Hey salespeople, we’ve got a problem: Only 3% of buyers trust us (but we beat out politicians and lobbyists!). And there’s more. Some speculate that one of the first jobs on the artificial intelligence chopping block is going to be that of the salesperson. Sooo—maybe we’ve got a few problems when breaking down the future of sales …
But, before you go and give your resignation, I want you to remember that more technology means more unique buyer needs, which means a higher degree of prescription will be required. Sales isn’t going away, but it is certainly changing.
Let’s dive into the most prominent changes facing the world of sales today, and then look forward to the impact that technological advancement is going to have on the salespeople of tomorrow.
Table of Contents
The Future of Sales: The Strategic Factor
Wait—I came here to read about sales technology! What’s this?
Sales innovation is very much tied to the technology that is propelling the industry forward, but it is equally tied to the heuristics that are driving real results with clients today. Here are the strategic keys to driving real results in the modern sales landscape.
Love for the Customer’s Problems
If we want to get buzzwordy, we could probably call this “customer-centricity” which is basically just another way of saying that you care about the people who are paying your bills. So we’re not going to call this ‘customer-centricity’, we’re going to go one step further and talk about love.
If you love your family, you likely value spending time with them. If you love football, your Sunday is probably a write-off for a good chunk of the year. But if you love your customer’s problems, you value finding the right answer to what ails them. Not just any answer, but the right answer. And what this means is that sometimes you have to say “no”. If there is no product fit, or you don’t believe that you can generate more revenue, or help them better reach their goals, then it might be time for you to stand down. Sure, you can probably force a sale, but what happens three months down the line? This client will churn, and you’re no further ahead than you were before.
This involves making sacrifices, but that’s what separates a good salesperson from a great salesperson. If it means locking yourself in a boardroom for an afternoon to really flesh out an organization's problems and identify key opportunities, then this might be your play.
Fall in love with your customer’s problems, and your customers will love you for it.
Let’s face it, digital sales is one hell of a complex industry. There are 7,000+ solution providers in the marketing technology (MarTech) industry alone. These businesses are largely fighting for the same share of marketing revenue, bolstering a multitude of offerings to meet a million client needs. How can you make your offering stand out in the crowd?
The first piece of the product puzzle is quite simply passion for the product. If you can’t get genuinely excited about what you’re selling, why should a potential customer get excited about what you’re selling? This little bit of authenticity goes a long way in terms of building trust with that potential customer.
The next piece of the puzzle is to adopt a fact-based approach. You really need to have your stats and your facts nailed down because consumers can do more research than ever before. If you’re on a call and you pull some numbers out of a hat to try and blow a prospect away, the first thing they’re going to do after that call is grab the supercomputer in their pocket and do a Google search to see if you’re full of it. If you misspoke, then you almost certainly lost that prospect.
The last piece of the product knowledge puzzle is to have an ironclad elevator pitch. Whether you’re in person or on the phone, your prospects have probably heard more pitches than you’d like to know. The reality is that you won’t win the client unless you can deliver a much more compelling value proposition than the salesperson barking on the other line.
Here are George Leith’s pointers for crafting stronger elevator pitches:
- Identify Your Goal
- Convey exactly what you plan to accomplish for the prospect.
- Explain What you Do
- Explain how you are going to contribute to meeting that goal, and do it in as few words as possible.
- Communicate Your Unique Selling Proposition
- What is it that you have that no one else in the market can compare to?
- Engage With a Question
- An elevator pitch should be the foundation for ongoing conversation, so end with a powerful question to engage that prospect and take the conversation to the next level.
- Put it all Together
- You’ve got roughly 90 seconds to patch this all together and make it flow, so try compiling different pieces for different solutions and different buyer personas.
- Know your pitches and know them well, but never be afraid to scrap your messaging if you come up with something better.
Check out the full Conquer Local episode on crafting killer elevator pitches!
When technology is changing at the speed of consumer demand, sometimes the most unanticipated change is no change at all. As much as technology has evolved to make the life of a salesperson much easier, one thing that hasn’t changed is the aspect of professionalism.
Whether it's on the phone, over FaceTime, at a conference, in a coffee shop, in a car dealership, or anywhere else; salespeople still need to carry this high level of professionalism through all they do. But what exactly does that mean?
Professionalism is being an expert presenter. It's about being confident in yourself and the product/service that you're selling. It’s about being prompt for all of your meetings and calls, and delivering (or overdelivering) on promises. It’s dressing the part and looking the part. Professionalism is essentially just mastering the craft of sales and creating loving and loyal clients.
Check out the full Conquer Local episode on mastering modern sales!
The Rise of Generation Z
Move over millennials, there are some new kids on the block (pun intended). Generation Z is characterized by those born anywhere from the mid-nineties to the mid-2000s. Although this is a young generation, the older of these buyers are now entering their mid-twenties and quickly gaining buying power. In fact, this generation accounts for approximately $29 to $143 billion in spending and is set to become the largest generation of consumers by 2020. If you sell directly to consumers, the opportunity here is pretty obvious.
Now, if you sell to other businesses (B2B), this is also important, because this generation has a massive entrepreneurial spirit, so they are actively starting businesses. In fact, a Gallup study demonstrated that nearly eight in 10 students in grades 5 through 12 say that they want to be their own boss. There’s one MAJOR difference though, they don’t consume media the same way their parents did.
Gen Z were born into the internet, and grew up using social media, smartphones, and online shopping. If you’re selling marketing solutions and you get on a call with one of these prospects, they will have done their research and probably already know more about your offering than you can tell them. This might sound like a problem, but it’s not. These tech savvy consumers understand the value in technology, so all you have to do is have a great offering and show them value quickly.
A Splash of Creativity
If you think that salespeople don’t need to be creative, then you’re sadly mistaken. There are some key lessons that can be drawn from the design thinking approach to product innovation that are very relevant for salespeople who are looking to improve performance.
If you’ve mastered the art of falling in love with your customers problems, you’re 75% of the way to mastering sales in 2019 and onward. You know your product inside and out, you take an honesty-first approach to selling, and you know your audience.
The reality is, half the prospects you speak to aren’t going to be a fit for your offering. Each of these prospects is going to have a unique set of problems that command a unique solution. This is where salespeople really need to step into the shoes of a potential client and get prescriptive. What product pairings are going to deliver the most value to this client? What pitch is really going to pull on the heart strings? Who are the key decision makers and how can you get them involved?
These are the questions that you must seek to answer as a sales rep.
Once you've addressed these problem areas, then you can adopt further elements of design thinking by “prototyping” a solution. Then, establish a “testing” period for the offering.
The Future of Sales: The Tech Factor
Here’s the meat and potatoes, or the microchips and processors of sales innovation. This is where we’re going to dive into even more buzzwords like “artificial intelligence,” “automation,” and all things digital sales.
The Next 12 Months
Why would we even bother looking at 12 months? How much can really change in a year? A lot. With technological innovation and buzzwords about automation running rampant, we must all learn to be more forward looking, or else we will all be left behind. Here are some of the major technological changes you can anticipate:
Sales Enablement Technology
Sales enablement is nothing new and sales organizations have been fighting this battle since the dawn of time. Through history, sales enablement has consisted of a variety of tools ranging from training tapes, to on-boarding and training strategies, all the way to professional training programs.
In 2019, when time has become the greatest cost of all, there is going to be an increased emphasis placed on developing clear sales enablement strategies. This is the year for focussing on efficiencies—efficiencies in the onboarding process and in developing those top skills in sales teams—and leveraging technology to improve effectiveness.
Sales enablement gets tricky because every organization has a unique process and unique needs, making a ‘one size fits all’ solution hard to deploy. Fortunately, businesses have access to more data than ever before. This data can be leveraged to create custom on-boarding and coaching programs, simulated sales scenarios, and so much more. Some specific solutions to aid in this development process will be:
- Your sales and marketing CRM. If you’re using Hubspot, Salesforce, or a white-label CRM, you’re going to have access to a metric ton of data and insights to back it. These insights can help you structure your new sales enablement strategy.
- Once you’ve established a plan, you can leverage technology like MindTickle to help you organize and implement your enablement strategy.
Artificial Intelligence and Sales
Artificial intelligence is going to open numerous doors for salespeople and offer the potential to dramatically improve sales productivity. Salespeople will be able to increasingly lean on their computers, their CRMs, and other sales tools to:
- Analyze massive amounts of data in minimal amounts of time;
- get solution recommendations based on data to eliminate some of the guesswork in needs assessments and determining product-client fit;
- and, maybe even predict the future. Data is powerful, and our ability to predict and mediate trends is going to continue to improve through 2019.
Outside of CRMs and sales enablement tools, there are already other AI-driven tools to help salespeople become better coaches and better diagnose key needs. For example, the Snapshot Report.
The Snapshot Report is a powerful needs assessment tool that enables sales reps to identify gaps in a prospect’s online performance. This makes it easier for reps to spark that initial conversation and deliver more persuasive value pitches.
The Next Five Years
Will there be any need for salespeople in five years? With technological advancement and the rise of e-commerce, our tools can almost autonomously run marketing campaigns, collect and aggregate client data, identify consumer needs, and give messaging recommendations based on prospect actions—so is the sales industry on the verge of extinction?
Relaaaax, unless you’re an accountant, you really have little need to worry ;). If you are genuinely concerned about this scenario, then I want you to think about everything that has just been said. Consumers, particularly in the B2B space, need more prescription and more help with product selection than ever before. The buyer's journey is becoming more complex, and consumers need guidance. This is an opportunity for salespeople to become coaches, and leverage the technology at their avail to sell more, and to sell better than ever before. In the next five years, we will witness a massive sales evolution, not an extinction.
Check out George and Charles' discussion on the future of sales here!
Social selling is essentially when salespeople leverage their personal social networks and social media accounts to interact with potential buyers. There are roughly 2.77 billion active social media users in the world, and this number is predicted to continue growing well into 2024. Furthermore, a recent study by PwC determined that 78% of consumers are influenced by social media in some way when purchasing. People rely on these platforms for social interaction, for news, and increasingly to make product and purchase decisions.
Social selling aims to build enough rapport and trust with a prospect that they are eventually ready to learn more and hopefully invest in a product or service. This personal side of selling is working today because key decision makers don’t answer cold calls, and ‘one size fits all’ no longer exists. By tailoring your effort and presenting unique answers through a personal lens, you can dramatically improve your sales performance. In fact, a Forbes survey reported that 78% of salespeople that use social platforms outperform those who aren’t using the platforms, and 23% of these salespeople are currently exceeding their quotas. Over the next 5 years, let’s get social.
More and More AI
When we talk about AI in 2019, it generally just means that someone wrote a couple lines of code so basic tasks complete themselves and save you time. Not to discredit any of this innovation in automation technology, but over the next five years, we are going to witness our systems become increasingly intelligent and make more intuitive decisions. With more intelligent systems, this is just going to make it even easier for salespeople to diagnose pain-points and make solution recommendations based on data.
So your organization probably isn’t going to be rolling in a batch of robots to replace your sales team in the next five years (or the next 30), but they will adopt new strategies and new technologies to increase performance.
The strategic changes you can prepare for are:
- A need to fall in love with your customers problems
- Adopting a consulting/coaching mindset
- Beware the rise on Generation Z
- Keep it professional
- Remember to get creative
The technological changes you can prepare for are:
- The beginning of the sales enablement tech movement
- Social selling is the answer
- More AI and less redundant tasks
This isn’t an all-encompassing list, but hopefully it calms your nerves about facing the future.
Did I miss anything? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!