The work year is winding down and it’s a good time to take stock of what we’ve learned, and make some predictions for next year. This year, I did inquiries and visits with about 500 different technology and service providers, did another 50 or so 1 on 1s at events and took around briefings from around 60 or 70 different vendors. And we ran some large scale surveys. To be sure, there were some unique, one-off, oddball inquiries. But with that large of a sample size, some clear trends started to emerge. So in the realm of B2B technology sales and marketing, here are ten fearless predictions (in no particular order) for 2017. I’m sure I’ll get some wrong, but I can always go for the old baseball adage where 3 hits out of ten gets you an invitation to the all-star game.
- Account-Based Marketing Will Become the Norm for Most Tech Companies Over $5M in Revenue
ABM is coming up in almost every discussion I have with clients these days, whether I bring it up or they do. While ABM has been around for many years, the application for net new accounts and at scale is new. Most companies haven’t been doing it for more than a year. And it can be really daunting and scary, resource-intensive and requires buy-in across the company. But despite the obstacles, the interest (and likely adoption) is there because the ROI can be very compelling. More opportunities, increased deal velocity and better efficiency can all result from ABM programs. My prediction is that most companies of a certain size and sophistication with a direct sales function will start doing something ABM-related in 2017. It may only be a pilot or simply planning for 2018. But if you aren’t thinking about it now, you need to start thinking about it soon.
- The Majority of Tech Sales Development Teams Will Report to Marketing, Not Sales
This may actually be the case already, so I’m probably not being very controversial. When we looked into third-party research in 2015, about half of inbound SDR teams reported into marketing but more than 2/3 of outbound SDR teams reported to sales. Not only have I seen a trend towards consolidating into one organization, but the trend is clearly towards moving it into marketing. It makes sense on a number of levels (metrics, culture, conflicting priorities) and with ABM on the rise, it makes even more sense. If you still have your SDRs reporting into sales, you may want to evaluate whether the benefits outweigh the downside.
- Tech Providers Will Pay Far More Attention to Sales Enablement
Sales enablement has been a hot topic this year, but I expect it to be a much more important one next year. While some clients simply want to replace low performers, the conversations I’m having with clients are turning away from productivity and towards enablement to increase the effectiveness of sales. ABM is certainly one driver. The increasing use of 23 and 24 year-old SDRs is certainly another driver. But the biggest one may be the continued complexity of the tech buying cycle. When you have more than a dozen people acting as decision-makers and influencers and lots of competing priorities for their time, attention and money, sales enablement becomes a bigger priority. As I constantly remind clients, sales enablement needs to be an ongoing, important part of your strategy. Don’t just think about it for your sales kickoffs and for product launches. Make sure your product marketing teams see this as a key part of their job
- Partner Enablement Will No Longer Be an Afterthought
Many of our clients rely heavily on channel and other types of partners. The buying dynamics that I described in the previous prediction apply equally to partners, except they are typically less well equipped to deal with them than your direct sellers. Not only is this topic coming up more in inquiry (especially around pre-sales and POCs), but the vendors that sell solutions for sales enablement (especially those with digital content management for sales solutions) report that it’s coming up more often and that their customers are expanding the solutions to indirect sellers. Engaging with the partner more often and doing a better job with content for them is a start. But expect that some of your competitors will embrace it and see it as a competitive advantage.
- Content Creation Will Re-Balance With More Focus Towards Mid and Late-Funnel
I wrote a research note on this topic in November and it’s been the subject of many more inquires that I expected. Top of the funnel content is still going to be important, but you can only create so many eBooks and videos. And with the move towards ABM and the number of people involved in the buying process, tech companies are quickly realizing that influencing those buyers later in the funnel is really critical. It can drive more wins and increase deal velocity. So keep on creating the eBooks and videos, but make sure to leave some capacity for case studies, white papers, implementation and how-to guides that will influence shortlist and selection and offer a more meaningful asset for sharing.
- The Use Cases for Predictive Analytics Will Evolve
We’ve had a few head fakes when it comes to predictive analytics. Lead scoring was all the rage and then it was about net-new leads for demand generation and SDR prospecting. These are both still important, but for this market to really take off in the way that we many people expect, we may still see newer use cases gain more prominence, especially with ABM. Things like contact scoring, product recommendations and churn prevention. Prescriptive recommendations, especially in sales, but also in marketing, will likely allow for some broader applications. And expect the predictive vendors to add more AI capabilities, which may cause some use cases to get more interesting or new ones to be introduced. Regardless of the use case, predictive should see a lot of traction in 2017.
- Tech Companies Will Finally Accept that Field Reps Aren’t Going to “Live” in the SFA
For many years, sales leadership and sales ops teams have been trying to get their field reps to spend more time in their SFA system. They wanted them to enter information, find content and engage with prospects and customers right from the system. But it never really happened. Sure the SDRs did what they were told, but not the field reps. But the good news is that there may not be a need for reps to spend time there anyway. The sales acceleration/engagement tools, the digital content management for sales applications, the predictive forecasting tools and many other systems will write back to the SFA. And if the AI-driven sales bots take off, the reps can even get information directly about an opportunity without going into the SFA. If you are a sales leader or sales ops person, you will have a lot of things to worry about in 2017 and fighting a losing battle with the reps shouldn’t be one of them. That ship has sailed.
- Direct Mail Will Become Cool Again
Direct mail was basically left for a dead a few years ago, a dinosaur from the age before inbound marketing. But then a funny thing happened. Marketers started trying direct mail out again, either as part of ABM or just to try something new. And not only did it seem to work (when done in a thoughtful and targeted way), but it had an absurdly low cost per lead. This doesn’t mean that you’ll see people sending golf clubs or doing large scale, high-end campaigns. You are likely to see smaller campaigns from marketing or even one-off campaigns from SDRs. But it’s definitely something to pay attention to in 2017 and worth a try in the context of ABM.
- Tech Companies Will Stop Sending Mass E-Mails to Broad Sets of Prospects from Purchased Lists
I admit that this may be a bit of wishful thinking on my part and somewhat self-centered (since I review a lot of them). But I’m really hoping that will we will see more personalized e-mails (sent by SDRs and not marketing) to more targeted list of accounts (based on things like technographics, intent and predictive analytics) from more higher-quality and intelligent data sources. Even in the case of large scale ABM programs, you should still see far more personalized and relevant e-mails. With all of the intelligent data this is available and tools that make it easy to send personalized e-mails, there is really no good excuse to send those mass e-mails anymore (or at least as often as they are sent).
- MQLs Will Become a Four-Letter Word
Technically speaking it’s a four-letter words already, so I got this one right. But I meant the bad kind of four-letter word that you don’t say in polite company. MQLs won’t go away, but it will continue to become less important as the key metric to measure marketing effectiveness. In an ABM world, individual leads are still worth measuring, but the focus needs to be on the account (and the opportunities that are created). In 2017, it will become critically important to really look beyond the typical metrics you use to measure and guide marketing. When it comes to net new accounts, what really matters is whether you are driving opportunities, pipeline and revenue. Full stop.
Well there you have it. If you are still with me after more than 1,500 words, I hope everyone has a successful rest of 2016 and enjoys the holidays and the new year. If you are a client, I’m happy to talk more about any of these predictions. If not, leave your comments on the blog.
The Gartner Blog Network provides an opportunity for Gartner analysts to test ideas and move research forward. Because the content posted by Gartner analysts on this site does not undergo our standard editorial review, all comments or opinions expressed hereunder are those of the individual contributors and do not represent the views of Gartner, Inc. or its management.
Interesting read and spot on I believe. I think all of us in ABM are looking forward to the demise of MQL, or rather accountless MQLs! All part of the paradigm shift from quantity to quality.
Todd, great set of predictions. Far more useful than the typical blather you see in year end predictions, ie. “this is the year of the customer!”.
I obviously agree with your first prediction about ABM- we are seeing more and more momentum in this category. But your other predictions are also spot on: the elevated role of SDRs for marketers, the importance of sales enablement, the resurgence of direct mail (every CMO I talk to comments on how effective it is these days in support of ABM), and the welcome demise of the MQL as the primary goal of demand gen teams.
Thanks Peter. Not surprised you are seeing the same thing with direct mail. I’d love to chat about how ads and other channels impact direct mail success.
Appreciate the roundup of predictions and I agree with all. Two questions:
First around marketing attribution connected to the last prediction. I see a lot of organizations that want to move away from MQLs and are successfully moving to a basic contribution to pipeline model. However I do not see as many organization achieving more sophisticated attribution–multitouch, channel performance, etc. I see a multitude of reasons for this, but wondering if you think a majority of organizations will get there in 2017 or is that a 2018 prediction?
Second question is in regards to SDR teams reporting to marketing. A challenge I’ve heard is the career path of the young SDR. They don’t want to grow into a marketing role, but sit in the mtkg org. What are ways you’ve seen companies combat this?
Only thing I’m surprised to not see is the merger of martech & adtech. I hope to see more B2B organizations adopt b2c muiltchannel digital channels to replace the email blasts and create awareness within target accounts before outbound prospe ting begins.
Thanks John! Really good attribution techniques in B2B have been hard to come by. This isn’t my area of expertise, but my sense is that the various models all have flaws. So it seems like there is a reluctance to rely on something that is only marginally better than what you already have in place.
Regarding the SDRs, there are two critical things to make the reporting into marketing work. First, there has to an understanding from sales that the SDRs are performing a quasi-sales role and not a marketing role. Second, there has to be an opportunity to grow from SDR into a more traditional sales role. The positioning during hiring is that the SDR team is kind of the farm team for the field or inside team. And sales has to be supportive of that or it won’t work.
Love this list. Two more predictions:
1. a new function of “sales productivity” will emerge (maybe also “partner productivity”) – leveraging data, process, tools, content, and skills (training) and organizational design to drive dramatic business outcomes.
2. “account based marketing” will be renamed “account based prospecting” because what matters is the business process, not the organization (and account based prospecting is decisively cross-functional).
Dominique, I already get an earful from the vendors about how we name various sales and marketing technology categories (and how those differ from the other analyst firms or the vendors themselves). Don’t add more problems for me. 🙂
But in all seriousness, there may be new names that emerge. We believe strongly in trying to delineate between systems of record and systems of engagement and so we’ll have to keep that in mind. Also, our view of sales enablement is that it is a discipline that encompasses most of what you describe above. We just don’t define sales enablement as a pure technology category (although there are various technologies that drive productivity or increase effectiveness that are used to improve sales enablement. Regarding ABM, I think that will stick for now. It encompassed both net new (prospecting) and existing accounts (renewal and upsell/cross-sell) and despite the fact you need account-based selling for account-based marketing to work, ABM has a lot of traction as a name and it’s one that the all of us on the analyst side (a rarity these days) as well as the vendors can agree about.
Spot on! Excellent Roundup! Point no. 10 is particularly very interesting to me…The concept of a clear lead handoff between marketing and sales is more or less obsolete. With ABM, it becomes more customer-centric.
Venkat, we can talk more about this the next time we chat, but there are still clear handoffs based on what we’ve seen work well. In fact, there may be very different lead management rules in place for named accounts vs. non-named accounts. The handoff can be defined (it may be earlier or later based upon what you know about the account from the data and the relationships that have been mapped). The major difference is that it isn’t treated like a normal MQL handoff. When ABM programs fail, it’s often because there isn’t a tight linkage between marketing and sales and/or there isn’t acceptance of the fact that MQLs will go down (by design) at the senior management level. The problem here (as John pointed out in his comment) is that you ideally want some sort of replacement for the MQL. You could take the MQA approach for the named accounts, but it would be nice if there were some proven attribution methods that added clear value above traditional ones, especially in a more generic demand gen context.
Hey Todd, nice work.
Although we marketing “scientist” types love the new buzz words and stylish acronyms that define new mouse traps … at the end of the day, its really about celebrating the common business sense that hasn’t changed much in the past 100 years.
I would add another point based on what I see out there.
Manufacturers will embrace automated solutions to leap over the channel partner and engage the end-buyer directly to obtain the vital sales and satisfaction information they need to run the business.
And direct mail being cool. Gotta love that!
Garry, there is a lot of of truth to what you are saying. That common business sense is still important and having the right message in front of the right people at the right times via the right channels is still the imperative. I don’t spend as much time looking at the channel technologies as some of my colleagues (Mark Paine and Ilona Hansen), but I have seen some movement in that direction. So wouldn’t surprise me if that happened.
These predictions are music to my ears. As a B2B marketer for a technology consulting company, some of these trends are much in practice but not at scale. 2017 will be the year to amplify these across the organisation through ABM, sales and partner enablement, tailored-content to buying cycle by persona and smarter martech for driving marketing-led/influenced outcomes.
Anil, thanks for the comment and kind words. Services companies may be slower to adopt some of these things than say a SaaS company. We have a lot of services clients and I think many of them see marketing as a cost center and underinvest. This isn’t true across the board and we’ve seen improvements over the last few years where we see far fewer clients with marketing budgets at 1% of revenue anymore. But some of them may be easier (ABM for example) given the GTM models, but others may be harder especially when it comes to disrupting existing processes.
Great list of predictions Todd, thanks for sharing.
With respect to the ABM prediction, I am concerned that all of a sudden the world is awash with marketing pronouncements about Account Based Everything; Account Based Marketing, Account Based Targeting, and even Account Based Profitability. It is as if the need to develop long-term relationships with customers has crept up on us, unforeseen and unanticipated. You know that is not so.
Customers are more colorful than black and white data, more textured than market segments, and the relationship you develop with them is deeper than a series of touch-points designed to get their attention. Relationships are based on a trust equation that starts with the first promise you make and ends with the first promise you break. Account planning and management has been around for decades – particularly among the winning sales organizations that repeatedly outpace their competitors. Recent research will show that comprehensive account planning (not just ABM) is the way to go and works for both new and existing customers and can increase win rate by 59 percent and deal size by 14 percent.
While the arrival of account focused marketing tools is very welcome, to accept the premise that an account based focus is new or innovative would be wrong. We would miss the opportunity to learn lessons from those who have been delivering mutual value with their customers, as part of an integrated account planning and management strategy – the essence of which is connected and comprehensive. It is coordinated and collaborative. It is both strategic and tactical. The account team, like an orchestra, is playing in-tune and ‘on tempo’, maintaining rhythm and cohesion between sales, marketing, customer service and yes, most importantly, the customer too.
I worry about the noise in the market. I worry about the fragmentation of thought. I worry about the notion that one part of an account focused activity can be separate or disconnected from a holistic approach to deliver value to your customer; before, during, and after the sales cycle. The customer deserves more than ABM.
Donal, thanks for the comment. Fundamentally, I don’t disagree with anything you are suggesting. And one of the things you’ll see in some of the research we are publishing in the next few months is why getting the less “sexy” components of ABM like account selection and planning and aligning various groups is so important. Frankly, the engagement is the easiest part of ABM, but it has limited value if you are going to the wrong accounts or you screw up the follow-up or you have sales and marketing operating independently.
But at the same time I don’t want to get into a “religious” argument about whether it’s truly ABM if it’s done at scale. I spent a large chunk of my day trying to help clients improve demand generation and/or getting prospects and customers to convert and ultimately buy from them. And given all of the research we (and others) have done that shows tech buying dynamics getting more complex, I’m pretty comfortable suggesting to clients that they get more focused in their approaches. So even if you end up doing what amounts to “ABM Lite” with limited personalization and account-level planning, that is still probably going to be more effective (and cost-effective) than broader-based marketing approaches. But I do caution that it will fail if you don’t have the alignment and agreement upon metrics (like moving away from MQLs).
With regards to account-based everything, I’m somewhat concerned as well. But unhelpful buzzwords and lingo will always be a part of B2B sales and marketing and we probably need to accept that it comes with the territory.
Todd, here at PFL we are seeing the convergence of a number of your predictions, particularly numbers 1, 8 and 9. We have dubbed it “Tactile Marketing Automation.” It looks like using direct and dimensional mail with highly personalized content, as a critical component of ABM. Think meeting-maker boxes arriving via FedEx, with a new task created in Salesforce upon delivery to enable a well-timed follow-up call. Preceded by digital exposure to drive brand awareness.
Our customers are seeing dramatic increases in engagement. So dramatic that, in order to not risk our own credibility, we have asked customers doing TMA case studies for us to verify their data, because it looked too good to be true.
It is more than just a high-impact something arriving on the prospect’s desk. It is the orchestration that makes the digital, tactile, and human components of the campaign all work better — together — across an account.
The long-promised era of truly individualized engagement across all channels is finally dawning.
Andrew, PFL has been mentioned a few times by clients for ABM. Can you fill out the Vendor Briefing form on our site and request a briefing with me?
Todd, your article is really interesting. My business model working with Technology Solution Companies is to bring the alignment of Sales & Marketing to achieve the financial and customer goals of the company. Jerry Inman, CMO and I have developed an ABM program with an integrated marketing program that brings your predictions to life and is proven and successful!
After years as an SVP Global Sales, it is refreshing when I see this program executed. It is hard work, dedicated hours to do it right and why many sales teams fall short when not fully aligned to marketing counterparts.
I’m not sure I see Sales Leaders not owning sales but I do feel strongly that if not in step with their CMO’s they will not achieve the success
Thanks Paula. Check out my most recent post. The prediction was about sales development and not sales reporting to marketing. SDRs aren’t really doing sales in any traditional sense.
These points are excellent! I find it interesting to see email is not dead yet but growing in different areas of marketing and sales strategy. We can only hope for #9!
Thank you Todd. This is excellent. I do find lot of these predictions and trends in my readings. One particular area I am really interested to know and explore is predictive analytics and role of AI. Based on my limited findings I could relate most of the demos and content from the AI vendors to B2C and may be product companies within B2B. Curious to know how this technology help IT services companies, in terms of mapping buyer’s journey and guide sales when to connect and with what content. Again will the success of these analytics depends on engagement data that gets generated internally through multichannel engagement or do they analyse prospect’s engagement data generated outside (ex: Facebook, activity on tech, analysts portals etc)
Most of the predictive analytics has been focused on propensity to buy models or propensity for a deal to close. Engagement data can be part of both of those calculations. But on the content side, we’ve seen it done around what content should a sales rep sent in a particular context. And I know of one some vendors that are working on predictions around what content will drive higher clicks and conversions. But we haven’t seen models that accurately recommend the specific content and sequence for lead nurturing.