Sales Executive Corner

2022 Predictions: Battle-Tested B2B Leaders Lean Into Their New Reality

Mary Shea, Global Innovation Evangelist's Avatar

Mary Shea, Global Innovation Evangelist

As I scan the horizon to anticipate what 2022 has in store for B2B marketing and sales leaders, I keep thinking of the well-known quote, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Over the past two years, this cohort has been an unwitting participant in a master class on how to be adaptable, resilient, and empathetic. And if the barrage of uncontrollable external events was not enough, these leaders also witnessed sweeping demographic shifts causing them to reimagine their talent, tech, and go-to-market strategies. 

In a recently commissioned study conducted by Forrester on behalf of Outreach, sales leaders identified leading a multi-generational sales force among their top challenges while 58% ranked an uncertain economic environment due to COVID-19 as the most important factor impacting their go-to-market strategies in the next 18 months.*

In the early days of the pandemic, some go-to-market leaders, particularly those in more traditional industries, chose to wait out the return to normalcy on the sidelines. But as a new variant swirls across continents, B2B leaders at all types of companies now recognize that the range and complexity of challenges they face require different skills, methods, and solutions. 

With “The Great Resignation” in full swing, marketers and sellers, like other corporate employees, are re-evaluating their personal and professional priorities. According to a recent Gartner chief sales officer pulse survey, seller attrition is 36% higher than their related target and represents the single greatest risk to an organization’s ability to achieve its revenue goals.

Against this backdrop of global economic uncertainty, evolving buyers, and emboldened employees, we predict that 2022 will be the year...

1. Sales managers receive the enablement they deserve. 

Sales managers have one of the most difficult roles in the go-to-market organization. Often promoted from within their own company, the journey from star individual contributor to sales manager can be tough. While on the learning curve, newly minted managers go from running their own “book,” making big variable commissions and forecasting for one, to rolling out territories, leading compensation conversations, and forecasting for 5–7 team members.

In addition to the well-documented challenges sales managers face, they now must be adept at using technology to increase their leverage, and they need skills to analyze data to inform coaching actions. In our Forrester study, respondents said the most valuable attribute in a sales manager is their ability to consume, analyze, and act on data, yet only 30% said their managers have mastered this skill.* Similar to other roles, the sales manager’s remit is changing. As top-tier organizations wrestle for talent, soft skills such as creating a supportive team environment, being attuned to mental health, and hiring and retaining diverse talent will be more important than ever.

Sales managers have historically been under-supported, but in 2022 sales managers will finally get the training and enablement they deserve. Seventy-three percent of our respondents said they have or plan to invest in upskilling and reskilling their sales managers in the next 12 months.*

To set your managers up for success in 2022:

  • Tune manager enablement to reflect the role’s new remit
  • Acquire tools to make managers more effective coaches
  • Align a portion of manager compensation to team retention

2. Marketers infuse more creativity into their events. 

Prior to the pandemic, 73% of marketing and sales leaders said webinars were one of the most reliable ways to generate leads. But after more than 20 months of working in a primarily remote world, “Zoom fatigue” has more than set in, and the traditional webinar is bearing the brunt of our collective exhaustion. Live attendance for webinars declined in the second half of 2021 as participants sought out fresher formats and consumed content on-demand. More innovative providers created highly immersive experiences where attendees, as active participants, became the event itself.

We all hoped next year would mark the return of our favorite marquee events, but with the recent emergence of the COVID-19 Omicron variant, it's unlikely attendees will flock to these large shows. While Salesforce has remained quiet about its Dreamforce plans, word on the street is that the industry stalwart will likely provide some in-person options. SXSW will be back in person for nine days with 15 different tracks and 160 sessions. It also added to its lineup Conference Summits, two-day events for smaller groups with more targeted interests.

To maximize the impact of one of their largest budget line items, marketers in 2022 will need to experiment with more engaging, immersive virtual formats and to differentiate with smaller highly curated in-person events.

To keep event participants engaged in 2022:

  • Forgo the large in-person annual industry conference
  • Deliver smaller, tailored, and exclusive in-person events
  • Leave the traditional static webinar behind

    3. Sales leaders lean into the science of forecasting. 

    Forecasting at many B2B companies is inefficient and ineffective. In our sales leaders survey, 60% of respondents said they don’t have a well-defined or scientific approach to forecasting, and only 38% of respondents are forecasting within 10% accuracy.* In addition to needing confidence when they commit their number, sales leaders also need true visibility into the health of the deals in their pipeline so they can address issues before they derail opportunities. But unfortunately, only one-quarter of our respondents said they have the necessary tools to give them the real-time visibility they need to save at-risk deals.*

    In an environment where uncontrollable external events are the norm rather than the exception, historical forecast trending isn’t very useful. Sales leaders reset their focus on what's happening now versus what happened last quarter or last year. Powered by real-time buyer behavioral data, sales leaders need to automate deal inspection and turn insights on risks into corrective actions. Real-time visibility into engagement and other buyer behavioral and sentiment data will allow sales leaders to move on from yesterday’s static data, “shadow” spreadsheets, and intuition-only informed “calls.”

    In 2022, sales leaders will adopt solutions that use automation to capture behavioral and sentiment data and store it in a single repository. With real-time accurate data stored within a holistic platform, sales leaders will finally forecast with confidence.

    To run your business with real-time agility and accuracy in 2022:

    • Minimize your reliance on historical trending
    • Use automation to capture buyer activity data
    • Ensure your forecast insights are informed by actions

      4. Multi-product platforms overtake point solutions. 

      We’ve all seen those graphs of the sales tech landscape featuring hundreds, if not thousands, of logos. It's confusing and overwhelming for analysts and tech buyers alike. And while it made sense to experiment with a range of best-of-breed point solutions back in 2015 when the non-CRM sales tech landscape was in its formative years, it no longer does. Seven years later, automation and artificial intelligence technologies have matured, the lines between sales tech categories have blurred, and the marketplace has consolidated. In a recent blog post, Gartner called this time “Sales Tech Mayhem,” where “the market is fast moving from a wide set of categories into a narrow list of vendors with wide portfolios of capabilities.”

      With the pressure increasing for sales leaders to deliver predictable, efficient growth and 42% of B2B sales organizations operating with fewer sales personnel today than prior to the outset of the pandemic, it's never been more important to have the right sales tech stack.** Top-tier platform providers, well aware of these dynamics, are assertively deepening and extending core capabilities, developing new products, and acquiring adjacent sales technology players. A multi-product platform designed to serve all members of the revenue team provides customers with benefits such as having a singular growing repository of behavioral data from which they can glean insights, as well as a more streamlined approach to managing providers and provider costs.

      In 2022, sales leaders will see their technology budgets increase as smart tooling — in addition to strong enablement and talent strategies — plays an increasingly important role in the successful execution of go-to-market plans.

      To deliver predictable, efficient growth in 2022:

      • Conduct an inventory of your sales tech
      • Migrate from a mashup of point solutions to a platform
      • Choose a platform provider that has a vision for the future

        5. Sales leaders fully commit to diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

        Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) within B2B sales has been a topic of interest for some time. But with a scorching hot labor market where sales talent has a plethora of choices, and buyers expect their suppliers to reflect the world around them, sales leaders that crack the code on DE&I will deliver better business results. A recent study by Forrester conducted on behalf of LinkedIn confirmed what many intrinsically knew: that sales organizations with leading DE&I practices have higher conversion rates, higher sales attainment, and higher customer satisfaction.***

        In our recent sales leader survey, 87% of respondents said the diversity of their sales team will be equally or more important in the next two years.* But there is more work to do. In our study, North American-based sales leaders ranked the ability to recruit and retain a diverse sales team 9th out of 11 possible choices. In a world where sales development reps command compensation to the likes we have not seen before and female VPs can write their own tickets, sales leaders will need to fully prioritize attracting and retaining diverse sales talent.

        In 2022, sales leaders will monitor and track the diversity of their organization like any other metric or KPI. With more weight and visibility on this business priority, sales leaders will embrace new and more creative channels to source talent, and they will create internal programs to nurture and foster their existing talent.

        To ensure you prioritize DE&I in 2022 and beyond: 

        • Set the tone at the top by clearly communicating your organization’s values
        • Partner with universities with diverse student populations and professional sales programs
        • Build relationships with B2B sales influencers who attract underrepresented sellers

          2022 Sales & Marketing Predictions: The Digital Disruption Accelerates

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          * Base: 212 sales leaders in various industries across North America and the UK.
          Source: A commissioned study conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of Outreach, B2B Leaders Usher In A New Era Of Sales, December 2021

          ** The Forrester Tech Tide™: Sales Technologies, Q1 2021, Forrester Research, Inc., February 16, 2021

          *** Base: 500 managers and above responsible for a sales team in the United States
          Source: A commissioned study conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of LinkedIn, Diversity Drives Sales Success, November 2021