2021: The Sales Enablement Year In Review
A number of trends in the B2B sales space have disrupted, challenged, and motivated sales enablement teams this year. As the first quarter of 2022 begins, let’s understand how these macro trends and the pandemic have reshaped our function and industry.
First, the multitude of sales enablement tech acquisitions we’ve seen allows us to brag that Forrester accurately predicted 2021 to be the year of aggressive consolidation. Our prediction was rooted in our 2020 observation that purchase influencers wanted to reduce costs and consequently demanded greater value from their core partners. This was coupled with a desire to focus energy on fewer solution providers in a world where purchase influencers are forced to navigate a cacophony of messaging from content and readiness vendors whose capabilities increasingly overlap. These recent acquisitions are also a reflection of investments made in the space that have been overambitious and spread too thinly.
Our future of sales report outlines five P’s that define the future state of B2B selling and inform a “new normal” for sales enablers that’s driven by the way in which modern B2B buyers prefer to interact. First, consider that Millennial and Gen Z workers are graduating to leadership and purchase influencer roles and are holding significantly different expectations of sellers than did previous generations. They demand both instantaneous access to information and increased engagement before making purchasing decisions. Forrester’s 2021 B2B Buying Survey indicates that the buying cycle is now split 45/55 between personal and self-guided interactions; and the average number of buying interactions has surged during the pandemic: from 17 between 2017 and 2019 to 27 in 2021. A landscape of hybrid and virtual selling (physically forced by the pandemic) has been revealed, with buyers who are innately digital first and have needs and expectations that don’t align with traditional B2B sales motions. One former sales leader told us, “We saw two years of digital transformation in two months.” Yes, the transition to digital was accelerated by the pandemic, but the trend was inevitable, considering the needs of modern B2B buyers. Sales organizations must recognize that the pre-pandemic state of selling is a history, rather than a state to work back toward.
We also know that the average number of personas involved in complex B2B purchasing decisions has risen over time. Exacerbating the implications of this trend for sellers, buyers now expect a greater degree of personalization in every interaction. The advent of AI sales tech allows us to unlock a new depth of customer insights for sellers to leverage. Consequently, reps now require even greater technical savvy to effectively engage with buyers. Sales enablement functions must be agile in supporting sellers as buyer needs change, namely optimizing competencies and internal processes to reflect new priorities and expectations. Incorporating these trends into our planning assumptions for 2022, we advise sales enablement leaders to reevaluate their sales methodologies and governance of communications with the field, as well as to focus on effectively coaching reps to engage with buyers who prefer digital interactions and self-service information gathering.
Looking at our own selling populations, the “Great Resignation” has unraveled into a phenomenon employers can no longer ignore. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, American workers are quitting their jobs at record rates, and per LinkedIn data, resignations are even higher for sales professionals. While your organization works to manage record-high employee attrition, it’s essential to ensure that the new hires who inherit uncovered territories are positioned to succeed. Sales enablement should have a hand in updating the sales talent lifecycle to define the competencies needed to succeed under the new normal, partner with talent acquisition to hire reps based on those competencies, and then optimize their contributions through comprehensive onboarding and best-of-breed sales coaching.
At Summit 2021, we presented our new flagship model, the Sales Enablement Success Pathway. This model provides an updated framework for enablement functions’ core responsibilities, while considering the impact of forces such as external buyer pressures, unanticipated macroeconomic disruption, and increased internal employee pressures.
We also authored the Sales Competency Management Framework to argue for the importance of sales enablement’s influence on talent acquisition and to provide a map for identifying, developing, and evaluating the competencies necessary for a rep to succeed within a given market, buyer climate, and product offering.
As buying interactions have become increasingly complex, so has the messaging and content needed to effectively engage. In support of this, we introduced the Forrester Sales Communications Process Model to help enablement teams better manage communications with field personnel, boost rep advocacy, and diminish cognitive overload for sellers.
Our IP and current perspective on the state of sales enablement is supported by the data we’ve collected throughout the past year. Most recently, a focused survey was conducted through our partnership with the nonprofit, Sales Enablement Society. Here are a few findings from the survey that help illustrate the current state of sales enablement:
- Seventy-five percent of B2B sales organizations have a dedicated sales enablement function.
- High-performing organizations have managed to raise the proportion of reps achieving quota by 11%, while low-performing organizations report an average decrease of 13%.
- Ninety-eight percent of respondents to the survey enable multiple customer-facing roles.
- High-performing organizations are increasing their sales enablement budget at a rate that’s twice as fast as low-performing organizations.
- High-performing organizations, on average, have a 1:36 ratio of sales enablement professionals to sales FTEs, compared with a 1:48 ratio for low-performing orgs.
*High performing orgs are defined as greater than 70% of FTEs achieving quota in both of the past two fiscal years.
This blog was co-authored by Adam Birnberg, Research Associate.