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The uncertainties of 2020 have probably left you wondering where business and technology are headed. Answers became clearer during the TSIA Technology Summit, where tech leaders shared the lessons they’ve learned during this unprecedented year. See how their insights could impact your business.
On October 15, I had the pleasure of co-hosting the Technology Summit with John Ragsdale. This event offered three tracks: Revenue Growth, Customer Experience, and Digital Transformation. In this blog, I’m going to share some industry secrets we heard during all the tracks at the event. Based on the presentations that day and the sessions I attended the following week at TSIA Interact, I’m also going to reveal our top technology predictions for 2021.
Before I get started, hopefully you’ve already had the chance to participate in our 2020 Technology Stack Surveys. In case you haven’t, you can find the links here. John and I, alongside our analytics team, are working on validating the results, and will send the data to all participants.
Now for the data: 2020’s biggest shocker for us (aside from COVID-19) was technology spending. Nearly every category across the tech surveys for technical support, professional services, customer training, customer success, sales, and product management, showed year-over-year growth. In some areas the growth was dramatic.
It seems companies finally realized during the pandemic that their infrastructure wasn’t as scalable as expected. Additional investments are necessary to better equip remote workers, foster seamless customer experiences, and deliver virtual projects.
Wall Street might be worried about unemployment and drops in national spending, but when it comes to technology you ain’t gotta worry ‘bout a thing. There was so much capital leftover from corporate travel and in-person events that companies quickly funded any immediate tech needs.
In case you thought things couldn’t get better, additional funding is also now being reallocated toward improving technology infrastructure. Such a great time to be in tech!
With that said, here are some things we heard about Revenue Growth, Customer Experience, and Digital Transformation at the Technology Summit; and our top predictions for 2021:
For starters, sales roles are transforming. Word on the street is quota-carrying responsibilities are shifting from sales organizations to other organizations within the enterprise such as customer success, technical support, and consulting services. This doesn’t mean sales reps are losing their jobs. But it does mean a few non-sales roles are going to have to brush up on their sales skills. Yikes!
Sales forecasting will be an essential skill at the highest levels; except now it’s services-focused sales forecasting. Another needed skill is delivering consistent timely service. To do this, you’ll need to ensure you’re managing resources optimally. Otherwise, internal costs in addition to customer facing inefficiencies will eat up your profit margins. And that’s a no-no when it comes to running any business.
Austin Rohr, director of marketing for FinancialForce, shared his company’s solution to this problem. His professional services automation tool provides everything from resource management dashboards for monitoring billable utilization to financial forecasting models to help companies better understand if they’re on the right track. Profitability and transparency are now only a few clicks away.
Meanwhile, Ben Lilienthal at ScreenMeet explained how his screen sharing tool empowers employees to more effectively guide customers through complex processes or interfaces. These employees range from traditional support staff to more modern quota-carrying roles such as customer success, subscription specialists, and service sales.
Anything you can do right now to improve the buyer experience is going to yield great dividends, especially given an environment where in-person interactions are no longer an option. Word on the street is a plethora of new tools and features are coming soon to your homes, and this is one of them.
Lastly, BluLogix’s CEO & Founder Youseff Yaghmour concluded the Revenue Growth track with the inside scoop on his latest subscription billing software. Word on the street is these guys have a history in telecommunication subscription billing. That means the same technology that was used to monitor mobile phone consumption back in the day (e.g. international calls, roaming, texting surcharges) can now be plugged into your company’s current offering.
Whether your company offers traditional license pricing or is transitioning to selling its product as a subscription or service, these are some of the capabilities you’re going to need. That is, if you’re interested in maximizing customer lifetime value and revenue is important for your company.
We predict a generational shift in sales. Over the past few decades, the average age of a sales rep decreased significantly. Whereas in the past you’d find the average sales rep to be 35 years of age, you’d now find the new average approaching mid 20’s. And I think we’ll continue to see this trend.
The reasons are obvious. Technology has transformed sales processes enormously in the past 30 years. Various tools have turned the once burdensome process of qualifying leads, consultative selling, and sending proposals into simpler streamlined work. In turn, this has made it easier for more inexperienced sales reps to join the workforce and ramp up quickly.
Furthermore, younger generations tend to embrace new tools more effectively, making it easier for some of them to reach the performance levels of more experienced sales reps who are shy toward technology.
New generations of sales teams will also dramatically improve knowledge sharing and collaboration due to their higher propensity to use social media. Research shows how knowledge sharing brings numerous efficiencies to sales processes, such as reducing overall cost of sales and ramp-up time.
Technology will continue to enable sales organizations and we will see accelerated adoption of digital sales tools as Gen X workers are eager to get their hands on more sophisticated capabilities. This can spell bad news for sales reps who are stuck in their classic ways, as they may soon find themselves unequipped for modern buyer expectations. Older generation sales reps with open minds, however, will find a resurgence in their sales potential, as they can not only learn new tricks from younger generations, but also take the reins on sales leadership.
Now, let’s focus on your company’s biggest asset, its customers.
Companies have been talking about improving the customer experience for a few years now, and adoption of popular metrics such as Customer Effort Scores continues to rise. Word on the street is that Customer Success organizations have officially gone from a novel pacesetter practice a few years ago to being a standard practice today. They’re often aligned with a CxO title, such as a Chief Customer Officer or Chief Experience Officer. Makes sense given the tech industry's increasing dependence on customer lifetime value and, therefore, customer experience.
COVID-19 definitely raised the stakes for what good customer experience really means. Tech companies saw negative impacts initially after COVID-19 struck, ranging from immediate ticket saturation to delays in implementation projects because consultants were unable to travel.
Empathy training for customer-facing employees, which seemed a fad late last year, now became a critical reality when customers were under enormous personal and professional pressure. Anyone interacting with customers across sales and service found themselves adding “emotional therapist” to their list of skills.
One of the presentations in the Customer Experience track of the Technology Summit was from Vishal Sharma, CTO for SearchUnify. He made a great point about the importance of personalizing every interaction with the customer, so they’re treated as individuals and not just the next person in line.
According to TSIA’s 2020 Knowledge Management Survey, only 12% of companies offer personalized FAQs for self-service. These FAQs allow companies to filter lists to only include content relevant to products the customer owns. A seemingly essential feature, and one that’s key to having personalized interactions, yet it’s nowhere to be found. Clearly, we need to make some progress here. Maybe a stronger community will help?
Adrian Speyer, had of community for Vanilla Forums, discussed how customer communities are becoming a strategic asset for companies. Customer communities are expanding beyond just support forums to evolve into an enterprise-wide function with a big focus on peer-to-peer communications and customer ideation.
If your company’s not offering customers the ability to submit feature requests and vote on priorities for your next release, you’ll find renewals to be an increasing challenge. Customers will eventually leave your company for one offering a more transparent customer experience.
We predict 2021 will see support-owned communities expand into full customer collaboration platforms with ownership shared across the entire enterprise. According to the 2020 Support Services Technology Stack Survey, 79% of companies have budget set aside for new or additional customer community technology in 2020-2021, so we think a lot of firms will be doing this community expansion on a new platform.
If you have an interest in this topic, John is working on an “Enterprise Community Progression Model” that outlines the four phases of evolution from support forum to becoming an industry thought leader hub. Be on the lookout for this report to be published later in 2020.
I think we can all agree AI has become an obsession. With significant capital set aside, many companies are trying to build their own AI, often unsuccessfully. To make matters more confusing, vendors continue praising the potential for AI, but fail to provide any real-world examples of success. Shame on you AI! We were expecting much, much more.
One concept that emerged in the Digital Transformation track at the Technology Summit was that there are two “A’s” in AI: Artificial Intelligence and Augmented Intelligence. The media loves the idea of an artificial intelligence revolution, where machines replace people and automation drives unemployment. Headlines and stories of projected job losses due to AI shower our newsfeeds and make employees and the public more wary of any high scale technology projects.
These fairytales often do more harm than good though. The reality is that many B2B companies are finding successful use cases for AI and augmented intelligence, as Uriah Hakala from Mavenlink showed in his Technology Summit presentation.
Augmented intelligence means any internal system can prompt employees with intelligent suggestions to help them complete a process or perform a task. It supplements the employee’s knowledge and boosts productivity and accuracy. Employees no longer have to stop and search for information or ask a peer for help. This means employees can keep their jobs and be better equipped. Sounds like AI’s not so bad after all!
Word on the street is companies are keeping employees in the right “swim lane” with the assistance of augmented intelligence. I don’t know if that sounds cool or creepy, but it turns out that augmented intelligence can be used to monitor metrics related to a process or project, and proactively notifies users when they’re in danger of going outside a desired parameter. Sounds kind of like house arrest if you ask me. Which I guess is not too much different from being quarantined. Hmmmmmm, I’m watching you AI.
A project manager could receive a message when a margin is heading out of bounds or a key milestone may be missed. Or a support supervisor could be notified when a new employee has been on a remote control session for longer than normal so the supervisor can drop into that session and see what’s going on.
This type of AI can help you hit performance goals by intelligently guiding employees and enforcing best practices.
Companies are also telling us they’re using AI contextual knowledge to empower their teams. This means they’re able to prompt employees or customers with contextual, relevant information from within the desktop or website they are on.
For support engineers, this could be knowledge articles or recovery steps relevant to a case they are creating. For sales orgs, this could mean recommending the best content to send prospects based on website engagement data. The key here is that people don’t know what they don’t know, so this type of AI can highlight information for them that they didn’t know already existed. This is information they’d otherwise try to find via search or asking for help. In other words, they’d be wasting their time. Think of it as employee deflection.
Sid Victor from CSS Corp. gave a stellar presentation on how his company’s embracing a number of digital capabilities. Everything from automating support activities and leveraging self-service chat bots to some pretty advanced use cases for robotic process automation (RPA) in the front office.
TSIA has periodically published data showing customers are increasingly adopting digital channels for support, including digital chat such as SMS text and WhatsApp. CSS Corp is experiencing a huge uptick in volume via these emerging digital channels, even though introducing a digital agent desktop that easily enables omnichannel communications, including digital chat, is several light years away for most tech companies.
This leads me to my final prediction: An increase in outsourcing for 2021. Alright, hear me out. Back in the day, outsourcing was seen as a way to reduce support costs by leveraging a service provider partner with offshore locations. But what we’re seeing now with TSIA members is that their focus on service provider relationships has changed from cost cutting to accelerating innovation.
Companies not only found that their own offshore locations couldn’t sufficiently support home-based employees, but hiring and training new employees remotely was hard, if not impossible. Also, companies wanting to rapidly introduce digital capabilities are realizing that it will take them 2-3 years to do themselves, while a quality service provider could enable these capabilities for their customers in an instant.
John and I both predict companies will begin introducing more strategic relationships with outsourcers to help them accelerate digital transformation, especially given our current state of emergency.
It’s not about what you know, it’s about what you do with what you know. So if you have any questions on how to best navigate any of these topics, please feel free to reach out to our Membership Development team. At the very least, take a few minutes to understand how TSIA empowers the world’s leading organizations through digital transformation and how we can do the same for your company.
Hopefully you had the chance to attend both our Technology Summit and TSIA Interact. If you missed some of these sessions, they are available OnDemand to those who registered from the TSIA Interact platform. Thanks for reading!
Post Date: November 2, 2020
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Omar Fdawi is a former senior research associate for TSIA, focusing primarily on enterprise technology. Although having spent over half his career in sales and sales operations, he also has background in data analysis, process improvement, and financial reporting. His previous experience includes working in software, banking, mass media, and food manufacturing industries. He has a passion for automating business processes and helping companies become more profitable.
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