Expert Advice at C3: Notes From 4 Key Thought Leaders

CallidusCloud Connections (C3) 2015 is now in the books, and the attendees are now back home, digesting what was shared and learned. That’s going to take a while – there was a lot announced by Leslie Stretch in the keynote (as we said in the blog last week, and as you can see for yourself in the form of a streamed replay of the keynote), but there was even more shared in the breakout sessions. As the coordinator for the thought leader sessions at the show, I spent much of my time in those talks. The lessons came fast and furious, but luckily I was also heading up our social media efforts for the show, which meant I was Tweeting a lot. I learned many years ago from Dr. Natalie Petouhoff that copious Tweeting could later serve as notes – so, I review of my Tweets from last week was helpful in boosting my recall (he said, offering a nod to the Litmos team and their C3 announcement as well). Here’s a recap of what I heard in four of the best sessions I attended.

Tad Travis, Gartner

C3 2015There was a lot of talk about digital transformation at the event, including an aside in the keynote identifying companies like Uber, Alibaba and others whose entire business models were made possible by our shift toward digital technology, mobile technology and data analysis. That’s apparent in these new businesses, but even older businesses – the business establishment, including GE, the big three automakers and other blue-chip companies of days gone by – are being forced to confront these technologies and incorporate them into the ways they approach their markets. The question to ask, said Tad, is what your business is doing to cope with the trends that are disrupting business. Specifically, when it comes to sales, digital transformation is forcing sales into new roles. With so much information available to customers, sales and marketing have to up their games or get left in the dust. It’s not really enough to make your automated systems the best in your space, because at some point your customer will talk to some human somewhere in the process. Instead, Tad said, the future belongs to companies who create knowledge experts who pass that knowledge on to potential customers. That means that sales and marketing personnel need to evolve into subject matter experts, people well-versed in their fields who can augment and expand on the information already available to the customer. That’s an exciting challenge, one that will require motivated sales pros and marketers and also a system for ongoing training to achieve the needed level of expertise.

Paul Greenberg, the 56 Group

C3 2015I know Paul well, and when he speaks his Fitbit counter must go bonkers – he paces every inch of the front of the room. He’s also energetic about the concept of trust – which was the flip side of what Tad said in his session. Expertise without trust is useless; trust without expertise is unattainable. But how do you get to trust in the first place? Paul offered a few avenues. First off is the ability and the willingness to speak to customers through any communications methods they desire – to have an “omnichannel” approach to the customer. (Paul also offered a $100 Amazon card and perpetual attribution to anyone who can suggest a replacement for the word “omnichannel,” and God bless you if you can find it). Next, you have to realize that the customer doesn’t want to hear a pitch or a list of features from you any more – customers want to hear a story, and if that story feels like it’s about them they will respond to it better. The data points you include are not proof of your solution – they’re plot points that advance that story, Paul said. Paul also stressed the idea of an evolution of the sales person – an evolution toward greater customer knowledge. Sales reps need to be more involved in the lives of their customers in order to deliver the level of expertise those customers demand. By involved, Paul’s not saying you have to go to your customers’ kids’ birthday parties – he’s saying you have to understand and care about the things your customers care about, and use that to drive the expertise you deliver. Don’t think that’s going to happen with a disjointed sales and marketing operation, though. In order for sales to have that customer knowledge and provide the right expertise, marketing will have to be directly involved. Once that’s accomplished, however, the focus can shift away from the alignment process to the customer – where it should have been all along.

Craig Rosenberg, TOPO

C3 2015Craig was stuck toward the end of the show, which is often the Dead Zone. I’ve had panels in a similar slot at other shows where the panelists outnumbered the audience members. Not so at C3 – Craig had a full house, a testament to how engaged the audience was and how good Craig was. Craig’s take on sales and marketing alignment is similar to everyone else’s who studies these business systems, with one important difference. “They don’t have to line each other,” he said. “The tension is good.” In an ideal situation, Craig said, someone with power in the organization – the CEO or another upper-level executive – can serve as an arbitrator between the two sides and manage (or mandate) alignment activities. “It can be as simple as, ‘everybody in the company, get in a room – now, here’s who we sell to,’” said Craig. Doing this will be critical going forward because the next wave of marketing will depend on developing customer personas and matching them to prospects. “At C3 2016, I predict you’re going to hear nothing but account-based marketing,” he said. You can’t do that without greater knowledge of leads and a more robust cooperation between sales and marketing. Craig also asserted that you’re a lot better off if you have a team of sales development reps working to collect lead data and to fully qualify leads – “sales development is a job that wraps leads in a bow like a present for sales, and you're crazy if you don't have it,” he said. Craig also identified the spot where most companies fail to deliver for customers in terms of content – the middle of the funnel. Most companies are good at loading up the top of the funnel, and many are good at creating the heavy-duty material that buyers need at the very end of the buying process. It’s the middle of the funnel that’s lacking, and that’s critical because that’s the space where customers are really looking for guidance, reassurance and expertise to ease their journey toward a sale. If you’re not sure what’s missing, Craig suggests talking to sales and learning where their leads are getting hung up.

Brian Vellmure, Innovantage

C3 2015Brian’s session was at the very end of the show – and it turned out to be a great closer. The audience was rapt for the duration of his session, which started with an obvious but almost always overlooked point: the more connections there are between things, the more complexity we face. In an increasingly connected world, things become exponentially more complex; it’s easier to do some things or reach more people, but at the same time we have to put more effort into managing the system and the relationships the system facilitates. How do you reduce complexity? You don’t, really – but focusing on the customer allows you to focus on the right things. All these connections make “the” customer journey more messy and more varied. “The” is the wrong word – Brian pointed out that each journey is different, and it’s really made up of many micro-moments. You may control some, but you don’t control them all; the key becomes creating great experiences in the moments you can influence. Experience, Brian argued, is where we will all compete in the future. One great example of this is Disney’s development of bracelets called MyMagic+ for guests that do everything for the customer. They unlock your hotel room, store your “Fast Pass” information, record photos of your family on rides (think “Splash Mountain”), allow you to pay without having to lug your wallet around, and can even help you find children who wander off in the park. At the same time, Disney is collecting real-time data about traffic movements from ride to ride, wait times, places people buy most often, and a host of other data that can be used to improve experiences for guests now and in the future. The real-time use of data to improve customer experiences is the next wave; the trade-off of customer data for positive experiences is one that customers are willing to make. These were just four of more than 60 breakout sessions at C3 this year. You’ll hear more from these thought leaders on this blog and in our reports in the coming month – and we hope to have them back to C3 2016.

By Chris Bucholtz | May 19th, 2015 | C3

About the Author: Chris Bucholtz

Chris Bucholtz

Chris Bucholtz is the content marketing director at CallidusCloud and writes on a host of topics, including sales, marketing and customer experience. The former editor of InsideCRM, his weekly column has run in CRM Buyer since 2009. When he's not pondering ways to acquire and keep customers, Chris is also an avid builder of scale model airplanes.