What We Learned at the Sirius 2018 TechX Conference
Sirius held their annual conference dedicated to sales and marketing technology, down in the Big Easy. It's a good time to remember Tennessee Williams' famous quote that "there are three cities in America...New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans...everywhere else is Cleveland". So next year, we're hoping it's in Cleveland – right? Actually, it's in Denver – the Sunshine State, lovely.
The conference was positioned as: "Technology investment is a hot topic for our audience, and high-performing companies are spending more, giving them a clear advantage over their slower-growing peers." Sirius's surveys report that companies are looking to invest more in Marketing Technology believing this will provide advantage while looking for clear ROI on these investments. Sounds plausible, so let's jump into our top 5 thoughts from the conference:
1. Are people less interested or are less people interested?
As Sirius said, "Technology investment is a hot topic for our audience." Marketing technology, particularly the behavioral insight, intent gathering, predictive stuff is all the rage. Think companies like 6Sense, Demandbase, Everstring, and Mintego. While we're all guilty of thinking that everyone is interested in what we're doing and that it's the most important thing in the world, that's not generally true. If you're in the BtoB sales and marketing business, I'll excuse you for feeling that we're all consumed with the technology that's constantly being released, up to 5200 solutions now. Being guilty of the same emotion, while there were around 500 attendees, I guess I thought there'd be more.
2. Everybody's Doing I.T.
Having spent a couple of days digesting as much as I could on the latest technologies and best practices, imagine my surprise when I return to the office and on Monday attend two web meetings talking to two other potential vendors which we are considering for 2019. The vendors are DiscoverOrg (we're an existing user) and TechTarget. The surprise was not the meetings. The surprise was that BOTH had added some form of "the behavioral insight, intent gathering, predictive stuff" that I just spent two days around. DiscoverOrg has achieved this through a partnership with Bombora, and it looks like their "Scoops" feature on steroids. TechTarget has done it themselves focusing on their web properties which might not be as pervasive out there but are deeper and can boast more actual subscribers. So, these are also worth a look using the old "two functional birds with one budgetary stone" routine.
3. More Technology and MORE People?
We all spend a good deal of time reading and (rightly) concerned about our futures as automation, machine learning and A.I. invade our thoughts. Some predict utopia and some dystopia. It's as comforting as ever to find consistency in expert opinion. Looking at these technologies, however, I see more changing roles NOT fewer roles. When reviewing these solutions, I kept thinking about how we'd need people to learn and quarterback these systems, sitting in, or in between, Sales and Marketing (Sales Ops, Marketing Ops, Demand Ops). We might continue to see more field sales roles coming in-house, but it will take a while before companies can generally integrate these systems automatically and have them update provision, act, assess, notify, etc. without our involvement. It'll be about working WITH the technology, not being replaced by it.
4. Get busy with AI
The Sirius team seemed convinced that if it's got AI in it, we should be using it. Now I'm being a bit flippant, but the message was clear. Without getting into a debate on what AI is and isn't, it's increasing use in sales and marketing technologies is seen as a game changer. So, their advice is to figure out how to start adopting now; otherwise, you'll be yesterday's news.
5. Did the Earth Move for you?
Are behavioral tectonic plates moving beneath our feet? Are we at a significant inflection point? Even the "normal" evolution of technology seems to be accelerating, machine learning and AI solutions become the norm, and as their prospects' behavior continues to change, marketers realize they must view and approach these prospects differently. As millennials ascend the corporate ranks (they will make up 75% of the U.S. workforce in the next 5-10 years) assuming more decision making roles, will it matter how we "used to" communicate? Admittedly, we'll need to behave and interact in a way that is generally accepted by that generation whether we like it or not. Maybe this is nothing new as generations succeed one another, behaviors change. The previous generation generally argues for the worse, and the current generation tends to ignore them and get on with it. Maybe you should do the same. If this is true, you need to have a thought out plan for technology adoption, or you're going to look like King Knut sitting on his thrown on the beach in a futile attempt to command the waves.
The Verto Verdict
Sirius is smart, and their conferences are informative and thought-provoking. They are worthy of your financial and intellectual investment. While we look at three solutions more closely in the verdict, our overall advice is don't let the tail wag the dog. Yes, we came away still appreciating the need for technology, but you need to have a goal, plan and business strategy to start. You must do the work that is necessary for you to understand who your buyer is, why they buy and how the buyer journey looks. Then you can establish which are the most critical stages, where the gaps are and maybe where you can use technology to punch above your weight class. Using Sirius' models like "What's Your Demand Type" will help. You can probably use a lot of the technology that's out there, feeling like the kid in the candy store. However, budgets AND your intellectual bandwidths are finite, so be selective.
Marketing Automation for the people! – They didn't say that, but I did. Mautic is an open source marketing automation platform. A great idea, that looks good at first glance, and you can't get more democratic than open source – right? Seriously in a world full of marketing solutions, with the big guys at one end and some severe fragmentation all around, a functional, open source, well priced Marketing Automation Platform has to be worth a closer look
A fly-by on this solution, but when you're trying to get around a bunch of the sponsors, that's how it works. The conclusion here is that their content platform and services are worth a deeper dive. Most of the other Content Platforms these days want to tell you who's using what content and trying to establish which pieces are performing the best and contributing at different stages of the funnel. Nothing wrong with that, it's just that seems to apply to larger enterprises with hundreds if not thousands of pieces of content and robust sales processes, which isn't everyone. What I also liked about NewCred was that they can do all that and can also tell you what people are searching on and looking at, so that you can be relevant when building your content. Oh yea, they'll also help you produce content which is still a challenge for many companies.
Demandbase – Mintego – 6Sense (take your pick)
Intent-based, AI enabled predictive marketing. What a mouthful. So, like several companies and solutions in this space, it's tough to figure out where some of these solutions start and end. Which is also true with the current labels that get applied to describe the space. However, as we said earlier, Sirius is convinced that gathering and using the intelligence around buying intent to predict better outcomes is a paradigm shift. Add AI into the mix, and you might achieve the jump to light speed. These three guys all do it a little differently and don't all cover the same specific functions. The space seems to start at helping identify your Ideal Company Profile, then onto the harvesting of the intent data (via a couple of different ways like site indexing or cookie pools) and then (maybe) provisioning the messages and assets to grab your prospect's attention.
As always, it was great to see some old pals and make some new acquaintances. See you at the next gig, which is May 6th in Austin. Come on, who doesn't need an excuse to go to Austin?