A Breakdown of TOPO’s 2021 Predictions for Revenue Teams

November 9, 2020 6sense

2021 planning is underway for organizations everywhere, and companies in various stages of growth are working tirelessly to keep their momentum well into the new year. TOPO is a research and advisory firm that specifically studies high-growth companies in order to understand what makes them tick — the data, the metrics, benchmarks, and best practices — and to help sales and marketing organizations learn how to achieve repeatable, scalable revenue growth. Sound familiar? At 6sense, we pride ourselves on being able to help our customers achieve predictable revenue growth.

Last month, TOPO held their three-day virtual summit for sales, sales development, and marketing practitioners focused on their new framework for revenue growth: Stabilize. Reinvent. Grow., with a focus on the growth stage. With sessions spanning resilient sales forecasting strategies, methods to improve live call execution, advancing deals with high-value offers, and more, there’s a lot for revenue teams to consider as they look toward the new year.

Key predictions for revenue teams in 2021

We paid close attention to “TOPO Analysts Predict 2021 Will Be a New Year for Revenue Teams,” a panel discussion with TOPO in-house analysts Craig Rosenberg (Co-Founder and Chief Analyst), Eric Wittlake (Senior Analyst, Marketing Practice), and Dan Gottlieb (Senior Analyst, Sales Practice). We’ve broken down our key findings from their conversation so you can prepare for 2021 with a goal of predictable, efficient revenue operations.

Prediction: 2021 will be unpredictable

Less of a joke and more a statement of fact: next year will be unpredictable across the board. Most organizations can’t see beyond 90 days — and as TOPO says, that’s being a bit generous. Simply put, it’s hard to see the future, especially in today’s world. The simplest, most straightforward prediction of all is that 2021 will be largely unpredictable. TOPO’s team says that business is in the now, with a focus on speed, agility, flexibility, and versatility. The ability to pivot and roll with the punches will be essential to planning for 2021 and getting deals across the finish line.

Prediction: Demand is not about demand creation — it’s about demand identification

Pipeline is always an issue, but perhaps a bigger one than ever before. A number of factors are converging, leading us to find that demand is less about creating it and far more about identifying it. This will be especially true in 2021, where Rosenberg says that they’ve spent the prior two quarters talking about the need to identify and align to mission-critical priorities an organization already has top of mind— rather than convince teams to identify and solve for additional or non-urgent pains.

If it’s not on your customer’s list, it’s not on your list

As Wittlake explains, some organizations and teams don’t have someone who’s been deputized to solve a mission-critical issue. If there’s no one in that role, they’re not going to create an executive-level, top-down mandate within the organization to do something entirely different. As it is, organizations have become more focused and aligned given the current landscape, focusing on smaller sets of bigger, high-priority issues to move quickly. As vendors, we need to align with the idea that if it’s not on the list, it’s not on the list. We have to work on the areas that tie into what’s already on an organization’s list, period.

Wittlake says that organizations are reporting faster deal cycles and bigger deal sizes… and that those all tie back to 90-day, mission-critical, top-down initiatives. When it comes to demand identification, we’re talking about identifying those types of deals. Gottlieb says there are implications for the way sales teams think about early sales process conversations, such as talking to a higher volume of prospects (ideally) and more specifically about the things they’re trying to accomplish in order to create value around their 90-day initiatives. Instead of trying to create demand, sales teams are setting themselves up to qualify a bit faster, to do deeper discovery earlier in the process. That patience pays off when you get a hit.

Prediction: Revenue teams will need to balance precision and volume

People are already using intent data and engagement data to decide who to go after and what to say to them. In sales and martech, the method is in some ways, as Rosenberg says, to flood the zone; you need volume at the top, but to be more precise in terms of outbound.

On the precision side, Wittlake says, the question is: What can we do to identify the places where there’s most likely the existence of the prospect’s mission-critical priority? We have to be careful when we talk about intent and with the expectations we set. In some instances, we’ve oversold intent, and in 2021 it will be important to consider the following: Can I guess better? Can I predict better where I’m going to have a positive outcome? The point is not to reach a 100% hit rate, but to use intent data and engagement data to do a better job — with messaging, identifying the prospect’s priorities, the reasons they have those priorities… all in the interest of being more relevant in the initial outbound messaging. Go flood the zone, he says, yes, but think about segmentation in order to do a better job of driving engagement, capturing attention, and actually creating the opportunity to get prospects into the funnel. 

Rosenberg says that there’s been a reexamination of fit within the SMB mid-market, driven by inbound and intent signals. Instead of saying someone is an outlier, we should consider that they may be a new market in 2021. Wittlake explains that we’ve often had our broader target market, our broader fit, but that some of the places we think of as being right for us have fallen away. Take Zoom, for instance, who found new markets in schools and churches during the pandemic. Revenue teams should reassess what we consider to be the target audience because new markets are emerging with compelling use cases that were formerly easy to overlook or passively engage.

Emerging role: the office of the pipeline

The pandemic has changed many of our everyday operations, some permanently. Gottlieb says we’ll see a new need following the pandemic: the role of the office of the pipeline within sales — in order to make sure sales reps spend extra time and effort working everything coming from marketing and sales development all the way up until it’s forecasted pipeline. We’ve been in a bullish market for the last decade, he says, and haven’t traditionally had to spend a ton of time on pipeline rigor in order to hit our numbers quarter in, quarter out. What’s changing is the scrutiny we’ll need to make sure accounts are getting attention and getting worked, with an emphasis on accountability.

Marketing has always been thinking of ways to create pipeline through many different strategies (e.g., account-based, field events, partner, and channel), as well as trying to understand and optimize those strategies and get them into sales development. In sales development, Gottlieb says, there’s the understanding that some of those accounts need to be treated differently — although it hasn’t translated very effectively into the way pipeline is managed after initial conversations, once it’s made its way to becoming forecasted. In 2021, we’re going to see more effort there and manifest in sales engagement strategy (i.e., the use of those technologies and strategies to engage and re-engage prospects earlier in the pipeline).

The idea of balancing precision and volume depends on putting resources into sales engagement. When it comes to precision, it’s about using operations and resources (e.g., data and engagement signals) to recommend or surface what’s most important to do on a given morning through technology. When it comes to volume, it’s about maximizing that time in the morning; if you’re a sales rep and you have a variety of opportunities in various stages, you need to know what the best use of your time is at 10 am. We’re still going to rely on technology to help us make some of those decisions, but the focus will be on how to balance the two priorities.

Prediction: Headcount will slow in marketing, grow in sales enablement, and maintain or decline in sales development

Great marketers are inherently focused on revenue, but what about pipeline? As Wittlake says, the path to revenue is pipeline, and marketers won’t create revenue if they’re not good about creating pipeline. That said, he says more marketers over the last 6-12 months have worked toward bringing automation, process, and standardization to the forefront to continue driving engagement — and that the responsibility to do so needs to expand to include sales.

With all the forward-thinking execution strategies flowing between marketing and sales, what does organizational growth look like for revenue teams in 2021?

What to expect from marketing growth in 2021

Wittlakes predicts that we’ll see slower growth when it comes to marketing headcount. This year, marketing teams have reduced budgets faster than they’ve reduced headcounts; many marketers have tried to retain the majority of their teams even while program budgets have decreased. He predicts we’ll see a slight flip of that: as budgets increase going into 2021, we’ll hopefully get back to where marketing was in terms of headcount — and that growth organizations will naturally be hiring faster across the board — but that the considerations will center on the areas of strength, what marketers are looking to accomplish, how they can make better decisions using data, and how best to build their processes and workflows in order to activate the data quickly.

All of those considerations fall within marketing operations, technology, and data-type roles. In a larger organization, Wittlake says, this could be within a data organization; within a smaller organization, this will likely be part of operations. That’s where we can expect to see net-new headcount growth in B2B marketing at the onset of 2021.

What to expect from sales enablement and sales development growth in 2021

When it comes to sales enablement teams, Rosenberg predicts huge growth. He predicts they’ll grow by 50% at a minimum and probably by 100% or more in 2021. And because sales enablement is about agility and speed — and people believe in its value — he predicts that the spend on technology stacks in sales enablement will double at a minimum.

Gottlieb says that we can expect a lot of innovation in sales enablement over the next 18 months. Because organizations have realized that sales enablement is mission-critical in doing business — in responding quickly to the needs of the marketing team, providing the resources sellers need to engage buyers, and making adjustments to what’s going on in buying cycles — he predicts increases in headcount and technology spend.

Revenue teams, get help planning for 2021 with our ebook The Science of B2B Selling: How Modern Sales Teams Win Deals Now.

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