How to Future-Proof Your Sales Team

It's 2016 - and an election year to boot. Nobody knows what the economy is going to do. Some say that there are turbulent times ahead with large spending freezes across the board, while others remain more optimistic.

Regardless of what you believe, top performing businesses know that their ability to ride out an economic downturn or capitalize on an upswing depends on the effectiveness of their sales organization.

These companies make it the number one priority to future-proof their sales organizations. They're the first to try different approaches to engage with customers. They're the first to adjust sales models to accommodate new buying behaviors, and they're the first to adopt emerging technology to get ahead of the competition.

The fundamentals of what makes a future-proof sales organization haven't changed. What has changed is how organizations achieve the fundamentals. In each case, analytics have become critical to build the foundation for a future-proof sales organization.

The following are four key attributes of a future-proof sales team - along with a look at how new technologies, most notably sales analytics, are giving organizations the power to reach them.

1. Turbo Charged Rep Efficiencies

At the heart of a future-proof sales team is increased efficiency, and it all starts with individual sales reps. Reps need strategic tools and lean processes in place that allow them to turbo charge efficiencies and bolster conversion rates across all stages of the revenue funnel. In other words, rep activities must be streamlined from prospecting to closing.

The best performing sales organizations aren't adding more reps to do this. They're using technology to automate processes so that reps are more efficient and can spend more time focused on actual selling.

There has been an influx of new tools and automation capabilities designed to increase rep efficiencies. These include things like sales email templates and automated email and call scheduling to make it easier and faster for sales reps to send out emails.

While it's easy to compare these new tools to marketing automation, they're actually vastly different. They've been designed specifically for sales reps, giving them the control over automation - so that they can personalize outreach as they want or quickly and easily take a prospect out of an emailing sequence - or automatically send them another piece of content if they indicate interest in a specific topic.

Marketing automation differs - most notably in that it's totally controlled by marketing. With marketing automation, sales teams have no ability to effectively personalize and deliver the message in a way that works best for sales success.

2. Buyer Understanding

According to Aberdeen Group, best-in-class sales organizations use automation combined with engagement analytics to increase buyer understanding. Aberdeen finds that companies using these combined technologies "better understand which messaging is most likely to be effective with individual customers and prospects."

These analytics show a prospect's interactions with content early on in the sales process. Sales teams can see which pieces of collateral are downloaded most frequently to understand what interests prospects most and get insights into the specific messaging that's resonating during follow-up.

Point tools that only target certain aspects of the revenue funnel can't provide all of the insights needed.

"Buyer-side engagement analytics are invaluable to sales organizations, but they need to be delivered in a cohesive and unified way - from the very top of the funnel to the bottom," says Suresh Balasubramanian, CEO of LiveHive, an open and extensible sales acceleration platform that integrates with multiple sales technologies, including InsideView, CudaSign by Barracuda Networks, Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics, Act-On, and multiple cloud services providers.

"With buyer-side insights integrated at every sales stage, sales teams improve their prospecting efforts, focusing on the right opportunities, streamline qualification, and get more visibility at closing. All of this increases prospect understanding at a time when B2B buyers are engaging with sales less and less," adds Balasubramanian.

3. Effective Sales Processes

To build a future-proof sales organization, you need to know what sales processes are most effective for your team. This requires understanding what it takes to move prospects through different stages of the purchasing process - specific to your organization.

How do you find out? Again, analytics are starting to play a big role in building more effective sales processes by shining a light on what's working and what's not working. By capturing key buyer-side data, analytics begin to form a picture of the activities that deliver the best results.

Analytics can show what messaging works best with A/B testing of subject lines. Analytics can show how many emails you need to send and how many calls you need to make to increase conversion.

As sales teams start to identify engaged leads earlier in the process, this will also enhance process efficiencies. There will be less time wasted on dead-end leads and more time/energy/money focused on nudging the right ones through the sales funnel.

4. Repeatable Processes

If you study future-proof sales teams, you'll immediate notice that they have a repeatable process in place. This process is documented and implemented into the CRM so that anyone - even new reps - can reference it whenever needed. Generally speaking, this repeatable process will allow sales reps to target personas, to understand qualification questions at different stages, and to understand how buyer concerns are overcome.

In order to future-proof your sales team, look at your sales cycle in terms of the different stages, and build repeatable processes for each stage. These processes will look different depending on where a prospect is in the sales cycle, but they all feed the overarching goal of establishing consistency and producing high rates of return.

Take, for example, the prospecting stage of the cycle. You'd look for the three or four different email templates that have produced the highest response and open rates from new prospects in the past. Using this information, the rep can still tailor the email to the specific prospect, but the course of action is automatically smoother and more likely to succeed based on past insights.

Now is the Time to Future-Proof

According to Forrester, there are four seller archetypes: order takers, explainers, navigators, and consultants. Of the four, only the sales consultant is poised for future growth. Order takers will contract by 33 percent, explainers by 25 percent, and navigators by 15 percent. Consultants, on the other hand, will see a 10 percent increase in demand.

The reason behind this growth is that consultants operate much more strategically than the other archetypes. They are astute at pinpointing buyer problems - sometimes, even before the buyers themselves do - and are considered valuable participants in the sales process.

Analytics are essential if you want to mold your team into a group of consultants. They give reps insight into the business problem that each individual prospect is facing, so your team can focus on selling the right solution that's needed to deliver long-term value for the buyer.

Ultimately, you have to stay up-to-date with best-in-class technology in order to maintain a competitive advantage. As the sales landscape changes, so must your sales organization. Speed up your sales, and drive faster revenues by leveraging solutions that will future-proof your sales organization.