First the speeches. In addition to CEO Phil Fernandez’s keynotes there were appearances by Democratic presidential front-runner, Hillary Clinton and GE’s powerhouse CMO, Beth Comstock. Each woman’s appeal to the largely female audience was obvious. They are role models for many and an inspiration for any woman wanting to climb the greased rope of corporate success. Each spoke about the challenges of being a woman in business today but I thought Comstock came closest to the mark when in the context of marketing she said that sometimes you simply need to give yourself agency to try something. That’s an avenue not as easily exploited in politics where as Clinton pointed out consensus building is important and sadly absent today.
The theme of the event was innovation and while Clinton, who spoke on Day 1, is no technology expert and not a marketing professional, her vast practical experience in modernizing the State Department by embracing the Internet and social media and her knowledge of how to sell an idea, which was honed in decades in the political arena, provided a great foundation for discussing innovation in a broader, national context. Clinton’s message concentrating on the truth that we are all people and that we need to coexist was not lost on the men in the audience either.
Comstock spoke on the second day and gave a more focused discourse on what it means to be a modern marketer in one of the largest, most innovative, and geekiest corporations on the planet. Her message was that marketing has to take the lead in inventing itself, to find markets and opportunities for innovation in order to take its rightful seat at the boardroom table. She told of instances in GE’s diverse portfolio from jet engines, to locomotives, power systems, and healthcare where marketing found product opportunities and developed markets for them. The keys to success — and there were several — included bringing business ideas where marketing can quantify results and not simply existing to produce content, a message well in line with Marketo’s ideas about marketing.
At the keynote level, Fernandez allowed himself a brief moment on stage to take in the company’s success symbolized by the throng in the hall. The company introduced new and improved products for calendaring, SEO optimization, and personalization, all of which are in demand as building blocks of modern marketing. Fernandez also hammered on the continuing need for innovation in all things marketing related as companies continue to face great challenges driven by the pace of business and the ferocity of competition.
When it got to the breakouts, and I didn’t go to all of them, the vibe seemed to be how to help marketers to do more than adopt the basics and to exploit the breadth and depth of marketing automation. This is no surprise for any breakout session but for a still new market that is past its early doubters but still gaining altitude in the executive suite, the sessions offered practical advice for things tangential to marketing such as how to work better with sales. There is a great thirst for this kind of knowledge and knowhow among marketers.
Especially illuminating to me was the amount of discussion about marketing’s interface with sales and for me this was troubling, not for marketing but for sales. Of all the disciplines in CRM today, sales appears to me to be the one that has changed least over time and that’s not good. Sales is the practice area least affected by CRM, where people are still allowed to fly by the seat of their collective pants.
I say this not to be provocative but to bring together several threads. First, the urban myth that sales force automation does not work refuses to die, second, according to CSO Insights, half of all organizations surveyed still don’t have a recognizable and implemented sales process. Third, and perhaps most troubling to me, too often the discussion between marketers has turned to questions of how can we effectively work around sales if it insists on its recalcitrant ways? Too much of marketing automation’s effort seems to be in devising ways to capture customer data that provides the feedback that sales ought to be giving. At least that’s what I saw.
My concern for sales is that it will remain stuck in its rut too long and that market forces like the automation provided by ecommerce and subscription sites augmented by the information flow provided by marketing, will serve to make selling and its practitioners redundant. As markets and categories mature a certain amount of retail-ization of the sales function is inevitable. However, sales people who are still avoiding formalized processes and technology are making the inevitable too easy.
The sales function was not on trial at the Marketo event but as an analyst I routinely look at what is and wonder how it will evolve and my conclusion left me wondering about the future of selling.