Top 6 Changes & Challenges in Today’s Sales

Michelle Philippon - Business Development Specialist


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If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.

-Bob Dylan, “The Times They Are A-Changin’”

Driverless cars, the radical revitalization of the retail industry, jobs that are predicted to be replaced by robots—the times certainly are a’changin’.  So, of course, is sales.

As my colleague, Elizabeth Murawski, highlighted in her article last month, technology is drastically changing the sales profession in many different ways.

But how, exactly?

And what does this mean for today’s sales professional?

Modern State of Sales

A few months ago, Salesforce issued their second annual State of Sales report with “insights and trends from over 3,100 global sales trailblazers.”

Here are a few main takeaways from this report that show current trends in the sales profession; what’s expected in the future; and what your sales team needs to do in order to be successful in today’s changing marketplace:

1) It’s a Buyers’ Market, and Sales is More Important than Ever

Let’s not mince words—buyers and consumers are driving the sale today. 61% of B2C consumers and 76% of B2B buyers reported that they feel that they have more power in the sales process currently than they did five years ago.  They set the pace, and we cater to them now.

Consequently, the influence that sales has on a company’s overall business strategy has continued to grow.

As the report points out: “Sales departments are now positioned to be the testing grounds for advanced technologies of the future, such as automation and intelligence, to meet customers on their turf.”

Here’s the percentage of sales teams who say the role of sales has increased significantly or somewhat in the following ways over the past five years:

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2) Buyers Want Sales Reps to be Personal Consultants

Nowadays, buyers are looking for consultants, not just someone who’s trying to sell them something or who provides the best product at the cheapest price.

They want sales reps to be more of a “trusted advisor”—someone who understands them, knows what they need, and can provide the advice and solutions they are looking for.

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This aligns with the successful sales professional type identified by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson from CEB in “The Challenger Sale.”

Challengers, you may recall, teach for differentiation, tailor their message for resonance, and then take control of the sale.

What really makes them stand out is their power of insight.  In their book, Dixon and Adamson point out a few main characteristics of Challengers that make them personal consultants or advisors:

  • Rep offers unique and valuable perspectives on the market.
  • Rep helps me navigate alternatives.
  • Rep provides ongoing advice or consultation.
  • Rep helps me avoid potential land mines.
  • Rep educates me on new issues and outcomes.
  • Supplier is easy to buy from.
  • Supplier has widespread support across my organization.

(Dixon and Adamson 52)

As a result, adapting a Challenger-type model is one of the main sales objectives for many companies:

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3) Sales Reps are Struggling to Adapt to Customer Expectations

Not only have buyers taken control of the sale, but modern buyers themselves have changed as well.  And unfortunately, sales reps are having a hard time adapting to the modern buyer:

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4) Sales KPIs are Changing

Because companies have identified the above challenge as something they need to overcome, it’s now one of the most important KPIs along with sales process and organizational performance:

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5) Personalization is Key

Every few months, I see articles on LinkedIn talking about how cold calling is dead, artificial intelligence (AI) is the key to the future, how everything will soon be automated, etc.

I look at these articles with good-natured skepticism.  Sure, there are definitely some major truths in there—but also a whole lot of fluff.

Yes, our world has become very depersonalized—but that means that personalization is all the more important.  

As you’ll see below, the human touch reigns supreme:

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6) Sales Reps aren’t Spending Enough Time Selling, So They Need New Tools & Processes to Be Successful

In their report, Salesforce shows that sales reps spend 64% of the time on tasks that have nothing to do with selling:

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To overcome what they call the “productivity gap,” they advise that companies:

  • Adapt a mobile mindset (i.e., use mobile sales apps)
  • Increase efficiency with sales analytics
  • Develop successful, proactive training processes

At COACT, we’re continually investing in new tools and processes to stay on top of the changes in the market, from revamping our CRM to developing new career pathing programs, to avoid this gap.

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As you’ve seen, sales is definitely a’changin’—but are you?

*Source: Dixon, Matthew and Brent Adamson. The Challenger Sale. Portfolio / Penguin, 2011.

Questions or comments? Please contact Michelle Philippon at mphilippon@teamcoact.com