by John Hall
Republished from Forbes, September 23, 2018
Sales is the lifeblood of a company. You can fail at a lot of little things as a business, but as long as the sales keep rolling in, you can buy yourself time to continue figuring things out and refining processes. This year, though, I’ve seen more change in sales than ever before. Shifts like AI technology and a rapidly declining sense of trust have made it incredibly important to stay educated about best practices and evolution in the way prospects buy.
You can check out every sales speaker at every conference and read every listicle you can about sales hacks, but unless you can piece everything together to see the big-picture changes that are underway, you’re going to have a hard time staying competitive in the industry.
Based on my experiences and conversations I’ve had with other experts over this year, here are seven game-changing sales trends that should be on your radar:
1. Understanding different generations has never been more important.
In a recent keynote, I shared an example, which you can see here, to illustrate various generations and their different communication styles. I told the audience how, not long ago, I found my old Timex watch, which lights up indigo — something I loved as a kid. My then 4-year-old daughter looked at it, not even caring that it lit up, and asked it to “Call Grandma Hall.”
My daughter is growing up in a world in which she expects devices like this to respond to her voice commands and immediately call someone or do whatever else she tells them to do. Her education and experience growing up in this landscape is far different from mine, and it’s important to understand that when you’re selling. When you’re researching your audience or a potential sale, consider those different expectations and experiences.
2. Investment in salespeople’s brands can give you an edge.
Successful salespeople are ones who position themselves as trustworthy educators and advisers. If you want to speed up the sales cycle and more quickly turn contacts into leads and customers, then your sales reps should be using content to build their personal brands as subject matter experts.
The right content can enable the sales process and give your reps the chance to spend more time selling. And when your salespeople are actually bylining that content, they get double the benefits: content resources designed to make their conversations easier and stronger personal brands as credible industry experts.
You may need to start small, but investing in guest-contributed content, blog posts, and the social media presence of your sales team members will ultimately help them build their credibility and empower them with the best resources.
3. Artificial intelligence and data are making teams more efficient.
Artificial intelligence is making waves all over, and for sales tactics, it’s no different. Using AI in the sales process can make things extremely intuitive by improving prioritization and efficiency. Just by providing a contact list, AI tools can suggest the best way to reach out and even help coach your sales team on the best next steps for any contact or account in your system. This is huge as sales teams focus more and more on anticipating consumer needs.
AI can help your sales team do more, but what’s especially valuable is that it can help your team focus on what actually matters most during the sales process. Let AI take over basic, time-consuming tasks like logging communication and calls or putting together proposals so your sales reps can spend more of their time on strategy and selling.
4. Traditional sales tactics aren’t gone completely.
In my daily Forbes reading, I recently saw an article on cold calling, and it was a good reminder that traditional sales tactics aren’t necessarily a thing of the past. Like anything that’s stood the test of time, there’s a reason why cold calling has been around for years: It’s a numbers game and casts a wide net that can help you find the right people.
People love to say certain tactics are “dead” (mostly to be cool and trendy). In fact, I’ve been guilty of this myself. However, sales and marketing are mainly about differentiating yourself so you stand out and make the right people want to buy from you. Sometimes, executing an “old” tactic really well can be that differentiator that leads you to success in sales.
5. Account-based selling is on the rise.
People have been talking about account-based marketing and selling for a while. Why? Well, when done right, account-based selling can help shorten the buying cycle and increase customer acquisition — both crucial elements to successful sales and a successful business.
ABS is focused on extreme personalization based on the very specific account you’re selling to. Rather than concentrating on selling to segments and suggesting the same strategy, plan, or model for each of the accounts in a segment, sales teams that practice ABS approach all their accounts with an emphasis on building solid, unique relationships and meeting their specific needs. With greater ability to target and personalize, use of ABS will only continue to grow.
6. Executives’ focus will be on building trust.
According to the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, almost 7 in 10 survey respondents said that the No. 1 job for CEOs — even more important than providing high-quality products and services — should be building trust. One big area where trust is lost is the sales process. If you set expectations poorly, or you’re more focused on making the sale than being a true resource and partner, then you can lose trust, no matter what happens afterward. To build and preserve trust, executives will need to prioritize the sales team maintaining trust in its relationships over trying to make a quick buck.
7. The human touch is still critical.
I recently read an early copy of Dan Schawbel’s “Back to Human,” which I thought was a great reminder of the need for human connection in a world where AI and tech are quickly evolving. As I mentioned earlier, AI will be a differentiating factor — however, it will be important to make sure that salespeople use it to personalize their approaches and take every chance they can to add a human touch. Whether that’s a personalized thank-you note, thoughtful gift, or even just the right content at the right time, that human connection and the authenticity behind it are critical.