What a difference a year makes.

For the last two years, I’ve surveyed sales and marketing professionals, asking them the same questions focussed on technology, process and people. The first year was a nice benchmark, but the following surveys are where it will get interesting as we track the evolution of sales and marketing sentiment over time.

The 2016 results are in — and they are not encouraging. 

Leading Questions 

Sales and marketing misalignment is getting worse, not better. More people are using manual processes to manage sales and marketing data. And adoption and satisfaction with sales and marketing technology has fallen.

One of the more interesting results reflects a change in what people identified as the major impediments to sales and marketing. We asked what the biggest hindrance to the respondents’ organization’s ability to sell. 

In 2015, the top response was “hard-to-understand value proposition and buyer messaging,” cited by 33 percent of the respondents. Next came “low quantity of leads,” with 23.15 percent, followed by “time wasted building quotes and getting approvals” at 21.18, “poor quality of leads” at 16.75 and finally “misaligned territories and quotas” at 5.91 percent.

The expectation for 2016 was that value proposition and buyer messaging would remain a major problem — and it did, edging up to 35.11 percent, a two-point gain over last year. It’s a perennial problem that businesses struggle with, and the fast rate of change — in customers, in technology, in product mix — is making it a tougher nut to crack every year.

However, the results were surprising with regards to leads. Sales loves to complain about leads, but the 2016 numbers showed that lead quantity and lead quality were fading as a most-favored complaint topic. 

Lead quantity was cited as the biggest hindrance by 18.22 percent of respondents, a drop of almost five points in a year. Lead quality fell by a little over a point to 15.56 percent. The greater drop by quantity than quality is encouraging — better lead quality truly helps drive sales performance, while an emphasis on lead quantity can actually hurt sales numbers — but both lead-related responses fell in importance in 2016.

Opinions did shift towards basic things: “Misaligned territories and quotas” shot up by almost three points to 8.89 percent, and “time wasted building quotes and getting approvals" increased by a full percentage point to 22.22 percent. These numbers are surprising in an environment where configure price quote (CPQ) is an increasingly hot product and where territory and quota management software is a frequent part of the sales management mix.

Can't Get No Satisfaction

How can we explain these shifts? The nature of the participants can obviously change results — but the demographics of the study participants was nearly the same in both years, although there was a slight increase of respondents from large enterprises in 2016. But wouldn't that increase the presence of technology solutions to tackle quoting and territory issues, and thus make these issues less, rather than more important?

Learning Opportunities

The answer might lie in a question asked much later in the study: “How satisfied are you with your current solution?” The answer: for many people, “not as satisfied as I was in 2015.” 

People who responded “very satisfied” plummeted from 12.44 percent in 2015 to 4.41 percent in 2016. “Somewhat dissatisfied” and “dissatisfied” each rose by more than a percentage point (to 18.94 and 12.78 percent, respectively).

So satisfaction in sales and marketing solutions is sliding, and concerns about basic sales management tasks are increasing. If you follow the space, you know that sales and marketing solutions are more powerful than they’ve ever been — capability isn’t the issue. So what’s at work here?

Changing Expectations

Those obsessed solely with sales and marketing will likely miss the reason. It’s not that the technology is slipping in effectiveness, or that businesses have en masse lost the ability to employ data effectively (rather, the opposite seems to be happening). 

The reason is familiar to anyone analyzing behavior at the other end of the sales and marketing equation: changing expectations.

Sales and marketing pros are constantly grappling with the implications of fast-changing customer expectations. Customers want faster responses, more options, greater service and a personalized experience. Their side of the equation has shifted.

The same has happened for sales and marketing people: they expect their tools to deliver — and they expect them to deliver more, all of the time. The existing solutions work, but sales and marketing pros expect them to work better. 

This puts the vendors in a familiar, but difficult spot. When user expectations are changing faster than the pace of efficient innovation, how do you retain your users? We may find an answer to that question in next year’s study.

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