Virtual Decisions – Takeaways from the Forrester B2B Summit 2021

May 17, 2021
By Andrew Freeman

I have been a serial SiriusDecisions (now Forrester) Summit attendee for over 10 years.

Virtual Decisions – Takeaways from the Forrester B2B Summit 2021

The annual pilgrimage to a swanky stateside hotel via a long transatlantic flight became a right of passage for the serious European B2B Marketing practitioner looking to absorb the latest best practice and research - the “Woodstock of B2B Marketing” as a past attendee described it.

This year’s journey for me involved a trip downstairs, a comfy sofa and a large mug of coffee. Distractions came in the form of a needy teenager and the 10 o’clock news as opposed to an enticing pool, casino or restaurant.

This is actually the second year of the Summit going virtual, but this year Forrester had time to maximise the attendee experience with their virtual Summit platform. Much like the physical event, this gave opportunities for peer networking, browsing the vendor Marketplace, entertainment (courtesy of the exuberant Jennifer Hudson) and even lunch, via an Uber Business voucher.

As usual, content came thick and fast with a very welcome “On Demand” replay of each session if you didn’t manage to catch it live (did I mention the needy teenager?). So virtual experience aside, what were the key takeaways for me this year? Here are my top five.


1. The Revenue Waterfall

The original (MQL based) waterfall launched by SiriusDecisions has been modified over the years to encompass the latest best practice. In recent years it was updated to recognise that B2B buying is typically performed by buying groups rather than individuals and was therefore renamed the “Demand Unit Waterfall”.

The newly announced “Forrester B2B Revenue Waterfall” goes further by embracing Revenue Ops principles, fully combining the marketing and sales pipelines. It also importantly (especially given the last couple of years) recognises that “Demand” i.e. customer acquisition is only one of typically four types of opportunity that will move through the Waterfall. So acquisition is now joined by its bedfellows - retention, cross-sell and upsell. Each have their own average conversion rates and velocities and therefore demand separate measurement and optimisation.

Oh, and the idea that the waterfall is represented as a funnel has gone. In real-life our funnels took on all sorts of bulges and contractions at the different funnel stages rather than the perfectly formed sloping sides seen in numerous best practice examples. Forrester have recognised this by turning the waterfall into a horizontal bar chart. Data analysts and dashboard designers will be rejoicing!


2. Customer Retention Rules!

There was a timely reminder at the Summit that marketers have typically focused their efforts and budgets on customer acquisition. In this new era of RevOps revenue contribution and influence become the overriding measures (as opposed to the value of MQL’s or Leads). This was brought home by one statistic that came out of recent research performed by Forrester:

To replace one lost Retention opportunity you will, on average, need to find six Upsell opportunities or sixteen Cross-sell opportunities or a staggering thirty Acquisition opportunities.

This certainly puts priorities into perspective and further drives the necessity for Sales and Marketing (and Customer Service) to be fully aligned throughout the entire customer lifecycle.


3. Goodbye MQL’s hello Opportunities

As a concept, the Lead record found on all CRM systems must now be close to 20 years old. Its purpose and functionality has never really changed in this time - primarily designed to act like a nightclub doorman, protecting access to your precious contact and account records until the right criteria is achieved.

In today’s buying group based world the Lead record no longer cuts the mustard. We have the need to identify accounts and link buying group contact relationships early in the lead process - something, Forrester rightly pointed out, that the Opportunity record does very well. In fact, it is now Opportunities that flow through the Waterfall and not Leads.

So where does this leave the humble MQL? The MQL represented a single Lead that matched your “let them in” criteria and showed enough interest to be considered good enough to pass to Sales or your BDR team. However, buying groups could potentially become multiple MQL’s for the same opportunity or worse important members of the buying group could be missed because they scored below the MQL threshold.

So, together with Lead records, the MQL has been relegated to the archives and Opportunities now become the container for both the marketing and sales pipelines.


4. B2B Business drivers have changed

The topic of the last two pandemic years and their influence on buying behaviours was peppered throughout many presentations, but Forrester’s 2021 B2B Buying Survey reflected these changes distinctly.

Whilst “improving profitability” and “reducing costs” were common leading business drivers, these have been replaced with the need to increase brand reach and influence together with an acceleration of the move to digital business.

Adopting a cautious approach, buyers are doing more due diligence than ever, with average purchase process interactions going up from 17 in 2019 to 27 in 2021 and purchase timeframes increasing in line with these. 80% of B2B purchases are now made by buying groups with 60% or more of these with four or more people involved (up from 47% in 2017).

Interestingly both the C-suite and the Finance department are taking a bigger role in buying decisions now than in 2017, reinforcing the need to cover these personas in your buying groups.


5. The lexicon of B2B Marketing continues to grow

Well, I’m certainly familiar with the statistical segmentation terms “demographics” and the more recent company based “firmographics”, but I learnt a new one this year - “Technographics”. I’ve always called it installed base but from here on in I’ll be using the term Technographics at every opportunity to impress.

As always it is easy to get swamped by the sheer amount of content at the B2B Summit. One of the benefits of being virtual are the instant replays that Forrester are making available for 3 months - something I hope they continue when face-to-face events come back into the world.

So that’s it until the Summit comes to EMEA later this year. Instead of a taxi to the airport I’ll take a flight back upstairs, trying not to wake my fellow passengers and retire to my first class lie flat bed - no jet lag for me this year!

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