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Planning Assumptions for 2020

August 29, 2019

As SiriusDecisions looks toward the year ahead, we have identified critical planning assumptions for sales, marketing and product functions

SiriusDecisions has released more than 80 planning assumptions for b-to-b organizations seeking to maximize their performance in 2020. In this issue of SiriusPerspectives, we excerpt several of these planning assumptions, including their implications for sales, marketing and product leaders.

Revenue Engine Optimization: Overcome Buying Group Blindness

As demand marketers have started the pivot from a lead-centric view of their buyers to one that focuses on buying groups, marketing and sales leaders agree that seeing multiple members of a buying group engage constitutes a more accurate and compelling buying signal than seeing a single individual engage. SiriusDecisions benchmark data shows that, on average, fewer than 1% of inquiries convert to closed/won business. Linking signals from multiple buying group members helps companies detect genuine spikes in interest as more buying group members appear. Unfortunately, however, the link between buying group members is often invisible to (or ignored by) sales reps. To optimize revenue engine performance, demand marketers must adopt processes, technologies and strategies that eliminate buying group blindness.

SiriusAction: Adopt revenue engine processes that can recognize and account for multiple signals from the same account. Develop the ability to analyze those signals collectively to understand individual and group-level buyer behavior and respond effectively. Leverage advanced demand marketing technologies to identify sources of anonymous traffic and connect leads to accounts to opportunities.

Sales Strategy: Identify a Target Segment for Digital Transformation

All b-to-b buyers want a seamless and personalized buying experience, but rather than attempting to transform the entire sales organization in a single year, CSOs should consider working with product and marketing leaders to focus on a single target segment where buyers are demanding and ready for a self-directed, digitally enabled buyer’s journey. The lessons learned from digitally transforming one target segment can then be used to more efficiently transform other segments.

Buyers in small and medium-sized business (SMB) segments often are ideal candidates for a digital transformation pilot, as they tend to be self-sufficient and eager for a more self-directed, digitally enabled purchase path. Furthermore, SiriusDecisions Command Center™ data shows that b-to-b organizations expect the percentage of revenue generated from companies with fewer than 100 employees to decline from 27% to 24% in the next two years, which makes it critical for sales leaders to identify lower-cost approaches to satisfy those SMB buyers.

SiriusAction: Work with leaders from product and marketing to establish a cross-functional working group tasked with identifying the most digitally oriented market segment. Interview buyers from the target segment to understand how they want to access information and interact with providers. Develop profiles of key buyer personas and map the human and non-human interactions that will be part of the buyer and customer journey.

Marketing Planning and Campaign Strategy: Include Post-Sale Engagement Programs in Campaigns

Today’s marketing leaders recognize that, between the high cost of acquiring new customers, the importance that previous experience with a company plays in b-to-b buying decisions, and untapped cross-sell and upsell opportunities with existing customers, it makes sense to focus more of marketing’s resources on post-sale engagement campaigns. This calls for different types of marketing activity with different objectives and metrics.

Marketing leaders must find the ideal balance between customers and new buyers. Although every company has its own ideal, the balance at many companies is shifting toward the customer. As CMOs steer their organizations into the future, they should consider how they will address this shifting balance in their planning and campaign architecture.

SiriusAction: Use the SiriusDecisions Campaign Framework for marketing planning and incorporate an appropriate balance of driving growth via new customers with expanding the revenue potential of existing customers. Leverage customer engagement programs to help with retention, loyalty and advocacy.

Customer Understanding: Understand Customers’ Tolerance for AI

The promise of artificial intelligence (AI) is that it can help products address customer needs in new and more effective ways. Using machine learning to create smarter products can greatly improve the value and efficiency of those products. However, AI has the potential to backfire if it is perceived as intrusive or unethical.

For example, a product may help salespeople connect with prospects by suggesting elements to include in an email introduction that grab the prospect’s attention – and make outreach more personal. A traditional approach is to leverage information from prospects’ public social media profiles. By contrast, AI features within the product could be used to identify items prospects haven’t shared publicly but can be suggested with a high likelihood of success based on data mining. A salesperson could then reference prospects’ favorite sports teams, political leanings or the type of car they drive. AI gives businesses the ability to do this, but is it appropriate? Even if that information is helpful to salespeople, would they feel comfortable using it? How would their prospects feel? With the increasing prevalence of AI capabilities, product management’s remit has expanded, requiring a focus on ethics – not just on what is needed and is technically possible.

SiriusAction: Ensure customer understanding activities (e.g. interviews, observational research) identify what customers see as valuable and useful and what seems intrusive. Provide upskilling to product managers in ethics, psychology, captology (the study of computers as persuasive technologies) and behavioral science. Next, conduct extensive concept testing with customers to assess and validate any use of AI. Finally, document what was learned to create guidelines for the appropriate use of AI, and update this documentation regularly as customer expectations and tolerances change.

Strategic Content Planning: Seek Advanced Content Strategy Insights

B-to-b marketing organizations need advanced content strategy insights to increase content relevance, improve audience engagement, and reduce ineffective spending on content creation and/or content activation. However, many organizations cannot yet effectively adopt and apply data-driven approaches to content strategy development because their metadata strategy and content measurement competencies are immature. According to the results of the SiriusDecisions 2018 State of B-to-B Content Study, only 32% of organizations regularly use content performance metrics to inform content strategy development.

Organizations must begin to adopt better content tagging and measurement processes to segment and analyze their content metrics in more sophisticated ways. Today, only 41% of b-to-b organizations can segment and analyze content performance metrics by audience, 34% can segment by theme or topic, and 28% can segment by journey stage. Because customer experiences are increasingly expected to be hyper-personalized, organizations must address their content performance blind spots and enable data-driven content strategy decisions.

SiriusAction: Improve the availability of content strategy insights by consistently tagging all existing and future content assets with a broad set of metadata tags. For example, if content is currently tagged for asset type and related offerings, start additionally tagging for audience types, themes, topics and journey stages to improve insights. Conduct a content audit and inventory (led by the content strategy and operations team) of existing assets and agree on the set of tags that will be applied to all content.

Partner Program Design and Optimization: Adapt Partner Programs to New Opportunities

The structure of many established partner programs does not support today’s evolving partner ecosystems and partner types. SiriusDecisions Command Center data indicates nearly 40% of b-to-b suppliers expect to see an increase in the number of managed service providers/cloud providers, and more than 45% expect an increase in IoT partners. As channel strategies evolve, suppliers’ partner programs must rearchitect programs and invest in new partner types and business models according to buyer and customer solution needs.

Suppliers must align to new, modified or expanded routes to market or partner types and identify partnership opportunities within non-traditional and non-transactional entities (e.g. referral partners, influencers, ISVs, digital agencies). Organizations may have previously had partners of this type within their overall channel strategy; however, when formalizing programs for these partners for the first time, organizations must establish processes for managing non-transactional partnership business models as well as traditional resell. Gaining cross-functional consensus and executive buy-in on target routes to market and partner types is critical.

SiriusAction: Assess whether and how the existing partner program requires adaptation (e.g. new partner types, emerging and hybrid partner business models). Define the goals and key actions of each target route to market and partner type, as well as the unique business models of each. Update the structure of the program to align to the needs of key partner types and partnering business models that are required to remain competitive.

ABM Infrastructure: Plan, Pilot or Invest More (or Get Left Behind)

According to the results of the 2019 State of Account-Based Marketing Study, 70% of b-to-b organizations plan to invest “more” or “significantly more” in ABM (across technology, people, programs and agencies) during the next 12 months. Organizations risk falling behind peers if they cannot better prioritize, understand, personalize and engage key contacts, buying teams and accounts at scale and measure performance. Key areas of technology investment include AI-related areas such as predictive analytics, intent monitoring, account-based advertising, retargeting, web personalization and demand orchestration capabilities.

Having these capabilities fosters the adaptive program planning that is critical to effective ABM (e.g. real-time insights, dynamic messaging and asset suggestions, tactic optimization reporting). In fact, SiriusDecisions research indicates that high-performing organizations are 30% more likely than others to have an investment roadmap focused on emerging technologies, as they recognize the competitive advantages that adopting newer tools can provide.

SiriusAction: Although it’s important to add capabilities to elevate the organization’s ABM and account-based selling efforts, avoid trying to adopt everything all at once. Assess the ABM-related business requirements for the upcoming year, and then audit the existing infrastructure and take a long-term view in planning additions, prioritizing critical capabilities first.

Sales Asset Management: Link Asset Utilization to Deal Outcomes

Most b-to-b organizations are adept at linking sales assets to various types of buyer interactions, but few are able to understand their market impact. This highlights the potential for wasted effort by asset creators (e.g. marketing and learning departments) and asset administrators (e.g. sales enablement). For example, data from the SiriusDecisions Command Center® shows that the average enablement team manages a high number of sales assets – nearly 1,400 – yet only 45% tie content usage to deal progression, and even fewer, 42%, are able to associate selling content with deals that are ultimately won.

Fortunately, the popularity of sales asset management initiatives, and the heavy use of technology to support them, allows practitioners to understand which sales assets are working. Although it is misleading to imply that a b-to-b sales opportunity was won or lost solely because of certain content, enablement teams can directly correlate asset engagement with deal outcomes. This is accomplished by tightly integrating sales asset management functionality with opportunities within the SFA platform. This intelligence pertains to buyer-facing activation content as well as internal empowerment assets that support seller competency.

SiriusAction: Gather intelligence on assets that are used in successful deals, and look for opportunities to make more of the same types of assets for the same types of buyers, sellers, offerings and contexts. Put less effort into asset types that aren't associated with positive results. Correlate the data findings with feedback from reps.

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