Navigating The 2023 Downturn: B2B Sales

The economy has endured nearly three years of extreme challenges: a global pandemic, supply chain nightmares, and now inflation coupled with slow economic growth. More unexpected challenges may arise in the months and years ahead. Sales leaders must be proactive in establishing the agile foundation their organizations will need to tackle any unexpected challenges. Those that don’t will risk a slow or no-growth situation. This report identifies the critical actions B2B sales executives must take to adopt this formula with the full support of the board, tight collaboration with C-suite peers, deep engagement with customers, and alignment with the extended partner ecosystem.

Mike Pregler

Mallory Icenhower, Robin Whiting

Fast, Focused, And Flexible Sales Organizations Are The Formula For Success

Sales executives applying these principles now to their organizations will have a competitive advantage as the economy recovers. After nearly three years of extreme challenges: a global pandemic, supply chain nightmares, and now inflation coupled with slow economic growth, leaders are asking themselves, “Will the hits keep coming?” Yes, they probably will, but this is a pragmatic rather than a pessimistic perspective.

Sales leaders must be prepared to proactively adapt their organizations to unexpected challenges — whatever they may be. The formula for success in unpredictable times is building fast, focused, and flexible sales teams, sales processes, and sales technology infrastructures. Forrester’s reports on the 2023 downturn provides guidance for all business leaders. To build on the recommendations provided in Forrester’s Planning Guide 2023: B2B Sales Executives, we recommend the following actions:

  • Add greater flexibility to adapt to resignations, reductions, and restructuring. Many sales organizations’ carefully constructed sales organizational charts have taken a beating. A survey of more than 400 sales leaders conducted by Xactly found that sales organizations experienced a 58% higher employee turnover rate in 2021 than in the 12 months prior. And a report by HubSpot found that the average rep turnover is 35% vs. the 13% average for all other industries analyzed in the survey. The first order of business for sales executives is, of course, to create an organization that retains sales talent. Forrester has found that sellers’ wellness affects seller engagement, which is critical to the success of quota-bearing B2B sellers. After investing in sales retention, sales executives must begin building an organization flexible enough to achieve success despite any disruption to the talent base. Static sales plans handcuff sales organizations and limit sales executives’ ability to react quickly to changing buyer demands. Forrester has outlined the steps sales executives and their sales operations leaders must take to create an agile plan. Sales executives looking to introduce more agility into their sales plans should focus on flexibility when defining their sales roles, account coverage strategies, sales workload assessments, and compensation plans.
  • Quickly exploit the partner ecosystem’s focus and flexibility. Partners are force multipliers that add value to offerings and reach markets and buyers out of the direct sales force’s reach. Additionally, partners get paid only when they sell a product or service. Using channel partners and third-party marketplaces reduces customer acquisition cost and grows customer lifetime value, increasing overall profitability — a strong factor when building an investment case for the board. This is the moment to create a more focused and flexible indirect channel sales strategy using an insights-driven approach. Fifty-five percent of buyers independently start their buying process online, according to Forrester’s 2022 Buyers’ Journey Survey, so focus on partners that are savvy at digital marketing and digital selling. In the same survey, when asked what behavior they see as crucial in a vendor, three of the most selected responses indicate that buyers want to interact with a vendor that is knowledgeable, covers what they want to talk about, and understands their organization’s needs and addresses them. Therefore, collaborate with partners with experience and expertise with the organization’s solution but also with experience and expertise with customers in the target customer’s industry/vertical market and/or line of business. Use these insights, which can be captured via technologies like partner relationship management systems, to create and manage flexible channel sales strategies that can quickly refocus and adapt to changing economic conditions.
  • Focus on making decisions based on data-driven insights. The greatest currency in an unpredictable economic environment is fast access to actionable insights. Using these insights to identify, then focus on, the aspects of the business with the greatest positive outcomes allows sales executives to eliminate the costs of unproductive actions. Begin the process by creating a technology infrastructure that captures data across all elements of the business — customers, market segments, partners, sales activities, and sales performance — and transforms it into actionable insights.Task the sales operations team with assessing the tech stack. If gaps exist and new investments aren’t an option, maximize the adoption, consumption, and utility of the technologies already in place. Use the gap assessment to build the business case that can be presented to C-suite peers and the board for future investment. In parallel to establishing the technology infrastructure, evolve the sales leadership team’s ability to lead in an insights-driven sales system. Sales executives must work in concert with sales enablement and HR to identify the competencies for insights-driven leadership that must be developed within their teams.

Not a client?

Let us know how we can help with your sales planning.

0/500 Max characters reached

Thank you!

Ready to learn more now? Give us a call:

Americas: +1 615.395.3401
EMEA: +44 (0) 2073 237741
Asia Pacific: +65 6426 7060