Three High-Impact Sessions from Forrester’s 2015 Sales Enablement Forum

forrester 2015 sales enablement forum

Peter O’Neill, Forrester’s VP Research Director, stood on stage to put a wrap on the 2015 Forrester Forum for Sales Enablement Professionals, hosted March 2-3 in Scottsdale, AZ. Over the last 48 hours, sales and marketing leaders had come together to try and make sense of a field that’s changing more rapidly than ever before.

We were left with a simple closing statement defining sales enablement: “The supply chain behind successful conversations.”

At its core, sales enablement is still about the moment of truth – when our sellers influence and persuade buyers to act – and all the work we do to impact it.

Here were three high-impact sessions that helped to unpack this powerful statement:

1. The Changing Role Of B2B Salespeople In A Digital-First Environment

There’s no question B2B buying behavior is changing. The statistic we’ve all become familiar with says that customers are 60% of the way through the buying process before ever engaging with a salesperson. But there’s more complexity in this statement than meets the eye.

Andy Hoar, Principal Analyst at Forrester, shared why not all buying journeys are created equal. The breakdown looks at four different B2B Buyer and Seller archetypes and how they will be impacted over the coming years.

  1. Order takers: Most at risk of being displaced by technology that creates less friction in the buying process
  2. Explainers: Next most at risk due to sophisticated company websites that can take the buyer much further down the buying journey than ever before
  3. Navigators: Will take a small hit due to the rise of tools and integrations that streamline the procurement process
  4. Consultants: Are the only segment expected to grow due to the complexity of the buyer dynamic and product or service

All told, Andy expects 1 million sales jobs to vanish by 2020, with Consultants the only segment expected to grow. But it’s the Consultant segment that’s recognized as hardest to find and develop. This is where the sales conversation matters the most, and sales forces looking to make this transition will need to hire for this capability (easier said than done) or develop more sustainable training methods to arm sellers looking to become Consultants with the necessary skillset and messaging.

2. Crossing The Conversion Gap

So, if the buyer is 60% of the way through their buying journey by the time they talk to a sales rep, why aren’t sales cycles shrinking? In a world of complex products and services and a complex buyer dynamic (the land of the Consultant), sales cycles are as long as ever. Why?

Tim Riesterer, CSO at Corporate Visions, shared why this statistic can be deceptive. One buyer may be 60% through their journey, but the average B2B sale is now the product of 5.4 decision makers. By this logic, the salesperson isn’t really 60% through the buying journey…they’re more like 10%!

Tim went a step further to explain that Corporate Visions has identified 5 different conversations in the sales process:

  1. Opportunity Creation
  2. Solution Presentation
  3. Competitive Differentiation
  4. Negotiation
  5. Executive Conversation.

When surveying sales teams, Solution Presentation was the conversation sales teams were most prepared to have, but Opportunity Creation was the clear winner in being the most impactful to quota and being the conversation teams felt the least prepared to have…hence The Conversion Gap.

This gap makes visible the continued disconnect between Marketing and Sales. Sales teams that can own what Tim calls the Why Change conversation are 74% more likely to win business by creating the buying vision.

One sales leader commented to me after Tim’s session, “I need to convince my Marketing team that they haven’t actually armed my sales team with the right messaging to win deals.” Every organization is comfortable with the Solution Presentation, but in a complex selling world, it’s worth asking whether your reps are truly prepared to have these other conversations.

3. Developing The Business Case For Sales Enablement Technology Investment

Now that sales leaders had a firmer grasp on the challenges in front of them, it was time to survey the vast landscape of technology vendors at the forum. The number of vendors joining the party has exploded over the last 5-10 years. How are we to make sense of it all?

Peter O’Neill led a session to help us classify the technologies that exist and how we should think about them. According to Peter, there are six goals for sales enablement (and technologies/services that accompany them):

  1. Develop – skill development and behavior reinforcement
  2. Position – sales messaging and job aids
  3. Locate – sales content delivery and management
  4. Align – account planning and customer intelligence
  5. Engage – customer interaction and engagement tools
  6. Assemble – solution configuration and proposal creation

There will surely be future consolidation in the industry but, for now, sales leaders should expect to find providers that are best-in-class at addressing one of these goals. While this is frustrating to those expecting to find a fully integrated solution, that’s just not the reality of a relatively immature marketplace.

It goes without saying that a clear business case should accompany any implementation and can be even summed up in one sentence:

“We will do _____ to make _____ better, as measured by _____, which is worth _____.”

If we as sales leaders can get this sentence right, the entire industry will continue its acceleration forward. Another sales leader commented to me, “we can solve problems today that we never dreamed of getting after just five years ago.” Indeed, we have entered the Golden Age of Sales Enablement.