| By Chuck Schaeffer
The Four Unmistakable Trends that will Define the Future of Sales
The sales profession is in transition. It's shifting from an offline, seller-driven, push-based model toward a digital-first, data driven and buyer-focused response. Those sellers who adjust to buyer preferences, behaviors and purchase processes will outperform those that do not.
Here are the four market shifts that are defining the future of sales.
The Future of Sales is Customer Centric
Most sales organizations are behind in adopting a customer-centric operating model. That is in large part because customer centricity is still more talk than action. It has crossed the chasm in marketing collaterals and company tag lines but not in company cultures and customer engagement.
What company does not say they are customer-centric? But saying it does not make it so. For goodness sake, Comcast says its customer centric. Yea, Comcast. It's crazy.
A study from Bain & Company found that 80 percent of companies believe they deliver "super experiences," however, research shows only 8 percent of customers agree (Source: Bain & Company, Customer-Led Growth diagnostic questionnaire).
Companies do not get to decide if they are customer centric, customers do, and customers will make their experiences known in public websites and social networks.
The future of sales belongs to those sellers who apply a customer-first, outside-in focus and shift from a product-centric sales model to one that puts the customer at the center of everything they do.
The Future of Selling Aligns the Buyer and Seller Process
B2B buyers want to use online search and discovery to educate themselves with on-demand, accurate and unbiased information. They want more transparency, convenience, and a rewarding browsing experience. They want information parity. And they get these things from some, but not all sellers.
That creates a strategic opportunity. Sellers that facilitate and compliment the buyer journey will outperform those that do not.
The future will not be kind to salespeople that want to negotiate information exchange or hide behind gated content, complex pricing schemes or manipulative practices. These things may be tolerated when there are no alternatives, but there will be even more alternatives in the future.
Buyers are more connected, informed and empowered, and that has forever changed the balance of power. Customers have the upper hand. Fail to give them what they want and you will be displaced by a competitor that does.
This does not mean buyers will not engage sellers. They will, although later in the sales cycle. This does not mean sellers will not execute prescriptive sales processes. They will, but their sales processes will be aligned with the buyers' purchase processes and designed to solve for the customer.
The Future of Sales is Digital
In the future, most sales engagement will occur on digital channels.
That stands in contrast to the status quo. Most sellers recognize the rise of digital channels but fail to adapt their sales processes to this customer preference. They continue to push an in-person, offline, single channel communication.
These sellers will be displaced by more progressive competitors who promote multi-channel, multi-experience engagement. It's a big opportunity for salespeople to meet customers in their preferred channels and engage pursuant to their terms.
The future of sales belongs to companies that adopt a digital first customer engagement model, shift from growing salespeople to growing sales channels and deliver rich content that facilitates buyer enablement.
The Future of Selling is Insights Driven
B2B buyers increasingly discount the perceived value of most sellers. Generational shifts will accelerate this trend. Millennials who are much more skeptical of salespeople than their generational predecessors now permeate middle management and lead purchase evaluations. They will be making the final purchase decisions soon.
An increase in sales skepticism means sellers must step up their game or be marginalized.
Buyers still need help but not in the forms of data, facts and vendor information they prefer to get online. And they do not need more information to cloud an already complex purchase decision. They need help to make sense of the information. They need insights.
Insights are not data, facts or statistics; these are all information. Insights are the reasons, behaviors or learning behind the data, facts or statistics. The dictionary defines an insight as "seeing below the surface". Insights deliver new learning and something that teaches and induces action.
Salespeople that understand what each buyer role wants to know, can convert data into insights and can eliminate sources of friction will be valued by customers and gain valuable customer engagement.
The future of sales belongs to salespeople that facilitate customer self-learning and compliment that learning with insights that compare alternatives, minimize decision risk and increase buyer confidence.
The Future of Sales is Data Driven
More digital selling will create more data. A lot more data.
Early stage customer digital footprints reveal product interests, buyer intent and purchase timing. That data can be used to update nurture marketing campaigns or create highly relevant offers.
Accumulated data can be used to show interaction preferences, track buyer behaviors, measure customer sentiment, determine buyer readiness, calculate lead scores, develop rich customer profiles, supplement account strategies, deliver mass personalized messaging and be appended to the 360-degree customer view for even more downstream uses.
At a macro level, tabulated data will show how to best allocate sales resources, how to better align products with customer markets, show what products to promote and which products to retire. When product interest patterns are combined with product utilization measurement, the company can shift from reactive to proactive product innovation.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) will become the seller's primary technology enabler. It is the tool to extract the most valuable nuggets from a goldmine of customer data.
AI will highlight the most important buyer signals. It will predict which accounts can be won and which cannot. It will prioritize which accounts to pursue on any given day based on their propensity to close. It will suggest the next-best-action to advance the sales cycle. It will trigger real-time variances such as a decline in customer engagement or a sale opportunity that becomes at risk.
AI will not replace salespeople. It will make them more successful.
The Point is This
Unmistakable buyer-led trends will reshape and reinvent sales strategy, execution and technology. They will also rearrange the vendor pecking order in competitive markets.
Shifts in buyer behaviors and how buyers buy require compensating shifts in how sellers sell. For most companies this will be a wholesale sales transformation. The challenge is significant but the failure to act is fatal.