In contrast to the morning sessions at this week’s Tech Adoption Summit in San Francisco, the afternoon sessions had a more “playbook” tone to them.

The afternoon was kicked off with Neal Polachek interviewing Trina Ward (of the eponymous consulting firm) in a session called “Channels, Channels, Channels”. Trina spoke to the importance of channels in reaching customers (enterprise as wells as SMB customers). She underscored that vendors need to form true partnerships with their channels and look at the relationship from the perspective of the channel partner. This more familial relationship between vendor and channel has many implications, including deep product training for the channel.

The next couple of sessions were MC’d by Sunir Shah, head of the Cloud Software Association (also a sponsor of the Summit conference).

Josh Melick, CEO & co-founder of Broadly, deconstructed the ubiquitous term “CRM”. He revisited the whole concept behind a CRM. In their zeal to organize and manage the vast information contained in a CRM, he opined that businesses often miss the central purpose of the CRM.

Josh believes the “C” in CRM should really stand for “conversations” – the ongoing dialog between a business and its customers. As he put it, “chat rules everything around me”. CRM users need to re-up their understanding of the whole point of CRMs, in order to truly move their businesses forward.

Next at bat was Josh Scherman, VP Surepath Capital Partners. (Habitues of SMB conferences have probably already met the co-founder of Surepath, Mark MacLeod). Josh previewed the Q3 findings in the new Surepath report on investment activity in the SMB space. In total, Josh reported that a total of $18 Billion of capital was “deployed” in the U.S. SMB space in Q3, including financings by 146 companies. These staggering numbers underscore just how frenetic the SMB space is.

More numbers and analysis followed, from Vendasta CSO Jackie Cook, who described the insights obtained from their recent churn analysis project. This data-driven project delivered several unexpected findings regarding churn and how to prevent it. For example, Vendasta found that upselling actually increased customer retention, when the original product, as well as the upsold product, fit a demonstrated customer need.

Finally, the redoubtable Mark Cannon, in his current incarnation as Chairman of Boomtime, was interviewed by Charles Laughlin. While graciously letting Charles think he was running the interview, Mark voiced strong and thoughtful judgments on a long list of subjects. The interview resembled a TED talk as much as anything, and in fact Mark did just recently give a TED talk on B2B marketing.

One might have called this session “B2B Marketing & Sales Playbook for the Thinking Person”. Rather than try to capture the many nuggets in Mark’s comments (see the TED talk for that), just one will be mentioned here: the importance of moving a prospect incrementally through the dark middle part of the purchase “funnel”. Mark described how the classic B2B purchase funnel has grown in length and complexity (for a variety of reasons, including similarity between competitive products). It’s now necessary for a vendor to know how to move a prospect in small, confidence-building steps through the long, gnarly purchase process to the end goal.