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Planning Assumptions for 2016

December 01, 2015

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

SiriusDecisions has released 75 planning assumptions for b-to-b organizations seeking to maximize their effectiveness in 2016. In this issue of SiriusPerspectives, we summarize 12 of these planning assumptions and their implications for sales, marketing and product leaders.

Emerging Trend: B-to-B Customers Continue to Expect More

A 2015 SiriusDecisions study of more than 1,000 b-to-b buyers revealed that 71 percent of a buyer’s vendor selection decision is based on customer experience – including prior experiences of the buyer organization with the vendors under consideration, as well as the experiences of other customers that the buyer learns about. However, even though it’s clear that post-sale customer experience can serve as a differentiator and growth driver, some executives remain hesitant to fund long-term projects, awaiting further proof of business impact. When possible, customer experience leaders must enlist colleagues from other customer-facing functions to help make the case for ongoing investment. This includes working with marketing to understand and support its efforts to engage customers via advocacy, community, events and other interactions, which are essential but often under-funded and resourced.

SiriusAction: Consolidate input from all customer feedback sources, including surveys, user groups, customer events and other engagement efforts, to provide direct feedback on what customers like and don’t like. This approach encourages urgency for taking action on negative customer feedback and replicating best practices based on positive feedback. Use data and analytics to validate the financial benefits of helping customers become productive and achieve value sooner, getting them to stay longer and enabling them to become advocates. These actions can deliver decreased churn and increased retention rates – tangible contributors to the bottom line.

Demand Creation: Deploy Technology to Achieve Precision

Demand marketers have long aspired to practice one-to-one marketing, but have lacked detailed target audience intelligence, healthy and segmented databases, and the technology required to scale with some level of precision. With the emergence of new capabilities (e.g. predictive scoring, look-alike modeling, continued innovation of existing technology), organizations are rethinking how to operationalize persona development and database management investment to enable dynamic and personalized marketing. To achieve this, they must stop rushing to deploy the latest technologies as standalone tools with unrealistic ROI expectations. Instead, they must consider how these technologies can work together to facilitate a dynamic, episodic buying experience. Technology decisions should be based on how effectively current and new capabilities can deliver consistent experiences across digital advertising and retargeting, Web sites and landing pages, multi-channel nurture programs and human interactions. Demand creators must embrace continuous testing and optimization of those experiences throughout the buyer’s journey, and through each handoff in the lead management process.

SiriusAction: Assess the state of audience/persona intelligence and the health of the marketing database before embarking on technology initiatives to enable more dynamic and personalized marketing. Use the SiriusDecisions Digital Transformation Model to identify the organization’s digital type, and map digital and non-digital buying interactions for targeted audiences. Map current technologies’ capabilities to interaction preferences, understand how those solutions work together to deliver the desired experience, and evaluate new technologies by their ability to fill identified gaps.

CMO Strategy: Establish a Marketing Lab

We expect the proliferation of sales and marketing technologies to continue for the next few years before consolidation occurs. B-to-b companies are often caught up in a perceived need to prematurely acquire new technologies they are not ready to use. However, there’s also a risk in lagging behind competitors that use a new, technology-enabled marketing approach. The answer is to establish a controlled process for assessing technologies by instituting a marketing lab or marketing R&D team to regularly consider promising new technologies that meet business objectives. For larger organizations, this may take the form of a dedicated function; for smaller organizations, it may be an internal process run by existing teams. Setting aside a small budget on a regular basis (e.g. monthly, quarterly) enables new technologies to be tested or piloted. Often vendors allow a proof-of-concept period, so financial commitment might be needed only when there is evidence that the technology meets a business need.

SiriusAction: Set up a formal marketing technology lab or R&D function (or process, for smaller organizations) within marketing operations to facilitate testing and evaluation of technologies in collaboration with other marketing functions (and sales). To measure effectiveness, use pilot programs with success goals and the ability to test outcomes against a control. Nominate and select technologies based on business strategy alignment, enablement of core processes and the organization’s readiness to use the technology at full scale if the pilot is successful (e.g. budget, skills, program integration).

Sales Enablement: An Activity-Based Approach

Within every sales organization, silent killers of sales productivity (e.g. searching for hard-to-find sales content, spending hours calculating commissions) often go undetected. For example, in a recent poll we asked sales leaders in what technology platform (e.g. sales force automation [SFA], sales asset management) their reps spend the most time. An overwhelming majority (87 percent) said that reps spend the most time in email applications. But when asked whether they offer any enablement (including training) to help reps better leverage email in day-to-day selling activities, zero sales leaders reported providing such training. The concept of activity-based enablement is simple: start with a detailed understanding of the activities reps do every day, then maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of those activities. By applying an activity-based approach, sales enablement leaders can eliminate low-value activities and help reps outperform their competitors.

SiriusAction: Use the SiriusDecisions Sales Activity survey tool to conduct a study on how sales reps spend their time. Based on the results, identify areas that suffer from inefficiency, and conduct interviews and observe reps to better understand the key issues. Determine the appropriate path to greater efficiency – e.g. eliminating the activity, offloading it to another resource, or streamlining or automating it.

Content Strategy: Measure Investment and Productivity

Because internal stakeholders often think of internally generated content as free, they also think of it as disposable. The SiriusDecisions 2015 Cost of Content Study revealed that, depending on the size of the organization, 53 percent to 80 percent of b-to-b content creation occurs internally. Lack of awareness of content creation costs usually results in a tremendous amount of wasted money and effort – because the content that is created isn’t valued by content users, nor is it aligned with business goals and activation plans. Calculating the cost of content is the first step to establishing the visibility and accountability required for investment and resource optimization. To make data-driven content investment decisions, b-to-b organizations must track their internal and external content creation costs and content utilization. Once the current state of content investment is captured, organizations can more accurately factor content into strategic and budget planning conversations.

SiriusAction: Conduct a time-and-motion study across content-creating functions, then complete the SiriusDecisions cost of content benchmark to understand current content spend. Build tracking mechanisms for content costs into internal time tracking, procurement codes, purchase orders, invoices and statement-of-work parameters to more easily incorporate content spend into standard reports and dashboards.

Product Management: Establish Offering Dashboards

The product manager is responsible for the commercial success of an offering over its entire lifecycle. Unfortunately, many product managers struggle to maintain visibility into post-launch product performance. Some fail to define success criteria for a product and measurements that can be used to track and guide its success. Others use a limited set of metrics that focus on only one aspect of product performance (e.g. technical, operational) – or they select appropriate metrics but are incapable of reliably collecting the data or fail to regularly update the metrics. Using a well-defined and consistent offering dashboard for all products in the portfolio ensures that product managers focus on the elements that deliver value and impact to the business. It also allows product management leaders better visibility into product performance across the entire portfolio.

SiriusAction: Establish a consistent dashboard that includes metrics in categories such as growth, retention, position and efficiency. Engage stakeholders from marketing, sales and product development to help tailor the dashboards as appropriate. Ensure that systems are in place to provide the appropriate measurements. Make product managers accountable for regularly updating and reviewing the dashboards with key stakeholders and senior management.

Channel Sales: Build a High-Performance Organization

“Do I have the people, skills and resources needed to reach our goals next year and beyond?” is a question we have repeatedly heard channel sales leaders express as they contemplate the year ahead. Surprisingly, many have not defined a baseline of competencies that partner account managers should have, along with the knowledge of what characteristics and behaviors they should develop to reach a high level of performance and support an expanding set of partner types. As channel sales leaders recognize that success is largely based on the interpersonal relationships between partner account managers and the partners they support, they are seeking to augment the skills and competencies their internal sales teams need at both the individual (e.g. partner planning) and organizational levels to strengthen these relationships.

SiriusAction: Evaluate the skills of the team’s partner-facing resources, then plan to enhance the skills needed to outperform. Develop training programs that cover key areas of a partner account manager’s responsibilities (e.g. developing a partner value proposition, identifying personas within partner organizations, partner economics). Design or revamp partner assessment tools, capacity planning templates and business planning processes to ensure that partner account managers have the resources they need.

Portfolio Marketing: Operationalize Personas

Buyer persona insight is critical for content creation, campaign innovation and sales enablement efforts involving cross-functional stakeholders. However, many persona initiatives falter after the defined personas are introduced, as portfolio marketers fail to consider how personas will be used and how they can make persona knowledge easily accessible to the broader organization. Storing personas in digital repositories (e.g. shared file systems, custom systems built on collaborative platforms) provides easy access to persona knowledge, as well as enhanced user experience and real-time sharing of insights among teams. Links to these repositories connect persona information to the operational systems that stakeholders frequently use. Contact database records should be tagged with persona types so that marketers can effectively segment personas and track their levels of engagement, preferences and behaviors through Web-based tactics and human interactions. Emerging technologies can synthesize real-time social behaviors and data to help marketers refine persona insight and build multi-touch demand creation campaigns.

SiriusAction: Make the persona library accessible to stakeholders by embedding persona insight into existing content management systems, sales force automation systems and marketing automation systems. Provide feedback opportunities (e.g. ratings, likes) to track the effectiveness of persona insight in content, campaign and sales enablement tools. Implement social sharing to gather input about regional usage and requirements, changes in persona behaviors and new personas that need to be developed.

Sales Operations: The Planning Center of Excellence

Many sales operations leaders have recognized the power of centralization within the function, which allowed them to leverage specialized roles, focus on critical competencies and consider forming various centers of excellence (COEs) – e.g. planning, analytics and reporting, compensation, tools and technology, and sometimes enablement. The planning COE (which might also be called the strategy COE) is responsible for creating and implementing a sales planning process based on three critical elements: alignment, consistency and intelligence. Sales plans must align with corporate goals and objectives, and there also must be cross-functional alignment across product, marketing and sales planning. Consistency relates to the steps or stages of the sales planning process, the translation of the sales plan for the sales organization and the data used to influence decisions. Intelligence is created through the interpretation of top-down strategies combined with a bottom-up analysis that the planning COE creates and reviews with the chief sales officer.

SiriusAction: Identify the core competencies and resources needed for the planning COE (e.g. project management, communication, internal planning processes, analysis). Define sales plan components that are required to guide the entire sales organization in understanding what it must do, how to accomplish its goals and how to maintain interlock with other parts of the business. Empower the COE to make adjustments to the plan, which requires representation at quarterly business reviews and other leadership meetings that focus on go-to-market strategy.

Account-Based Marketing: Resource a Central ABM Function

Most successful account-based marketing (ABM) programs have a leader who can communicate the value of ABM and get the necessary resources and alignment to make it work. When ABM programs fail, it’s typically because of a lack of focus and commitment. Companies looking to pilot ABM – or expand an existing pilot into a formal program – must put in place a center of excellence or hub model that provides consistent leadership and resources to maintain ABM execution. The ABM leader who manages the hub should oversee the selection and deployment of technology, insights and analytics, skill development, measurement and communication strategy, and planning processes to ensure consistency. The ABM leader must have the right experience, ideally including some amount of time in a sales role, and should be senior enough to manage by influence and work well with sales and other marketing leaders as a peer. Most importantly, the ABM leader must build the case for ABM’s value and impact on the business.

SiriusAction: If a central ABM leader is not in place, identify an individual who can fulfill this role and a way to provide central access to resources for all involved in ABM delivery. Make sure the selected individual has the right skills and experience to succeed and training where needed. Also review the desired scope of ABM deployment, whether for a pilot or full program, and ensure the proper resources are made available.

Channel Marketing: Assess the Current State of Data in Channel Tools

Until recently, data analytics did not have a significant presence in the channel, partly due to the elusive nature of relevant data. Much of the data, if it existed, existed within partners’ systems, outside of suppliers’ purview, so channel marketers were unable to analyze this data and transform it into actionable insights. Channel marketers can expect advances in channel tools and technology that leverage data to improve partner operations, enhance partner marketing and social selling capabilities, and accelerate channel performance. Channel marketing leaders should evaluate the applicability of these tools to gain insight on the best partners to target, improve partner enablement and engagement processes, predict channel outcomes and prescribe actions that drive results.

SiriusAction: Assess the organization’s existing channel technologies (e.g. partner relationship management [PRM], partner portal, channel marketing management [CMM], learning management systems [LMS]) and their data sources. Work with supporting operations teams to determine which data is available to the channel and can be analyzed to drive better channel decisions, and whether the channel team and its partners are enabled to act on those insights.

Marketing Operations: Create an Enablement Plan

As marketing organizations grow and mature, an increasing area of concern for CMOs is ensuring that marketing roles are well defined, properly skilled and able to operate as a cohesive group. Critical marketing competencies (knowledge, skills, processes and tools) necessary for organizational success have changed dramatically in recent years, and marketing organizations are struggling to adapt. To address this fundamental concern, marketing leaders are establishing dedicated marketing enablement functions that are chartered to improve learning, encourage talent development, promote best practice sharing and drive employee engagement. The marketing operations leader is often tasked with setting up initial enablement efforts, and the new enablement team is commonly seeded from the marketing operations function. This approach gives marketing operations a holistic view of marketing best practices, and allows team members to gain experience training marketing staff on new technologies, processes and procedures.

SiriusAction: Using the Marketing Enablement Process Model, partner with functional marketing leaders to build competency maps and conduct baseline skills assessments. Leverage assessment findings to create an enablement plan, build a business case, establish a learning curriculum and build or buy learning solutions.