’s B2B marketer as prospects discover, explore, and buy your solution. But what attributes and sources make content credible and objective to B2B buyers? This is a common question asked of my consulting team, and in the age of the customer — where empowered buyers rely on multiple content sources before talking with a sales team and 50% of buyers say much of the content they receive is useless — the answer is more important than ever.

To get answers to this and other key questions we receive from content marketers, Forrester surveyed over 200 IT and LOB technology buyers and influencers. I address three of the common client questions below:

 

Question One: What are the top three attributes of credible content from the perspective of a buyer/influencer?

Answer:

WIM: Marketers should audit their existing content assets against these attributes to ensure their library is stocked with credible content. With nearly two-thirds of respondents indicating that vendors give them too much material to sort through, authorship by a qualified expert/analyst allows content assets to stand out and get noticed. Including data in your assets gives them factual grounding and signifies that the information being shared is not simply opinion or conjecture. In fact, 47% of respondents rated papers (content) backed by data as high value, compared with only 11% who said the same thing of papers not backed by data. Finally, be selective in when and where you include product or brand mentions in your content.  Including them in too many of your content assets, especially thought leadership pieces, can undermine the credibility of your content.

 

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Kick Up The Stakes For Your Sales Kickoff

Steven Wright

The first quarter of the year is that magical time for sales kickoffs. For this analyst, 2016 is the first in over 20 years when I haven’t been involved in one. My sigh of relief far outweighs any twinges of nostalgia. After all that time, some things about kickoffs are clear:

  • The more about products, the less sellers remember: This is a sales, not a marketing, event – the focus should be on how to sell to, engage with, and be obsessed by buyers.
  • One good customer story is worth more than most motivational speakers: Inspiring stories of overcoming obstacles are all well and good. One good customer presentation on why they bought and how the solution has helped them succeed is better and teaches something that all your sellers can use.
  • Learning to do something is always better than learning about something: Practicing a presentation, learning a whiteboard – anything that involves doing something and receiving feedback about it will have a much longer-lasting effect than passively listening to one more speaker.
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Betwixt And Between: Finding Space For Sellers Squeezed By Marketing And Sales Enablement Automation

Steven Wright

A new analyst at Forrester quickly learns about some rites of passage: the first report (insert link to Brief: Sales Enablement Needs A Platform), the first research agenda, and the first blog post.

Of the three, the first report is the toughest — reviewed and edited by your Research Director (the inestimable Peter O’Neill) and other analysts, and sliced, diced, and improved upon by Forrester’s editing process before going live. And that report is now available -- Brief: Sales Enablement Automation Needs A Platform

That first report is a stake in the ground, or a line in the sand for future research. Since I focus on sales enablement, it’s more of a stake in the sand since technology and demands are shifting rapidly in the world of B2B marketing and selling.

The solutions that help enable sellers borrow from marketing automation, various forms of analytics, with a strong addition of CRM integration. Vendors in this space are many, the overlaps are great, and the competition is fierce. It’s difficult to easily understand what is needed to find the bridge between marketing and sales so both can be more effective and efficient; once a lead becomes a real opportunity, it needs the human touch that only a good sales person can bring.

In a perfect world, a single technology platform would provide all the necessary capabilities, including the ones you haven’t thought of, together in a single solution. Alas, Candide aside, we are not in that world. But if you are involved in selecting tools, whether from a marketing or sales enablement point of view, there are some key points that can help:

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Content Marketing Rules, But We Should Not Call It “Marketing Content”

Peter O'Neill

At Forrester, Research Directors do many things around the research process. We help analysts to establish a research agenda and keep them current for the next 12 months – we negotiate the report outlines, edit the drafts, and share the research and reports around other parts of Forrester to ensure consistency. Then, we often create or edit “blurb” text for promotional efforts (tweets, blogs, newsletters). I was sent a proposed blurb (written by our own marketing group) announcing our new report “Make Sales Conversations An Integral Part Of Your Content Marketing Plans”. The blurb said

“Getting Sales to be the content concierge for marketing content.”

I stared at the sentence for a long time. Is that we mean? Do we want to force-feed marketing content to our sales colleagues? Calling it “marketing content” sounded demeaning and confusing; is that Sales’ job – distributing what marketing wants them to distribute? No, of course not. But their job is certainly to share and provide content to their conversation partners that is compelling and interesting and useful – stuff that helps the buyer to proceed down their journey. And the content is usually created by marketing (unless the salesperson cannot find it in which case it is made up on the fly).

So the blurb that ended up in next week’s “Forrester 5” promotional email to be sent to all clients is:

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