In my upcoming book, Effective Sales Enablement, I identified 12 trends (yes, 12 of them) on how sales professionals are changing their organizational structure, engaging with their customers, behaving online and offline, and conducting research in the future.
For this post, I focus on three of those 12 trends. If you wish to learn more, check out the book. I also love to hear from you if you have additional trends to share.
When I created my annual global marketing plan as a marketing strategist, one of the sections was called “Mega Trends.” I read through various secondary 3rd party research reports, internalized the findings and identified 3-5 trends that senior management needed to be aware of. Occasionally, some of these trends will guide key initiatives that I recommended for the upcoming year.
In the early 2000s, our research team identified the exponential growth of online ad spending as a megatrend which prompted the strategic recommendation of moving all media budget to digital, at the expense of the print budget, for several years in select countries.
Another megatrend showed that people were moving their online conversations to social media. We saw that trend back in 2006 when Facebook reached its 50M active user mark 2 years after it was formed.
This prompted the formation of a social media team within the marketing organization. Identifying the relevant trends can stir productive conversations among teams, drive new changes, manifest new initiatives and build competitive advantages.
When a Trend Is Not Really a Trend
Of course, you can also identify a trend but make the decision to disregard it. This often happens when a trend is not really a trend, but a short-lived buzz or fad. For example augmented reality is a long-term trend, while Pokémon Go was a fad. Augmented reality is a trend that’s not going away. It will have an impact on how we showcase our products in the future.
Ways to incorporate augmented reality into digital and interactive content creation may be part of long-term content planning discussions, but a conversation about creating a Pokémon Go-like app may not necessarily be a trend discussion. You need to comprehend where the trend is going in order to decide whether or not it applies to your business.
None of this is possible though, without understanding the trends themselves.
Top Three Sales Trends to Watch
1. The Rise of the Demanding and Empowered Buyer
Today’s tech-savvy customers continue to educate themselves about products and services. They keep on accessing a wide array of information on the Internet.
They are soooo good at doing their own research. With Google’s continuous optimizing search algorithms that any information about your products, good or bad, is at their fingertips. Simply put, buyers are knowledgeable. When they are knowledgeable, they are savvy. When they are savvy, they are demanding.
On the B2B front, Keith Eades and Timothy Sullivan said it well in their book, the Collaborative Sale: Solution Selling in a Buyer-Driven World
- Buyers prefer performing their own research by comparing products/services, reading online reviews and getting peer reviews from social media channels.
- Buyers are delaying the involvement of sellers in their buying process.
- More people are involved in purchase decisions: buying by committee is more common than ever before.
- Buyers have developed a higher aversion to risk, resulting in more decisions to do nothing or to simply maintain the status quo.
- Buyers are asserting more formalized control over their purchasing processes and are demanding greater seller transparency.
Regardless of the age and demographics of consumers or business buyers, they are already setting new standards for conducting extensive research on their own and further delaying the engagement of sellers in the buying process. With all the intelligence at hand, they are also comparison and value shoppers.
They DO their homework; the constant challenge for sales professionals is how to provide additional value to well-educated buyers. Salespeople are asking: What else can we do for them? Buyers are asking: What have you done for me lately. It’s a tough world out there.
2. Globalization and Multi-Generational Teams and Customer Base
Current political tides seem to be focused on localism and separatism. Examples include everything from Quebec seeking independence from Canada in 1995, Scotland’s referendum about leaving the United Kingdom in 2014, Britain’s decision to leave the European Union in 2016, to the Catalan Independence Movement in Spain in 2017.
Although some governments continue to create trade tariffs and other regulations to prevent the free flow of goods and services, commerce and trade continue to flourish without boundaries by advances in the Internet, virtual communications, and e-commerce.
The world economy’s interconnectedness continues to accelerate. Globalization never stops. To standardize processes and tools, Multinational companies (MNCs) create global sales teams and global purchasing committees, in which decisions are made in a distributed but unified manner.
In addition to globalization, it’s the multi-generational workforce and buyers which need to be understood by the sales teams.
Both the sales team and their prospects are comprised of Baby Boomers (born 1946 to 1964), Generation X (born 1965 to 1980) and Millennials (Born 1981 to 2000).
In terms of size, Millennials are now the largest generation across the globe. While the youngest Baby Boomers are in their early 50’s in 2018, these three generations will likely co-exist within the same professional setting for the next decade. Generational traits such as work habits, behavior attributes, tech-savviness, content consumption channels, and the decision-making process are distinctively different.
Internally within the sales organizations, sales management, and sales support teams need to be aware of the distinctive characteristics of all three generations to be able to effectively utilize and market to them.
Externally with customers, salespeople are likely to encounter a committee or a team that is composed of all three generations. Therefore, it’s vital to understand the working dynamics among these groups of consumers and employees.
3) Constant Changes and Adoption of Technology
The ways to communicate with customers and prospects have dramatically changed with the adoption of social media technologies. It’s easy and quick for empowered users to find the pros and cons of your products and services, it’s equally easy for you to search on your prospects and customers online.
Increasingly, empowered buyers share their issues, concerns, and opinions on social media, online forums, and communities for all to see. Sales can easily monitor and make appropriate comments and contributions to foster relationships.
Not to mentioning the usage of Big Data Analytics and AI-based tools to help salespeople, and marketers alike, “assess” buyer propensity to buy and “predict” the content that prospects may need to finalize their decision.
I shared my thought about AI in this blog post. More companies are adding data mining and AI to continuously enhance their tools and offerings. Case in point from an article from McKinsey Global Institute: About 40% of tasks performed by a salesperson can be automated using AI.
The integration and correlation of customer data from sales, CRM, customer service, websites, and social media can only be done through technology improvement and implementation. Adoption of technology can help develop a more sophisticated understanding of your customers. This, in turn, improves the quality of pipelines and prospects, identifies potential opportunities for cross-selling, and optimizes pricing and forecasting.
Salespeople Need to Be More Than Salespeople
Salespeople are trained to “sell” products to us. At the end of the day, it’s still about business: increase sales velocity, close sales and drive cross-sell and up-sell. However, you need to make a difference to your customers when you engage with them. It’s no longer about selling, it’s about educating and conversing.
Customers expect sales to be a problem solver, thought leader, subject matter expert, and partner first while the role of salesman only comes into play later. I love the quote from Jill Rowley, Chief Growth Officer at Marketo,
“The modern sales professional is actually not a seller but is someone who helps people buy”. It’s not about selling, it’s about helping people buy. It’s about uncovering their needs and facilitating their thinking and decision-making process. Nothing more and nothing less.