2018 is the Year of the Salesperson

Automation and AI are buzzwords that provoke just as much fear as they do thoughts of opportunity -- particularly among sales and marketing organizations.

However, while the "robots will take our jobs" narrative may be true for some industries, the sales and marketing industry needn't fear being replaced by technology. Why? Because effective sales and marketing requires value-driven, personalized and meaningful conversations that technology cannot yet replicate.

Rather than replacing salespeople, AI and other innovative technologies will help sales and marketing teams collaborate to improve customer interactions. This is crucial in an age where B2B buyers increasingly make decisions based on the customer experience they have with brands, rather than the products themselves.

The changing B2B buyer experience

Many factors have contributed to this new age of B2B sales. This buying process no longer follows the traditional, linear path in which a buyer calls a brand, speaks to a salesperson to learn more about product features, and then makes final purchases over the phone or at in-person meetings.

Instead, B2B buyers are empowered to research products and compare brands online through self service. Thanks to the growth of information available digitally in the B2B industry, buyers can hear testimonials, read reviews on sites like G2 Crowd or Capterra, watch product demo videos, and even test products through free trials without ever interacting with a representative of the brand.

As a result, B2B buyers now have heightened expectations for easy and seamless digital experiences -- much like the experiences they have as consumers. Today's business buyers expect engaging content, easy access to customer service representatives, personalized offerings and more. With these new expectations, the role of the sales team has to change from the main source of information and checkout counter to a trusted advisor.

The redefined sales journey

As a result of the changing buyer journey, the basic definition of a B2B sales team has evolved. Salespeople are no longer expected to just provide basic product information or facilitate transactions. Instead, they should provide extra value and differentiate their brand from competitors. This is easier said than done. How can organizations upgrade their sales experience?

For starters, sales and marketing teams need to leverage customer data to learn more about their key market segments. This data can be historical from prior sales, or through market research. By better understanding their target prospects, these teams can build more personalized, relevant and valuable marketing content and drive better sales conversations.

Using a technology-first approach to sales

At their core, conversations with customers need to be genuine and authentic. Each potential buyer is unique, as are the problems they need help solving. Salespeople need to be armed with relevant stories and insights that adds value with a human touch, and this simply can't be replicated by a chat bot.

Human conversations aren't set in stone. They constantly pivot, and salespeople need intelligent tools that can help them when these conversations and sales opportunities go in unexpected directions. If they're armed with content they can use to react to different scenarios quickly, they can seize opportunities to not only answer questions and improve the customer journey, but cross-sell and up-sell.

This is where a tech-first approach benefits sales and marketing teams instead of replacing them. Machine learning technology can automatically surface relevant, engaging content for sales teams based on a prospect's unique needs or where that prospect is in the buying journey. This intelligent content is driven by insights regarding what has worked in the past, and salespeople can use that information to drive continued success and spend more time focusing on value-driven conversations. By automating processes that traditionally take a considerable amount of time, this technology allows salespeople to focus on forging genuine, valuable connections with each prospect, leading directly to increased revenue.

The power of man and machine

The B2B sales person is not dead. Rather, the position has been redefined. The B2B market will always require human interaction given the complex nature of its products and services, but technology has changed the game. Sales teams can no longer operate as conveyors of product information. Instead, they need to provide value that buyers can't find online, and leverage advanced sales technology to do enhance the buyer journey. About the Author: Pieterjan Bouten is the CEO of Showpad