In its 2015 report, SAP addressed the question, “What’s the Future of Sales?” Among 1,220 global business buyers, the survey found, “The dynamics between buyers and sellers have changed. Whereas once sellers were seen as an unparalleled source of information, the digital revolution has shifted the balance of power, equipping buyers with much of the information they need to make purchase decisions and fundamentally altering how and where sellers are able to add value to this process.” Indeed, the information age has birthed sophisticated enterprise customers. And sales teams everywhere have learned to adapt.
But in the New Year, buyers’ needs and purchasing behaviors will evolve further. That means salespeople, too, must amend their approach to prospecting, generating, qualifying, and nurturing leads, securing commitments, and growing accounts. To help sales organizations stay relevant and develop a competitive advantage, we spoke with several sales leaders to uncover their biggest predictions for how the sales industry will change in 2016.
1. The Revenge of Outbound
Outbound is making a tremendous come-back. This after several years with one foot in the grave thanks to the “cold calling is dead” crowd. What a surprise! It turns out that you can’t simply sit back and wait while the market gets to 57-70% of the way through the buying process and expect them to call you.
I estimate that the average company can drive about 35% of its desired or budgeted new business through inbound with 65% coming from proactive outbound programs. Note here that I am talking about B2B and not talking about low price or commoditized offers – I am talking about a more strategic, or enterprise, sale.
For years, companies have dumped raw, unfiltered, poor quality leads on sales and expected the salesforce to follow-up on them. They didn’t. Even most scored leads end up in the electronic version of the lower right hand desk drawer because while the scored prospects read the whitepapers, visited the right pages and demonstrated interest – they couldn’t buy. The fact is that senior level executives (the ones with budget and authority) are most responsive to a professional multi-touch (call, voicemail, email) process; and they sure don’t want to be treated like the human equivalent of a pinball – capturing your attention only after they have hit the right bumpers and scored enough points.
In 2016 there will be a continuation of the shift in emphasis from all inbound to much more investment in strategic outbound.
— Dan McDade, President, PointClear
2. Account-Based Marketing Strikes Back
In 1993, a Peppers and Rogers report suggested, “When two marketers are competing for the same customer’s business, all other things being equal, the marketer with the greatest scope of information about that particular customer […] will be the more efficient competitor.”
In 2003, the ITSMA introduced its “Account Based Marketing Framework” calling it “a collaborative approach that engages sales, marketing, delivery, and key executives toward achieving the client’s business goals.”
In a 2015 blog by Topo’s Craig Rosenberg, “Over the last ten years, modern marketers have become very good at using mass marketing techniques to generate demand. These techniques have proven to be very effective at filling the funnel in the SMB and mid markets. However, enterprise sales teams have not been supported with the same consistency. As [Marketo co-founder] Jon Miller pointed out, the difference is ‘fishing with a net versus fishing with a spear’. Rather than catch 10,000 or more SMB and mid-market ‘fish’ using mass marketing, with ABM, you can catch just a few hundred enterprise fish. It’s about quality over quantity and it requires a completely different mindset.”
According to SiriusDecisions, “52% of companies say they currently have ABM pilot programs in place, though only 20% of businesses have had an ABM strategy in place for more than one year…and they’re already seeing the value.”
ABM is exploding. Referred to by Jon Miller as selling to markets of one, ABM is a game changer for both sales and marketing AND more importantly for the relationship between sales and marketing. The days of marketing dumping leads on sales based on cost per lead and quantity are over in the most progressive companies. And, it doesn’t take a revolution. The evolution can start with as little as marketing providing valuable business insights and new contacts to sales in key accounts.
— Dan McDade, President, PointClear
3. An Increase In Omnichannel Outreach
It is reported that 80% of new business today requires at least five failed attempts to connect. The challenge is that most reps focus on using just two mediums to connect… phone (which typically results in a rambling voicemail) or email (which typically doesn’t get read). To be successful, you have to discover new and creative mediums to get your message across. I may not read your email, but I’m always going to read a handwritten note. My advice? Be creative, be provocative, have fun!
— Tim Wackel, President, TimWackel.com
4. Firm Focus On The Buyer’s Journey
2016 will bring a growing focus on the buyer and the buyer’s journey. There will be an emphasis on meeting Buying Process Exit Criteria (that is, what a prospect needs to know to feel comfortable moving onto the next stage of their buying journey) to advance opportunities through the pipeline more efficiently and effectively. I believe we’ll see content specifically created by marketing to addresses these criteria, by buyer persona. I also think we’ll see sales reps customize some of that content based on the actual buyers and their objectives, and get better at engaging with their buyers in real executive-level, business dialogue, to ensure the buyer’s criteria are met, to advance the sale.
— Mike Kunkle, Senior Director of Sales Enablement, Brainshark
5. Strategic Emphasis On Account Growth
It is so easy to connect with new people, sellers often forget to connect to their existing clients and contacts, both online and in the true sense of connection. Based on brand new research, I predict that sellers will focus more on their existing clients. In late 2015, the team here at the RAIN Group Center for Sales Research surveyed 472 leaders sales leaders at mid-size and large organizations for our Top-Performing Sales Organization study. Of 21 possible priorities presented to them, the #1 priority shared by 50% of all respondents was “Increase business with existing accounts.”
Interestingly enough, of the 72 factors we studied, the greatest separation between the Top-Performers and The Rest was “Our sales organization is effective at maximizing sales to existing clients across capability areas,” and the worst overall score for any factor was “Our sales training is effective in the area of driving account growth.”
Huge priority, huge skill gaps, awful training in the area.
— Mike Schultz, President, RAIN Group
6. Companies Must Play To Win
Competing will no longer be an option in 2016. Domination is the only way. There will be no room for error in 2016. No more broken promises; no more excuses for poor service and follow-up; no more excuses blaming the other department; no more of the “fire the client” attitude, no more ego. No more problems for the customer whether it’s before or after the sale, period! The competitor attitude will struggle with this while the dominant attitude will prevent these problems and negative attitudes from surfacing in the first place. And that’s exactly what today’s customer expects. Average is no longer tolerated in the marketplace.
If you are the only company on the planet that offers a specific solution then you are exempt here, but if you offer the same solutions that a multitude of other companies offer, you must develop the domination attitude.
— Tom Ricciuti, Owner, TR Sales Training
7. Buyers Will Gravitate Towards Industry Experts
Consumers no longer need to accept average anything, nor will they and nor should they! Sales professionals need to be viewed as the expert in their field by consumers.
With the rate of people changing careers more than ever before, consumers are becoming more careful about making purchases. They’re taking longer to:
- think about it
- make sure they’re buying from someone they’re confident in
The faster sales professionals position themselves as the expert, the faster the consumer will make the decision to purchase from them. All bases have to be covered moving forward. Sales professionals must have more than enough proof that they are the best choice for the consumer. You cannot have enough proof in my opinion, and with the Internet there’s no excuse to not present all the proof the prospect needs to have to help them make the right decision…to buy from you.
— Tom Ricciuti, Owner, TR Sales Training
8. Customers Will Expect On-Demand Answers
Editor’s note: According to research published in Harvard Business Review, “Firms that tried to contact potential customers within an hour of receiving a query were nearly seven times as likely to qualify the lead (which we defined as having a meaningful conversation with a key decision maker) as those that tried to contact the customer even an hour later—and more than 60 times as likely as companies that waited 24 hours or longer.”
The immediacy of things will increase: instant responses via cell phones, on-site problem solving and price quoting while face-to-face with the customer and accessing experts or executives who are off site, “Siri-like” solutions and answers at our fingertips.
— Jim Cathcart, Strategic Advisor, Cathcart Institute
9. To Scale Sales, Relationships Remain Virtual
More and more sales will be closed without the salesperson ever meeting the prospect in person. However, that simply means we have to do a much better job of training our people to build relationships — and it’s even harder to do so virtually. Customers will always buy from people they know, like and trust — they just may not see them face-to-face as much as in the past.
— Butch Bellah, Sales Trainer, B2 Training & Development
Bonus: Massive Prospect Protests Go Viral
Sales and Marketing teams are already facing difficult questions from their C-Suite executives when it comes to delivering a real ROI on their recent/current technology investments. Their ability to analyze the benefits of new/more technology will finally exceed their capacity to tolerate another demo or sales call that doesn’t include a full understanding of their business issues and demonstrates ROI. As a result, prospects/customers lose patience and begin to use social media as the window they lean out of and say, “I am mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”
— Scott Benedetti, Vice President of Sales, The Pedowitz Group
These days, buyers demand a high standard of expertise and professionalism from salespeople. For businesses to secure more enterprise accounts in 2016, they must learn how to engage prospects, demonstrate expertise, extend value, and build trust effectively. And while the actual future of sales is uncertain, companies will need to be agile to succeed. That way, organizations can modify their sales strategies to better aid customers as they progress through the sales funnel to reach a more favorable purchasing decision.
Danny Wong is the co-founder of Blank Label, an award-winning luxury menswear company. He also leads marketing for Receiptful, a platform to supercharge all customer interactions for eCommerce stores, and Tenfold, a seamless click-to-dial solution for high-performance sales teams. To connect, tweet him @dannywong1190 or message him on LinkedIn. For more of his clips, visit his portfolio.