Every year I put my thoughts together to predict the trends in the sales sector. I use hard information to predict, changes that are already in situ or are in embryo form. I then look forward to how these might affect sales.
This change has been well documented. At this stage we have broadly three sales models – inside sales, road warriors or reps and account managers. We’re already seeing the demise of the middle one – the road warriors or reps – who trail the country pushing their wares. Customers don’t need or want a rep anymore, they can get the information they need via the internet or the inside sales operation. Replacing the road warriors will be an enhanced inside sales operation and more bespoke account management for tailored solutions.
You’ll find customers will make contact with your company and have already done their research and discovery, and want to purchase. They’ll do this automatically or will use automated intelligence – AI – algorithms to interact with you and make their purchase. Already many emails are not from humans but from AI algorithms. These AI can read emails, understand and respond accordingly. And they’re improving exponentially. Humans need not apply.
Or Cortana, if you’re a Microsoft fan. These embryonic digital assistants remind me of Star Trek “Computer, give me all the data on…” These digital voice activated personal assistants will begin to populate the internet. Cloud based “big” data cannot be easily accessed by you and I so we will increasingly rely on these digital assistants to do this for us. For salespeople – inside sales and account managers – this will mean the CRM – Customer Relationship Manager software – will finally come of age. You’ll be speaking to the digital assistant something like “Marie, can you give me all the purchases from ABC incorporated over the last month and let me send an email to their purchasing manager?”
This will also impact the Business to Consumer market. The amount of data companies now hold on their consumers is breathtaking and is being amplified by social media streams which provide everything you ever wanted to know about Michael Chen from Borehamwood. Companies will start using this intelligence to market products and services in much the same way as Tom Cruise in Minority Report as the billboard changes to match his needs.
Inside sales people are going to be far better than mere order takers – they will consult with your customers, and provide bespoke solutions to customer needs
Metamorphosing of Inside Sales
I mentioned earlier the rise of inside sales and this is also well documented. You only have to look at company sales expansion and recruitment figures – it’s all inside sales. I’m not talking about contact centre inbound call operations – I’m referring to consultative sales people with accounts who operate inside. Using the phone, of course, but on the internet – Skype, instant messaging, social media and virtual or augmented reality facilities, which will revolutionise the whole inside sales approach.
Basic commodity based transactions will not be handled by inside sales; the automated intelligence algos will do this. Customers may think they’re interacting with a human, but they’re not and don’t need to. Inside sales people are going to be far better than mere order takers – they will consult with your customers, and provide bespoke solutions to customer needs. So beware of your product and service – if it’s commoditised and you don’t determine this, the market does.
Inside salespeople will carry out the complete sales cycle from start to finish; they’ll manage accounts, cross sell and negotiate. The sales process will be accomplished entirely online, not face to face.
Intelligence Not Data
Inbound marketing from sales organisations will continue to be dominated by content on the web. Increasingly though, customers are not just looking for data, they’re looking for intelligence and insights relevant to their business issues. They can get data from the web themselves, they’re looking for salespeople to provide just a little more – insightful content that adds value, not merely regurgitated content already available.
Augmented Reality – AR
We’ve heard and I’ve already commented on virtual reality – VR – but this one is intensifying in real life, in other words, adding a virtual screen to your normal view. Think fighter plane pilots with the data in their helmets or Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator as he glances at a human and data appears in his eyes on the person’s weight, armament and threat.
Google have their Magic Leap, Facebook have bought Oculus and other tech companies are working on VR and AR systems. They will succeed and the cost will come down so as to allow us to ship devices to customers so they can immerse themselves into our service and products. Climb into a new car and drive it down the motorway, shake hands with the account manager who’s 1,000 miles away.
VR and AR will become ubiquitous and will have myriad applications over the next decade for salespeople:
- Allow meetings with customers to be conducted hundreds of miles away and not the stilted web meetings of today, but real, immersed in VR.
- Help customers interact with products.
- Revolutionise sales meetings and training events as if you were really there.
- Provide the salesperson with visual and instant data from the CRM and company cloud storage. Even adding the data to their view of any situation. They glance at the customer’s production line and instantly delivery time for key components is flashed up in their view.
Visual is the New Text
The internet is ever evolving and the trend that’s captured everyone’s imagination is visuals and videos. We know this. Customers demand visual representations such as infographics rather than lots of text. Younger generations demand video and consume these on their mobile devices. The trend for salespeople, particularly those on the inside, is to produce more visuals and more videos in helping their customers to see the value of their offering.
Social Media Evolving
Pick your channel carefully is the message for salespeople as inordinate amounts of time can be consumed in their medium. For the next couple of years LinkedIn will come of age allowing new innovations such as inclusion of video in your portfolios. And I’m not talking about video in your profiles, that’s been available for ages.
Facebook has just launched Facebook for Business and some large corporations are climbing on the bandwagon. Essentially this puts a Facebook style social network within your company so everyone can hook up, like each other, follow each other, post updates and anyone in the company can see them. Since Facebook is instinctive to use, the take-up is going to be huge. Imagine an Inside Sales Consultant who can hook up with engineers and people in marketing, and can collaborate more effectively to satisfy his customers’ needs. Sales Managers can inform and motivate and might actually be followed by their people, if they do a half decent job.
Sales Person Recruitment
The profile of salespeople is continually evolving. We now look for product and customer experts as well as the need for communication and sales experience. In the future you’ll be specifically looking for salespeople who are “tech savvy”, particularly those in the Inside Sales role as they’ll be asked to master various tech as part of their normal roles.
Driverless Cars and Drones
By the end of the decade you’ll be able to buy a reasonably priced driverless car. Every motor manufacturer has teamed up with tech companies and are evolving their driverless proposition. Can you imagine that cars will go the way of horses? People mostly ride horses for fun and leisure nowadays, not to go from A to B. In the future people will drive their own car for fun and leisure, not to go from A to B.
Just dream of the impact for the sales profession:
- No need for company cars, just buy a fleet of driverless cars and let them move around from salesperson to person as and when they’re needed.
- Your delivery fleet will also be driverless and customers can call on for samples etc. to be delivered without a driver.
- In fact drones will do this better and more cost effectively.
- With electric power, it just might rejuvenate the demand and provision of face to face meetings.
- If your business has anything to do with public transportation, beware; your current model of placing a driver inside will be defunct.
- Training can be conducted in the car more effectively and briefings could be automated to be delivered inside.
On my wrist now I have a Microsoft Band capable of monitoring my every body signal – heart rate, steps walked, sleep patterns and it uploads the data it collects into the cloud. It also feeds email, text, Facebook posts and calls.
Put one of these devices onto your salesperson’s wrist and you can:
- Monitor their heart rate and stress levels, which is particularly relevant in fast based inside sales, allowing you to offer support when needed.
- Communicate to them real time.
- Help them to attain their fitness goals – wellbeing is so vital.
Gamification of Sales
In the near future we’ll see compensation plans moving away from the traditional “bonus if target hit” model and more to the mechanics of gaming. This is known as gamification. It’s not having fun all the time, although that’s important, it’s using the principles of a good online game in the way you reward and provide a motivational environment for your salespeople to flourish.
- Provide instant rewards when levels are achieved, providing rewards for small victories that lead to the final sale. Reward activities being achieved as opposed to the results only.
- Sales managers will be providing instant feedback on performance – as games do.
- Excitement and engagement. Managers will want to continually provide excitement in the workplace.
Resurgence of Email
Blogs are losing their shine. Why? A disruptive piece of software that’s destroying the blog business model: Ad blocking software. Readers also report that free blogs and information sites are crammed with adverts, 40% in a recent survey suggested too much, enough to put them off visiting, particularly on mobiles and tablets where screen space is small enough without being clogged with adverts.
Besides, ad blocking software is killing the ads and blogs in turn. This has two impacts for salespeople. Firstly a resurgence of emails and email databases where you have the ability to feed content of value to your customers without ads. Admittedly you still can’t guarantee they’ll read it, but that’s up to you to produce compelling content.
Gated communities will grow on the web. Facebook, for example is gated and all content is housed inside the walls. Very clever. People will pay for curated content that saves them the time in exploring and seeking it out. This is an opportunity for tech savvy salespeople.
The Oxford survey of 700 job descriptions in 2015 showed that a third of these jobs would be taken over by technology in the next decade. To avoid being taken over by the robots you need to focus on creativity and influencing people. That’s what true salespeople do: creatively exploring their customers’ needs and challenges, communicating and influencing their customers to take on board their solutions. Robots can’t do that…Yet!