Blog post

Ten Fearless Predictions for B2B Technology Sales and Marketing in 2018

By Todd Berkowitz | December 18, 2017 | 6 Comments

Technology and Emerging Trendssales enablementMessaging and PositioningMarketing MetricsGo to MarketDemand and Lead GenerationContent MarketingABM


As long-promised, here’s my stab at some fearless predictions for 2018. I did reasonably well with the 2017 predictions and you’ll see some predictions this year that dovetail or follow-on to last year’s. And I’m excited to have some guests in helping me with predictions. Tad Travis and Hank Barnes offered up some contributions. I will highlight when it’s one of theirs (so you can praise or harass them as needed). Any ones without names attached are from me. Finally, we put out some official strategic planning assumptions (SPAs) as part of Gartner Predicts research. The predictions here aren’t not meant to be as rigorous as those nor carry the official weight of Gartner. The fearless predictions are simply based on my observations as an analyst working with hundreds of clients per year and talking to dozens of vendors in the spaces that I cover. These are meant to reflect our views and what we think might happen given what we see. Now on to the predictions!

1: 25% or More of Tech Company ABM Programs Will Fail to Achieve Desired Outcomes- As we end 2017, ABM inquiries to Gartner were up more than 4.5x from 2016. I take at least one (if not more) ABM call every day from clients that in early stages or considered ABM programs. Despite my hammering home (on calls and in research) the importance of starting with a pilot, spending the right amount of time planning the engagement, identifying data gaps and gaining agreement on roles, responsibilities and metrics, plenty of clients don’t heed this advice. They start a program without fully thinking through all the important issues or skimping on inbound channels, targeting accounts with too few influencers and decision-makers or simply not identifying the correct metrics to track. By and large, ABM can deliver really good lift in key areas. But ABM is also incredibly complicated, so even when you do things in the proper way, some things simply won’t work as expected. When you try to go to fast or skip steps, the results tend to be disappointing. I’m hoping I get this wrong and the number is lower, but as we see rapid adoption of ABM programs, it’s probably inevitable that some of those efforts will fail.

2. By the End of the Year, We Will See at Least Three Comprehensive ABM Platforms-  The market for ABM technologies is highly fragmented, with no single solution to select accounts, orchestrate personalized engagement across all inbound and outbound channels, and measure both the engagement and impact of programs across all the channels. Through a combination of innovation and acquisition, we expect this to change by the end of the year. Some of the vendors are well on their way, but still have some missing components. The complete platforms are likely to originate from the marketing automation, predictive analytics and pure-play ABM sides, with differing approaches based on those heritages. While most of the capabilities will be built directly into the platforms, there may be certain capabilities that are handled through API integration to other vendors. We may not see production offerings by the end of 2018 from three or more vendors, but we do expect to see announced (and committed) features by that timeframe.

3. Situational Awareness Will Become A Critical Part of Sales Enablement Programs- Hank first covered this topic two years ago and it will be a key part of some upcoming research. But we consistently take calls from clients that are trying to shorten their sales cycles or better understand why buyers “go dark” on them. When we dig in, we usually find that reps aren’t uncovering information around buyer readiness, rules, and relationships and that is often why deals don’t progress at their expected velocities. Situational awareness becomes even more critical as buying teams grow, deals get more complex and tech companies leverage ABM programs. We are starting to see more of our clients do a better job during discovery sessions by having reps (and SDRs) ask the right questions at various points throughout the sales cycle. And as intent and technographic data get used more often, some of the data (particularly around readiness) may already be known. But the big change that we expect to happen is for tech companies to start to reinforce situational awareness during the onboarding process via ongoing training. Better discovery is one thing, but it’s more meaningful when it occurs throughout the entire sales enablement process.

4. Sales Enablement Will Gain More Prominence in the Sales Tech Stack for Technology Sellers (Via Tad Travis)- Gartner has seen a 15% increase in sales enablement inquiries, particularly for sales training and sales coaching solutions. This interest is being driven by sales professionals that want to remove the some of the uncertainty about representatives’ knowledge retention that in inherent sales training these days.  When companies link their training tools with sales execution data, sales leaders gain a level of insight into the micro-level sales motions that influence sales cycles.  When they furthermore link that data with sales coaching tools, they build a virtuous feedback loop.

5. Predictive B2B Marketing Analytics Will No Longer Be a Standalone Space, But Will Disrupt Other Markets Instead- As most of you who talk to me regularly know, I had been pretty bullish in 2015 and 2016 around the predictive analytics markets and named several of the prominent players as Cool Vendors. But we aren’t getting very many inquiries looking for predictive scoring solutions anymore and many of those capabilities are being built into systems of record anyway (see Salesforce’s Einstein as one example). And a couple of prominent vendors have either been acquired for parts or seem to be in bad shape. However, this isn’t all doom and gloom. As vendors focused on building solid data platforms to underpin their solutions, it put them in more direct competition with sales and data intelligence vendors. But unlike those traditional vendors, they had a competitive advantage because they could use AI and machine-learning to both improve data accuracy and provide additional data types. This is forcing the traditional vendors to rapidly bring in AI and machine-learning to their own solutions. Some of the predictive vendors are also re-positioning themselves to compete directly in the ABM space and not just for selecting accounts. Don’t be surprised to see them either develop comprehensive ABM platforms (see prediction #2) or at minimum, add some orchestration capabilities to launch all types of ad campaigns from audiences created through their algorithms.

6. The Limitations of Inbound Marketing Will Finally Become Clear to Smaller Tech Companies- When the concept of inbound marketing gained popularity, it made perfect sense. Outbound sales and marketing activities (especially e-mails) weren’t delivering the way they had in the past, and sales acceleration tools hadn’t yet been widely adopted. But I joined Gartner in 2013 and I’ve taken literally hundreds of calls from smaller tech companies that struggled to make inbound marketing work. They went all in on various inbound techniques- SEO, blogs, social marketing and content creation. But they couldn’t drive enough traffic to their web sites to generate enough people to fill out forms, let alone generate high-quality leads. No one was actually seeing their content. Between the adoption of ABM, better targeting available through social advertising platforms, and more effective outbound outreach via SDRs, I’ve seen a greater recognition from clients that they need a more comprehensive approach. I still get some of the calls that I referenced above, but hoping that they are fewer and far between.

7. There Will Only Be One Funnel, The Revenue Funnel (Via Tad Travis)- Most SaaS-based tech providers are already familiar with this concept, but still matters to companies that are transitioning some products to SaaS delivery, and it also matters to some tech providers that are trying to link their demand generation work with sales execution.  We find that most tech providers have already merged their lead funnel with their sales funnels.  In Gartner’s view, very soon the majority of tech providers will formally remove the concept of sales funnels and marketing funnels from their vocabulary, and instead will adopt the concept of revenue funnel.  This funnel measures revenue potential at each major process stage, just as it does in the sales and lead funnels. But it also has the advantage of orienting the entire company upon the company’s most important objective: revenue certainty via consistent, seamless execution across all customer-facing departments.

8. Tension Will Increase Between Sales and Marketing- So this is counter-intuitive and will be probably be one of the most controversial prediction on this list. But indulge me for a moment. For years, everyone has talking about the need to improve sales-marketing alignment and ABM goes a step further by requiring complete agreement between the two groups. But between ABM and adoption of various new technologies and data types, there is a lot of disruption that is happening with regards to sales teams. Even if these changes are going to be beneficial to tech companies in the medium-term, and some of the “A sellers” get on board quickly with the changes, there are many sales reps that will have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the new world. (This is why I always advise trying an ABM pilot with a select set of reps). So even if there is pretty good alignment and agreement between CMOs and sales leaders, don’t expect all reps to magically do what they are being asked to do. There needs to be an adjustment period, along with good sales enablement, before everyone plays nicely.

9. Marketers Will Stop Using Content Consumption to Gauge Where Someone is in the Buyer’s Journey – This one has been bothering us for a long time. We regularly see marketers believe that the type of content consumed (and in what order) correlates to where someone is in their buying process. (And they design their campaigns based on this principle). But this concept assumes that everything is happening in a vacuum (on your web site) and in a nice, orderly fashion. But we know this not to be the case because Gartner research has repeatedly shown that the B2B technology buying cycle is dynamic and continuous, and that many individuals are involved in the buying process. Many of our clients have come to the same realization and have adjusted what they do. ABM is likely to cause others to re-think the rigid approach in 2018 ,because messaging and content gets driven by the account (and the opportunities) rather than the individual leads. But even without ABM, a quick look at the data and some basic A/B testing will likely prove this out anyway.

10. Over 90% of Tech Company Content Will Continue to be Ego-centric, Focused on Them vs. on the Customer (Via Hank Barnes)- Finishing out with one that would have been true for the last five years. Despite constant feedback from analysts and the broader market, tech companies continue to create content that is focused on them (products, capabilities, company) instead of the customer (and the benefits/business outcomes that their solutions enable).  Gartner reviews close to 1,000 pieces of content created by tech clients each year. Web site home pages and sales decks are the worst offenders, but we see it with almost every kind of content we review, with the possible exception of case studies. This problem happens across every geography, size of client and technology segment. Why does it happen? The people who create content, and those that review it,  spend the majority of their time inside the business, focusing on the product and the company.  This leads to the misguided view that telling their story, with themselves as the hero, is the key vs. making the customer the focal point. While we’ve been yelling from the rooftops about this problem and our clients are often acknowledge it, very little seems to change. There is no reason to believe that 2018 will be any different.

So there you have them. I know some of these will generate a lot of discussion, so feel free to leave your comments here or join in on the discussion via Twitter and LinkedIn. I’m going to be around working for the remainder of 2017, but for those I don’t get a chance to talk to, I hope you and your families enjoy the holidays and have a Happy New Year. See you all in 2018.









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  • Hurley says:

    Todd–fear not, I think you and crew are spot on with the predictions you made, but if you didn’t have to limit yourself to ten, are there others you’d add? Not asking you to write another post, but wondering if there are any fringe predictions/fleeting thoughts that didn’t make the cut. I can think of a few 🙂

    • Todd Berkowitz says:

      John, there probably were another five snarky ones that we could have made, but I didn’t want to bring even more negativity into this (it’s the holiday season after all!) and we already had some pessimism baked into a few of them. I hesitated on some predictions around consolidation/M&A. We’ve already seen two in the sales enablement space (Quark buying Docurated and Corel buying Clearslide) and investor interest in some of the marketing spaces has picked up. But every time I assume that we will see a wave of M&A, it doesn’t happen. So I held off on a formal prediction there. I did allude to it happening in the ABM space as part of the platform approach.

      • Hurley says:

        Here are a few other ideas.

        – “Bring back big data”. Improving foundational data, reassessing data quality and sources, and adding enhanced data management functionality. You elude to it in predictive analytics evolution, but doesn’t call out the core data challenges faced by companies. In a DemandGen Report research, 30% of b2b marketers are stating they are going to spend more than 10% of their budget on database management, and 83% state their database is old and outdated; so really those looking to invest should be much higher. So maybe while it should be big focal area, maybe it will continue to just linger and therefore shouldn’t be a prediction.

        – “Hello MADTECH”. The convergence of Data, MarTech, and AdTech…not so much via acquisitions but the natural evolution of B2B vendor platforms. Everyone talks about email and phone becoming less effective, and field reps are too expensive. I just wonder (and hope) if B2B’s digital transformation is finally a must. And that the progress being made by vendors will make it possible.

        – “Video Become Primary Form of Content” Not much backing this one other than video is a richer form of content that will help buyers better understand vendors and visualize use cases, and will help vendors tell stories.

  • Kevin Byrne says:

    The most interesting and on the button article I have read all year. I work in lead generation through telemarketing (and I am not pretending it’s called Inside Sales) and I see all of this-there is a plethora of small tech companies I talk to , probably with my colleagues 5-6 a month and the problems here are very familiar. I am long enough in the tooth to remember how direct marketing as it was then called introduced proper measurability into marketing spend which advertising fought shy of-and it seems to me that the ‘outreach’ of digital marketing is the same-does simply not produce end sales unless you are IBM, Microsoft etc., and fools itself with what’s it’s measuring…I wrote a blog piece about Big Data making some of the same points but without the eloquence!

  • John Dayan says:

    Todd, I agree with all your predictions and I would only add one that will actually impact some of the predictions you made above. In 2018, we will see AI/ML Based Analytics used across federated data sets inside and outside the enterprise to finally provide empirical evidence of marketing’s actual impact on Rev, Margin, & Cash Flow in longer cycle B2B space. The concept of “Time Lag” or “Time to Impact” will be proven with advanced correlation engines. This “holy grail” has the potential to transform the marketing/advertising/PR industry into a “Pay for Performance” or “leveraged comp” business process similar to what sales uses today. CEOs & CFOs want marketing investment to be tied to business results just like sale is… Variable cost instead of fixed cost. Great Blog Post!

  • Lauren Vasu says:

    What do you mean by ‘skimping on inbound channels, targeting accounts with too few influencers and decision-makers’. I think of ABM as an outbound prospecting strategy to engage target accounts.