5 Takeaways from SiriusDecisions Tech Exchange

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It was misty and damp in Austin, Texas this week, but Gil Canare helped dispel some clouds. Canare, who has been with SiriusDecisions for some three and a half years, is now the face of the SiriusDecisions Technology Exchange conference, a smaller, more tech-focused complement to the spring Summit in Las Vegas.

"The Summit gives a broader view of research across marketing and sales," said Canare. It's SiriusDecision's primary showcase, he explained, and tends to attract more senior marketers. Tech Exchange offers a focused conversation for people involved in marketing and sales technology: "More operational people," said Canare, and even some from IT.

And yet, I said, SiriusDecisions isn't a technology vendor, and the sessions I attended at the event addressed strategy and concepts rather than actual solutions. "We see technology as critical," said Canare, "but it's the things you wrap around it which are important." SiriusDecisions, in its advisory and consultancy role for clients, is strictly platform and solution agnostic. "One of the things we really want to emphasize is our view of the marketplace," Canare said. 


1. Technology: Don't just think in terms of categories

"The space is defined by categories. That's useful, and they're not going away, but it's not necessarily the best thing for vendors and buyers. What you're really buying is a set of capabilities rather than a category." SiriusDecisions, said Canare, is trying to build a bridge from the category world to the capability world.

In other words, the priority for any brand should be to define its business objectives, and its strategy to achieve them. At that point, it makes sense to ask what technical capabilities are needed to execute the plan. It's a world away, certainly, from saying: We need marketing automation, we need a CDP, we need a better CRM, we need...what else?

2. Nobody's starting from scratch

Except for actual start-ups, that is. "I don't use what I own," is what Canare hears people say about their technology stacks. The landscape -- just for marketing technology -- is famously crowded with players and tools. Looking at the range of what's available? "All that does is terrify people," said Canare. "It makes you want to go hide in a closet." The right place to start, when considering your current stack and possible needs, is with what you need to do from a business standpoint.

SiriusDecisions, Canare explained, tries to arm its clients with structured, objective, repeatable ways of meeting business challenges  -- at a conceptual and strategic level. Perhaps the best known "tool" (SiriusDecisions uses "tool" to refer to actionable research) is the Demand Unit Waterfall, which it continues to refine. Essentially, the waterfall is a sophisticated view of the B2B funnel, replacing purchasers with "demand units," and charting a path from targeting through active, engaged, prioritized, qualified, pipeline, and closed "demand units," with metrics to benchmark each stage of the journey. 

In an enlightening keynote, Naomi Marr of Imprivata, the healthcare security vendor, showed how an intricately constructed selling process could be superimposed on a technology stack, revealing which solutions were needed and which were redundant. The process of analyzing and refining Imprivata's go-to-market strategy showed a need for a new instance of Salesforce, a new instance of Marketo, and a new ABM model. It also revealed the brand had "Applications we didn't really understand, and with overlapping functionality."

3. It's how you operationalize the research

Clearly, from what Canare had told me, SiriusDecisions was not playing the technology category game as defined by Forrester and Gartner, who base their periodic reporting on pre-defined "quadrants" and "waves" -- and, in my view, it's actually becoming harder to fit evolving technology vendors into those schemata.

But another distinction is between SiriusDecisions and the big analyst firms is that its research is designed to be operationalized, a process in which it assists clients directly. "We don't just say, here's a bunch of research, good luck." 

4. This year's topics

The main themes being discussed at Tech Exchange, Canare said, were ABM and AI -- no surprises there. He also observed a lot of interest in predictive intelligence -- essentially an application of machine learning. SiriusDecisions, led by Canare's colleague Kerry Cunningham, has been attempting to define "predictive" by enumerating a finite series of use cases. It's a good example of how SiriusDecisions approaches a relatively new category -- it's defined by operational opportunities, not by technology, and the definition is not static.

5. Down the road

Indeed, none of the SiriusDecisions process models are static. The Demand Waterfall, devised in 2006, was re-configured in 2012, and again this year. At the conference, Canare presented the latest Sirius Decisions Web Conversion Optimization model -- and said he hoped it didn't have to be changed for next year.

"Models are created to fit a certain reality, and the reality shifts" Canare explained. "Every model is an approximation of reality." At next year's Tech Exchange, he expects the topics of conversation around processes and technology to be much the same. "The industry changes slowly," he said.

Indulging in some long-term speculation, Canare expects to see a bifurcation in the business tech market between "big foundational platforms which are anchor systems, and which tend to move slower, and are harder to deploy" and "endpoint systems -- an eco-system of small companies addressing needs inside those platforms." And indeed, opening up those big foundational platforms so that point solutions can run on them -- for example, through something like Salesforce's AppExchange, helps create "lock in" for the big vendors.

And finally? GDPR. If I'm seeing brands unprepared for the data regulation which is coming right down the road -- "That's because they're not our clients," Canare smiled. He wasn't just speaking of GDPR when he said, "It's our job to help our clients look ahead.

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