After a three-year hiatus, Dreamforce came back with dozens of venues, hundreds of vendors, thousands of sessions, and millions of steps. It would be impossible to sum up a week of conversations. But in digging through my volumes of notes, here are a few of my takeaways for those in enablement:
1. In person is back…kind of!
Although smaller in scale (40,000 in person versus 170,000 in 2019) Dreamforce was live and in-person. And people were LOVING it! Marc Benioff said the transition to a physical event in its 20th year meant that this was “the most important Dreamforce ever” and nicknamed it “The Big Reunion.” About every participant I met talked about how wonderful it was to be able to gather again. They shared not just excitement, but also a sense of relief and release. It was a much bigger deal, both emotionally and culturally, than you might think. Yet #DF22 also proved that events don’t have to choose just one method of engagement. In addition to those in San Francisco, an additional 100,000+ registrants attended sessions virtually.
*Thought starter: It’s time for an in-person SKO! When you organize yours, be sure to allocate enough time for networking and human connection. At the same time, look for opportunities to add hybrid sessions to your SKOs, including audiences who may not be attending the physical event.
2. It turns out that we aren’t done fixing sales processes.
Sales process work was all the rage 10 years ago. But after a quiet period, it has resurfaced as a major enablement obstacle. The reason is that buying processes are no longer linear. But sales processes usually are, driven by a need to be a forecasting framework rather than selling guidance. This disconnect has come to a head as enablement leaders find themselves installing a huge influx of sales tech on a foundation of flawed process. Check out Sales Enablement PRO for the recordings from the annual Sales Enablement Soiree. There were several excellent sessions on sales process. The common theme was a need to reconstruct sales processes and bring them back to a buyer orientation.
*Thought starter: When was the last time you collected enough buyer data to really refresh your sales process? Now is the time! If your sales process isn’t formalized, adopted AND aligned to the actual customer buying process, then it’s time for redesign.
3. Tools still don’t sell (at least not yet.)
Dreamforce is a bonanza of RevOps tools with hundreds on the Expo floor. We have new ways to predict behavior, lean out steps and solve problems that were impossible just a few quarters ago. It is amazing – full stop. However, the unintended consequence of these solutions can be an oversimplification of selling. Selling becomes downgraded into an automated system that collects information, analyzes data, predicts behaviors and tells sellers what to do…until the point that we can get rid of sellers altogether and just start telling buyers what to do. The reality is that selling is still an exchange of trust between human beings. Sales enablement tools most certainly help. But it’s humans that sell –including humans in marketing, customer success, service and more. It’s Dreamforce, so naturally the talk will be tech and tools. But let’s not forget the people.
*Thought starter: Make sure that as you deploy tools, you aren’t unintentionally de-emphasizing interpersonal selling skills, methodologies and hiring profiles.
4. Enablement needs buyer insights, asap.
B2B buyers are changing rapidly. And enablement organizations are struggling to understand both the big picture, and the nuances, of those changes. Capturing the “voice of the buyer” allows enablement to revamp sales processes, personalize sales motions and outsell the competition. And it means you can fuel all your new tools and technologies with buyer insights versus seller assumptions – finally optimizing their output. The key is to go beyond seller interviews and win/loss surveys.
*Thought starter: Explore using conversational intelligence (e.g. Gong, Chorus.ai), buyer intent (e.g., 6sense, Demandbase) and human sales intelligence (e.g., Emissary). If you are not familiar with Emissary, check out this explanation for how we can match our executive tech buyers to your revenue teams to explain, first-hand, how specific accounts buy.
5. Measurement needs to be visible. But it doesn’t have to be perfect.
Yes, there are whispers (hollers?) of a potential recession. And yes, organizations are starting to get conservative with budgets. But regardless of economic headwinds, being able to justify your budget and prioritize your investments is a requirement. It’s just part of responsible leadership. What to track and how to track it remains a hot topic among enablement professionals. The reality is that indisputable ROI is a tall order. When all the variables change at the same time, it’s impossible to tell if improved win rates are due to new training, a new tool or program, pricing strategies, product enhancements, or market conditions But you can (and should) still track business results by connecting KPI movement to leading indicators and stories/use cases. If you can triangulate those three, you are in great shape!
*Thought starter: Agree your KPIs with sales leadership. Then, design a charter for enablement that includes those KPIs. Devise a method for every material investment of time, effort and money can be traced to those targets. Establish a sales advisory board to gather their feedback, track metrics and stories/success cases.
6. Enablement needs to get big.
One of the major themes was the expansion of sales enablement. Common expansion points include: involvement in talent and culture (traditionally owned by HR), data stewardship (the land of sales operations), field coaching (sales leadership domain) and content (once a Marketing only responsibility). Enablement leaders talked about the need to grow their sphere of influence to shape all factors that drive sales success. Yet this need to grow can be countered with a lack of resources. Many enablement leaders talked about proactively making a choice on how high to reach. This goes beyond just calling sales enablement, “revenue” enablement. The question on the table was whether enablement should elevate into GTM, riding the wave of this unique time or retreat into a transactional purview. Given my years in the space, I am inherently biased. But my vote is that it’s time to get big!
*Thought starter: As you move into 2023 sales enablement planning, it’s time to revisit your charter. Where could you, and where should you extend your reach? (Here is an assessment tool to help you rate the possibilities.)
7. “Quiet quitting” is a buzzword that hides a real problem.
Full disclosure: I’m just not a fan of the term. I think it undersells tangible challenges that need an active response. Namely, a vast majority of sellers (87% according to Gartner) are overwhelmed and frustrated. And Forrester reports that salespeople are three times more likely to leave their jobs than other employee categories. Enablement is in a unique position to intervene, in partnership with corporate HR. But to be clear, the enablement problem to fix is not some vague idea that people don’t want to work hard. The problem to fix is people who are trying hard, only to find themselves stymied by contrary processes, leadership, incentives, and culture.
*Thought starter: What opportunities do you have for additional listening? How can you shape the culture to create a motivating environment? What quick wins can you deliver to sales that will save them time and stress?
8. We owe sales leaders more support
Frontline sales management is the hardest job in sales. Every enablement program we implement requires overburdened sales managers to take action. Learn a training program. Coach and reinforce a methodology. Track adoption of a tool. Function as the conduit for upwards and downwards communication. It’s become an impossible list of “to-dos.” Enablement professionals have committed to sales management development for many years. But even now, sales manager competency models are lacking. We still promote high performers into management roles. And coaching-the-coach is rare. Every tool at Dreamforce had a “manager’s dashboard.” But that falls short of real enablement.
*Thought starter: Really stress test your toolset, support and curriculum for managers. Are sales managers being developed into better leaders? Do you have a pipeline of sales directors (managers of managers) that you feel good about? If not, take it back to the drawing board.
Hopefully these eight takeaways spark your thinking as well.
Dreamforce 2022 was a fantastic week and an excellent investment of time. I look forward to applying these themes to my own sales enbablement planning. And I welcome you to add to the list. I’d love to hear what your top takeaways were.