For B2B sales and marketing leaders who want to improve revenue generation, several first-rate research, benchmarking, and advisory firms can offer great ideas and counsel.
This is the second in a two-part series about the top six North American firms of this kind.
This Part 2 covers CEB (Corporate Executive Board), Aberdeen Group, and Forrester Research. Part 1 considered SiriusDecisions, CSO Insights, and SBI - Sales Benchmark Index.
CEB offers strategic insights and recommendations for many business functions. In addition to Sales and Marketing, CEB provides information for and about Finance, Compliance, Legal, Human Resources, Information Technology (IT), Procurement, and Operations.
CEB's clients are most likely to be big or mid-sized companies across many business segments. But smaller companies can also learn a lot from the steady stream of high-quality information CEB provides free or at low cost.
CEB's sales and marketing practice is probably best known for the work CEB employees Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson, authors of the 2011 book The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation.
In the foreword to that book, Neil Rackham, author of SPIN Selling (1988) said "the research they have done is the most important advance in selling in many years and may indeed justify the rare and coveted label of 'sales breakthrough.'"
The authors updated their thinking in 2015 with publication of The Challenger Customer: Selling to the Hidden Influencer Who Can Multiply Your Results.
Besides Challenger selling, CEB also addresses sales compensation, customer relationship management (or CRM) systems, indirect channel sales, inside sales, key account management, sales operations management, talent acquisition, and talent development.
On the marketing side, CEB's research and advisory services cover branding, B2B demand generation, customer experience management, customer understanding, marketing communications, new product development, organizational management, planning and measurement, product management, sales and distribution, segmentation, and social media.
CEB engages with its members at two levels, says Tate Smith, CEB business development manager. At the higher level of service, CEB provides a "hands-on, customized consulting relationship." At the lower level, CEB offers annual memberships by subscription.
Fees for membership vary with the size of the client's company, Smith says.
Memberships offer a way for leaders of sales or marketing to digest CEB's content, Smith says. Members also get access to an account manager who aligns them with the right CEB resources for their needs.
Membership also gives the leaders of a member company unlimited access to CEB's online resources.
Sales and marketing leaders can also participate in what CEB calls leadership councils and skills development services.
Another offering focuses on how to apply the principles of Challenger selling. CEB provides these services through a group of certified independent consultants.
CEB's Challenger consulting services may be out of the reach of many small companies, Smith concedes. Leaders who want to implement the Challenger process in small companies can do so as a do-it-yourself project. They can buy the book and piece together the free CEB information available online.
Free online resources
CEB is prolific in content marketing, and they generate a constant flow of free information.
The company runs several very active blogs, with one focused on sales and service and another on marketing and communications. Oddly, you can subscribe to email updates to these blogs only by submitting an inquiry for full CEB membership.
CEB has posted so many presentations to SlideShare that it's hard to sort out the ones related to B2B sales and marketing.
Of the six companies on this list, Aberdeen Group has the most divergent business model. Unlike the other firms profiled here, Aberdeen is not in the business of helping its clients apply research and insights to improve their own internal sales or marketing operations.
Instead, Aberdeen helps its clients market their business by using Aberdeen's research-based content.
Even so, Aberdeen's reseach on B2B sales and marketing provides plenty of insights companies can use to refine their own operations.
Aberdeen's target client is a company of any size that wants to use credible, vendor-neutral research to help market itself or its offerings. This is according to Steve Melville, Market Development Manager at Aberdeen.
Aberdeen offers research on many topics other than sales and marketing, including supply chain, analytics and business intelligence, financial management, and 13 other areas.
The Sales Effectiveness & Strategy practice at Aberdeen serves enterprise sales leaders, specifically with respect to sales operations. The content in this practice addresses technologies and best practices that facilitate B2B sales cycles.
Recent Aberdeen studies and reports have addresses these sales-related topics:
- Sales performance management
- Sales enablement
- Sales forecasting
- Sales analytics
- Customer relationship management (CRM)
Aberdeen's Marketing Effectiveness & Strategy practice addresses these topics:
- Content marketing
- Marketing analytics and technology
- The Hidden Sales CycleTM (This is the part of the buyer's decision process that occurs without direct involvement of the vendor's sales people.)
- Demand generation
- Marketing operations
- Web marketing
- Public relations
- Brand strategy
You can view all of Aberdeen's content online for free. But if you want to download, copy, print, or share most of the content on the Aberdeen website, you must pay a license fee.
That means you must license their content for use in white papers, brochures, and other commercial documents. Blog citations are the only exception to the rule.
Aberdeen provides content in many forms, including research reports, campaign bundles, assessments, videos, ebooks, webinar content, blog posts, and infographics and interactive graphics.
Aberdeen will also create what they call "vendor-neutral content" for its clients, says Steve Melville. This is material Aberdeen creates to meet a client's specific marketing need.
For example, Aberdeen may use data from its archives to prepare a special report on a topic it hasn't previously covered. The report may address an industry trend or an industry need.
The custom report will not contain the names of any vendors, and it will carry only the Aberdeen logo, Melville says.
The sponsoring company pays Aberdeen for the right to distribute the report in full or to cite portions of its content.
Aberdeen also offers several packages of fee-based services. For example, Aberdeen analysts will help you promote their research to the benefit of your company.
You can hire them to appear with you in webinars or at events such as conferences. But they won't endorse your company or its products. Nor will they comment on your competitors.
At a separate new URL the company says it offers unique value by integrating data, analytics and content in ways that help its clients generate more sales leads and conversions. The firm touts its capabilities in both science and storytelling.
Free online resources
Aberdeen makes all of its content visible to members who have registered on the company's website. Membership is open to all, and registration is free.
But beware of their tight restrictions on all public, commercial use of any Aberdeen content.
The main Aberdeen blog is segmented by topic category. You can easily find posts on sales and marketing effectiveness and strategy. But oddly, you can't subscribe to updates.
Aberdeen publishes a separate blog, CMO Essentials, which Aberdeen positions as a resource "for and about marketers." It covers the topics of brand and content, customer experience, demand generation, and operations and technology.
The content of CMO Essentials is mostly written by Aberdeen staff members, but authorship is open to outside contributors. You can subscribe to email updates.
Aberdeen has its own YouTube channel with 109 videos posted and 107 subscribers. The channel includes many of the topics Aberdeen covers, not just sales and marketing.
The Aberdeen LinkedIn page is a good place to see all the content Aberdeen produces across formats and topics. You can also follow Aberdeen on Twitter, where they've posted about 9,800 tweets and have about 2,300 followers.
Finally, Aberdeen maintains an active presence on SlideShare, with many postings on sales and marketing during the past year.
Forrester Research appears last on the list of six because they make it hardest to evaluate what they offer.
Compared to the websites of other firms profiled here, the Forrester website feels a little like a convenience store in a rough urban neighborhood. Nearly everything worth more than a dollar, it seems, is locked up.
Have you seen those cashiers who work behind a thick plexiglass barrier? Forrester was similarly guarded in responding to a telephone inquiry.
Asked to comment on the kinds of companies Forrester targets, Jenna Burpee sent a terse email message that their policy doesn't allow "customized commentary for vendor-based outlets."
Next, Sean Higgins, senior citations specialist, sent a message saying that any use of Forrester's content is subject to their "citation policy." That policy requires Forrester's prior approval for "all external or commercial citation of Research and Custom Research, including without limitation... links to any websites maintained by Forrester and/or its subsidiaries."
OK, then. We won't provide any links here.
Hey, I just wanted to talk to someone at Forrester who's open to explaining information that isn't clear on their website.
Looks like you'll have to find and interpret the Forrester website on your own.
When you parse the Forrester website, it appears they want to appeal to small and mid-sized businesses (or SMBs) as well as bigger companies.
The Forrester website provides marketing-related content for chief marketing officers (or CMOs) and other leaders in these marketing roles:
- VP or director of marketing
- VP or director of sales enablement
- VP or director of channel marketing
- VP or director of demand generation
- VP or director of product or solutions marketing
Forrester publishes information about sales and marketing alignment but apparently nothing about sales operations.
Because Forrester wouldn't answer questions, you'll have to discover for yourself what services they offer for companies like yours.
The company publishes a free newsletter that lists Forrester's new research. The newsletter comes out several times a week. In the newsletter, an icon of a closed padlock appears beside most of the new titles. The icon means you have to pay to see the document.
When you click on a title beside a padlock, you go to a landing page. On these landing pages, Forrester is refereshingly open and transparent about their pricing for a single document. It appears that $499 is a common price for many of their shorter pieces. Longer research reports may cost a few thousand dollars each.
As an alternative to paying for individual documents, clients can pay a flat annual fee for access to clusters of gated content. Annual memberships may include other bundled services.
The Forrester website says the company provides consulting services in the areas of customer experience, content marketing solutions, and a topic they call "digital business transformation." All three may be of interest to B2B marketers.
Forrester clients can also participate in a series of councils or "leadership boards," where Forrester says participating members drive the agenda. For B2B marketers, the CMO Group, the B2B Marketing Council, and the B2B Marketing Council for SMB Clients appear most relevant.
Finally, Forrester sponsors a series of events, including summits, forums, and webinars for clients and other paying participants. Webinars often cost $300 each for non-subscribers.
Free online resources
You can ferret good free Forrester insight online. But beware. If you cite any of it publicly, you may run afoul of the Forrester citation police.
Forrester's blogs cover a broad range of topics, but you can click a filter to bring up posts related to B2B marketing.
Forrester's blog post are consistently good. That said, sometimes Forrester analysts don't distinguish between marketing for transactional sales versus complex sales. The lack of clarity may be confusing at times, because many marketing strategies and tactics are (or should be) different for complex sales.
On the Forrester blog you can use a filter to bring up posts that to appeal to CMOs. The CMO content seems slanted toward B2C marketing. Readers must sort out for themselves how well the blogger's insights may apply to B2B.
Hypothetically, you can subscribe to an RSS feed for notice of new blog content. But that function wasn't working at the time of this writing.
Forrester has a strong presence on LinkedIn. In the absence of a working RSS blog feed, Forrester's LinkedIn company page may offer the most convenient way to keep up with new releases of content.
Forrester has an active Twitter presence. They've posted more than 12,000 tweets and have about 15,000 followers. Their YouTube channel displays about 400 videos and boasts about 3,200 subscribers. This is a good place to find recorded highlights from Forrester forums.
In general, Forrester's YouTube videos contain very good content. But it's hard to find titles on topics related to B2B Marketing. And most of the videos are quite short.
It may be faster and easier to find good material in Forrester's SlideShare presentations, which they post on many topics. In the big Forrester library of Slideshare presentations, it can be tedious to find the titles that apply to marketing. I've achieved good results searching on "Forrester + marketing" or "Forrester + B2B."
Between Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, you now have a good idea of the six leading North American firms that provide research and insight about the current state of B2B sales and marketing.
Note that the series has intentionally left out any references to big strategic consulting practices such as McKinsey and Accenture. But it's worth watching their websites because they occasionally publish great content on sales and marketing.
Have you found other good sources for research and benchmarking information about B2B sales and marketing? If so, please share them in the comments.