B2B Sales Executives 2021 Year In Review

2021 brought monumental shifts to the B2B sales world. Throughout the year, Forrester’s B2B Sales Executives service published key research on how sales leaders should address these changes, and we’ve highlighted that research below.

B2B Buying Is Changing, And Sales Needs To Quickly Adapt

Many changes in B2B selling are a result of shifts in how B2B buyers prefer to purchase products. Digitally native Millennials and Gen Z’ers continue to enter the workforce, bringing different sets of expectations that don’t align with traditional B2B sales motions. They prefer to engage digitally, work remotely, and come to purchasing conversations armed with their own extensive research, forcing B2B sellers to up their game. They also prioritize things beyond money and flexible work, such as data privacy; community activism; and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts, putting further pressure on sales organizations to attract talent and close business.

Buyers are increasingly comfortable buying remotely through digital channels. Forrester data shows that in 2019, more than 30% of B2B technology buyers already made initial purchases via e-commerce or a marketplace website. Revenue derived from digital sales channels like these is expected to continue to grow over the next four years. Furthermore, younger buyers bring their expectations from their personal lives in the B2C world to the B2B world. They demand to engage via the digital channels they prefer and want answers immediately. One sales leader told us, “A pretty good answer now is better than a perfect answer later.” Hyperpersonalized content and seamless digital experiences are becoming table stakes in the B2B buying process. Lastly, CEOs and investors reward predictable and scalable revenue, which bodes well for paid subscriptions models, which saw a remarkable boom during the pandemic. These as-a-service offerings are increasingly replacing large, initial purchases.

Success in this new era of B2B selling requires that customer-facing reps (CFRs) develop new consultative selling skills. Additionally, organizations must provide tools and processes to help CFRs forge long-lasting relationships with their customers.

A Systematic Approach, Driven By Insights, Is Required To Delight B2B Buyers

A main theme of our B2B sales executive research this year has been transitioning to, and the benefits of, an insights-driven sales system. This approach leverages insights to help sales reps adapt to the ways that digital-first buyers prefer to interact. As B2B buyers increasingly engage digitally, they leave behind treasure troves of data. That data can and should be used to engineer seamless, personalized customer experiences at every touchpoint for every buyer. To effectively collect and use these insights, B2B orgs must have well-defined, buyer-centric, and integrated processes and infrastructure. This systematic approach shifts the emphasis away from a superstar culture to one where every rep delivers against quota.

Artificial intelligence is the key to unlocking and effectively utilizing buyer insights. According to Salesforce’s 2020 State of Sales Report, high-performing reps are 2.8x more likely to use AI-enabled tools than low-performing reps. AI can provide in-real-time insights and recommendations to sellers as they engage with buyers. And the insights don’t need to be used only during engagements; they can be used at any time! As one sales leader told us, “You’re going to be able to give a rep what a buyer is doing to prepare for a meeting, what was sent to them beforehand, and how they interacted with it.” Using insights to prep for buyer engagements, anticipate customer needs (like Netflix and Amazon), and coach reps on successful activities (during and after calls) will become the norm for successful CFRs.

Non-Value-Add, Repetitive Tasks Must Be Automated

In Forrester’s 2020 Manager Activity Study, respondents reported spending an average of 31% of their time on internal administrative tasks while spending only 14% on coaching activities. Today’s B2B sellers work a 52.3-hour week but only spend 23.3% of their time in core selling or direct engagement selling activities. AI-enabled tools hold the promise of offloading the repetitive, non-value-add activities from reps and managers to free them up to invest time in problem-solving and building relationships.

When the correct processes and infrastructure are in place to effectively collect and act on buyer insights, the quality of the seller is less important. Another sales leader told us, “You can take B players and make them really good.” Insights help set effective territories and accounts, and coupled with improved, sometimes in-real-time coaching, insights enable all sellers to hit their quotas predictably and consistently.

Purpose Is More Than Revenue And Profit

In our future of sales research, we identified 5 P’s that will embody the B2B selling landscape as we move into the future: purpose-driven, precise, personalized, productive, and profitable. Any plans for the future should embody these 5 P’s, and in particular, organizations must have a purpose beyond offerings and profit.

Today’s buyers and potential employees prioritize a purpose beyond profit. They demand to see efforts toward corporate responsibility, data privacy, DEI, and environmental and community activism. Thirty-eight percent of buy-side respondents said they take diversity into account when making a purchase, and Forrester data shows that 54% of sellers expect buyers or buying groups to consider the selling company’s commitment to DEI when evaluating potential purchases and partnerships.

Routes-To-Market Decisions Must Be Deliberate And Well Thought Out

Myriad variables affect a routes-to-market strategy. And if revenue/sales leaders don’t think about all of them, including customer, market, product and service, and company variables, they could put themselves, and their offerings, at a disadvantage.

For sales executives, getting routes-to-market decisions right is just as important as the quality of the product. How you sell a product impacts revenues and the ability to cost-effectively deliver the experiences needed to succeed. As digital engagement continues to increase, successful sales orgs must rethink their routes-to-market strategy to meet customers where they want to buy. Too often, routes-to-market decisions are reactive and done on a one-by-one basis. Instead, they should be using insights to create an extensive routes-to-market strategy.

Learn More About Forrester’s B2B Sales Executive Service In 2022!

As we roll into 2022, you can continue leveraging the analysts and research of Forrester’s B2B Sales Executive service! We have some exciting research planned for 2022. And we are preparing for Forrester’s B2B Summit in May 2022, where our team will have many exciting sessions, including but not limited to coverage of the following:

  • Putting the power of purpose to work in your go-to-market engine
  • Unlocking growth and creativity: sales in an insights-driven world
  • Deliver predictable growth using the insights-driven sales system toolkit
  • Customer success: shifting from shepherding success to proactively delivering customer value
  • Direct sales, channel partners, and e-commerce: Can they and should they coexist?

Learn more about our analysts below, and feel free to connect with them to ensure that your org is on the right track for 2022 and beyond!

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