The Utopian Future of Channel Selling

ChannelPartnersChannel partners and VARs are the redheaded stepchild (treated without the favor of birthright) when it comes to obtaining the attention and resources from manufacturers of the countless products they sell. They’re the last to get training and the first to be held accountable for meeting their quotas. With limited marketing budgets, and outdated sales tools, they’re struggling to effectively communicate why products are unique and different.

In recent years we’ve seen explosive growth in the marketing technology sector, causing research firm Gartner to famously predict that CMOs would outspend CIOs on IT by the year 2017. This leads me to wonder how, or if, OEMs will adjust their marketing strategy, and more importantly, will there be a newfound focus on sales enablement tools that could significantly affect the growth and success of there channel sales?

With new technologies rapidly changing the landscape of marketing and sales enablement I imagine the future of channel selling will alleviate some of the challenges channel partners and VARs currently face:

TRAINING: A recent study done by Qvidian shows that it takes an average of 9 months to successfully train a Sales representative, and it can sometimes take up to one year for them to become fully effective. While the average representative may be responsible for selling one particular product, or product line, VARs are tasked with selling multiple products from different companies. If this statistic is true for direct sales representatives, one can only assume that a channel partner tasked learning the ropes for a more expansive product set from more than one manufacturer could take much longer to train.

LACK OF ENGAGING SELLING TOOLS: 40% of all marketing materials are not used by sales teams, which makes sense when you consider that often these materials are static brochures and collateral, looping videos, or standardized PowerPoint presentations that don’t truly help create an engaging Sales process. As current purchasers are looking for more and more control, channel partners must be able to provide an interactive and engaging Sales experience, for any and all of the products/solutions they sell.

When selling products from a variety of companies directly competing with each other, it is likely that channel partners will spend their time attempting to sell the products they find easiest to differentiate–and therefore close deals on. Product manufacturers have realized this, and are already turning to virtual 3D Product Models, that look and behave just like the actual product, to get their offerings into the hands of Sales teams and channel partners. However, channel partners are often the last to receive these interactive sales enablement tools due to high software license fees, if they receive interactive tools at all, leaving them at a HUGE disadvantage.

GLOBALIZATION: VARs and channel partners are often located across the globe, potentially very far from the nearest manufacturer’s location or product demonstration centers. Therefore, they need tools that will allow them to sell better in any location, at any time. While mobile applications are starting to alleviate this problem, many tablets/smartphones carry greater weights of popularity in various countries, making content deployment more challenging, as a sales enablement tool must be able to work on ANY device the channel partner has at their disposal. Language barriers also render many sales tools useless, unless they can be translated into the local language for use in foreign countries.

UNIVERSAL ACCESS: As mentioned previously, globally dispersed representatives utilize many different devices, from laptops to mobile devices, and need a tool that works seamlessly cross-platform—providing a universal experience regardless of location. According to Qvidian, the number one reason that Sales disregards marketing materials is because they are unable to locate or access them. This means getting the right information deployed into the hands of channel partners and VARs on the right devices is of paramount importance to communicate your message seamlessly and consistently.

For use in regions where consistent Internet access is difficult to attain, or for use in venues like corporate headquarters or hospitals where Internet access is often restricted, channel partners need an application that works both ONLINE and OFFLINE, on laptops, smartphones, and tablets. Often, these sorts of applications require licenses (based on the number of users), which leaves channel partners and VARs at a huge disadvantage, as many OEMs are hesitant to pick up the tab for a sales enablement tool partners may or may not actually utilize.

Imagine a Utopian Future for Channel Selling
Sales enablement tools made especially for channels would not only provide 100% accessibility to interactive products, (by demonstrating them virtually) but would also show how various products can work together to better solve customers’ business challenges, regardless of which company manufactures them. This would turn every partner into a product expert, as they would have relevant product demonstrations, supporting materials, and marketing messages at their disposal at a moment’s notice. Eventually, channel partners would be able to integrate all of these virtual 3D product demonstrations, regardless of the OEM, into one interactive sales enablement tool with their own branding, allowing them to demonstrate the best ‘solution’ for consumers by unifying various offers from their partners.

Not only would the ideal tool have access to all product lines, but unlimited users will have access 24/7, online or offline, any where in the world—providing a universal experience regardless of location or platform. Easily translatable text would make creating international versions of the application a snap, and universal cross-device compatibility would turn any device partners’ possess into a captivating sales accelerator.

While this may seem like a dream, I believe the future of interactive, cross-platform tools like this for channel partners and VARs may not be too far off!


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4 Features EVERY ‘Product Demo’ Should Have

Creating a product demonstration is a requirement when trying to differentiate your offering from the competition. In fact, according to the 2014 Qvidian ‘Sales Executive Challenge’ report, difficulty presenting ‘competitive differentiation’ is the #1 issue B2B companies face this year.

So why is it that organizations are still bringing just a ‘shell’ of their product to trade shows, using looping video as product demonstrations, or relying on boring collateral to tell us why their solutions are different and better? Do marketers really think this is making a big impact that their prospects will remember?!  

The old saying goes, ‘you only get one chance to make a first impression’ so when you get the opportunity to get in front of a prospect you don’t want to blow it. Here’s four features EVERY product demo should have…

  1. Hands-on Customer Engagement
  2. Visually Showing How the Product Works
  3. Non-Linear Personalization
  4. Crib Notes

Hands-on Customer Engagement 3DProductModel_ipad

Did you know that interactivity can increases product knowledge retention by up to 75%? It’s true. Giving prospects a hands-on sensory experience allows them to explore product features that are the most important to them in a way that they’ll remember.

That said, getting your products into the hands of your prospects is much easier said than done.  Products (specifically in the telecom, medical or industrial industries) are often large, fragile, expensive, hard to obtain and difficult to ship. Even at trade shows companies are often bringing just their flag ship products and/or just a ‘shell’ of their product to avoid damage during transport.

Consider using virtual 3D Product Models (that look and behave just like the actual products) on touch screens appliances at trade shows, or on mobile devices for remote sales meetings. Doing so will ensure products are available at every sales encounter and that customers can engage and navigate products as desired.

Bill_CienaProductVisually Showing How the Product Works

A lot of products look similar (e.g. grey boxes) from the outside, but showing the uniqueness of what’s happening within your product and what makes it different from the competition is how you’ll win the deal.

Your brain processes visual information 60,000 times faster than text. So whether you have 60-seconds of your prospect’s attention in a trade show booth, or 30-minutes in an actual face-to-face sales meeting, visual representations of product workflow and network infrastructures will not only help overcome language barriers but assist in quickly and effectively communicating how your product works. Oh, and don’t forget that over 65% of people are visual learners.

Non-Linear Personalization

Personalization is paramount! There is no substitute for being able to look someone in the eye, shake his or her hand, and give a full presentation of any relevant aspect of your entire product portfolio at a moment’s notice.

To avoid ‘one-size-fits-all’ marketing, you need the ability to tailor the product demonstration to the needs and interests of each prospect, making their purchasing experience feel specific to their individual business challenges. By creating non-linear, user-driven product demonstrations, the prospect can control their own experience, exploring the product and messages in a sequence and level of detail that they feel are most appropriate to their needs.

Tools such as videos do the talking for you and put the sales demonstration on autopilot, creating a forgettable experience and inhibiting a true conversation with your customer. Putting your customer in the driver’s seat better highlights their interests for your sales representative, enabling them to tailor the discussion to best solve the customer’s business challenges.

Crib Notes Screen Shot 2014-07-15 at 2.47.39 PM

Crib notes aren’t for cheaters– they’re for those of us who just need a little extra help! Even the most knowledgeable sales reps need crib notes now and then!

As corporate strategies shift and organizations become acquired, the product marketing mix changes and sales people must quickly accommodate. The majority of sales reps no longer sell just one product to one audience, they sale numerous products to dozens of different recipients, within very complex buying cycles.

And here’s the rub, when several products are marketed by the same sales force, it becomes impossible and impractical for them to know the unique features and benefits of EVERY product within the portfolio. This results in a generalized selling pitch, making the sales experiences less than stellar.

Use small crib notes that help sales navigate thought the demonstration like a product expert. Quick reference points like information hot spots on products, supporting marketing messages and videos will help quickly and concisely communicate the differentiation of each product.

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Exhibit City News: Kaon Interactive revolutionizes mobile exhibiting

ecn logoJuly 1, 2014 – Published by Exhibit City News


Kaon Interactive Revolutionizes Mobile Exhibiting

Many tradeshows succeed due to the face-to-face engagement they provide, but highly technical companies may not see the point in exhibiting if their prospects can’t physically interact with their products.

Understanding that the seeing-is-believing mentality contributed to some costly mistakes for these companies, Kaon Interactive developed a 3D product demonstration application to aid sales professionals who face challenges delivering complex products to prospects on the show floor.

“You can look at [the 3D representation] and say this product is better because it has these interchangeable parts. If you have the equipment, you don’t have to replace the entire thing, just the parts. I can demonstrate that with the app. That’s huge savings for someone with a message to tell,” explained Gavin A. Finn, Ph.D., president and CEO, Kaon Interactive.

Using touchscreen functionality on any device and platform, sales professionals interact with a 3D virtual representation of technically complex equipment, showing prospects how it works.

“We talked to a number of key senior marketing executives. They all came to the conclusion that there is zero value in having a very complex product that people just look at. The value is not in what the product looks like. The value is what it delivers. You want to look at what the outcome is and not the physical device,” he added.

This perspective didn’t develop overnight. In the past, sales professionals strived to get prospects up close and personal to physical products at tradeshows. Depending on its complexity and weight, such as 1,000-pound networking equipment or even heavier X-ray scanners for airports, limited options existed for getting products from A to Z.

Sales professionals used either brochures or PowerPoint presentations to highlight product benefits. If that wasn’t effective, they arranged onsite visits for interested prospects, which often involved cost-scheduling logistics, according to Finn. Many companies spent $7,000-$14,000 shipping complex equipment to tradeshows and then had to say hello to drayage.

“The heavier the equipment, the more expensive the drayage is. By the time you’re finished, you’re talking sometimes $20,000,”explained Finn. “People sometimes underestimate the real cost. Let’s say you want to set the equipment up and have it turned on. You have to send in engineers or technical specialists. By the time you’re finished, it’s a very expensive and time consuming. It’s also prone to risks like getting there and the product not working for the show.”

It could also be catastrophic if the shipment doesn’t make it to the tradeshow.

“We talk to companies all the time. Somebody had a product fall off the back of a truck. It was $380,000. It shattered. They lost [money] with shipping. Without a solution like [ours], it’s costly to demonstrate and convey that right message to the customer,” he said.

Proving that Kaon Interactive contributed to sales professionals operating more efficiently in multiple environments are the more than 600,000 people using the 3D product demonstration apps six times a week.

“When a sales person is using something six times a week, you know it’s helping them,” added Finn. “There are also analytics showing how many people around the world are using it — what sections they are looking at, what devices they are using and how long they look at it. We also can measure effectiveness of the application at tradeshows and sales environments.”

Allowing exhibitors to operate cost-effectively and efficiently at tradeshows, the 3D product demonstration app can be used in a 10 x 10 booth rather than a company purchasing a bigger booth to accommodate physically larger equipment. Additionally, the device each professional is using to demonstrate the same product doesn’t matter.

“The same application does not have to be reprogrammed to run on other devices. We have the same code base running on all devices, and that makes it easier for us to support one platform from another,” Finn explained. “We also have the Application Delivery Network that allows us to create content once and distribute it to one delivery environment.”

Backed by a cloud, the Application Delivery Network allows updates made to a product model to be distributed to all parties involved, ensuring everyone has access to the same and most recent version of the content. This feature comes in handy for global companies delivering product information to their remote offices from their headquarters.

“For many global companies, it’s expensive to ship delicate equipment to their other offices. We have customers who deliver these experiences to all of their remote sales offices. Every time they get a new product or new message to tell, everyone gets it at the same time. They have the ability to detail entire product portfolios to each office,” said Finn. “For a company in South America, they use PCs, not tablets. They have sales and marketing people in Asia that use Android tablets. They don’t have to worry about spending money to run their sales and marketing application. We created the network to solve that problem.”

Being able to travel back and forth with no physical product shipping worries revolutionized the way sales professionals operate in all environments. Winning Kaon Interactive multiple awards, the 3D product demonstration apps reportedly saved clients thousands in shipping and increased sales, making up for the initial investment companies made into the virtual product, according to Finn. With Kaon working across multiple industries and entering others like automotive, in the future, app users could potentially go to a car dealership to virtually configure the car they want to buy.


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Why Engagement Leads to Revenue Growth

Getting prospects to REALLY understand your complex B2B offering, and why your solutions are better than the competition, is one of the hardest things for a marketer to achieve. Many of us fail at successfully communicating our differentiation and inevitably loose business because the prospects ‘just don’t get it’. So why are marketers creating more product sell sheets (boring) or videos (impersonal) that clearly aren’t helping their companies distinguish themselves?

Being risk averse and doing more of the same won’t change how prospects perceive our business it will only produce similar (lackluster) results. Statistics have shown that product knowledge retention increases from 20% to 75% when prospects are able to ‘drive’ their own interactive sales engagement. Does this surprise you? It shouldn’t. Prospects want more control over their individual experiences, allowing them to influence or become more involved in the buying process.

Engagement Marketing
Engagement marketing allows customers and prospects to participate in the process of building a brand’s image, thanks to the customer’s ability to ‘interrupt’ a brand’s communications, to complement or modify its messages to fit his or her perception. This removes the feeling of a canned, one-size-fits-all pitch or advertisement which can distance or even alienate prospects by making them feel undervalued; as if they are just another mass marketing target. Whether it’s through interacting with a virtual 3D product model on an iPad® or a conversation on Twitter, it is the individual involvement aspect of engagement marketing that captivates users and makes it far more likely that they will remember relevant information.

IMMERSION: Delving deeper into a product story via supplementary context and sensory experiences.

INTERACTIVITY: Allowing consumers to become part of the narrative, and influence the outcome.

INTEGRATION: Having a seamless content connection among all hardware platforms (tablets, laptop, website, smartphones, touch-screen appliances) and venues (trade show, sales meeting, briefing center).

IMPACT: Inspiring consumers to take action of some kind (schedule a meeting, purchase a product, share product content with a colleague).

The Moment of Truth
By incorporating sensory, emotional and intellectual components into telling your story, and making these engaging experiences universally available in every sales environment, you’re creating ‘aha’ moments where prospects can clearly visualize and understand how your solutions can solve their specific business challenges. All of these components, when incorporated together, lead to increased revenue growth through…

  • Faster communication of unique value propositions
  • Proven knowledge retention and emotional brand connection
  • Increase global reach with universally cross-platform accessibility
  • Non-linear narratives allow for greater up-sell and cross-sell potential

When prospects become engaged and ‘just get it’ you know you’ve been successful in differentiating your services and accelerating sales opportunities. It’s time to transform your marketing with a revenue-relevant customer engagement strategy today!


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Why Marketers Must Harness the Power of the Cloud

Cloud computingIt’s time for B2B marketers to get their heads out of the clouds and start realizing how hosted technologies and cloud adoption will help them differentiate their offerings and inevitably sell more.

Most B2B buyers engage in almost 60% of their buying cycle without the assistance of a traditional sales representative. Marketers need to ensure that they find new ways to bring interactivity and engagement to customers along their non-traditional decision-making process, which spans numerous channels.

In recent years we’ve seen explosive growth in the marketing technology sector, causing research firm Gartner to famously predict that CMOs would outspend CIOs on IT by the year 2017. As sales enablement tools trend more and more toward digital applications, marketers want to automate their content deployment across multiple outlets and devices, to both engage prospects and take the guesswork out of interpreting their interaction. As marketers are turning to cloud-based applications, they can gain actionable insights through the use of analytics by tracking user engagement (devices used, global location, content of interest, frequency of interactions) along the way. This real time user intelligence, and measurement, will help refine messages and provide clear insight into the success of outward facing prospect marketing and sales enablement tools. And guess what? The cloud helps them achieve this feat and more!

As marketers look to implement interactive sales and marketing applications cross-platform, we’re encountering literally hundreds of different devices, architectures, and platforms, global networks, enterprise firewalls and proxy servers. On top of all that, we have a user base of prospects, customers, channel partners and sales teams that need everything to be very simple. Using the cloud will help overcome the following constraints…

Deploying Large Applications: Interactive sales and marketing applications can be very large, so the updates need to be incremental, particularly for global users with limited Internet connectivity. The content of these applications can also be very rich, including video, animation, and real-time photo-quality 3D rendering. By using a cloud-based solution, you allow for extremely high-speed incremental information transfers with the potential to have greater bandwidth and performance.

Providing Real Time Updates: Sales and marketing content is constantly being updated to parallel your company’s shifting objectives or newest product offering. Therefore, new product launches, case studies, videos, presentations, and any recently updated content must be deployed seamlessly to your sales, marketing, channel, customers and prospects. Every second you spend not educating your team about your offerings or getting your products to market costs your company money.

By placing content in the cloud (versus hosting on your own central servers) the information is now replicated in multiple data farms around the world, making it local to the end user. This causes less latency in accessing data. Incremental content updates can be made via the cloud in real-time, ensuring that relevant information is immediately getting into the hands of the people who need it the most.

Cost Effectiveness & Efficiency: Hosting your own server can be a very expensive upfront investment that requires significant IT involvement and ongoing maintenance. Marketers looking for cost efficiencies (and to avoid extensive work with their IT department) are turning to the cloud to share the expense with multiple users, paying as they go based on usage.

With sales and marketing applications being hosted via the cloud there’s less chance of deployment failure. If one data farm incurs an issue, content will automatically be redirected and accessible via another location, ensuring that your applications ALWAYS work without downtime.

Competitive Advantage
With so many prospects delving into the buying cycle on their own, we all need to make sure they have the right interactive and engaging sales and marketing content at their disposal, to clearly differentiate our offerings and help lead buyers further into the sales cycle, with or without sales assistance. By putting relevant content into the hands of buyers it will empower them to make more informed buying decisions, based on their interests and business challenges.

Harnessing the power of the cloud empowers marketers to have their message heard, track user engagement and provide unlimited global access to everyone who needs it, cheaper and faster.

Agency Post logo

*Published by the Agency Post on July 9th, 2014


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Direct Marketing News: Why Being ‘Risk Averse’ is Bad for Your Career

DMNewsMay 27, 2014 – Byline by Gavin Finn, published by Direct Marketing News

Why Being ‘Risk Averse’ is Bad for Your Career

What opportunities for achieving great success are we missing by studiously avoiding perceived risk?

Many B2B professionals, from marketing, sales—and even product development—behave in a manner that is generally described as “risk averse,” which means they think that the so-called cost of trying new approaches outweighs the benefits. Most of the time, these people continue to operate using the same processes as they always have, thereby creating deliverables that are basically the same as the ones they’ve always created in the past.

In the case of marketers, for example, these deliverables include long-winded slide presentations, videos, and brochures, despite evidence that the vast majority of the sales collateral created by marketers is not used by the sales department—nor is it used by customers.

Why do people exhibit this type of conservative behavior?

a) They’re afraid of losing their jobs. It follows that if they stick their necks out and try new things that fail, they may, well…lose their jobs.

b) They’re ridiculously busy. With marketing budgets contracting and marketing departments reducing personnel, those marketers left are barely keeping their heads above water, never mind trying something new.

c) They’re not motivated to improve the results they’re getting now, and executive management is not demanding more It’s an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” kind of mentality.

Perhaps it’s because business people generally don’t embrace change willingly or quickly. Psychologists tell us that we resist change out of fear, and this is definitely true for people in these kinds of marketing and sales decision-making roles.

But what opportunities for achieving great success are we missing by studiously avoiding that perceived risk?

The greatest opportunity for disruptive success is to be innovative and lead through change rather than waiting for everyone else to blaze the trail, forcing us to follow later. Research has shown that most people misjudge risk (by enormous ranges), and in this case, the reality is that the failure to constantly innovate represents a much greater risk than simply doing the same things as before. What that really means for marketers is that by behaving in a way that we believe is reducing our risk, we are, in fact, dramatically increasing the very risk we are trying to avoid.

It’s understandable that marketers tend to see investment in new ideas and solutions, or more pointedly, shifting away from doing things “the way they’ve always been done” as dangerous, because there’s a chance these new ideas might not work. After all, it hasn’t been tried before (at least not at this company)—but this unknown is inherent in any new initiative. The perceived danger represents a potential loss because if it fails, marketers are concerned about the cost to their company and to their own careers. It’s now a well-established cognitive axiom that humans are predisposed to favor strategies that avoid losses rather than those that could lead to the acquisition of potential gains.

Consider this:

a) Most B2B marketing departments are operating with fewer people and less budget than in the past. It’s literally impossible to do the same things anymore—there is simply not enough money and certainly too few people. We either have to do less of what we’ve been doing in the past or we have to do things differently. Something has to change.

b) The results that B2B marketers are achieving, in general, are less than optimal (in a recent CMO survey, marketing results were seen to be “inadequate” or “inferior” more than 80% of the time!) So, it appears that there actually is something “broke” and it does need fixing.

Since marketing results are underperforming with respect to company needs—and it’s impossible to continue just doing things as they’ve always been done before—it’s therefore logical to conclude that attempting to keep things the same is a far riskier strategy for one’s career than exploring innovative ideas.

What we all have to recognize is that by maintaining the status quo the risks have been elevated because the world around us is changing—and we need to change too.

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Chief Marketer: Digital Transformation, The Next Level of Sales Enablement

technologyMay 14, 2014 – Byline by Gavin Finn, published by Chief Marketer

Digital Transformation, The Next Level of Sales Enablement

Technology alone won’t transform your business. It only becomes transformative when woven together in a way that creates engagement, starting with the customer and moving back all through the organization. The disruptive triptych combination of migration to mobile platforms, analytics, and engagement has provided a means for marketers to transfer relevant knowledge to prospects and customers in a cost effective and measurable way.

The barriers between digital and physical have truly blurred. Companies are incorporating real-world objects, augmented reality, 3D product environments and other technologies into their storytelling. Prospects want more control over their individual experiences, allowing them to influence or become involved in events, and, as marketers it’s our job to give them power.

Mobile Migration

Marketing’s digital transformation has evolved to create mobile sales enablement tools that truly captivate and convert. Sales teams are craving engaging content that’s available across multiple platforms, providing information relevant to where people are and what they are doing in the physical world. The migration to mobile devices (tablets, smartphones, laptops, websites) has provided B2B companies with a way to cost effectively deploy interactive marketing experiences onto any device (via the cloud), regardless of location, getting interactive user experiences into the hands of those who need it most (prospects, customers, sales teams, channel partners and more.)

Each customer encounter is now a more personalized ‘mobile moment’, in which prospects are driving conversations and direct interactions with products that are of interest to them. This type of mobile interactivity has not only proven to increase knowledge retention by up to 75%, but has become a real opportunity accelerator, by quite literally putting virtual product demonstrations into the hands of every prospect, sales person and channel partner.

Creating Knowledge Experts

In addition to empowering their direct sales teams with effective product training (especially in B2B companies with complex product portfolios), organizations are making their interactive marketing applications available to their VARs and channel partners. These engaging tools create product messaging experts across all sales channels, by disseminating accurate and relevant marketing messages that are easier to articulate, digest and access.

These applications are successful in elevating the level of knowledge of all participants in the process.  This is because the most useful content is seamlessly blended together with compelling virtual 3D product models, virtual environments, panoramas, flow diagrams, videos, embedded marketing collateral, and presentations in a branded digital environment. The self-driven, non-linear user engagement results in a personalized experience every time, creating a relevant transfer of knowledge to each individual within the buying cycle.

Big Data Analytics

The advanced analytics on these digital applications have given marketers the ability to track the success of their interactive programs. We’re not talking about tracking ‘downloads’ where people may use your applications once and disengage without that information even being tracked.

We’re talking about actual user engagement analytics:

  • How many people are using your application?
  • How frequently are they using your application?
  • What specific content did they explore?
  • What devices did they using to engage?
  • Where were they when they engaged (geographies)?

 Here’s the best part: these digital sales enablement tools are available both online and offline, eliminating the challenges that come with content accessibility in remote geographies or where Internet connectivity is an issue. And, regardless of device or whether your application is used online or offline, new marketing platforms like Kaon’s Application Delivery Network (ADN), can still measure usability. This deep insight into the utilization of marketing applications by your sales force and beyond will help determine ROI and provide insight for continuous content refinement.The combination of engaging digital applications, seamless multi-platform distribution and analytical measurement and reporting has truly transformed B2B sales and marketing, giving sales teams the tools to accelerate the buying cycle and engage prospects in a much more meaningful way.

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