SiriusDecisions Summit 2019: “Together”

More than 3,000 attendees in 80 percent humidity, as the skies over Austin switch hourly from bright and sunny to forbiddingly gray. One attendee told me he remember the first SiriusDecisions Summit: 70 people. It’s an event which continues to grow, not just in size but in complexity, as the research and advisory firm, recently acquired by Forrester, systematically adds layer upon layer to its explanatory templates on each aspect of the B2B revenue engine: marketing, sales, ABM, product management, channel marketing, revenue operations, customer success, and the supporting technology. And that’s not an exhaustive list.

The main theme of the Summit, introduced in his keynote by SiriusDecisions President Tony Jaros, is “interconnectedness” — or just plain old-fashioned “together,” as the message continues to be that the vertical siloes within a business need to be flipped to a series of horizontal layers, with teams integrating and communicating to achieve the same goals, based on the same data and the same analytics.

But I wanted to get some perspective away from the main stage. I turned to John Raguin, CMO of Seismic, the enterprise sales enablement platform, a platinum sponsor of the conference. Seismic’s aim is to create visibility between marketing and sales operations, especially when it comes to content performance and use, although its primary users are sales reps. “We feel like we hold the marketing team accountable for having the right material, and the sales team accountable for using the right material.”

With all the SiriusDecisions talk of revenue engines — driven by not only sales, but also marketing, product, and customer success teams — Summit is surely a good fit for Seismic? “The attendee list if heavily marketing skewed,” said Raguin, “but there’s a good amount of sales leaders as well; and find that for sales enablement platforms, despite the title, some of the great interest in it first is with marketing. After all, they feel the pain when they’re getting yelled at for creating the wrong material, or having to make material at the last second.”

So what’s keeping the attendees awake at night. “So I was at the Executive Leadership Exchange this morning, and talked to people from some big companies. There’s a strong interest in alignment, especially around ABM. Right now account-based marketing means so many different things to different people. There are companies like Demandbase focused on the digital aspect, like how to predict intent and score leads based on that; but there’s also how to organize around ABM as an enterprise. If I’m doing B2B selling, how do I get marketing, sales, digital marketing, demand gen — all the pieces of marketing tied into an account-based strategy. I hear this from a lot of CMOs. When I ask them what they hope to get out of the conference, that was clearly the number one theme. Not just, ‘How do I use digital for ABM?’ That’s a small part. They’re asking about process, about much broader issues.”

Process and strategy do seem key, if only because an ABM approach pretty much makes it mandatory for sales and marketing teams to communicate successfully. “ABM is the glue that ties them both to revenue, so they have to talk together. One of the things SiriusDecisions talks about is doing persona work. If you’re doing ABM, you have to do persona work, because it’s not generic marketing to the masses. If I’m marketing to an oil and gas company, the personas I’m going after may be a little different than, for example, utilities.”

Which brings us back to personalization. “Our view of sales enablement is how to target, personalize, analyze, and provide intelligence through the sales project. Salesforce is a system of record for the process, but we try to look at it analytically, and be a system of record for the sales material as part of the sales process.”

An example? “One of our customers, a big Fortune 1000 food service distributor, delivers food to restaurants around the country. What did they implement Seismic for? They have 25,000 restaurants as customers, and 6,000 reps. What the reps want to do is have strategic discussions about trends in the market place, and based on what the restaurants are buying today, what suggestions they can make for the future. It’s not like just, ‘Hey, buy more food.’ The reality is that most sales people are cross-selling and up-selling rather than adding net new customers. That’s exactly the case with these 25,000 customers; they’re trying not to lose them, and to up-sell them to other things which would be beneficial to the business.” 

That’s the kind of intelligence Seismic seeks to put in the hands of sales reps. Not content with software, Seismic is also trying right now to influence lexicography through its campaign to have the word “enablement” included in major dictionaries (I was surprised it’s not there already). You can sign the petition here.

After all this talk of ABM, I decided to turn the tables on Demandbase CMO Peter Isaacson, and ask him what people at Summit were talking about other than ABM. “I think we’re hearing more about intent, and more about AI — not ‘How do I use AI?’ but ‘What applications do I need to solve some of my challenges? Is there an AI component that makes things smarter, easier, more automated, and more precise?'”

In particular, Isaacson hears more informed questions being asked. “A year and a half ago, I could say ‘We’ve got AI-based machine learning that does wonderful things across our platform,’ and many marketers would think that’s exactly what they need. Now, if you try to get away with broad claims, most marketers — especially somewhere like this — will say, ‘Wait, what use case is it driving, how are you using AI to accomplish certain tasks, and where are you getting that data?’ They’re peeling back the onion and asking more sophisticated questions.”

Which is Summit in a nutshell. Every year, the questions get more sophisticated, the answers more complex, but at the end of the day that holds out the hope of more understanding. And for marketers, getting more sleep at night.

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