At the end of May, about a month ago, we saw a striking rise in optimism as our sentiment measures crossed 70%; it seemed to correspond to a collective change in attitude about the pandemic and a broad reopening of society. It was also enough to make the research team worry about jinxing things. As it happens, optimism has remained strong up with measures holding above the six-month average.

Download the infographic with the full survey results here. 

For all the chatter in the news about continued economic uncertainty, our respondents perceive that a corner has been turned. This perception aligns well with other economic data showing that the recession has effectively ended for the highly paid even as low wage employment rates remain low.

Q2 Was a Success

End of May, 53% of respondents projected Q2 to end better than they had forecast. As it happens, fortunes held up and, in fact, 59% did better than forecasted. That said, roughly 22% did worse.

The Die is Cast

A good Q2, we hope, underpins a better full-year 2021. At this point in the year almost 30% of our respondents believe they have the pipeline necessary to meet their year-end goals. Most, however, will still need to find a fair number of opportunities to meet quota. This means that sellers will need to work closely with colleagues in marketing and business development to find growth opportunities.

Pipeline Building

To get a sense for how sellers are building their pipelines, we asked them to rank different strategies.

To state the obvious, much of today’s success is built on prior relationships. That is, current and past clients combine with referrals to represent the single most important source of leads to build the pipeline (together these three were picked 51% of the time). Similarly, many salespeople rely on their personal contacts with prior customers to build pipeline. Building your own book of business of customers who see you as a reliable source of value is a long-term strategy that clearly pays dividends over time.

Partnerships stand in a class of their own. Overall, this isn’t the favorite way of generating pipeline, but it does come in a strong second (selected as the top choice 19% of the time and at least in the top-5 68% of the time). This speaks to a trend of more aggressively creating commercial eco-systems where companies who trade complementary products and services share customer lists and work to identify how their products fit together. Seeing an integrated solution makes the decision process easier for the buyer.

Digital marketing (content, SEO etc.) and events are clearly much harder work. But when we remember that 68% of reps are going to need to grow their pipelines by at least 10% to meet quota, and 31% are going to need to grow pipelines by more than 30%, these mechanisms become more necessary and valuable. New companies and new-to-role sales representatives clearly have no choice here. They rely heavily on traditional inbound/outbound channels for leads and pipeline.

Social selling brings up the rear. But what’s striking about social selling is the variance in perspective: it seems to work for some people and not for others. We suspect social selling is likely more effective in some industries than in others. Either way, if your current or past customers maintain a social presence then it makes a lot of sense to maintain a presence and engage them there.

Summary

Last month’s optimism around the economy appears to have held up. While consumers and smaller businesses might be hurting from inflation, B2B sales appears to be much less impacted.

Though 2021 is only half done, B2B sales representatives already have much of the pipeline they need to meet year-end quota. The problem, however, is that reps have already worked their way through all the easier ways to build their pipelines – going to existing and past customers. Those who need more must rely on a lot more on cold outreach to find the last few opportunities.

 

Spencer Wixom & Timur Hicyilmaz

Spencer is Senior Vice President of Marketing at Challenger, and has helped transform sales and marketing teams in some of the biggest and best companies in the world.

Timur has been conducting research for most of his career. He was part of the team that researched many of the original concepts behind Challenger. Mostly focused on trying to better understand how commercial organizations succeed, Timur has spent time working on everything from trying to understand consumer attitudes toward energy consumption to identifying best practices for hospital operations leaders. His passion is for trying to identify strategies that are more likely to deliver a desired outcome than any others.