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Planning Assumptions for 2017

September 01, 2016

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 performance in 2017. In this issue of SiriusPerspectives, we have excerpted several of these planning assumptions and their implications for sales, marketing and product leaders. To explore more planning assumptions for each b-to-b function, visit our Planning Assumptions resource center.

Planning Assumptions for 2017

Technology: Get Serious About the Marketing Stack

As a percentage of marketing budgets, marketing technology investment has doubled since 2012, and we expect this level of investment to continue to expand. Technology investments have moved well beyond core, cross-functional systems (e.g. marketing automation, Web analytics) to include an array of point solutions that are often implemented at the departmental level. While technology investments can lead to improved efficiency and performance, we see redundancy and waste continuing to build. As a result, funds that might be applied to program execution are tied up in overlapping and non-optimized technologies.

With the CMO’s blessing, marketing operations needs to instill a disciplined approach to the acquisition, implementation and management of marketing technology. The objective should be to move beyond point-in-time audits and toward a proactive process that prevents waste of money, process development and staff training time.

SiriusAction: Develop a marketing technology roadmap aligned with marketing strategies. Identify weak-performing technology by examining factors such as fit, risk, criticality, redundancy and utilization. Work with marketing leadership to roll out an effective process for maintaining alignment between growth requirements and technology infrastructure, using the Technology Alignment Framework as a guide.

Process: Implement a Consistent Process to Understand Customer Needs

The shift to a strategy aligned around key audiences and personas often highlights gaps in an organization's understanding of customer needs. In many cases, leaders simply tell their product managers to “Get out of the office and spend time with customers” without providing guidance, coaching or training. Even experienced product managers make mistakes in understanding customer needs, such as focusing solely on needs related to existing products or failing to recognize differences in needs across audiences.

Often, the underlying cause of these mistakes is the lack of a comprehensive process and structure for understanding the landscape of customer needs. Only 36 percent of companies report that their organizations have a consistent process for understanding needs. Establishing a common approach to identify and respond to customer needs and ensuring that product managers have the appropriate competencies, tools and support are prerequisites for aligning existing products with the needs of key audiences and personas and focusing new innovation on high-priority unmet needs.

SiriusAction: Product management leaders must work with their portfolio marketing counterparts to implement a consistent cross-functional process for identifying needs and leveraging them for innovation. Provide guidance and support so product managers can follow this process, and have managers hold their teams accountable for following it – e.g. require business cases to provide evidence that needs were identified via the approved process.

Emerging Trend: Focus on the ROI of Customer Experience

As the customer experience function matures, practitioners must make a business case for investment and growth. Demonstrating the impact of customer experience improvement efforts should begin with documenting the baseline or current-state metrics (e.g. retention, overall customer satisfaction, Net Promoter Score®). These metrics must be designed to track improvements or guide course corrections for any efforts to improve customer experience, not just activities performed or content pushed.

Post-sale engagement improvement is an investment in retention, renewal and growth. This type of achievement can have great impact on a b-to-b organization, but skeptics sometimes emerge when it comes to funding any project that takes time to complete. Investments must be prioritized. Short-term wins maintain momentum, but concrete outcomes take longer to see.

SiriusAction: Design a dashboard that uses data and analytics aligned to the customer lifecycle to validate the financial benefits of getting customers productive sooner, achieving value more quickly, getting customers to stay longer and enabling them to become advocates – all of which decrease churn and increase retention rates, contributing to the bottom line.

Measurement: Sales Productivity

Productivity is a foundational growth pillar for sales organizations, even when the organization also places emphasis on other growth pillars (e.g. new markets, new buyers, new offerings, acquisitions). When chief sales officers are asked how they measure productivity, most point to revenue – but there are many other productivity indicators. A CSO may not have insight into all the data indicators that help measure sales productivity – or there may be so many indicators that he or she cannot tell which to focus on. The SiriusDecisions Sales Productivity Quotient defines five categories and 24 data indicators that are aligned to productivity and stack-ranked based on their relative importance to growth

SiriusAction: Work with the CSO to adopt and operationalize the SiriusDecisions Sales Productivity Quotient to analyze and improve productivity. Assess the validity of sales data, align with the CSO on what type of peer set to use for comparison, and consider resource requirements for analyzing reporting results and improvement initiatives.

Communications: Build Internal Consensus Around Influencer Strategy

There is growing interest in using third-party influencers to support marketing activities, but the strategy for doing so is often based on wishful thinking. It’s relatively easy to identify influencers who could be useful, but actually getting them to be advocates on the company’s behalf is another matter. Engagement with influencers requires commitment, time, resources and budget. The influencer relations function leads these efforts, but success hinges on a range of internal factors beyond their control.

To get everyone on the same page internally, influencer relations needs to change the discussion from what marketing leaders want to what they can realistically support. Influencer choices should be based on analysis of external factors such as influencer reach, relevance and buyer perception as well as internal readiness factors such as thought leadership maturity, availability of subject matter experts, willingness of customer references and budget. Helping internal constituents understand what is needed is the key to building organizational support and engaging successfully with key influencers.

SiriusAction: Use a scorecard approach to rank targeted influencers based on internal and external factors. If the external factors score (assessing the desirability of the influencer) is higher than the internal readiness score, then work needs to be done before that influencer can be successfully engaged. Look for areas where the gap is greatest as a starting point for increasing internal readiness.

Channel Sales: Measuring and Assessing Partner Recruitment

Channel sales leaders are becoming more rigorous in their measurement and tracking of partners during the partner recruitment and onboarding process. To mitigate sales productivity issues that can be caused by incorrect assessments of partners during recruitment, channel suppliers must find metrics they can apply to this process, especially leading indicators (e.g. trained vs. producing partners) that can signal performance shortcomings. Partner account managers also should be enabled to more accurately assess potential partners as they pre-screen them. To do so, they need tools that can measure a partner organization's current and potential sales capabilities, which helps identify partnerships to prioritize and key areas to develop.

SiriusAction: Use the SiriusDecisions Channel Recruitment Waterfall, which describes six stages of recruitment – suspect, prospect, qualified, committed, engaged and producing – to manage and measure recruitment efforts. Additionally, use the SiriusDecisions Partner Sales Assessment Tool to assess partners across eight strategic categories and identify areas of improvement.