Forget about a new financial year, we’re about to enter a new financial decade. What are your sales goals for the next ten years? How will you capitalise on the trends and opportunities that will affect everyone in sales? Sales strategist Mary Crampton shares 8 predictions that will affect the way you sell in the decade ahead.
The new decade is bound to bring another 10 years of incredible change. What can you do with the sales and business development resources you have available, to create the biggest ROI and grow sales for your business?
Here are our predictions of the key trends, opportunities and challenges that will affect all sales organisations in the next year and beyond.
1) Sales Talent
Tech-savvy and with more options than you can shake a stick at, today’s emerging talent-pool knows that they’ll be changing careers as often as a four-year old changes their dress-up clothes. In other words – they’re primed for change.
Will they want to stay in sales roles, or will they get bored and move on to the next role as quickly as they appeared? It seems like a real sense of higher purpose and meaning from their work is often the thing that will make the difference.
With the fast pace of change, there will be a whole range of people going in and out of the workforce, juggling their family commitments and careers – wanting to have enough balance that they really can have it all.
Business who deliver a sense of purpose and flexible work arrangements will continue to win the sales talent war. It’s about becoming more agile. Businesses across the spectrum need to become better at using tech solutions to enable individuals and their interactions, so that they can deliver on their business goals.
2) Business Authenticity
We’re living in a time where it is possible to invent yourself on the internet, while living a totally different life in another location. As tomorrow’s customers interact with social media and the internet, they’re looking for honest, authentic people to do business with.
With customers making their personal ‘sales discovery’ journey and their digital ‘research’ journey before making a purchasing decision, your customer’s journey really has gotten longer than it used to be last decade.
Make sure your all your communications and your sales and marketing messages are aligned. More importantly though – be the real thing. Be the type of business that people genuinely want to work with, so that when your customers go researching, they will find only good things about you.
3) Artificial Intelligence and Data Transparency
There’s a lot of talk that AI will take jobs and could mean the end of life as we know it. Yes, AI probably will remove jobs but will certainly create others, many that we may have not yet imagined. Life as we know it is constantly changing. If AI doesn’t ring in the changes, something else will.
Specifically, for sales – AI is already here. Today’s software and CRM systems give incredible visibility and sales insights to business owners who want to make data-driven decisions, based on accurate knowledge of what their customers really want. It’s normal to know when someone has opened an email, read page 3 of your proposal, clicked on a link in an email newsletter, responded to a post on social media, etc. If you don’t know this stuff, you’re missing a whole world of sales insight that could direct your customer acquisition and retention strategies.
Watch this space. If you thought the sales insights already available are exciting (and they are!) – the next 10 years of tech innovation and discovery will only bring out more. GDPR and the rise of privacy issues are signs that customers want us to be ethical with their data. Expect customers to want a clear demonstration of your business ethics, and transparency around use of data.
4) Your Multi-Channel Sales Approach
A multi-channel approach has always been used in sales. Except that 20 years ago, we just had a whole lot less channels. Back in the early 1990s some of the channels were radio and newspaper advertising, phone calls, mailouts, trade shows, customer visits, conferences, posted letters, networks. This was well before the digital age and our channels were physical and sensory – things that we could see and hear and feel and touch. And taste – if you were in hospitality sales.
All the traditional sales channels still exist. We’ve now added in digital sales and marketing channels – social media, SEO, content marketing, Google and Facebook advertising, influencer marketing, webinars, zoom calls, inbound marketing and more.
Many businesses have completely abandoned the traditional channels and focused on digital channels to drive their sales growth. If you’re a SaaS business, this is great. Even then, many of the traditional sales and marketing channels still deliver. Sometimes they deliver more than you’d expect, because your competition is curiously absent.
More businesses will rediscover traditional sales and marketing channels, as customers demand more personalisation. Salespeople will need to keep on top of future emerging channels, so that they reach the widest range of their ideal customers. Companies who soar ahead in sales will have a multi-channel approach, with inbound and outbound sales and marketing strategies, and be agile enough to constantly pivot as the business landscape changes in the decade ahead.
5) Outbound Sales
Outbound sales – or ‘cold calling’ as some call it – often gets a bad rap on social media. The phrase ‘cold calling’ brings to mind large, open plan office spaces packed with salespeople who are desperate, kitted out in headsets, stuck to their chairs, afraid to go to the bathroom in case their pay gets docked – not unlike factory farmed chickens all jammed together in a space that’s too small. What are they doing? They’re selling! Every single one of them is frantically dialling call after call, going through the Yellow Pages (or their preferred directory or data list) starting at A, calling every single number, shoving their message down the customer’s throat as soon as the phone gets answered.
So many companies have completely left outbound sales behind and embraced inbound sales completely. They’re selling, but are they selling as much as they could be? Not only that, but the new generation of salespeople coming through the ranks have often grown up without a landline. They’re not used to hearing the phone ring, or answering it, or keeping a telephone conversation going. They’re a whizz at texting, but professional selling that includes use of the telephone seems to be a lost art.
As more companies pick up on a multi-channel approach, we’ll see the rediscovery of the phone – but in levels appropriate to the type of industry e.g. for B2C sales in SaaS companies, the phone may be required a lot less, sometimes not at all.
The “phone” itself will continue to change, but in a wider sense we’ll see a return to more sales methods that include personal communication. On some level, the phone has already morphed into zoom calls and skype calls – we’ve still got audio, but we’ve now got video as well.
Thankfully, any rediscovery of the phone will be different to the stereotypical image of frantic salespeople pounding their way through the telephone directories. With the sales insights now available, business development using the phone is now much more targeted and specifically directed to discussing the customer’s problems and pain points (which good salespeople often know from their research!) The good conversations that result are interspersed throughout the customer journey, happening before, during or after inbound enquiry, email outreach, conferences, networking events.
6) Sales and Marketing Alignment
Sales and marketing alignment is an amazing phenomenon of our time. Sales has become part of marketing, and marketing has become part of sales. Now that customers also make their digital sales journey, some traditional parts of the sales role have been swallowed up by marketing. This means salespeople need greater skills in some parts of the sales process such as closing.
We still need them both. Marketing supports Sales. Sales needs Marketing. We’re not competitors, we’re players on the same team! Let’s do this together!
The alignment between sales and marketing alignment is here to stay. Companies who embrace this will see more opportunities to deepen their customer relationships and make inroads with new business development as their traditional sales journeys and digital marketing journeys speak to the customers at every step of the sales process.
7) The rise of Customer Success
Sometime in recent years, businesses started talking about ‘customer success’. Now we have Customer Success Managers to promote retention and loyalty. It’s their role to ensure all is going well with your customers, checking that customers are getting the best value from their purchase. You’ll often find them in tech companies.
The cost of gaining new customers is generally far greater than keeping existing customers happy. Customer Success Managers help reassure your customers that they have made a good purchasing decision. They’re also creating raving fans who will tell others about your business, creating more customers. Plus, they’re helping ensure that any feedback posted about your business on social media is positive.
The internet is not going away anytime soon. Customer Success Managers, or at least someone at your company taking responsibility for this important function, will likely increase in importance. As the barriers to business data analysis continue to go down, with the range of software available, the Customer Success Manager’s role will become more important when you’re making sales forecasts and creating sales strategies.
8) Sales Reporting
Twenty years ago, sales reporting was more simplistic. We measured less, because that was the level of reporting capability in most businesses. Sales Managers were the only ones who ran reports. If you didn’t tally results yourself, it could be a nerve-wracking time for sales reps as you waited to hear your stats for the month. Many smaller businesses with the Founder in charge of sales (we didn’t refer to Founders in the same way twenty years ago!) had even less insight about their sales – often none, until their accountant helped them.
Fast-forward to 2020 – the CRM reporting systems available mean that everything is measurable. If your CRM system doesn’t pull the level of detail you require, other software is available to simply click in like pieces of Lego – delivering insights effortlessly. Sales reps and business owners can run their own report every day if they want to, to check how they’re tracking. Accounting software will also help you keep track on your numbers – without waiting for a meeting with your accountant.
Your customers’ digital journey is completely measurable. Which landing pages they prefer, how long they spend on them, how frequently they visit your website, which resources are viewed or downloaded the most. Not to mention their interactions with your social media. Today’s businesses have a huge advantage in terms of accurate date that tells exactly what’s helping to grow sales, and what needs changing.
Expect the range and uptake of sales reporting tools to increase. The rise of virtual assistants and systems support available will continue to help those businesses without a dedicated sales reporting champion. Like all developments, the price will likely continue to fall as technology improves. This will help increase uptake levels. Making more data-driven decisions will probably become so normal that we might stop talking about it – in the same way that electricity is so normal and expected that we’ve stopped talking about using it.
Where will the new decade see you and your business? How will you make the most of the opportunities available to support your sales growth to the next level? Your sales strategy, like all good plans, will need to be reviewed regularly, so you can pivot where needed to achieve your sales goals.
The coming decade is an exciting time to be in sales – more insights, more sales tools, more opportunities to extend your customer base. Keep close to your customers, and you’ll develop more products and services they love, and that they love to recommend to their friends.