The last two weeks have each featured a major acquisition in the B2B sales enablement space, with Seismic pulling Lessonly into the fold and Bigtincan scooping up Brainshark. Whether you’re a current customer of any of the four firms, or if you have anything to do with the enablement space, these developments can be head-spinning given their speed, frequency, and the amount of investment dollars currently flying around. What does it mean for enablement practitioners, with 2022 planning and budgeting cycles right around the corner?
Let’s start by updating our definition of the sales technology landscape. Forrester views sales enablement tech as (1) content solutions and (2) readiness solutions, which help B2B sellers with “what to know and what to show.” Our sales operations team covers the rest of the stack: conversation intelligence, revenue intelligence, sales engagement, CPQ, revenue operations, SFA/CRM, sales performance (incentive compensation) management, and intelligent virtual assistants. There is obvious overlap, especially considering the need to integrate everything to everything else, all sitting on the SFA foundation, but the clarification is necessary for the purposes of supporting enablement leaders.
So back to these acquisitions — I’ve been an analyst for 14 years and have never seen an environment like this: aggressive consolidation with very few new solutions gaining any footholds within the sales enablement function. Why is this happening? Well, I’m the furthest thing from a financial expert, so I’ll simply report what others have said about the market: that the dollars invested in sales enablement have been overly ambitious and spread too thinly, resulting in a significant number of competitive acquisitions — including many that do not seem to represent the optimistic pay-off strategies that founders and investors desire.
More significant than venture capital spending and acquisition moves, let’s focus on the “what’s in it for me?” among sales enablement practitioners. I can’t count how often our team gets a humorously baffling request like this:
“Hi, can you please help us select a sales enablement solution? Currently, we’re thinking about, or currently using, [sales content solution], [sales readiness solution], [1–2 sales ops solutions], [enterprise social collaboration solution], and [SFA/CRM platform].”
I’m not exaggerating. There are still far too many opportunistic, evasive, and muddled messages and offerings in the space, often unfortunately driven more by providers’ MRR business models than by what end users actually need. But one thing is clearer today than it was just a few weeks ago: Sales enablement leaders desire fewer technology solutions — or they want one single vendor — for many reasons, the most significant of which is the ability to coalesce their needs in a simpler way for executive leadership to comprehend, sponsor, and fund. This doesn’t mean that best-of-breed content and readiness deliverables aren’t available from nonconsolidated providers — indeed, all of them integrate with pretty much everyone else these days — but the writing mostly seems to be on the wall. Plus, enablement pros are finally understanding that facilitating better buyer interactions requires a holistic sales preparation environment that, by design, breaks down the barrier between content and readiness.
Finally, a big shout-out to Jay McBain, Laura Ramos, and Mary Shea for this prescient statement in Forrester’s Predictions 2021: B2B Sales report: “We predict that 2021 will be the year of sales tech consolidation, with mergers and acquisitions, rollups, and at least one IPO all leading to the emergence of multiple robust end-to-end SEA platforms.” So … who’s going public?