Channel report from Co:llaborate conference

16 November 2016

Exclusive for CLE members! 

Report on Tiffani Bova keynote at Co:llaborate


Hello members! A quick self-introduction – I’m a Senior Market Analyst at Collinson (formally ICLP) and live in the Western U.S.  Last week I attended a regional channel event called Co:llaborate where the keynote speaker the first day was Tiffani Bova. I thought you might be interested in some of what she had to share.

I expect most of you are familiar with Tiffani. She spent 10 years at Gartner as a VP and Distinguished Analyst, and last year joined Salesforce in a new position as Global Customer Growth and Innovation Evangelist. Tiffani still has a heavy speakers’ schedule and is in serious demand for her industry acumen. With an industry history grounded in direct and channel sales, Tiffani’s insights into where our industry is headed and her thoughts on today’s sales ecosystem for the industry are always interesting. I know that having the opportunity to hear her again first hand certainly was the highlight of the conference for me.

(By the way, I do type quickly and things in quotes really are verbatim quotes from the notes I took at the conference on November 2nd!)

True North: Developing a Long-Term Channel Mindset was the title of Tiffani’s presentation. In the first half, she talked about the constant evolution in the channel today and three drivers that are responsible for the disruption and innovation.

Speed

EVERYTHING is moving quickly today and a huge challenge for vendors is to move at the same speed as their partners. Tiffani urged vendors to accelerate their own rate of change and said “you have to make sure that you get to the future before your partners and customers show up!” So this is “speed” in the sense of rapid evolution and development of new offerings, new ways of doing business.

Millennials don’t know what “slow” is – even though some of us might be old enough to remember a slower pace to change. But it’s a mistake to think that speed is just something required or valued by millennials! ALL of our experiences as consumers generate expectations for speed that B2B companies need to meet now.

Technology

From beacons to the Internet of Things – technology is disrupting the world we know. 

Technology should be deployed in an intuitive way. For the channel, this means ensuring you deliver intuitive tech for your partners to use. Tiffani asked the attendees how many people shopped on Amazon (almost every hand went up), followed by the question “And how many of you have taken Amazon’s elearning class on using Amazon?” No hands went up (and heck, I didn’t even know there was an elearning Amazon primer myself!). 


Customer Experience (and she meant partners are customers too, not just end customers)

“Increasingly, the experience is the product.”

And here is how she made it very clear that sales efforts of all kinds are shifting not from a focus on technology to solution-based selling, but rather from solution-based selling to experience-based sales: the conference was held at a convention center (Phoenix, Arizona) and just before you enter the convention center, there was a Starbucks coffee location. She asked the audience: how many of you stopped at Starbucks on your way in to get the coffee that you’re drinking right now? (many hands were raised) And how many of you are drinking the free coffee provided here at the conference? (fewer hands were raised).

The people who were drinking the free coffee were in search of a solution – caffeine to help them wake up and be alert for the morning presentations.

The people drinking the Starbucks coffee wanted the experience of getting a coffee at Starbucks. (and were willing to pay $4, $5, $6 or more for the experience versus a FREE coffee).

“Mere satisfaction isn’t enough – you now have to create an emotional connection to go from prospect to new customer to advocate.” When talking about your brand, experience and “loyalty is across the entire life cycle.”

Experience in fact, was the major thread that ran through all of Tiffani’s talk.  Whether it is our own sales and marketing teams trying to work together, or your sales team working with partners, or partners working with partners, the point is that at the end of the sale, “People buy from people.  PEOPLE [her emphasis] make decisions, NOT companies.  And people are willing to switch brands.” She was pretty clear that the way for tech brands to connect to end customers is through the channel because as experience increases in importance, it is partners who are the touchpoints that can make those customers advocates for your products – “Your best salesforce today is your customers and partners advocating on your behalf.” 

So if speed, technology and experience are the drivers (or accelerators if you will) for disruption and innovation in the channel, what is the solution that she suggested? That helps a vendor achieve that long-term channel mindset?  Here are the things she shared on achieving “True North:”

Align teams: marketing, sales, service

Tiffani believes that digital marketing has actually exacerbated siloing of these teams. In large companies, each team may even be using different technology to manage their efforts (you can imagine that this point also plays well to Salesforce ;-) A good takeaway from this point that she makes though is that the customer – whether your end customer, or a partner customer, needs to have ONE experience when they interact with you. Partners, for example, should have a seamless experience from recruitment through onboarding and enablement and into their first sales

Align metrics

Closely related to the above point, metrics need to accommodate modern sales; service is resolution-focused, sales is revenue-focused, and marketing is lead-generation focused. All three of these end up being internally focused. She suggests that KPIs for sales should remain the same, but that customer/partner experience and satisfaction should be the priority across all teams, and especially marketing and services.

Tiffani asked the audience if they do partner satisfaction surveys (most do). But do they also do end customer satisfaction surveys? Because if you don’t know whether your end customers are satisfied with the partners they work with, then how do you know if those partners are really right for your channel ecosystem?

Educate partners

77% of business buyers say it is very important for sales to have a clear grasp of their market

79% of business buyers say it is very important for salespeople to add value as trusted advisors

The statistics are from Salesforce research and Tiffani’s point is that vendors must give channel partners content and value beyond the sales relationship. Ensure that partners have industry information, ESPECIALLY on verticals/sectors, to better enable them to fulfill the role of Trusted Advisors with their customers (your customers essentially).


Finally, “the future of selling – whether through partners or direct, is data driven and contextual.” She emphasized that with the rapid rate of change and evolution, you cannot always move a sales force fast enough to respond (which is why even as a Gartner analyst, she has been known to suggest that instead of transforming partners, you recruit partners with new, needed skills). She suggests that vendors ensure they are “working with partners who are innovating – NOT just high revenue partners.”

I hope some of this has been of interest – I’ve tried to just report in on what Tiffani shared, versus doing much interpretation, although she definitely has touched on many themes that Ian and I have been tracking this last year.

The last quote I have from my notes is how Tiffani ended her presentation: “In the future, customer-driven sales organizations will completely reset value and meaningful engagement with customers.” Do her thoughts resonate at your company as you work on channel engagement initiatives for 2017?