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CXO Panel: Executive-Level Perspectives On B2B Industry Challenges

What are the biggest challenges of B2B executives today?

Determining the definition of ABM?

Managing ecosystems that are more complex than ever?

Straight from B2BSMX 2019, Evan Liang (CEO of LeanData) interviews a top-tier panel of executive-level B2B leaders to ask them about their biggest challenges and where they see the industry heading.

The panel:

Here’s what we’re unpacking today:

  • Determining if ABM really is just B2B
  • Challenges faced in go-to-market strategies
  • Challenges in complex ecosystems

This post is based on a live panel session with Evan Liang, Joe Chernov, Robin Ritenour, and Jaime Punishill. You can listen to the full session here and below.

Does ABM = B2B?

Evan: Is ABM really just B2B?

Joe: I don’t think they’re the same thing. I think one is the strategy and it’s a strategy for plenty of companies. But, if you sell a $500 piece of software a year, can you really run a targeted account program at that market size?

Robin: ABM is not B2B. I think that the way we define ABM is a little antiquated. It came up a number of years ago. B2C and B2B have very similar motions around customer experience.

Jaime: I don’t think the words ABM or B2B meant the same thing to any two people in this room. So, the idea that B2B is ABM depends a lot on what your definition of B2B and ABM are.

Facing challenges in a go-to-market strategy

Evan: What challenges do you see in your go-to-market strategy?

Joe: Our go-to-market is pretty conventional at Pendo. We’ve got content and branding. We’ve got demand gen who owns ABM. And, we have product marketing.

We have one challenge that’s unique to us. Every company has a challenge or more that’s specific to them, and for us, it’s that we’re headquartered in Raleigh. 

In some ways that’s a blessing. It’s really good for PR. In some ways, it’s a challenge because it’s a little bit harder to get noticed on the coasts of the Bay area, Boston, New York. That presents us with a brand awareness challenge geographically.

Every company has their own version of that. I think a challenge at B2B SaaS companies that’s common to all is spending a lot of money on marketing: marketing programs, marketing headcount, ABM software, going to events. 

Then, you spend a lot of money on sales: expensive reps, bonuses, spiffs and all that. Marketing and sales both funnel into a role called the BDR or SDR and it’s kids right out of college.

So, you have all this money and horsepower being pumped into these programs, but when the rubber meets the road, it’s someone right out of college. I think the system falls apart at that point. It’s really hard to get that part of the motion correct.

Robin: What startup in this market doesn’t have challenges?

The two that we’re struggling with are:

  1. We have so much churn on the sales side. Not from a product perspective or a company perspective, but just because salespeople come in and out all the time. Especially as a company that’s growing, being able to manage salespeople effectively is one of our biggest challenges.
  2. The other challenge is really around marketing and making sure the sales and marketing funnels converge. There’s still an expectation for what each of them is supposed to be doing for each other. But, we’re starting to collapse those two together from a data perspective.

In this day and age, we’ve got to set up new processes for sales to originate opportunities as opposed to waiting for marketing to hand them over.

Lastly, from my perspective, I’ve been building ecosystems for years. Today, a startup has to have a big ecosystem in order to penetrate quickly because you can’t buy enough salespeople or build enough capacity to go against competitors in the marketplace.

Jaime: We’re going through a big transformation: an all-new executive team, a whole new marketing team, a whole new management team, a whole new sales and marketing motion. We’re about 18 months into this new tech stack. 

I think there’s this intellectual understanding that the sales and marketing motions are different, but it sill runs against people’s nature.

The biggest challenges in a complex ecosystem

Evan: What are the biggest challenges you see in your ecosystems?

Jaime: We can’t underestimate how early we are in the evangelism and education cycle. I think the only thing that most companies do worse than building stuff is integrating it.

We shouldn’t underestimate how hard it is for the receiving organizations to ingest and execute well on any one of the amazing technologies that are out there.

Robin: I don’t think people realize how difficult it is to actually understand the valuable differentiators between vendor pitches.

I think there’s going to be a collapse on the Martech side and on the sales tech side as startups continue to grow. What’s going to happen is they’re going to lose oxygen. They’re all going to look the same. Whoever penetrates the fastest, even if it’s not the best technology, is going to win.

Honestly, the value of what they’re going to sell will not be the capabilities, but the data that they’re spinning off. That’s actually going to be the value of a lot of these in the next 2-3 years.

Joe: On one hand, there are too many companies and VCs hold their noses when you mention Martech. In that regard, I feel like there’s going to be a reconciliation.

On the other hand, I’ve been hearing about this reconciliation since 2010 and it hasn’t happened.

On the other hand, there is something fundamentally wrong when we’re using Marketo and our lead scoring product cost more than Marketo. There’s a problem there. The car stereo shouldn’t cost more than the vehicle.

The industry is still changing quickly. The pace of change is outpacing my ability to keep up with it and I rely on vendors to be my eyes and ears for 10% of the time.

To some degree, whatever is next, there are people who are more plugged in than any of us working on what’s next.