After a few optimistic months it appears that commercial sentiment has moderated and optimism is down a bit. In this latest survey, all three of our indicators fell below the six-month average. 

Download the infographic with the full survey results here.  

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Beyond concerns around whether or not the delta variant will set back social and economic recovery, we think many sales organizations are already looking toward 2022 and sense uncertainty. As we learned last month, barring any unforeseen events, many sales representatives have a pretty good idea of how their 2021 will turn out. What is less clear is 2022. In talking to many, it seems much of the pent-up business from 2020 has now been delivered, but it’s less clear if the good times will continue.

 

Cautious Optimism for Q3  

Looking specifically at revenue performance, 42% of respondents expect to do better in Q3 than they originally forecast. That is not as good as the 59% who reported exceeding expectations in Q2. Optimism is waning a bit quarter to quarter, but these are also slow summer months and there is still plenty of time to build pipeline once any given market comes back from vacation. 

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Your website is really, really, really important 

Speaking of Q3, we wanted to identify the triggers sales representatives look for when deciding whether or not a prospect is ready to buy. While sellers watch for a variety of events or actions, the intent signal of someone visiting your website, and perhaps even downloading something, is far more likely to be selected as one of the top-5 trigger events. At the risk of belaboring the obvious, it’s clear that a company’s website still functions as the primary store front. It’s the first place any prospect goes.  

The implications are that your website, and your marketing team, must provide customers both ready to buy or ready to learn with rich and specific information on what problems you solve and what you can do for them. Ideally, the information you provide is so compelling that your prospect feels as if they’re more than halfway done with their journey by the time they contact you. Otherwise, you have to work hard to change preconceived opinions and set your prospect on the right track. More tactically speaking, and based on Challenger’s experience, few B2B companies invest in sufficiently in content. Now may be a good time to start regularly updating the site.  

Beyond paying careful attention to digital activity, what stands out in this analysis is the specificity of what different sales representatives look for. The following is a list of some of the people related triggers: 

  • “Key initiatives attached to senior leaders, especially if there is a bonus involved” 
  • The appointment of people with specific titles, such as a Chief Procurement Officer: “When they finally put a CPO in seat it indicates they are serious about investing in the function”. 
  • Hiring of larger number of people – that tells me they’re digging their way out Covid 

Sales representatives also report looking for specific announcements. One sales representative, for example, looks at ‘incident rates and to see if the customer has been fined.’ A sales representative in the medical industry tracks “where different companies are in terms of their development stages”.  

Again and again, sales representatives mention triggers that would depend on having good customer data: the age of a prospect’s capital equipment, for example, is a good indicator of whether they are in the market for replacements and upgrades. On a similar note, some sellers focus intently on whether competitors are nearing the end of a contract period so they can disrupt a status quo relationship the moment it’s re-evaluated. 

And, of course, a very strong signal is a contract out to bid or announces a project. 

Related to ‘trigger events’ – specifically how top performers use them to prioritize their pursuits and build credibility and resonance when they get the first call on the books – we’ve got a couple of helpful resources for you and your team to check out.  Our Winning the Challenger Sale Webinar Series offers practical advice for how sellers can execute in high-leverage moments across the sales cycle. Two recent episodes – ‘The Introduction’ and ‘The Territory Plan’ – can help you and your teams act on those trigger points in pursuit of high potential opportunities. Check out the archived replays by following the link above. 

Finally, Challenger’s experience is that all this information as only as useful as what you do with it. You can’t just reference the item you spotted. You need to complete the thought for the prospect and demonstrate that you did more than watch. If, for example, a prospect downloads a whitepaper on a particular topic, you might make an observation about a similar customer who solved XYZ problem related to the whitepaper. “I noticed you had downloaded XYZ paper. A recent customer of ours, your competitor, was grappling with a related problem, would you be interested in hearing more?” is a lot more likely to get a response than an empty observation: “I noticed you downloaded XYZ. Can we chat?”Page Break 

In-Person Strategies 

Given that a post-September full back-to-office strategy looks less likely for many companies with the spread of the delta COVID variant, we wanted to see where people stand in terms of conducting in-person meetings. As of August 9, about every sixth business is fully back to conducting everything in-person. Conversely, almost every fifth business appears to be conducting everything virtually. That said, there is a lot of variation between these two extremes. 55% of respondents report travelling to meet with clients. 46% will hold in-person meetings if participants find them valuable. 

It seems the world is voting with their feet. It will likely be rare for companies to be 100% in-person or fully virtual. Instead, it seems clear that work will become a business-by-business comfortable hybrid. Too many report enjoying a much shorter commute to work. Speaking personally, I miss business travel to random cities and being able to sneak in sights wherever possible. No matter how painful the trip, there’s always a fun dive bar, somewhere. I suspect I’m not the only one who feels that way. 

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National/Global Sales Meetings 

A related question to live/virtual work was whether or not companies plan to host large-scale National/Global Sales Meetings in 2022. While it’s early to measure this definitively, it does seem that at least a third of companies will bring together a large number of people in one place. Many more report wanting to hold a larger number of smaller meetings. Last year, 38% of companies said they were planning a virtual meeting, with only 15% saying they wanted an in-person meeting. This year, the intentions are almost reversed: 30% of companies intend to hold a large format in person meeting and only 18% plan for a completely virtual event. 

Summary 

Enthusiasm around commercial recovery appears to have moderated from its high in the last few months. There could be many reasons for this, but we hope that people are simply trying to not jinx 2021 performance with too much concern at this late stage in the year. 

All sales representatives should pay close attention to digital intent signals as they look to build out their remaining 2021 pipelines. Not everyone is in a position to learn, and fewer are in a position to take action. Ask yourself, “in our business, what early signals most often lead to good meetings, reliable pipeline, closed opportunities?” and find ways to monitor those signals. While different businesses will be looking for different indicators, a prospect visiting a website appears to be the clearest trigger events we all share. 

In terms of approaches to in-person work, the data supports conventional wisdom that the future will be hybrid with few corporate employees likely to work 100% in-person and few as well being fully remote. We also see a larger number of people planning for larger-scale in-person National/Global Sales meetings, which is good. For energy, morale and culture, it always helps to get the band back together. 

Spencer Wixom & Timur Hicyilmaz

Spencer is Chief Customer Officer 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.