Whatever Happened to Virtual Reality?

The technology is still a wonder. The software that comes with it just never seems as exciting.

Virtual reality is the breakthrough technology that seems perpetually on the verge of actually breaking through. It’s been around in some form or the other for almost 20 years, and yet, is still seen as a niche innovation, best suited for gamers. But even within that niche, virtual reality hasn’t taken off the way we expected it to. So what happened? 

Back in 2018, I wrote a research report on the emerging business use cases for augmented, mixed and virtual reality and was pretty bullish on the technology. It was hard not to be — Facebook had just released Oculus Go, the first cordless VR headset, and gifted it to all the attendees of its F8 conference that year. At $199 apiece, this was the first affordable VR headset entering the market. As I put it on and demoed a virtual roller coaster, I was blown away by how real the experience felt. I walked away convinced that anybody who tried VR would think it was the most incredible technological innovation in the last 10 years. 

As I enthusiastically demoed the headset for my work colleagues and family, I began to notice a common theme. After the first 10 mins of oohing and aahing over the roller coaster game, there was always a “now what” moment with anybody who tried it. The excitement had quickly worn off, and I didn’t have a new shiny thing lined up to show them. 

“I walked away convinced that anybody who tried VR would think it was the most incredible technological innovation in the last 10 years.”

That, in a nutshell, sums up the problem with VR. The technology is a wonder, and it continues to become even more impressive. However, the software simply isn’t as compelling. The platform doesn’t have any blockbuster games the way Xbox, PlayStation or even mobile phones have. And while VR headset makers like Oculus, HTC and Sony continue to make great leaps in making VR headsets more affordable and less clunky, the experiences within them are still, for the most part, mediocre.

As Ben Kuchera acknowledges in his article for Polygon, “There’s a secret the VR industry doesn’t want you to know, however, and they’ll never talk about it. Especially since people like older virtual reality enthusiasts like me are often so ready to praise the latest breakthrough: For all the exponential growth the technology has seen in just the last decade, as it exists right now, VR is still horrible.”

When it comes to commercial use cases, companies are more likely to get value out of augmented reality, which enhances existing physical experiences, rather than forcing you to immerse yourself in a virtual one. And ultimately, the average consumer simply doesn’t see the value of owning a geeky-looking headset to play a few games that make you dizzy and disoriented after 30 mins.


So what’s it going to take for VR to truly take off? As is usually the case, it’s a combination of many small factors that eventually will lead to the tipping point. These include lighter, less cumbersome headsets, affordable price points, and seamless integration with existing devices. But the single most important factor will be the software. For VR to be a compelling buy, it has to offer something exclusive to it, an experience that simply can’t be replicated outside it. This could be a blockbuster game, a new way to experience interactive cinema or something along the lines of a shared social experience within a virtual environment. Think of how Netflix and Hulu only really took off when they started offering original content that was exclusive to their platforms. VR has to make the same play in order to capture the moment and become mainstream. Till then, we’ll refrain from continuing to call it a “breakthrough technology.”


To Transform Digital Selling, Must Sales & Marketing Converge?

Despite historical differences, sales and marketing teams now see that more collaboration equals more revenue.

In our 2020 State of Digital Selling global research report, we found a consistent theme: the more in sync sales and marketing was, the better the outcome for sales, in terms of revenue, customer satisfaction and other metrics. That, and the tremendous growth of executives managing both functions—LinkedIn has identified the Chief Revenue Officer as the fastest-growing C-Suite role—has led to an emphasis on studying this convergence as part of my research on the digital transformation of sales. In this post, I’ll look at the impact of this convergence, which was discussed in my recent webinar with our research director, Omar Akhtar.

Convergence or Collaboration?

Convergence of sales and marketing today is embodied by the rise of new C-suite leaders, often with the Chief Revenue Officer (CRO) title, who manage both sales and marketing—often with a new combined Revenue Operations team supporting both. What is the line between convergence and collaboration? It’s undoubtedly possible for these teams to align and collaborate so well that they could appear converged and achieve the same benefits. A question my research will answer this year is: what points of convergence or collaboration are required to digitally transform sales?

Clearly, the trend is in favor of convergence as shown by research indicating the CRO title is the fastest growing in the C-suite. What benefits are CEOs seeking with convergence?

An important benefit was a clear finding in my recent report which found the high performance of Account-Based Marketing (ABM) and Account-Based Selling (ABS). One factor we evaluated was the type of digital sales model employed, in terms of scale as measured by the size of the deal, lead time and level of collaboration employed. Our research found that high-touch, high-value, long lead-time sales that rely on a well-coordinated team and unique sales planning with marketing paid off well. Top performers (represented in the purple bars in the chart below) follow this model, and it was even the most frequent model among average performers as well (shown by the index in blue).

The benefits of collaboration are high. Consider the enormous investment marketing teams have made in technology, data, and skills development. Much of that investment can be leveraged by sales to digitize selling. By sharing the same data, enablement tools and customer experience platforms, costs can be reduced, and effectiveness increased, as near-real-time decisions can be used to nurture leads and provide the intelligence needed to up-sell, cross-sell and re-sell.

Barriers Are Deep-Rooted

Too many times, sellers and marketers don’t see eye-to-eye. In a recent conversation with a marketing leader, we discussed whether this is a left-brain/right-brain issue: marketers being more analytical and sales being more relationship and instinct-driven. Yes, these are broad generalizations, but they hold in my experience too. This impacts trust. Sales’ digital transformation will rely on new levels of trust among sales teams for the data and tools they use to navigate digital selling. This trust is lacking among the average digital seller, but high among top performers. For example, when we asked sellers if they trusted marketing’s data, 61% reported that they don’t—they want their own.

Perhaps the most fundamental challenge is misaligned priorities. In our recent 2020 State of Digital Marketing report, we found that marketing deprioritized sales-focused efforts, such as creating more sales qualified leads to buyers, supporting sales team productivity and growing e-commerce.

“An equal partnership in the form of an executive steering committee—or through CRO convergence—can address these barriers.”

Building trust is essential to sales’ transformation: if, as I believe, sales needs marketing’s help to digitally transform, we must tackle cultural mindsets and increase alignment focus. It may not be easy for sales leaders to accept marketing’s help given the risk of marketing dominating sales’ digital transformation, at the expense of what makes sales different from marketing. An equal partnership in the form of an executive steering committee—or through CRO convergence—can address these barriers.

What It Means & What You Can Do

The place to start is to look at the key touchpoints between sales and marketing that represent hand-offs, which tend to be problematic. The table below shows what I believe to be those key areas and the relative digital maturity of marketing and sales. As you can see, marketing and sales are complementary:

Planning. Much of planning integration is solved when sales and marketing collaborate through ABM/ABS. I’ve spoken with one large manufacturing business that plans GTM strategy holistically: team members from marketing, sales and service create a strategy through carefully structured workshops, spanning up to 5 days together working as a team. This not only ensures alignment, but time together can bridge cultural barriers.

Content. The content touchpoint includes selling assets, like playbooks, scripts and content that nurture leads to conversion. This area is most often led by marketing, but I continue to hear sales complain about the content they’re asked to share: it may not be easily personalized for the buyer, or the seller may not know how to position it for the prospect’s unique needs. Often training is the heart of the issue, but part of the root cause is a misalignment in strategy and insights. Sales need to be much more involved in content strategy and learn the tools necessary to use and measure content effectiveness.

Lead Management. Best next moves during lead nurturing are important in digital selling, because of the near real-time response that must be coordinated between sales and marketing. For example, after a lead downloads a white paper provided by marketing, what shared customer intelligence signals the best next step for sales? I’m also questioning whether lead management belongs in a digitally transformed sales organization that can do its own prospecting. As sales become increasingly comfortable with automation and data, the definition of a “marketing qualified lead” and “sales qualified lead” will surely evolve.

Data. My digital sales research has shown that top performers align performance metrics between sales and marketing, such as customer satisfaction, revenue goals, etc. In fact, there was a 34% spread in digital selling maturity between the index and top performers when KPIs, incentives and compensation were aligned between teams. But I also found that sales don’t necessarily trust marketing’s data—which brings us back to the cultural issues that must be addressed. The solution is also found in last year’s 2020 State of Digital Selling report: top performers collaborate with marketing on both a data architecture and technology stack roadmap to keep aligned—much more so than the index of average performers.

Technology. Technology touchpoints are dual: internally, represented by sales and marketing enablement (e.g., CRM, SFA, etc.), and externally, customer-facing digital experiences, such as websites, apps and social media. Marketing is leading CX work today, but as sales become more digital, they need to be part of a highly collaborative process with marketing and service teams to create a seamless customer experience that crosses their functions.

Ongoing Teamwork. Customer experience worries for the sales team don’t stop after the sale. Some of the most integrated sales and marketing teams work within a growing part of the economy: Software as a Service or SaaS. For example, a salesperson who has sold a SaaS HR system needs to understand whether their customer is utilizing the system to its full potential. If the customer is underutilizing the system, they may have bought the wrong product; if they’re overutilizing the system, there’s an upsell opportunity. Even if your product isn’t SaaS-oriented, it helps a lot to think of it that way by demanding marketing and service customer insights that may guide your sales strategy for an account.


Webinar Replay: The Digital Sales & Marketing Convergence

To find exceptional growth, both disciplines are leaning on one another for more support and collaboration.

56 min


The 2021 State of Digital Content

Operations support, agility and revenue are priorities, as firms race to smooth out work-from-home challenges.

Benchmarks for Building an Agile Content System

The biggest challenge for today’s businesses is to consistently produce personalized content at a large scale, deliver it at breakneck speed, and credibly have an impact on revenue. The businesses that are successful in this endeavor have invested in an innovative set of capabilities that make up an “Agile Content System”.

For this report, we surveyed 375 respondents from businesses around the world to determine maturity benchmarks for each of these key content capabilities, and the practices that underpin them. Companies can use these benchmarks to rate their own progress and chart a path of improvement for their content teams.

Key Report Findings

  • Brand awareness (35%) and thought leadership (28%) are the top content goals.
  • Content teams that focused on more business-centric goals such as lead generation, sales enablement and customer support were more digitally mature in practices such as data analysis, personalization and content production at scale.
  • Producing content based on customer data is the top challenge for companies, followed by aligning teams on a strategy and hiring the right skills.
  • A central content team is the most common production model (50%), but increasingly companies are shifting to a decentralized model (32%) to keep up with demand.
  • Despite technological advancement, most companies still deploy inefficient “one-item-at-a-time” processes (62%) for content review and approval.
  • Increasingly, businesses are using AI to help create audience segments (18%), generate content variations (19%) and power content testing processes (24%).

Download the full report below.

Download The 2021 State of Digital Content

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Thank you for your interest in Altimeter’s research!


Why Are Leaders More Optimistic Than Sales Teams About Digital Sales Transformation?

Our research reveals a scary disconnect: Leaders are more positive about transformation than their sales staff.

In our 2020 State of Digital Selling global research report, we found disconnects between the views of front-line sales staff and their leaders. Leaders view their progress in digital sales transformation more positively than sales staff in three areas: technology, customer experience, and organization/people-readiness. This post delves into those disconnects to help leaders and staff better understand their respective sales transformation realities and ends with recommendations on how to close the gap.

Technology & Data

For front-line sales teams, technology is far less effective than what their leaders believe. The largest gap was the effectiveness of foundational CRM and sales automation tools, which only 22% of front-line team members rate “highly effective” vs 38% of leaders. Only 23% of staff strongly believe increased use of digital tools has helped them meet their objectives through the COVID-19 pandemic, vs 40% of sales leaders.

“The root cause of the tech gap is skills and training.”

One clue that points to the root cause of the tech gap is skills and training: 31% of sales staff say that it is the biggest digital selling transformation challenge, vs. just 21% of leaders—who instead name technology as the greatest transformational challenge.

Customer Experience

Front-line sales staff view customer experience much differently than sales leaders. The front-line would like to expand buyer digital tools to match buyer preference and self-service (41% front line vs. 29% leaders). Front-line sales teams understand CX from direct engagement with customers and prospects, while sales leaders are a step removed and often rely on IT or CX experts to recommend digital tools. To tackle this disconnect, leaders should engage the front-line more in CX development.

The biggest disconnect was the value of content and selling assets: only 24% of front-line staff strongly agree they have the right selling assets based on the customer journey vs. 44% among managers. Reinforcing this disconnect, only 26% of sales staff strongly agree that sales and marketing successfully collaborate to deliver the right content at the right time to move leads to conversion (vs. 37% of sales leaders). At the end of the sales funnel, only 27% of front-line staff strongly believe the handoff from sales to customer success teams results in high customer satisfaction (vs. 39% of leaders).

In addition, when it comes to content, I hear a consistent story from front-line sales: they don’t know how to select, customize and share (within the customer’s context) content. All too often, content is shared without adequate context from the seller, and this leaves the customer with less reason to read it. This is a training issue. Part of the problem could be the complexity of tools sales teams are asked to use, but training on the “why” and “how” of content is also a challenge.

People & Organization

Front-line sales staff perceive sales and marketing collaboration as much less effective than leaders do. Only 24% of sales staff view collaboration as effective (vs. 35% of leaders). This attitude shows up in two areas: the ability of sales and marketing to collaborate and refine what a sales qualified lead is (32% staff vs. 43% leaders) and the provision of timely customer intelligence to understand prospects (30% vs. 40%).

No doubt, part of this may be a visibility problem: leaders are more likely to work cross-functionally (including with marketing) than front-line sales. The more problematic issue is the front-line’s view that sales qualified leads aren’t well defined, and the fact they’re not getting adequate customer intelligence to understand leads. This should trouble leadership, as both of these issues have a direct impact on the front line’s results. Leaders likely have metrics that indicate access to customer intelligence, but it won’t tell them how effective it was in closing a deal. Of course, an upward trend in usage data indicates growing reliance on it and so is a good indication of ultimate usefulness. If leaders don’t see an upward trend, there’s likely a problem that can be uncovered through direct conversations (or field polling) of the front-line—something metrics won’t tell managers.


What It Means & What You Can Do

It’s not unusual to see differences in attitudes by role in our research, but this consistent gap between front-line sales staff and sales leaders drew attention because it was persistent (across all questions we asked). These gaps could hamper the progress of those organizations seeking to digitally transform their sales teams and so are worth paying attention to. Keep the following in mind to successfully transform sales:

  • Regularly poll front-line staff to understand their perspective and compare to related metrics like content effectiveness and sales tool enablement adoption. Sales managers and leaders should question those metrics that indicate front-line use of data, content and tools without proof that the front-line is truly getting the value A salesperson downloading a white paper to share with a prospect is a vanity metric. It doesn’t indicate whether that content was effectively shared and made a difference in converting the prospect.
  • No one likes to take a great salesperson off the front line, but you need to in order to best match transformation tactics to real-world experience. If you have a digital selling transformation council or team, include some of your best sales staff to ensure your whiteboard ambitions address real-world needs. In addition to basic capabilities, tools, etc., involve the front-line in the selection and prioritization of metrics leaders see when it comes to sales enablement.
  • Regularly analyze buyer and customer surveys to understand key disconnects, e.g., front line sales staff see the need for additional customer-facing digital tools that leaders are clearing missing. You’ll discover those gaps—and others—by better understanding digitally-savvy buyers.
  • To compare perspectives in your organization, take our 12-question digital selling maturity After taking the survey, results are emailed to the taker. Have leaders and staff forward their results to someone who can analyze them and identify areas of disconnect that require a deeper look.

Have you identified sales transformation gaps between leaders and staff? What were they and how did you handle them? 

More Digital Selling Resources from Altimeter


Three Ways Digital Transformation Can Close the Diversity Leadership Gap

Women of color are systematically squeezed out of advancement opportunities. We can fix that.

As a woman of color, I’m often asked how leaders and their organizations can address systemic inequities in our society. My response is to look in our own backyards, within our own organizations. You don’t have to look far to see inequities that we have chosen too long to ignore. 

Take for example the advancement of people from entry-level up through leadership into the C-suite. If our promotion criteria and processes were fair and based on a meritocracy, then you would expect that people would advance in the same proportion at which they entered the company. 

Yet that isn’t the case. The figure below shows data from the LeanIn.Org and McKinsey study “Women in the Workplace 2020”, where representation by corporate roles of four segments — white men, white women, men of color, and women of color — is indexed to the entry-level population of that group. For example, white women make up 29% of the entry level population and they make up 26% of managers which indexes at 0.90. 

At the very first level of promotion from entry-level to manager, there is a separation. The good news is that white women and men of color get promoted to manager at close to their representation. These two groups continue to maintain strong representation all the way into the C-suite — but it could be better. 

But look at the representation by women of color. At the very first level of promotion to manager, women of color drop off significantly in representation to 67% of their entry-level population compared to 126% of white men. This borders on becoming an adverse impact

By the time we get to the C-suite, representation by women of color is a minuscule 17% of their entry-level population. Intersectionality — which is the compounding of overlapping discrimination and disadvantage, in this case, gender and race — means that the glass ceiling is far lower for women of color than we realized. Looking at diversity through the lens of intersectionality means that we include the layering impact of multiple forms of discrimination, including age, disability, sexuality, class, and education.

Transforming Leadership in Our Organizations

Numbers matter because we manage what we can measure. We know from countless studies that diverse teams disrupt the status quo, driving exponential growth and profits over their less diverse counterparts. 

This isn’t a C-suite problem. It begins at the very beginning of the leadership journey which means that leaders at every level of the organization can be a part of the solution. When we can recognize discrimination in all of its forms, our leaders can identify and address systemic bias built into our organizations. 

I’m heartened by the increased awareness of unfairness in our organizations and society and the desire for leaders to take action. I’m also excited about the ways that digital transformation can play a role in these efforts. Here are three specific examples of how technology can make a difference in how we increase fairness in our own organizations.

  • Create digital dashboards to provide visibility and enable early intervention. In most organizations, diversity numbers remain hidden in a vault to be pulled out for reporting purposes. Put that data to good use by providing real-time data on candidate pools at all levels of the organization, from hiring to promotions to ensure a slate of diverse candidates. For extra impact, focus on promotion paths for roles that develop profit and loss management skills as these lead more directly to C-suite positions.
  • Use artificial intelligence to identify and reduce bias in promotions. We can point AI at employment and promotion data to identify adverse impact in ways that we couldn’t detect. Services like Textio can help write more inclusive job descriptions. And technology like Text IQ, which identifies patterns in natural language, can be pointed at performance reviews to identify bias.
  • Create personalized development plans and training at scale. Front-line managers rarely receive substantive leadership development and training, perpetuating systemic issues. Platforms like AceUp identify skill gaps and create personalized leadership with a technology platform. AI can development plans can prompt leaders to develop under-represented groups to increase their skills in critical areas.

“When we can recognize discrimination in all of its forms, our leaders can identify and address systemic bias built into our organizations.”


It may feel like a long path to close the leadership gap and we won’t get there by incrementally pushing things forward. Let’s use digital technologies to disrupt and transform our organizations to make them more fair and equitable for everyone.


Is a Centralized Creative Team Still the Best Way To Produce Content At Scale?

In their efforts to scale, our research shows many companies are shifting away from centralized content.

For many years, a centralized creative team has been the go-to model for companies producing digital content. But in our latest research report, The 2021 State of Digital Content, we found that companies are shifting to alternative models in order to meet the increasing demands of producing personalized content at scale.

There were pretty good reasons to consolidate content production with a single, central creative team. This internal agency model allowed for better governance, more consistent quality and a quicker production time for digital content. Additionally, as businesses became more digital, they moved on from creating mostly brand-centric content for awareness to more mid-funnel content such as thought leadership or buying guides. These factors were instrumental in companies shifting content production away from external agencies.

Our research shows (FIG 1) that the central model is currently still the most popular way for companies to organize for content production, with 50 percent of survey respondents choosing the model. On the other hand, only 4 percent of respondents use an external agency to produce their content, underscoring the magnitude of this shift.

However, when we asked respondents how they planned to meet the increasing demand for personalized content (FIG 2), we found the majority (32%) were setting up additional content producing centers beyond the central team to serve the unique content demands of different business units or geographies. An additional 18 percent of respondents were also leveraging AI-powered software to automate content creation to further lighten the load on the central team.

These findings show us that using a central creative team to produce all the company’s content is only sustainable to a point. As the number of content “stakeholders” within a business grows, it becomes increasingly difficult to produce content for all of them. Imagine a company with many different brands, product lines or business units, not to mention different geographical markets. With so many different target audiences, coupled with endless variations of the same content for personalization purposes, a central team simply doesn’t have the tools to cope.

“Using a central creative team to produce all the company’s content is only sustainable to a point.”

Rather than embracing the risk of decentralization, where each stakeholder produces content independently, companies are embracing a hybrid model, similar to the “center of excellence” model we’ve seen for digital innovation. 

Businesses can retain the central creative team to set much of the overall content strategy, create and enforce editorial guidelines for quality, and own the visual and verbal identity for consistency. They can also own the technology and provide training for processes such as data-based content creation and measuring content success. However, the actual production of content can be outsourced to the different business units or geos, so long as they follow all the guidance set by the central team. In this way, production doesn’t have to be a bottleneck, and the business can still ensure that all the content produced is aligned with the central strategy.


If your company is struggling to meet content demand, it can be tempting to solve the problem with simply increasing the headcount and investing in better software. And in some cases, that might be all you need. But doing the harder job of re-evaluating the organizational structure may be the more effective, and sustainable solution.


5 Hallmarks of an Agile Content System

Data insights, content modules and standard design systems speed up production and increase impact.

The biggest challenge for today’s content producers is to consistently produce personalized content at a large scale, and credibly have an impact on revenue. Put simply, businesses need to find a way to produce the right content, for the right person, at the right time, on the right channel. The way most companies are set up today makes this a particularly difficult task, one that can’t be tackled by simply adding more employees or investing more money. Our research shows that the teams who are successful in this endeavor have invested in an innovative set of practices that make up an “Agile Content System”. Here are the five most important ones.

Using data to inform content creation

While most content teams have been using some form of analog data to create content (e.g. surveys, demographic studies), accessing the right kind of digital data is what sets the innovative teams apart from the rest. Modern content teams should be able to readily see which content is performing best on each digital channel and adjust creative elements accordingly. Additionally, these teams should also be able to access multi-source customer data to help create content that is tailored specifically to unique audience segments. 

“Accessing the right kind of digital data is what sets the innovative teams apart from the rest.”

This kind of repeatable access to data and analytics means investing in platforms that integrate with each other, educating the creative team on how to use data, and most crucially, organizing groups to collaborate in a more efficient way. Additionally, the most sophisticated teams are using the power of AI to generate both insights, as well as create or suggest content variations based on those insights.

Producing content in modules for approval and recombination

There’s a lot of value in breaking up your content into smaller chunks or modules when you’re creating it. For one, it makes it easier to send and receive compliance or legal approval on smaller chunks of content. It also facilitates more personalization, since you can take all those different content modules and recombine them in a variety of ways for different audience segments. Modern AI-powered content systems are now creating a huge number of variations on the same video ad, or blog post or article by automatically recombining different content modules for new end versions. 

Centralizing and automating content storage

Digital Asset Management platforms or DAMs have become the best place to store creative content. With cloud storage and easy processes for sharing content drafts for collaboration and approval, DAMs make it a lot easier to produce more quality content and have it serve a variety of functions across the organization. The key to successfully using a DAM is to have it be the central repository for storing and managing content for all content stakeholders, which may include product, sales, marketing and service teams. It also follows that there needs to be a standardized tagging and naming scheme that allows multiple teams to upload and download content efficiently. Again, this is another process that can be greatly enhanced with the use of AI that can automatically scan content, determine its themes and automatically tag/store it in the right location for future use.

Uploading a standard design system

Scaling content means allowing content to be produced in multiple centers, rather than a single group at the center. With so many content-producing groups, it can be difficult to maintain standards in quality, as well as consistency in brand and messaging. Investing in a design system helps solve that problem, and also ensures that any new team members or content producers can start to create and match previously produced content quality much faster than they normally would. While most companies have some set of guidelines and rules for brand consistency and visual elements, the most sophisticated ones have uploaded these as a “design system” that is embedded in all the content platforms. This enables creators to access the rules and criteria in real-time, and in some cases, have the approved visual elements and copy supplied in real-time.

Measuring content effectiveness beyond awareness and engagement

While almost every company tries to measure the success of its content in terms of views and clicks (awareness and engagements), the really innovative ones have found a way to attribute even more value to the content, by tracking how much revenue it generates, how many customers it moves along the funnel, or how much money it saves by replacing service inquiries. This elevates content to a strategic tool used by all teams and functions, rather than a promotional asset to be used only by the marketers.

In our upcoming research report, The 2021 State of Digital Content, we’ll be publishing maturity benchmarks for each of these practices, along with the most pressing challenges, investments and priorities for digital content producing teams. Sign up for our subscriber list below to receive the report as soon as it publishes, along with other insights from the Altimeter team.


Effective content strategies require speed, agility and flexibility. Without these five capabilities–data insights, standard design systems, content modules, centralized storage and effective metrics–companies will find themselves at a disadvantage when compared to nimbler competitors.


How Prepared Are You For Digital Selling?

Our research shows companies are moving toward digital selling techniques faster than they’d planned.

Sales teams have had a tough year. The forced push into selling virtually through tools like social media and video conferencing have disrupted both sellers’ sales funnels and their customers’ journey.  We’ve developed a tool to help you quickly assess your organization’s digital selling readiness for the key capabilities used by top performing sales organizations discovered in our 2020 State of Digital Selling research report. You don’t have to be in sales to find this useful: marketers will play a key supporting role in the digital transformation of the sales organizations they support.

Sales have watched for years (largely on the sidelines) as the influence of B2C e-commerce changed the expectations of B2B buyers, who now increasingly favor seamless digital experiences that make their lives easier. Many sales teams polished their LinkedIn profiles to engage prospects in the digital landscape only to realize that without great content and integration with backend CRM and SFA systems, those profiles are hollow attempts at transformation. Post-COVID, don’t expect selling practices to go back to “normal,” because there’s no undoing the changes in buyer and seller behavior the global pandemic has caused.

“Post-COVID, don’t expect selling practices to go back to “normal,” because there’s no undoing the changes in buyer and seller behavior the global pandemic has caused.”

Our 2020 State of Digital Selling global research report found that 73% of surveyed sales organizations will transition to digital selling techniques faster than planned. And McKinsey’s research found “Looking forward, B2B companies see digital interactions as two to three times more important to their customers than traditional sales interactions.” The question our research sought to answer is which capabilities are needed (and most important) to digitally transform sales.

What is Digital Selling?

Like any technology disruption, defining it in the early phases of adoption can be tricky. It’s sure to evolve as seller and buyer behavior continues to change.  Here’s a starting point:

Digital Selling is the use of technology-focused commerce practices to meet the needs of digitally savvy buyers and by sellers to seamlessly integrate the sales funnel across marketing, sales and service.

Just as marketing has transformed into a technology and analytics-lead discipline, the digital transformation of sales is underway to position sales as an equal digital partner.

Don’t think of digital selling as entirely end-to-end virtual or digital experiences, but rather a practice that finds the right balance of the complementary offline and online forces. Our research found that top-performing sales organizations combine the human touch needed to influence and sell with digital enablement tools and analytics that give them a significant edge in key sales metrics, including win rates, quota achievement and customer satisfaction. In fact, the best sales team practices were based on the digitization of the Key Accounts sales model, in which a cross-function team of marketers, sellers and service pros focus on key account wins (see chart below).

Which digital practices make a difference?

In our research, we chose to study the digital transformation of sales from the perspective of the capabilities a sales organization needs to succeed.  These capabilities will be familiar to any sales professional.  To understand the relative importance of each, we compared top performers (defined as the top 10% of sales professionals by sales goal attainment) shown in the green bars below against the index of all sales teams in blue.  This chart provides an overview of this model, which includes 8 key capabilities as well as three underlying enablers to the overall model.

The report breaks down each of these capabilities further into sub-capabilities that again show the gap between top performers against the industry average. Our new (free) digital selling diagnostic will rate your organization’s maturity against each of these 11 areas.


Where do you and your organization stand?

Our report on the digital transformation of sales is rich with data and insight. It’s an insightful deep-dive, but for those who want a quick assessment of how mature your digital sales capabilities are, we’ve developed an easy assessment in the form of a 12-question survey. Answering the survey questions is one way to understand the capabilities of top-performing sales organizations. Following the survey, you’ll get a custom report with your score and highlights from the report to help you understand the digital capabilities most important to prioritize now. At the end of the survey, you’ll have the opportunity to tell me more about your challenges, and with your permission, I will reach out to some of you and offer a free 1-hour consultancy on your situation.

So, take 3 minutes and see how you’re doing!

Digital Selling Resources


Webinar Replay: 2021 Digital Trends for Businesses in Asia

Digital transformation, an integral part of business in Asia, is becoming its own discipline and department

37 min

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Marketing and Sales Can’t Collaborate Without These Three Key Investments

Our research shows that teamwork requires systematic efforts to share customer data.

It isn’t terribly insightful to say that marketing and sales need to work together effectively to deliver on revenue goals. However, describing what that looks like continues to be a challenge for most companies.

When we think of collaboration within a company, we think of improved communication, clear ownership of responsibilities and a shared sense of purpose. In the digital age, implementing these collaborative elements requires more than camaraderie or strong leadership. Our research shows that three key investments have the biggest impact on marketing and sales collaboration, regardless of the size, type or location of the company.

Sharing a common view of the customer

A common view of the customer helps both marketing and sales to view and engage the customer based on a single, unified profile. This means a single place to track the movement of the customer, their level of engagement, their propensity to buy, their preferences and past purchases. Without having all that information in a single, centrally accessible profile, both marketing and sales would operate with only a portion of the total data available. 

“A common view of the customer helps both marketing and sales to view and engage the customer based on a single, unified profile.”

This common view can be achieved by either elevating a CRM platform to house both marketing and sales-relevant customer data or investing in a specialized customer data platform (home-grown or bought). This platform is different from a “data-lake” which is an uber database built to house all possible digital and non-digital data in a single bank. What’s required here is a platform that only houses the most relevant data points, and can seamlessly integrate with engagement platforms (such as web, email or ads) to record interaction data.

Mapping an end-to-end customer journey

Almost all digital marketing teams operate off of some form of a digital customer journey. And you’ll be hard-pressed to find a sales team that doesn’t have a version of a customer sales journey. The challenge is to unify both those journeys into a single operating plan, i.e. an end-to-end digital customer journey that spans across all teams and functions. This journey holds everyone accountable to the customer experience, rather than creating broken-up hand-off points between teams. It allows sales to clearly see the value being added by marketing actions at the top of the funnel and allows marketing to see which tactics have the biggest impact on sales goals.

Our research shows that most companies are already well on their way to implementing this requirement.

Our 2020 State of Digital Marketing survey found that a great majority of respondents (79%) have mapped a unified digital customer journey, which means a customer journey that spans different functions and is inclusive of different channels and departments.

Despite the majority, there were differences in implementation. Thirty percent of respondents have created the customer journey, but are still in the process of utilizing it to improve the customer experience, while an equivalent number have already started doing so. And 19% of respondents have progressed to using AI to gain actionable insights from the journey data to continually optimize the customer experience.

Formalized integration plan and platform

It isn’t enough to say marketing and sales should collaborate, successful companies have hardcoded what that collaboration looked like in terms of shared data, content and platforms.

According to our research, the majority of digital marketers (34%) said they have periodic collaborations with the sales team through both in-person interactions and communications through shared digital platforms, such as a CRM.

The next level up (23%) is to turn periodic collaboration into regular, scheduled collaboration, with greater assistance from technology. This might look like automated alerts, algorithmic lead scoring shared between the teams and real-time updates on campaign performance.


This drives home the point that collaboration has to be formalized in a way that is intuitive and frictionless for all parties involved. It also shows that any kind of plan and structure is better than having none at all and that teams shouldn’t be hung up on the exact platforms or meeting cadences at the expense of just starting.


Marketing Transformation: Scaling Personalized Technology, Workflows & Content

Our research finds that the most effective teams are also using smarter segmentation and omni-channel campaigns.

While Scaling Personalized Content, CMOs are Transforming their Companies

I joined Prophet just about nine months ago after leading the marketing services practice at one of the largest interactive agencies in the world. I thought I knew a lot about marketing transformation. I now work with CMOs who are responsible for leading their own transformation agendas. Altimeter’s State of Digital Marketing 2020 only reinforces how much of a marketing transformation is now focused on driving more personalized customer interactions and achieving the scale of operations required to support it.

The CMO Transformation Agenda is Focused on Personalized Experiences

Digital transformation, a term du jour, is often used to articulate the need to modernize an organization. Transition to the cloud, which my prior firm often spoke to, isn’t transformation; rather, it’s a means to modernize capabilities, streamline costs, and improve outcomes. In recent work, it has become clear that true transformation is anchored on becoming either a truly data-centric or customer-centric company. These are not mutually exclusive targeted outcomes but can be a different lens for defining and prioritizing company priorities. For the CMO, this marketing transformation agenda often translates into the ability to deliver a more personalized series of interactions to their most important customers who will have the most impact on their business performance. In fact, 52 percent of respondents chose personalization as their top capability to improve, while 37 percent prioritized improving segmentation—a direct input into personalization (Altimeter’s State of Digital Marketing 2020). The effort to generate more personalization requires both data-centric and customer-centric marketing transformation capabilities and measured outcomes.

Source: Altimeter’s State of Digital Marketing 2020

Measuring Performance

CMOs have been modernizing their capabilities with digital for years, with added sophistication in finding and reaching audiences through additional digital marketing channels. Another priority is improving performance on existing digital channels (42%), while investing in new ones (34%) (Altimeter’s State of Digital Marketing 2020). What is reinforced here is how the growing demands on new channels go together with the need for more personalization. Finding new or existing customers in new channels requires cross-channel understanding and insights to drive personalized interactions. The relevance and timeliness of these interactions will ultimately directly impact marketing performance going forward. Experiences are increasingly instrumented and performance understanding requires data to be captured, measured, organized and given back at the speed marketing works to be effective.

Scaling Technology

These large amounts of marketing performance data must now deliver insights that are integrated with the marketing technology platforms to enrich more real-time interactions in acquisition and conversions.

The top challenge, however, remains purchasing and integrating the right Martech platforms with 52 percent of those interviewed stating that purchasing or integrating the right marketing technology platform was their biggest obstacle (Altimeter’s State of Digital Marketing 2020). For most organizations, these investments in content management, customer relationship management, and marketing automation have been underway for years. There is still an ever-increasing need to connect more core marketing capabilities into these platforms. These integrations enable core capabilities that marketing now deploys to drive personalization, as well as the ability to measure and optimize based on desired business outcomes. The race is in reaching scale in efficiency and effectiveness of these new capabilities.

Source: Altimeter’s State of Digital Marketing 2020

Scaling Processes and Workflows

What is also apparent in working with leading CMOs on their marketing transformations is that most of the challenges they face are underpinned by the need to embed new ways of working. Forty-nine percent of digital marketers said scaling best practices across business units and geographies were their biggest challenge (Altimeter’s State of Digital Marketing 2020). Marketing budgets are not increasing to meet the needs of providing more unique and personal content to more people. Despite what many friends in technology will say, in practice, no platform alone will close this gap without fundamentally rethinking what new skills are needed, how teams are structured and how to best integrate their workflows to streamline and gain efficiency.

Source: Altimeter’s State of Digital Marketing 2020

Scaling Content

How a company presents itself in advertising, messages, on its website, in its mobile applications, etc. will matter greatly in terms of how CMOs build relevance and depth of relationship with customers. Content matters. Content matters a lot. While marketing budgets aren’t wildly increasing and growing segmentation increases demand further, the delivery of needed templates, images, copy and offers will not scale to support that demand. In order to deliver this marketing transformation, CMOs will need to turn to AI and machine learning to deliver Intelligent Content systems that tie together their marketing performance data, segmentation intelligence, content management and marketing automation tools to dynamically create personalized advertising, email, web, and mobile messages in real-time. Creating this system of “intelligent content” is a major success factor for advanced personalization, and it makes it much easier to introduce AI-assisted enhancements once a robust system has been built. Ninety-five percent of companies are able to personalize messaging and experiences in some form based on customer data, with almost a fifth utilizing AI-driven predictive analytics to do so (Altimeter’s State of Digital Marketing 2020).  This growth in the need to leverage automation to deliver the scale necessary will only increase over time.

“The new CMO agenda is about personalizing customer interactions and achieving the scale of operations required to support it.”


As you work through your 2021 marketing plans, the above initiatives will likely loom large. I’ve learned that these types of transformations require much more than traditional modernization or just an IT-led view of technology. The work spans measuring performance, scaling technology, re-engineering workflows, creating content design systems and optimizing activities against business outcomes. The new CMO agenda is about personalizing customer interactions and achieving the scale of operations required to support it.

To learn more about how our work delivers data-centric and customer-centric marketing transformation for some of the leading companies in the world please reach out and we can connect directly.