4 Top Sales Trends for 2016
:: By Sharmin Kent, TinderBox ::
From the rise of customer relationship management (CRM) solutions in the early 21st century to the recent proliferation of software focused on sales productivity, sales has become the core of enterprise innovation in 2015.
The end of the year is fast approaching, and departments are crafting plans and budgets to prepare for the year ahead. The following sales predictions, collected from leading experts in sales and marketing, offer a glimpse into the future of selling in 2016.
Competition for tech-savvy salespeople will increase
Internal data shows that just 12 percent of buyers want to meet a salesperson face-to-face, which presents a serious challenge to sales teams that must use technology to meet customer demands. Today's buyers research online, contact vendors via Web forms, and prefer to correspond via email, social media and other online technology. This requires today's sales professionals to be nimble, willing to adapt and learn to use new tech as it's introduced.
"Salespeople need to understand there will always be new tools added to the sales process – that the way they do their jobs might be different six, 12 or 24 months from now," said Ben Ledo, director of e-commerce at customer review site Angie's List. "We need to look for people who can adopt and adapt. And I think there's going to be a lot of competition for those folks."
Content strategy will become an essential element of the sales process
The advent of the educated buyer has also changed the sales cycle from a linear process to one that is driven by prospect engagement. Buyers often research several vendors before contacting one. This means it's up to companies to provide as much top-of-funnel information as possible, giving buyers incentive to move to the next stage of the sales process. Without engaging compelling content, buyers will find it easier to move on to a competitor.
"Everything that we were doing through the voice of a sales rep is now being done online," said Justin Fite, chief revenue officer of location-based social media company Geofeedia. He believes that, in some cases, content can do a good portion of a salesperson's job. "When people spend lots of money they'll still make sure they're talking to someone, especially in emerging markets. But in well-established marketing, maybe that's not important.
Prescriptive technology will trump predictive intelligence
What's exciting about the explosion of sales tech is the ability to streamline processes and give salespeople more time to spend on selling and building relationships. Gartner identifies predictive analytics as an emerging technology, urging companies to understand how the approach can help companies forecast and close more deals.
But predictive analytics can also provide guidance to salespeople who need to move prospects along the buyer's journey. Prescriptive technology – like playbooks and other solutions – can make it easy to offer the right solutions to prospects at the right time.
Bob Marsh, CEO of sales performance platform LevelEleven, believes prescriptive solutions will save time and enable more targeted prospect engagement. "The more prescriptive recommendations a salesperson can access, the better they can invest their time in the right prospects," he said. "I think we're going to see things that are more prescriptive."
For example, "Here's the content you should share with this prospect, here's the person you should call right now, because maybe they're more likely to answer the phone."
Data will unify sales and marketing
The flourishing sales tech space has its roots in marketing tech, and while many customers have learned to bridge the gap between sales and marketing technology, gaps still remain. Both sales and marketing tech leverage data to derive valuable buyer insight. But the next step will have to be using that data to unify sales and marketing. Using customer intelligence also has the power to guide execs in allocating resources.
"Customer intelligence will become the unifier between sales and marketing," said Sean Brady, president of multinational marketing company Emarsys. "But it has to be part of the platform. You can't just customize things over and over to try to fit certain industries.Technology should help you predict where you need to spend your revenue."
The future of sales has many paths in 2016, and the profession of selling will continue to evolve. But as long as sales leaders rely on technology to optimize their teams, new approaches will be necessary to deliver personalized solutions that close more deals and build better customer relationships.
Sharmin Kent is the Marketing Content Lead at sales productivity pioneer TinderBox.