5 Influencers Predict AI’s Impact on Business in 2019

With Artificial Intelligence (AI) already proving its worth to adopters, it’s not surprising that an increasing number of companies will implement and leverage AI in 2019. Now, it’s no longer a question of whether AI will take off. Instead, it’s a question of which companies will keep up. Here are five predictions from five influencers on the impact AI will have on businesses in 2019. From retail giants to Silicon Valley startups, a rapidly growing number of companies are embedding AI into their businesses. Even the public has begun to welcome AI into their homes. With 2018 soon coming to a close, it’s time to start asking what the future holds for AI and how its reach will continue to expand in 2019. We surveyed a diverse group of industry leaders for answers. Here, we’ll take a look at their insights and learn what AI has to offer in the coming year.

# Prediction 1: Improved Cyber Threat Detection, Will Lassalle

“My prediction for artificial intelligence in 2019 is specific to the 3 million employee shortfall in cybersecurity, where the opportunity exists for artificial intelligence to help automate threat detection and response,” said Will Lassalle, CIO of Lynx Technology Partners and JLS Technology USA. “This can ease the burden on employees, and potentially help identify threats more efficiently than other software-driven approaches, shrinking the attack surface instead of constantly chasing after malicious activity.” The numbers support Lassalle’s sentiment — according to Cisco’s 2018 Annual Cybersecurity Report, 32 percent of organizations are “completely reliant” on AI in terms of their security infrastructure. As AI platforms and tools continue to learn and improve, it wouldn’t be unlikely that 2019 would see those numbers climb even higher.

# Prediction 2: Machine Learning at Scale, Sam Charrington

“Over the past few years, early-adopter enterprises have launched their initial machine learning and AI projects, with many of those efforts recently coming to fruition,” said Sam Charrington, founder of CloudPulse Strategies. “In 2019 and 2020, these companies start to understand that scaling machine learning in the enterprise requires a different set of skills and technology than successfully delivering individual machine learning models and projects. As a result, we’ll start to see enterprises establish specialist machine learning infrastructure teams and platforms to help reduce the barriers to delivering machine learning at scale.” Charrington’s predictions are in line with a recent report from Indeed, which discovered that employer demand for AI-related jobs more than doubled between 2016 and 2018. However, the same report revealed that job-seeker searches for AI-related jobs are beginning to plateau. For leading companies, this means that finding and retaining AI talent in 2019 will be crucial.

# Prediction 3: Next-Gen Virtual Assistants, Evan Kirstel

“An AI-based personal assistant — aka Siri on steroids — will hit the market in 2019,” said Evan Kirstel, chief digital evangelist at EviraHealth. “It will be the true human-like, natural language-based personal executive assistant that we have been dreaming of (and that Siri, Cortana, Alexa and others have yet to achieve). It may come from Google, Microsoft, IBM Watson or a dozen other startups that are working in this space.” Kirstel’s forecast isn’t hard to believe: According to Adobe’s 2018 State of Voice Assistants report, an astonishing 48 percent of consumers will own a smart speaker after the 2018 holiday season, illustrating the demand for this technology already. Knowing that the market for voice assistants is already so strong, the race is on for a new and even more advanced option than we have today.

# Prediction 4: Adoption Across the Board, Isaac Sacolick

“Artificial intelligence and machine learning will increase adoption in 2019 in several ways,” said Isaac Sacolick, president and CIO of StarCIO. “Companies leading the adoption curve will invest more in reinforcement learning, address bias gaps in their data sets, and look to make their AI algorithms more explainable.” He added, “Mainstream organizations will take advantage of AI embedded in their strategic platforms such as AI-driven sales forecasting, marketing automation and AIOps. Lastly, public cloud vendors will make their AI offerings easier to use and more scalable for IoT applications.” Sacolick’s forecast seems to agree with a survey from McKinsey & Company found that nearly half of respondents’ organizations have integrated at least one form of AI into their standard business processes. The same report also found that companies across a wide array of industries are seeing value in AI, from manufacturing to human resources.

# Prediction 5: AI Solutions Put to the Test, Marshall Choy

“With a multitude of new AI products and services becoming available in 2019, the complex and large requirements of early adopters will truly test and challenge these new technologies,” said Marshall Choy, vice president of product at SambaNova Systems. “AI is not a product to be bought and sold, but a core enabling technology for driving innovation. Therefore, an AI-driven approach to tackling data management requirements will necessitate a focus on not only individual layers of the technology stack but also in how those layers interact and integrate with each other.” This prediction’s veracity is reflected in data from McKinsey & Company. Findings revealed that of those companies that have adopted AI, only 15 percent believe they have the right technological infrastructure and architecture in place to support AI systems. It’s clear that industry leaders don’t expect to see AI slow down anytime soon. Rather, experts anticipate better threat detection, a slew of new jobs, cutting-edge products and widespread adoption. Along with that, AI solutions will no doubt be put to the test in 2019 by the underlying technology that supports them. Also Read: Make Your Marketing Great With AI already proving its worth to adopters, it’s not surprising that an increasing number of companies will implement and leverage AI in 2019. Now, it’s no longer a question of whether AI will take off. Instead, it’s a question of which companies will keep up.

Assess How Great Your Marketing is

It’s said that self-reflection is a good thing. It helps us to understand ourselves more clearly. How we go about that self-reflection, however, determines the value of the effort. Do we give it cursory attention afraid to know the real truth or do we look at all the evidence revealing a great many things we’ve forgotten we do very well and the areas that need some attention? In times of market velocity and economic volatility, it’s essential that every organization routinely evaluate its effectiveness. Is it doing the right things in the best possible way to deliver the results needed today and tomorrow? Nowhere is that more crucial than in marketing. Not only because the discipline is undergoing rapid transformation but also because what defines marketing differs dramatically based on the company’s and its industry growth stage. Unfortunately, for most marketing organizations what should be an annual exercise typically happens only when a new leader arrives. There are many approaches you can use to conduct a marketing assessment; the one we have used with clients for years is evidence-based. It works because over the years we’ve built a comprehensive master template that is easy to customize and quick to complete. The assessment process evaluates strategies, plans, activities, investments and their results as evidenced by artifacts. Documents, files, information, and/or tools are artifacts specifically developed to accomplish an activity; they either exist or they don’t. Each assessment area has between 20 and 100 specific evidence artifacts that we look for, evaluate and then score.  An artifact is objectively assessed based on completeness, adherence to modern marketing and industry best practices including:

  • Appropriateness for the company and market maturity.
  • Soundness and completeness.
  • Resource allocation rationale.
  • Use of metrics to manage and measure ROI.
  • Identification of data integrity, process integration, and skill/competency gaps.
A marketing assessment for an early stage company in an emerging market will be more heavily weighted on mindshare, reach, content and influencer activities than a mature company in a mature market where demand generation, customer loyalty/evangelism and market share are the number one priorities. Below is a summary assessment of a very mature company that engaged us to conduct a detailed assessment as part of preparing their digital transformation plan.  The blue lines are the total median scores from each assessment category; the green line is the target state. This large client had a lot of work to do to embrace digital marketing and modern marketing best practices. The drill down details under each category in the diagram was instrumental in developing a realistic and achievable prioritized plan.

(C) 2018 www.newbizs.com

Contrast that with the assessment results for a technology start-up in an emerging market.  The green line is the target ideal state while the orange is the actual score.  There is no one size fits all, every company and its situation are different. Assessment approaches must compensate for this otherwise the results run the risk of being unachievable and unrealistic, defeating the very purpose of the evaluation.

(c) 2018 www.newbizs.com

It’s key that each assessment category can be drilled down to a detailed list of all the assessment points, descriptions, scores and where the artifacts are stored.  Below is the next level down for the “Demand Creation” category from the graph above.  The orange is line represents the company’s actual scores while the green line is the target.

(C) 2018 www.newbizs.com

Where does the evidence come into play? The focus is on the information and analysis, not on the artifact’s format.  Let’s look at the Lead Scoring sub-category: Definition: Defined and used consistently across inbound, outbound and Sales.  Segmentation and scoring model is updated every 6 months to reflect changes in buyer behavior, buying team engagement, journey map, market dynamics, and CTA/tollgates synchronized with dynamic web forms to improve score accuracy.

A partial list of artifacts sought:

  • “Ideal” lead profiles
  • Documented and agreed upon definitions and criteria for each lead stage/type
  • Lead scoring, nurture and retargeting definitions and algorithms
  • Consistent use of lead definitions by sales, marketing, ops and in reports
  • Weighting of each tollgate CTA – in aggregate or by persona/role
  • Lead journey stage calculation based on % engagement alignment with journey maps
Care must be taken to make sure there is no double counting of artifacts by duplicating them in more than one subcategory. The focus is less on is making sure the artifact in the right category but a comprehensive list. For each category and list of attributes, we work with marketing team members to find and review the attributes. The review consists of completeness, alignment with best practices, currency and consistency of usage.  Using the lead scoring subcategory, we’d look for a document(s) that defines ideal lead profile(s) that is current, has been signed off and consistently used by marketing and sales, and used as the initial screen of inquiries.  In the case of lead journey stage calculation, we’d look for a series of documents starting with outside-in developed detail journey maps by markets and at the persona/role level.  Additionally, are key CTAs (gated assets or registration required events/engagements) tied to key micro-moments or tollgates and weighed (vs. weighting content interaction). Are the algorithms for calculating lead journey stage documented and tested quarterly? Are systems capturing data to support the algorithm(s) random tested for accuracy quarterly? Evidence is complemented with cross-functional interviews to understand the underlying processes and methods. We’ve learned over the years to only share anonymized interview highlights with leadership teams. Otherwise inevitably someone succumbs to the temptation to share or worse confront team members with comments made in confidence. The final report should include a review of the assessment process, strengths/successes, root causes of improvement areas, recommendations, alternative courses of action, and suggested timelines  We recommend a more detailed presentation be shared with the marketing team and afterward that the team presents a summary recap to the rest of the organization. The advantage of an evidence-based approach is its objectivity. The objective is to not find fault or blame but to help marketing stay aligned to customers, company strategy, and best practices.  As growth and maturity comes from self-reflection, so to for organizations – especially during times of uncertainty, volatility and velocity. First published in MartechAdvisors.

When Demand Generation is a Waste of Time

First published by Martech Advisors on August 20, 2018

How to Develop Customer-Centric Messaging in Four Easy Steps

A recent client knew their messaging and positioning wasn’t working. Field sales stumbled trying to explain it. No one understood it and every employee told a different story. Messaging and positioning are one of the most gut-wrenching activities an organization undertakes. The pressure to get it right and a multitude of internal opinions on what constitutes good messaging abound. Often organizations make the job harder by ladling the exercise with too many objectives and expectations. When I talk with management teams I often hear them describe messaging as needing to convey what the company does, the market category, the latest cool features, how it differentiates from competitors and include trending buzzwords, 800-pound gorilla customer names (for validation), while motivating prospects to contact the company, AND be short and memorable. It doesn’t need to be nor should it be that hard. The most effective messaging and positioning is at the intersection of customers’ most valued and sought benefits, a brand’s unique differentiators, and the market’s direction. Clients frequently come to us for help with their messaging and positioning. They believe that since their internal exercise did not produce the right messaging their approach must be missing some vital step, knowledge, or insight. They don’t need a consultant; they need a more effective process. The four-step process we recommend (and use) are:

1. Capture customers’ words.

Capture the actual words by sitting in on prospect calls, demos, and meetings. Don’t ask Sales for this information, they are focused on buying signals not tone, body language, semantics, and emotion. Ask marketing or product marketing to be the listener and scribe. Tip: Focus on customer segments that represent the company’s future growth areas and listen without prejudice.

2. Leverage industry analyst inquiries.

Talk to large and boutique analysts – don’t pitch them – about market categories where you might fit today and in 24 months. Ask thoughtful questions about purchase drivers, the decision process, sought benefits, features, ROI, and business case development. With permission, record the calls and transcribe them; there is a wealth of information there. Tip: Conduct multiple inquiries throughout the year to develop a relationship with key analysts. Those will come in handy because as you develop your messaging, your questions will change.

3. Conduct competitive analyses.

Pick your top four aspirational competitors because you should, as a rule, position up to more successful vendors. Conduct pattern analysis on two years of press releases, media stories, industry and Wall Street reports, executive interviews and speeches. Look for changes in messaging and any corresponding events such as new products, M&A, emerging trends. Plotting the patterns gives insights into when, how and in what direction competitors will evolve their messaging. Tip: Plot the changes on a four by four chessboard, it makes pattern detection easier to identify and understand.

4. Agree on unique differentiators.

The process to identify unique differentiators begins by defining the table stakes that all competitors must offer for prospects to consider them. Then, list those capabilities, whether you have them or not, that customers use to shortlist vendors. From that list define your unique two to five differentiators that compel a customer to buy from you versus aspirational competitors. Tip: Speed up this step with a customer/prospect co-creation session and also use it to validate market strategies. The four-step process puts structure around activities that are already happening in organizations. Once you have the results from the steps you’re ready to sit down and craft the actual messaging. The easiest way to do that is to answer four questions:
  • Who are we?
  • What do we do?
  • Why are we different?
  • How we are different?
The objective is to describe your uniquely differentiating and most valued benefits that strategic customer segments realize from using your product or brand. When answer ‘why are you different’ focus on the primary reason customers select you over someone else or status quo using customer language. Structure your answer to how you’re different by listing in a table each attribute (no more than five) and the corresponding customer defined benefits, in their words. As you work on the wording, focus on being short, to the point, written in ninth grade English. The language should reflect the tone of your brand, without jargon. Bluescape messaging was that they help companies create better. Its visual collaboration software gives teams a virtual workspace to meet, share, and develop ideas. The messaging wasn’t differentiating or effectively resonating with their target markets. Following the four-step process, new messaging was developed. The responses to the first three questions are below. The response to the last question is, and should be for every company, internal confidential.
  • Who we are?  We’re a comprehensive digital workplace collaboration solution provider.
  • What we do? We make conversation and content collaboration natural, so that teams work faster, smarter, and more efficiently.
  • Why we’re different? We make collaboration natural, visual and intuitive while allowing you to use your favorite tools, applications, and devices. We are experts in creating better ways for people to work.
Notice how the language is casual, simple and familial which reflects the tone of the brand. Customer sought benefits are– “work faster, smarter and more efficiently” – with the unique differentiators conveyed as “natural, visual and intuitive”. Bluescape expanded the messaging work and questions into a detailed branding document that guided all market-facing interactions – and made updating easier. Marketing and sales should validate your messaging with prospects, customers, partners, key influencers and industry analysts. Test it at tradeshows, prospect dinners, in social media and field marketing events before baking it into all your content. Keep in mind there is no one perfect positioning statement. As customer expectations evolve over time, so too should messaging. The operative word is evolving not herky-jerky shifts. By going back to the four-process step, identifying what has meaningfully changed and incorporating that into the question responses, your team can easily keep messaging aligned with customers and relevant.   First published in Martech Advisors on June 25, 2018

Driving Faster B2B Purchases through Sales and Customer Alignment

The new customer

The way B2B buyers make purchasing decisions have transformed, but many sales staff continue to exhibit learned behaviors from a prior era. Sales once thrived from closing big deals, but now buyers make purchases incrementally. They chaperoned buyers through their purchase, but, according to Forrester, now 75 percent of the buy cycle is completed before sales is contacted. Sales feels their role is to persuade buyers to make a purchase, but the majority of buyers obtain evaluative information from nine or more independent sources before engaging with sales. These disconnects between buyer expectations and seller behaviors that are hard-coded into sales culture have crippled efficacy and efficiency. Only 50 percent of sales staff are hitting their quotas. Forrester has found that buyers don’t see value in their interactions with sales 97 percent of the time. To close deals faster and meet quotas more often, sales needs to be re-wired to meet the expectations of the modern buyer. They, and Marketing, need to systematically understand buyer expectations and use that information to align sales with those behaviors that buyers will see value in, which will help buyers make purchasing decisions faster, and increase close rates. Bridging the gaps Years ago, buyers looked to vendor sales teams as fountains of knowledge, insights and tools to help them be more successful.  The role of the sales person was trusted adviser and guide.  They helped companies identify unmet needs and guided them through the evaluation and selection process. Not anymore. Today, buyers expect sales people to specialize in listening. Listen to how buyers understand their needs, their approach to solving them, and how solutions they’re evaluating fit into the broader corporate ecosystem. The first step in bridging the gaps between buyer expectations and seller behaviors, is to create two sets of maps; one from the buyer’s perspective and another from the seller’s. The first map is called the buyer’s journey. It documents each step of the buyer’s process from the trigger point where a problem is first identified, through purchasing a solution and evangelizing it. The second set of maps documents internally held beliefs, processes and strategies, so the two can be compared. Both maps are created primarily through thoughtful, objective interviews. The result is a set of storyboards that document processes, expectations, and interactions for different personas, products and problem statements. The storyboards show why some sales are being delayed or lost, when buyers experienced something different than what they were expecting and, most importantly at all, what buyers needed from the vendor at each step of their purchasing process. We call these buyer tollgates. Jumping over tollgates Tollgates are barriers the buyer has to overcome before making a purchase, such as a business case or a presentation to management. When sales is focused on “buy buy buy” long before buyers are ready to make a purchase decision, it delays the purchase and is not valuable to buyers. By refocusing sales on helping the customer overcome their tollgates, sales can dramatically improve its value to the customer, close rates and shorten the sales cycle. The buyer’s journey map serves as a decoder ring to the buyer for sales. Over time, sales can instinctively pick up on indicators of where a prospect is in their process and what tollgates they need to pass to get to the next stage. Each time sales helps the buyer pass a tollgate, the buyer sees value in the interaction and is able to proceed to the next step faster. The most compelling way for a sales representative to improve their individual performance and earn a larger commission is to master the art and science of helping buyers pass tollgates. Background: The Sellers’ Compass™ New Business Strategies introduced the Sellers’ Compass™ in our whitepaper “Connecting Customer Experience to Revenue.”  The Sellers’ Compass is a framework for aligning marketing, sales, support and operations to how buyers make purchasing decisions and their expected experience with the vendor. At the heart of the methodology is the Sellers’ Compass™ itself, a ten-stage map of the buyers’ journey. This is our methodology for mapping the buyer’s purchasing process, including buyer tollgates and expectations in sales interactions. Sales operates most heavily in the Evaluate, Validate and Purchase steps. When the buyer’s journey map is completed for an individual brand, sales will be able to identify the step in the sellers compass a prospect is in and correlate it to specific buyer tollgates and expectations. The outcome is a sales staff that operates in a thoughtful way with scientific precision, rather than relying on gut instinct and traditional sales behaviors. Sales and marketing alignment A Harvard study found that those responding to an online lead within one hour were seven times more likely to get business from it, yet in a separate study they found that 23 percent of leads were never responded to and only 37 percent were within one hour. This is a substantial amount of lead leakage, where prospective customers are “disqualified” or fall through the cracks. 80 percent of those disqualified leads end up purchasing from a competitor. Sales is often frustrated by the quality of leads produced by marketing, and marketing in-turn sees that their leads are not followed-up on. Lead scoring based on journey maps and measuring where buyers are is a better technique to qualify leads and provide sales with meaningful context. Instead of telling sales a lead touched a piece of content, marketing can identify how fast the lead is moving through their purchasing process, what step they’re on, and what tollgates they need to overcome, so sales is equipped to make effective calls that will bring quality business. Change management Psychologists have compared the natural human resistance to change to our aversion to pain. Sales methodologies have been deeply rooted into sales culture and training. Change must be carefully facilitated, while navigating cultural and political constraints. It must be done incrementally, or risk being rejected by staff outright. Journey maps based on the Seller’s Compass methodology is a tool for helping staffs visualize the gaps between buyers and sellers and internalize the changes that can improve their performance and commission. Conclusion Sales staff needs to replace spray and pray and hard-selling techniques with a thoughtful approach to understanding buyers and helping buyers complete their self-directed journey. By helping buyers overcome their own tollgates, sales can become a valued asset to buyers, while accelerating the sales process and closing more deals. First published in MarTech Advisor.