It is hard work leading a sales team and developing a sales approach these days. Here are 23 trends that every sales manager needs to be aware of when designing and developing a sales strategy.
1. The younger generation is reshaping sales and marketing…
The younger generation are already having an impact on the sales process. They are adverse to ads and have adopted ad-blockers willingly. They also seek ways to get around gated content. Even if ads get through to them this generation is mistrustful of ads and rely increasingly on recommendations from friends and influencers.
In terms of the sales process it appears this new generation are also very happy with virtual interactions and don’t require face to face interactions for many purchases or support. Many of them prefer chatbots and email over phone. This is not confined to younger people. Increasingly I am doing sales calls and closing business on webinars these days, when a few years ago these would have been face to face sales meetings. Great for your cost of sale, as long as you’re up to speed on the tech.
2. And so is an ageing population
At the other end of the spectrum the population is ageing, and it is estimated that 2 billion people will be aged over 60 by 2050. This ageing population will create new service and product opportunities from health and caring services to technology and leisure. The ageing population will raise different sales issues, for example how do you reach and sell to the over 65s, which account for over 20% of the population in European countries. In basic terms sales material may need different design, web sites may need larger fonts, language may need to be adapted, etc. We can also expect sales teams to employ older team members as the population as a whole ages.
3. Empowered Customers
Whether your customers are old or young they will both be more empowered. These consumers can source products from anywhere in the world and check prices in an instant across thousands of sites on their smartphone. These customers can often know more about products than sales people themselves. This poses challenges for sales teams – you’ve got to stay ahead, or at least keep up.
4. New sales processes
The rise of the empowered customer is also changing the nature of the sales process for both consumer and business products. In business to business sales it is now estimated that over 50% of the sales process takes place before a customer contacts you. This means a company’s online material needs to nurture the sales process prior to the customer making contact. This can be through content such as guides, case studies, market reports, newsletters, reviews etc. This development is blurring the lines between marketing and selling. Marketing needs to support the sales process well beyond awareness to consideration and conversion.
Image from http://www.forbes.com/sites/gyro/2013/01/07/the-disappearing-sales-process/#64b7db9425d9
5. Globalisation of customers and sales teams
The increasing interconnectedness of the world economy and advances in communication technologies is creating global sales teams and global customer purchasing teams. Global sales processes need to address issues from cultural adaptation to pricing disparities to differing sales taxes.
Image of customers online from Intercom.
6. From “Features & Benefits” to “Expert Solution” Selling
Just talking about your product is not going to cut it anymore. Buyers increasingly want a sales person who understands their needs, someone who provides insights and proposes solutions to help them solve problems. Thus more than ever sales teams need to be experts in their own right and know about all the latest news and developments in the industry they operate. You’re expected to add value in every interaction, whether they buy from you or not.
Sales people need to stay updated on their industry and their clients every day. Below is an example daily briefing about the latest news on the motor insurance industry which a sales person or account manager in that industry might need each morning to stay updated.
7. Social selling
“Social media channels like Twitter and LinkedIn and others will be used by B2B sales reps in their sales process to identify, listen and engage with their buyers to accelerate the sales process and increase revenue like never before.” Gabe Villamizar, Director, at Hirevue
Social networks will move beyond being a channel where you can listen to customers and monitor what they are saying, and become a sales channel. This is particularly true of the younger generation who are happy to engage online. Moving customers along the sales funnel using social networks is a new challenge and skill. For B2B this largely means LinkedIn and Twitter though customers hang out in every social network – you have to find them.
The advantage of social selling is a relationship established on interest by prospect, rather than sales push. As Andrew Jenkins, social selling expert put it: “social selling can help diminish the need to make cold calls and potentially avoid them altogether.”
8. Field sales declining
As a consequence of the changes above we are seeing a decline in field sales staff. People may not have the time for meetings or lunches as they once did and are happy using collaborative technology and doing more calls and online meetings. This is changing the nature of sales teams.
9. Customer service and social networks
Social networks are also now a channel for customer service and support. The younger generation in particular expects fast, personalised service. Social media has become their home for customer service. Sales teams need to monitor and be aware of discussions taking place on social. That’s where customers will feed back about improvements you can make.
10. Same day responses are not good enough
People want fast fulfilment. Companies such as Amazon recognise this and are aiming not just for same day delivery but delivery within hours. There are even higher expectations for support responses and sales enquires. If you don’t reply within hours people probably think you have gone out of business or maybe you have died. Either way the sale may have been made elsewhere. Social Networks are always on. Customer Service Tools like Slack and Intercom are always on. So you have to be too. Speaking of..
11. Third generation internet and tool stacks
The internet is changing, if the first generation was desktop and the second was mobile, the third generation includes the internet of things and platform as a service. This is changing the way services are provided. People expect to use a seamless stack of tools and services. They expect to communicate with sales teams using tools they use each day, they don’t want additional channels.
Sales teams themselves need a stack of tools to manage their work and the sales process. This stack of tools needs to be seamlessly integrated from collateral, customer management, expenses, leads, daily briefings, customer support through to team chats.
12. Virtual reality
Virtual reality will change the way people buy and test products. It will be possible to drive cars or visit hotel rooms and many other things from the comfort of your own home – see Ebay’s virtual store for a taste of it. Whilst it is early days we can expect to see more use of virtual reality within the sales process.
13. New competitors
Competitors can startup faster than ever these days. Supported by SaaS platforms they can operate globally and scale as they need to. Your competitors tomorrow may be very different from your competitors today.
The new competitors may also come from a completely different sector. Business models are changing and allowing new companies to compete with established competitors. For example, look at the way companies like Uber and AirBnB became competitors for traditional companies without owning cars or hotels. Will you see them coming or wake up to find our business has been Ubered?
14. Data-driven opportunities
Data will open up opportunities for those that can interpret and predict changes based using data. The best sales teams will need to use data more to understand customers, opportunities and retention. Machine learning and artificial intelligence will help sales people identify the people most likely to buy at the points they are ready to buy or need a solution.
Monica Girolami, whose company NewVoiceMedia brings together inbound and outbound communications through Salesforce says data “will guide sales more effectively on identifying who they really should target, to create the greatest outcome and revenue return for the business.”
The nature of online data means companies will know a lot more about their customers and can provide tailored sales offerings to meet their needs. Customers will increasingly expect personalisation to meet their needs.
16. Significant shifts in market demand
The demand for products and service may shift and change very quickly. For example, if driverless cars deliver on their safety promise the demand for cars and car insurance could fall dramatically. Sales teams need to be providing feedback and communicating with product and research teams to stay ahead of new trends.
17. Discounts and loyalty programs
We are seeing a growing proportion of sales coming from discounts and loyalty programs. Companies are trying to deepen relationships and keep customers in a world where it is easy to switch to a new product or service.
“The relationship is getting closer and more involved for both parties. And we believe social media is a part of the deepening of the relationship” says BIA/Kelsey research director Steve Marshall.
How are you developing relationships and how far are you using loyalty and discount programs?
18. Marketing content will grow massively
Google indexed over 8 trillion new pages last year, we can see below how published content has grown in recent years.
The growth in content is unrelenting, how will people find your content in this huge sea of articles? Saying something original and high quality is one aspect. But you also have to promote it and ensure influencers see value in your content and share it.
19. Content that answers questions
What questions are your customers asking? One way to ensure customers find your content is produce the best answers to the questions they are asking. You need to produce comprehensive and helpful content that addresses the issues they face. Best in class companies are 81% more adept at aligning content to the buyer’s journey according to the Aberdeen Group. As Lee Odden says, you should be the best answer.
20. The importance of search
Search has been important for many years but the nature of search is changing. Google’s semantic understanding means that focusing on keywords is not enough. Good content and links to your content will remain critical to ranking highly.
Searches will increasingly take place on phones using voice searches asking natural language questions.
As it becomes harder to rank in search, companies will need to become more adept at paid search ads and placing content where their customers hang out.
21. The importance of influencers in the sales process
The overwhelming volume of content also means that consumers will find ways to filter what they need to know from a noisy world. One important filter is influencers. People increasingly find and buy services and products through recommendations by influencers. Look at how You Tube celebrities shift product through endorsement or use of products.
The growing barriers to advertising and its reach and effectiveness will lead to a renewed focus on influencers in the sales process. Who are the influencers for your audience?
22. Sales talent gaps
There is a growing concern about updating the skills of sales people and filling sales positions with the right people. Recent research revealed that sales representatives were the fourth most difficult job to recruit for.
There appears to be a shortage of experienced salespeople with the right mix of “soft” and “hard” skills. Sales people need to manage far more these days than prospecting and negotiating. They need product and industry expertise, online networking skills, the ability to leverage their team and networks, to share insights and the ability to manage customer relationships across a range of communication channels from webinars to chat as well face to face meetings and telephone calls.
Recruiting and developing sales talent will be a major challenge in the coming years. The best opportunities may be in developing people who have come through product and service routes, and are familiar with customer needs and solutions.
23. Population growth means new sales opportunities
The good news for the sales industry is that the global population is growing, it is estimated there will be 9 billion people by 2050. This growth is unevenly distributed across the world but it will provide new sales opportunities.
These people will increasingly live in cities, it is estimated that two thirds of the population will live in cities by 2050.
These are just some of the trends we see taking place. How will these affect your future sales and marketing processes?
What trends did we miss?
One way to keep your sales team on top of the trends and latest news in your sector is with Anders Pink.
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