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Technology Category Names (and Why They Don’t Always Matter)

by Todd Berkowitz  |  August 28, 2015  |  3 Comments

As many of you know, I wear two hats at Gartner. As a Tech Go-to-Market analyst, one of my jobs is to advise clients on to how the improve the effectiveness of their sales and marketing efforts. Messaging and positioning is a big part of that, with more than 2/3 of of the team’s marketing-related inquiries directly or indirectly related to this topic. But given the role that technology plays in helping provider clients generated awareness and leads, move them through the process and improve the effectiveness and productivity of salespeople, I also pay pretty close attention to the tools that my clients are using (or should be using).

Every so often there is an intersection between those two worlds, which I will explain further in a moment. While many of our clients offer solutions in well-defined markets that Gartner analyzes, sizes and addresses through Forecasts, Market Guides and Magic Quadrants (like ERP, BI and Analytics Platforms and Enterprise Network Firewalls), not all of them have that luxury. The lack of a well-defined market can be problematic for providers, because it makes it harder for startups to pitch VCs for investment, adds an extra layer of work from a messaging standpoint and even complicates SEO efforts.

The lack of a clearly defined technology market category can be traced to several factors. Sometimes it’s because the markets are immature and not particularly well-defined. In other cases, it’s because the solutions either overlap several existing markets or because they solve the same problem as solutions in other markets, but do so in a fundamentally different way that makes an apples:apples comparison really difficult. And in other cases, it’s because there are a range of solutions that are targeted to the same types of buyers and personas, to solve their biggest problems, but do so in a variety of ways. This latter scenario often results in smaller technology categories that get lumped into a broader category name.

It’s this last case that brings me back to the intersection of my worlds, in this case sales and marketing. If you were to ask sales executives for a wish list of where they would like to see improvement from the individual sales reps in their organization, it inevitably comes down to three things:

  • Improving productivity
  • Increasing effectiveness
  • Reducing sales cycle time (a.k.a. increasing deal velocity)

From a technology standpoint, sales force automation systems (and their various add-ons) were largely designed to address this productivity issue. But they didn’t 100% solve the problem, so solutions to make it easier to find content (Gartner defines the sub-category as Digital Content Management for Sales) became more widely adopted. But those content management systems also address the other two issues, as do predictive analytics tools, gamification systems, social sales applications, CPQ solutions and many other types of products and services. But providers didn’t want to be pigeonholed into a particular sub-category (or alternatively just a minor player in the broader CRM or CRM for Sales markets), so they decided to create their own categories.

What resulted was a lot of providers labeling themselves as “Sales Enablement” or “Sales Acceleration” solutions among others and getting traction from various influencers (including some journalists, bloggers and analysts), but not enough to establish a widely accepted technology category. At Gartner, we believe those two categories are extremely broad and not particularly descriptive.

Take Sales Enablement as an example. We view it as a discipline that includes process, training, content and technology/tools. Those tools include a wide range things designed to improve execution, effectiveness and sales performance. There are so many different types of solutions because seeing major improvement in those areas requires a wide range of process improvements (and tools to automate/help/enforce those changes).

Sales Acceleration is a similar issue. You have tools that make the process of sending e-mails to prospects quicker and easier, which if done right, will improve deal velocity. But only if you have the right content (something that you’d find in a sales content management system) and are going after a prospect who has a high propensity to purchase (something that you need a predictive sales analytics tool to determine).

This breadth and confusion is ultimately why these category names probably won’t stick, unless of course you see enough expansion (and M&A activity) that gets us to a point where providers are offering a suite of products that addresses more of the different sub-categories, something that has happened in the Sales Performance Management market. But instead of just whining and frequently reminding providers that we don’t use terms like Sales Enablement or Sales Acceleration to define markets, I thought I would offer advice on how to deal with this from a messaging perspective. The advice is similar to what I would say to clients outside of the CRM space.

  • Focus on the business outcomes you help customers achieve, rather than the category name; If you can improve win rates by 20%, improve lift by 200%, increase deal velocity by 25% or improve productivity by 15%, lead with those metrics
  • Use the verb-version in the messaging, especially when targeting certain roles; Talk about accelerating deal velocity when marketing to sales operations leaders or improving the enablement of sales people through content or training (when targeting product marketing or sales enablement leaders)
  • Hedge your bets from a SEO/SEM perspective; It’s okay to put sales acceleration or sales enablement in the page header and on the page and buy those terms on Google with your PPC ads

It all boils down to telling a good story with compelling outcome-driven messaging and differentiated positioning. Focus on getting that right and you’re likely to be successful. Spend too much time trying to convince us or the rest of the industry to use an overly broad category name and you might find that other, more important things get neglected.

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Category: messaging-and-positioning  sales-enablement  

Tags: category-names  messaging  sales-enablement  

Todd Berkowitz
Research Vice President
3 years at Gartner
18 years IT Industry

Todd Berkowitz is a Research Vice President focusing on B2B technology marketing and sales. He advises product marketing leaders, CMOs and sales enablement leaders on how to improve the effectiveness of their demand generation, sales enablement, account-based marketing and upsell/cross-sell efforts. He also looks at how data, analytics, content and tools can improve marketing-sales alignment and overall effectiveness.. Read Full Bio


Thoughts on Technology Category Names (and Why They Don’t Always Matter)


  1. […] Todd Berkowitz As many of you know, I wear two hats at Gartner. As a Tech Go-to-Market analyst, one of my jobs is […]

  2. Hank Barnes says:

    Great guidance, Todd. One other suggestion. Be as focused as the category of what you are replacing or serve as an alternative for, not to categorize yourself, but to give buyers context for what you are making better.



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