SalesTech Star

SalesTechStar Interview with Phil Harrell, VP and Senior Research Director at Forrester 

Phil Harrell, VP and Senior Research Director at Forrester shares a few upcoming B2B sales trends in this catch-up with SalesTechStar while highlighting more on how Darwin’s law is set to impact the future of sales!

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Hi Phil, welcome to this chat, tell us more about yourself and your role at Forrester Research!

My wife Brooke and I are parents to four children.  Prior to coming to Forrester (via the SiriusDecisions acquisition in 2018), I spent 25 years in sales and sales leadership positions at several Boston based high tech companies (HubSpot, Akamai and Pegasystems). 

As VP and Senior Research Director at Forrester, I lead our three B2B Sales focused research teams of analysts (Sales Executives, Sales Enablement, and Sales Operations). Our analysts identify best practices for sales leaders around critical areas such as sales strategy, organizational design, demand generation, sales technology adoption and sales productivity and then work with sales leaders to implement those best practices to accelerate revenue growth.

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We’d love to hear more on your recent observations surrounding B2B sales trends and processes; what are some of the top factors shaping the face of B2B sales and salestech today? 

B2B buyers are changing the way that they make purchasing decisions, with profound implications to sales organizations. Our research indicates that Millennials and Gen Z-ers are impacting purchasing decisions more than ever, and that trend will only continue.  As new generations of buyers enter the fray, they bring the expectations they’ve grown accustomed to from B2C companies who provide subscription and usage models in their personal lives. We see buyers transacting digitally; purchasing as-a-service offerings in subscription and usage models rather than large initial purchases. And as CEOs and investors continue to emphasize predictable and scalable growth, subscription-based models will become more and more prevalent.  So, providing excellent digital experiences that can seamlessly transition to human interactions becomes an important differentiator. Successful selling organizations will implement buyer-centric processes that provide a frictionless experience that enables reps to be hyper-responsive, helpful, and to meet buyers where they want to buy; offering the go-to-market strategies and purchasing channels that buyers crave. 

Second, we see artificial intelligence (AI) as a key cog in the wheel that will make successful sellers turn. As customers increasingly transact digitally, they are leaving a digital trail of data that if collected and processed by AI tools can unlock massive gains in customer productivity. In the moment coaching, and meeting preparation are just a few areas where AI tools can help sellers do their job more effectively. Additionally, automation that can perform repetitive, time-consuming tasks will enable reps to spend more time selling.

Can you talk about some of the top concerns and challenges faced in B2B sales and what sales leaders need to be doing more of to use the right sales tech and automation to limit this?

Forrester believes that there are several key challenges that sales leaders need to address in order to re-orient their sales organizations to sell the way that digital-first, skeptical B2B buyers want to buy today. The first challenge is move away from a mindset that was overly reliant on gut instinct and intuition to a more science and insights driven approach. 

Second is a culture shift-from one that relies on a small set of hero reps to close large upfront deals at the end of the quarter to one that is built on broad rep contribution and earning customers with smaller, “prove it” deals that grow over time.  Third is to arm customer facing reps the competence, confidence, content and credibility required to engage the digitally savvy, empowered B2B buyer in a way that adds value during every interaction.  Fourth is to invest in and adopt the right technology that can automate repetitive, low value-added activities, accelerate processes and increase productivity.  Finally, is getting buy-in from the board and the C-Suite.

To stay in step with accelerating changes in B2B buying, sales leaders must adopt a new approach to how they build, develop, and operate their sales organizations. It requires sales leaders to embrace an insights-driven selling system that prioritizes a more scientific and data-driven approach to empower teams to consistently achieve quota rather than rely on the heroics of a small set of individuals to meet company targets. Forrester defines insights-driven sales as follows: The sales organization’s reliance on individual heroics must evolve to a digital, insights-driven selling system designed to earn and retain customers and drive predictable and profitable growth.  This systematic approach means implementing processes and infrastructure that are buyer centric, seller friendly and integrated with other GTM functions.  

What are some of the biggest challenges to a more seamless adoption and implementation of salestech and sales automation that you feel still hold sales teams back? 

One of the biggest challenges in my opinion is the dizzying number of sales tech and automation choices that enablement and operations leaders have to choose from; all of which purport to drastically improve sales productivity. Identifying technologies that will accelerate well-defined processes, automate repetitive tasks, and aggregate data, while integrated with every part of the organization’s ecosystem is a daunting and expensive task, that needs buy-in from the entire organization. Humans are naturally resistant to change, and convincing reps that the new technologies will help them sell more and be more successful can be a herculean effort.

Can you share your thoughts on the top B2B sales trends that are set to redefine the marketplace and ‘’what sales will look like’’ in the near-future?

We are watching Darwin’s law of evolution in B2B sales. As we discussed earlier buyers are changing. Socioeconomic shifts, new buying habits, and technological advancements are forcing sellers to adapt or lose out. 

Millennials and Gen Zers are infiltrating the purchasing influencer space at a rapid pace, and are coming to purchasing discussions with more information than ever before. And more than ever those discussions are happening digitally, rather than in-person; a trend Forrester believes will continue, after the pandemic. Buyers today are relying on customer references more than ever, and often do their own research. When they do want information from sellers, they want it instantaneously. One sales leader told us “a good answer now is better than a perfect answer later”.

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These trends are leading to monumental shifts in how B2B sellers sell, and successful sales organizations of the near-future will embody the 5 Ps:

  • Purpose-driven: Buyers will seek value beyond products and services. Rather than simply buying a product or service, they will want to partner with organizations who share their values, and corporate responsibility will become a key differentiator.
  • Precise: Reps will need to be more precise than ever when targeting prospects, and this is where AI can change the game. There are already technologies that provide reps with next-best-action recommendations based on prospects’ behavior. Sellers who utilize AI to help pinpoint segmentation and targeting will be more successful in this new era of selling.
  • Personalized: Sellers will need to leverage technology to personalize their interactions with prospects, and ensure they are aligned with the buyers’ journey and the personalized resources buyers receive.
  • Productive: Forrester’s research tells us that B2B sellers work a 52-hour work week, but spend only 23.3% of that time performing core selling or direct engagement activities. That is a problem. We also expect AI technologies to begin automating repetitive, time-consuming, administrative tasks that haunt sellers and sales managers as they try to spend more time engaging with buyers, or in the case of managers, more time coaching their reps.
  • Profitable: Sales leaders will be held accountable for the bottom line as well as the top line. How efficiently can you as a sales leader generate revenue through the strategic use of personnel, enablement and technology investments.

A few sales technologies that you feel will become the core of a salestech stack in future?

The sales research team produces research on what we believe are the important sales tech categories and companies within each category that sales leaders should be educated about.  While each category is important, there are two categories of sales technology that we’d like to highlight: Conversation Intelligence (CI), and Revenue Operations & Intelligence. 

Although CI has been a mainstay in the B2C world, the use case for B2B sales is a new phenomenon. CI for the B2B use case refers natural language processing tools with embedded AI to capture, analyze, and surface insights from unstructured data from remote spoken conversations between sellers and buyers. As sales organizations continue their transition towards being insights-driven CI will be a necessity for all B2B sales tech stacks. Organizations who leverage CI can expect improved visibility into buyers’ and sellers’ activities, reduced seller admin time, and improved coaching insights. We have seen vendors like Salesforce, and Outreach invest in this space, and we expect that it will continue to grow as organizations rely more heavily on insights to sell and make important GTM and strategy decisions. 

The shift to increased digital engagement and revenue operations has created new priorities, as well as opportunities. Revenue Operations & Intelligence will help organizations gauge their success against those new priorities, and help surface those new opportunities. Rev. Ops & Intelligence solutions capture both human and non-human interactions along the buyer’s journey, analyzing and applying to drive myriad revenue optimization activities. It all comes back to being insights-driven. CI and Rev Ops & Intelligence solutions will help buyers transition to being insights-driven and ultimately drive successful selling.

Some last thoughts before we wrap up?

This is an exciting time to be in B2B sales. Darwins Law of evolution is at work in B2B sales: adapt or become extinct. The bar has been raised, and buyers expect sellers to rise to the occasion; meeting their needs seamlessly and instantaneously regardless of where they are transacting and interacting. Buyers are more informed, more demanding, and expect more from sellers. Reps, sales leaders, sales enablement, and sales operations who adapt will reap the benefits associated with successful selling!

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Forrester is one of the most influential research and advisory firms in the world. The company helps business and technology leaders use customer obsession to accelerate growth by putting their customers at the center of their leadership, strategy, and overall business operations.

Phil Harrell is the VP and Senior Research Director at Forrester Research

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