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.