As the year comes to a close, we're naturally curious about what the new year will bring. The big question for startups is all about what the sales playing field will look like. After all, sales is the engine to growth for any business. Curious myself, I tapped into fellow sales and marketing experts to ask them what we can expect to see in 2017.
Artificial Intelligence as a Sales Staple
Artificial Intelligence, or AI, is growing in popularity. Our watches are smart, our thermostats are smart, our homes are smart. Why can't our sales systems be smart? That's precisely what AI is doing for sales: From simple automation to sophisticated intelligence monitoring, auto responses and predictive behaviors, AI will become more commonplace among sales teams. Forget relying on agendas, calendars, and notes to follow up with leads or trying to track everyone in the funnel. AI will do this for the salesperson, leaving them free to spend time on meaningful tasks and conversations with prospects and leads.
Sean Alpert, Senior Director of Product Marketing at Salesforce, put it like this at a recent Dreamforce conference: "Intelligence and automation are the future of sales, enabling teams to pursue the best leads, discover insights from data, recommend actions that help close deals, build meaningful relationships with customers and be even more productive."
If you haven't introduced some form AI into your sales processes, then it's time to start. I know our team has benefited greatly even from small automation like auto-scheduling and auto-reminders. It certainly keeps them focused on the big opportunities without dropping the ball on future ones.
Development of Modernized, Process-Driven Sales Systems
If your sales system consists of Excel spreadsheets or a Rolodex, it's time to modernize your sales system by instituting integrated tools that bring together sales processes in one platform. Businesses and sales teams with modernized, process-driven sales systems will get ahead thanks to the convenience, accessibility, scalability and integration of a variety of systems that will make managing leads and closing deals easier and faster.
"The winning systems in 2017 will integrate with best-of-class providers and we'll see more integration: data sources, lead to account mapping/routing, cadence engine, email providers, CRM, social, phone APIs, recording analysis software, personalization intelligence, analytics, and visualization," Kyle Porter, CEO of SalesLoft, pointed out during the Rainmaker sales conference.
Our agency wholeheartedly believes in integrated processes, and we're always looking for ways to bring together more of what we currently do. Simple things like bringing together our CRM, tracked calls, proposals and lead intelligence can help a sales team work smarter. From pulling sales team performance reports to minimizing the time our salespeople spend on mundane tasks, we've been able to let them focus on prospecting and nurturing leads.
Increased Focus on Productivity and Sales Acceleration
There are a ton of tools out there that offer incredible insight into prospects' behaviors, background and more. Focus on tools that provide additional intelligence to sales representatives, as these will grow increasingly popular in 2017. After all, the more information you have about a prospect, the better relationship you'll be able to foster. The additional intelligence allows for businesses to grow and scale without having to increase headcount.
We continuously test out emerging tools and technology to see which ones provide us the best upfront intelligence and value for our target audience. We've found that often even small nuggets of information can make a huge difference when reaching out to a potential prospect. Not only do our sales representatives sound more educated and prepared, but they are better able to understand the prospect -- which means that relationship building is even easier.
Virtualization and Digitalization of the Sales Process
From mobile applications to virtual meetings, we can expect to see interactions between sales representatives and prospects become completely digital. Our sales team is already experiencing this: In fact, in-person meetings represent only about 10 percent of all our meetings. For the rest, we rely on virtual calls and even texts. While this may become the new norm, it's important to know your prospect before you completely digitize your properties. In other words, before you start Skyping with a prospect, make sure they are on board for virtual communication.
If you run a sales team or have your own business to worry about, 2017 might be a game changer for you. Keeping up with trends in modern sales will help you stay ahead in 2017 and beyond.